The Art of Film Finance, a workshop produced by, and held at, the Made in NY Media Center by IFP, brought together a group of producers, financiers, distributors and other experts to help independent
filmmakers learn a little bit more about financing their films.
As was obvious
by the time the final panel ended, financing an independent film is a complicated,
agitating, multi-faceted process, one that can take a lot of time, maybe even years. Below we’ve outlined some of the best advice we learned. Hopefully, the following tips can alleviate your frustrations.
1. The artist must be an entrepreneur
From the beginning of
the first panel, guest speakers returned, again and again, to the idea of the
filmmaker as a businessman who must work for him or herself. Anne Carey, Head
of Production at Archer Gray (recent films include “10,000 Saints,” “Diary of a
Teenage Girl” and the upcoming “Mr. Holmes”), said, “The artist must be an
entrepreneur. They need to have a vision and be ambitious, but pragmatic.”
Mickey Slevin, Head
of Finance and Operations for Filmbuff, said, “You know your projects better
than anyone else. It used to be that the director”s job ended once the film was
made, but that’s not the case anymore… Filmmakers with an emotional tie to
their material and their film, who actively help market their film, have the
2. Know your audience.
The filmmaker needs to know his or her audience well.
Really, really well, said Brian Newman, a consultant for the Sundance Institute Transparency Project. For instance, Newman said, filmmakers should ask themselves, “What magazines do they read? What coffee do they drink?”
Knowing your audience, Newman and Slevin agreed, can significantly determine what
route you take regarding distribution. While there are always films that break
the rule, Newman said, narrative features usually do best on VOD outlets, such
as VHX, while documentaries do best on iTunes.
3. Not all VOD platforms are equal.
While still in its embryonic stage, The Transparency
Project attempts to analyze and aggregate
information on which kind of films do well on which kinds of platforms. Most
producers and analysts group all digital platforms together in one amorphous
group called “Miscellaneous” or “VOD,” which is not very helpful. (They don’t yet
analyze specific platforms, i.e. iTunes and Netflix, because, Newman said,
“They might get pissed and shut us down.”)
4. There is money in the marketplace – if you know where to look.
“There’s a fair
amount of equity right now,” Carey said, “There’s money to make movies. Look at
Netflix.” Everyone was unanimously impressed with Netflix’s recent purchase of Cary
Fukunga’s “Beasts of No Nation” for a whopping $12 million.
“We had a film by a
first-time Irish filmmaker, a period piece, and Netflix swooped in, offering an
amount of money we couldn’t turn down,” Shumaker said. “The problem is that
major [movie theater] chains are out then. They won’t want to show the movie.”
Films that debut on a streaming platform such as Netflix may get 600-700 screen
awards qualifying runs, as is the case with Shumaker’s Irish period piece, but
they’ll make their money via subscribers. (“Luckily, we had a filmmaker who was
agnostic about how his film was seen,” he added.)
Executive VP of Acquisitions for Sony Pictures Classics, recalled how crazy HBO looked when they shelled out big money for “Angels in America.” Yet, they made $500 million from new subscribers
because of the film’s prestige and popularity.
“We had a film
called, ‘The Laramie Project,'” Carey said. “It would’ve done two weeks at the
Cinema Village and no one would have seen it. But on HBO it found a huge
5. A-list actors help, but it’s more important to find the right actor for your film.
You can have an A-list actor who will help get your film exposure, said Carey, but it’s better to have actor who can bring something
artistic to the film, citing Alexander Skarsgard and “Diary of a Teenage Girl.”
(Also, Skarsgard is European, not American, so he was less squeamish with
regards to sexual content, Carey said.) Speaking of Europeans…
6. Look to Europe for funding – or else cities, states and countries with tax incentives.
rather certain Americans—take issue with the government offering money to help
support the arts (their taxes might go up—Oh God, the taxes! Why doesn’t anyone
think about the taxes?), European countries, particularly France, love to help
their filmmakers, financially and creatively. “And God bless them,” joked Josh Astrachan, co-founder of Animal Kingdom Films.
Xavier Lardoux, Head
of Cinema for the Centre National du Cinema et de L’Image animee (CNC), pointed
out that France is “the birthplace of film.” The CNC offers 800 million Euros
per year to help produce and distribute films, as well as a tax rebate of 20
percent, a number that will purpotedly go up to 30 percent next year, to help
attract films to shoot in France. (In case you were wondering how Woody Allen
gets his films made, “Midnight in Paris” and “Magic in the Moonlight” took
advantage of this offer). Read more about the CNC tax rebate program here.
But New York can help
you, as well. In New York, you can get between 15 and 30 percent of your budget
in refundable tax incentives (in Canada it’s up to 50). As long as everything
you do is in spirit of the law, New York will pay for everyone who works below
the line (i.e. everyone who isn’t an actor, writer, director, or producer). Read about New York State Film Production Credit here. If you’re shooting in New York City, you can apply for the “Made in NY” Marketing Credit.
“It’s irresponsible to not take advantage of tax incentives,” said John Hadity,
Executive VP of EP Financial Solutions. “It’ not your money, it’s your
investors’ money—unless it is your money and you want to just waste it.”