Friday, March 30, 2007

Financing a film!

I've been reading some blogs and articles about financing that feature film and/or short film, and so far I haven't heard a really convincing argument who has done well in this arena. People are so secretive on their numbers. While others brag about how really low their film came in on. I mean how does someone get financing for their film? The DIY attitude is very wide spread and its true that many filmmakers are making their films a reality. Much more now then in recent years. Whats changed is the way distribution is handled, and how these films are finally seen. The Internet has a lot to do with this, yet getting a deal for domestic distribution involving cable, DVD, and pay-per view is still tough. I am no expert, but I've worked on a number of films, and have done a number of them to know what seems to work, and what doesn't. Mind you I was only a crew member on some of these films while on my own film I actually had to scrape together enough cash to start & finish my film.

First off back in the 80's and early 90's I remember a lot of times either freezing my ass off babysitting equipment, and or sweating in a studio with no air-conditioning. Back then and this is mostly in the mid to late 80's the word was "pre-sales". I remember that the producers of these films had already pre-sold their film to certain territories, and even had sold the video rights to them. The VCR revolutionized film making, and created a glut of films that are best not remembered. On most of the films I was paid. It was very little, but it was something I accepted because I was starting out. You want cheap labor go to your local film school and ask the department heads if any of their students would like to work on a film. Some even did it for internships and I was just as guilty, so there's a clue. Go to local colleges and ask around. Pay people something, and you'll get highly motivated workers who haven't been jaded by the politics of film making.

Politics of film making? Whats that you ask? Well its no secret that when you start up your company you don't have much in the pot, so you sweeten it by giving people who have little experience a chance to do what they love, and at the same time you get experienced people who want to move up, but find it hard. Like the camera assistant or the gaffer who wants to be a DP. That's how you work it. In essence a hungry crew. Now some producers were bastards and gave little to the low men on the Totem pole. They knew they had you, and they exploited that fact. The benevolent producers however, and yes there are those who are nice. These people hired you for a so-so wage, but made sure that you were feed, and taken care of. They spent money where it counted and that was for the comfort of the cast & crew. If you find these types of producers please say thank-you, and say a little prayer for them. They are great to work with and know what film making is all about.

Okay so far I haven't said anything relevant about toady's situation. Pre-sales are a dead issue. They don't work anymore. There is too much of a glut in films in the marketplace and studios have their choices in picking what they want. It's even hard to get into a festival if you don't know anyone on the festival committee. Kind of sucks doesn't it? But all is not lost. There are still ways you can get your film produced, and yes you'll have to jump through some hoops to that, but it's not impossible. I've heard of people donating money, and services and that's all well and fine, but does nothing if or when your picture is finished and a distributor wants it. No matter what a producer needs contracts. Get familiar with them or have one explained to you by an attorney.

Ooops! Now I did it I said the "attorney" word. This stuff was never explained to me in film school, and getting to know it caused me agita like you wouldn't believe. I found people to help, but some offers were just too expensive. Also once you form a company and have a film ready for production you're not allowed to go will nilly and send out your prospective to anyone. There's a limit, and so you better know full well that person or persons who are going to invest in your film.

So do you see why many go the self financed route? If you're new, and have no track record why should anyone invest their hard earned cash into your movie? One person said in their blog that it can't be that hard to get a couple of people to put in $3K each, and I'm telling you it is.

There's money out there, but those money people want to see a reasonable expectation of getting their money back and a bit more. How do you do this? Have a hook. Whether that's actors, or the story is up to the filmmaker. The best example I can think of is Sam Raimi and his film "Evil Dead". They made a short in super-8 and convinced some dentists to invest. They already had the connections, and they had something to show. It still wasn't easy, and they struggled, and a lot of them worked for nothing, but they did it, and fortunately Stephen King saw it and gave it its wings. The rest is history. That was way back in the early 80's and since then the landscape has changed. A picture like Evil Dead wouldn't even get a theater release now.

I hold no real answers to the debate of financing a movie. Maybe one can raise money on a grass roots level, and distribute it regionally. Lance Weiler seems to be the man who is successfully distributing his films and doing it successfully. My hats off to the man, but I don't know if his model would work for a film such as Andrew Bujalski's "Mutual Appreciation". In that example Bujalski's film had word of mouth through the festival arena, and from there it created interest. Bujalski even distributed a self made DVD of his film in the earlier stages which I thought was cool. It was a no frills one, but an interesting way to spread the films interest to a wider audience.

The answer I always give is what Spike Lee said: "by any means necessary". Of course he took this from Malcolm X who meant something entirely different, but I think we get the message. You do what you have to do. You skimp, and save your own money, and try to rally people to your film through sheer determination. If the film is worth doing it will get made. If it isn't it will fall apart, and never be seen. Simple.

It's a new world, and new ways are always presenting themselves. The theaters are going more and more towards the digital arena. No more striking a print from the lab. Now you only need a HD tape, or digi-beta to show, and you're in business. Remember the less you spend on production the more you can spend on promotion of the film. It's just as important and hyper critical in this day of quick hits and fast turn-arounds. I can go on, but you get the idea. Go out there and beat the bushes, and start scrimping and saving. Think like a producer and think what I can get for free. Then roll the dice, and see what happens.

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