Production for me has moved from the basic run-and-gun video to full-scale crews and sizeable budgets. When the needs for productions grow, it gets difficult to call favors from your crew, and it seems that everyone wants their cut on the deal. As a producer, I need to keep this in mind, balancing the budget so that it works out favorably for both the client, talent, and crew. In doing this, everyone wins and relationship lines stay open – a huge goal for continued success in the filmmaker’s arena.
So, how can this be done? What are some elements to consider when you are needing to get deeper responses from prospective funding sources?
- Budget. You have to create budget! Many films get shot and then have nowhere to go but to a few home-burned DVDs or some flash drives. So, build your production budget, but also figure out who should see your film and secure funding for it accordingly. It seems that short films and documentaries have pretty poor odds for wide distribution, buy you may have one of those magical films that could go viral. Capitalize on it and do what you can to get it into the hands of the right audience.
- Build a track record. As you do more projects, you’ll gain greater influence on larger-scaled projects. Yeah, it’s the first couple that every fledgling filmmaker goes to make that are the hardest. That’s where relationships enter the scene. Take your idea and partner with another filmmaker who’s been around that you respect and trust. You’ll learn and gain credibility in the process at the same time. You will likely not get a ten million dollar contract in your first few years in the business. It’s not good business for companies to drop money in an unknown’s lap unless there is a proven track record of growth and dependability.
- Treat your film as a business. Projects are fun to do, yes, but unless you treat them seriously you may find yourself in a legal bind. Follow your state’s laws for incorporating and handling finances. Don’t skimp on this, or you could end up paying way more than you wanted. Many films are created as LLCs anymore, allowing for everything to flow properly from the production’s accounting, payroll, funding, insurance, talent, and crew sides.
- Handle securities properly. Technically, if you exchange value to a financier of your film through something promised in return for their gift, you are giving them ownership of at least a portion of your project. This creates a securities issue, and you are then required by both federal and state law to supply to that giver certain items: where the funds will be used; how the film will be used; the type of distribution the video will see; disclosure documents; types of markets; etc. It’s generally best for low-budget films to secure flat donations over offering producer credits, visits on the set, autographed props, and the myriads of other promises I’ve seen from productions attempting to secure cash. This way you can avoid the securities issue. An exception to this appears to be websites like Kickstarter, FilmFunds, IndieGoGo, and others, where it seems that these companies have some loophole space and laws have not been established regulating their processes. Hence, these sites would ultimately hold the brunt, if not all, of securities issues if the federal government actually decided to go after them, leaving filmmakers much freer in this arena. So, for now, use these sources as successfully as you can.
- Get an attorney. Legal matters need to be addressed. This is much more dangerous than refurbishing a house and not knowing local building codes; failing to follow legal matters properly could not only doom a promising project, but it could darken your reputation, too. In LA and NYC, attorneys can cost from $50-100,000 per project when securities are involved, but it might be good to shop for an entertainment lawyer who wants to serve smaller productions. For instance, Larry Haber, an attorney in Orlando, FL, currently charges about $10,000 on an equivalently scaled project with securities as the bigger film markets. If securities are not being secured, then this cost can drop significantly.
- Seek out the right financiers. Is your film about a guy recovering from an injury to compete again in the X Games? This element gives a direction on people to target for your project. You’d be surprised how the subject matter of your project will spur some to give passionately and others to turn up a nose. Find the niche who want to have a part in telling something about what they love. This is also true in social cause films. If doing a film on abortion, human rights, and other humanitarian themes, then seek agencies and sponsors who believe in what you are doing.
- Build a following. Utilize social networks and even funding sites (Kickstarter, and others) to promote and to build hype around your project. As you gather interest you will gain a potential funding base. Provide opportunities for people to see photos or videos of the production as it happens with daily or weekly updates; give interviews from actors or talent; take time to illustrate good things, and even to show where perseverance was needed to push through difficult times (vehicle breakdowns, inclement weather). When your audience connects emotionally with the project, that’s when they are willing to give. Until then, it’s just a neat thing for them to see what you are doing. A sign of this is repeat visits to your site. Once a base is established, you could offer pushes toward certain funding levels, allowing for drawings of t-shirts or other items, maybe even exclusive content for project donors. Be careful, though, to be clear on donor status, not the transfer of value from the production for money or goods given, or you run into a securities issue. Simply having the site and getting hits on it further validates your credibility, and this tool alone can serve as a fundraising tool when soliciting funds.
Note: I am not an attorney, so my views should be merely considered as recommendations. It is best to consult with your entertainment lawyer on legal methods to secure the proper funding for your film projects. One knowledgable attorney I met recently is Larry Haber, and it may be worth it to give him a call. Based on other filmmaker testimonies in the Orlando, FL area, he’s fair on his price and knowledgable in his field.