Joanne Butcher, Bay Area filmmaker coach, enjoys mirthful repartee. photo: courtesy J. Butcher
I MEET A LOT OF FILMMAKERS WHO GET
stuck at certain points in their careers when it comes to raising money to make their films. The way I like to think about this is that there are strategies for making a first film, that are different from making a second film, and then different again for a third film.
What I often see is a filmmaker will make one, two, or a few, short films and then be in that moment of making the big move to their first feature. And this is where things go haywire.
These are earnest, talented and driven individuals, running around looking for a million to five million dollars to make their first feature. They spend a lot of time trying to understand the mystery of finding the “magical film investor.” Then they burn themselves out because they did “not find the right people,” or feel rejected, or feel like a failure.
What they don’t understand is: They are using the wrong business model.
Finding investors might work with a third film or maybe even a second film. But it’s not going to work for a first film. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, but I get tired of hearing about the exceptions, instead of the way the rules actually work.
Let’s say you are venturing out to make that first feature. My suggestion is that you look around your own network—we often refer to this as friends and family—and figure out what you can raise.
In traditional fundraising terms, this is called “capacity.” What is your capacity to raise money? Maybe you can ask your family, or an employer, or your friends to pitch in. Maybe you ask people individually or maybe you use crowdfunding.
When you look at it from this perspective, maybe you see you can put together $20-$50K. When you compare those numbers to a million dollars, it sounds like peanuts! But, when you are working on your first feature, you’ll soon find that that’s a lot of money to be spending, especially when it’s basically your own money!
Each time you successfully make another film, not only do you grow in your skills and abilities but you grow in the size of your network and your capacity— your capacity to raise money!
What filmmakers need to understand is that at the very same time they are developing their network of creatives, they need to expand their audience and their access to money. This is called capacity building. As you build your capacity to fundraise, you can go from raising 20-50K to 200-250K and beyond.
The second part of this plan, that I recommend you at least consider, is making a movie that you know you can sell. “Well that’s ridiculous,” filmmakers often respond, “how can you know you can sell a movie?”
People routinely get rich from making a widget for a certain price and selling it at a profit. I like to say that filmmaking is the only career where it’s common to make a widget for $25 and sell it for $3! But that is NOT good business! What IS good business is to make a widget for $3 and sell it for $25.
How about the idea of making a film for $30K and selling it for $100K?
Does that sound like good business? It would be in any other field of endeavor. But in film we prefer to talk about “The Blair Witch Project” (1999), “Get Out” (2017), and other anomalies that make millions and that are also unreproducible.
I don’t want to suggest that it’s easy to raise 20-50K. And I certainly don’t want to suggest that it’s easy to make a film that you can sell for that small amount of money. If no one has ever mentioned this before, let me be the first: filmmaking is ridiculously hard at any budget!
But when you are working with a small budget that doesn’t allow any leeway whatsoever, it will demand everything of you in a way you will never forget! After that experience, everything else will seem like a luxury.
Don’t deprive yourself of this experience. Challenge yourself to participate in the business of filmmaking. There are thousands of films made every year for tiny amounts of money. But this doesn’t guarantee that they are watchable or that they are sellable.
The filmmaker that makes a 20-50K film that will be seen only by his or her friends is engaging in a practice that has no meaning. Most narrative filmmaking exists within the context of a business. By entering that business, the filmmaker sets out on a path that can lead from one good project to the next.
Joanne Butcher is a business coach for filmmakers working on sales, fundraising, business and money. You can reach her via email or her website.
Posted on Jan 06, 2018 - 11:56 PM