How did the boundary-pushing directors find backers for their SXSW films? It’s often one of the first questions people ask after seeing the offbeat features that fill the Austin lineup, so Indiewire decided to check in with the filmmakers themselves. The big takeaway: There’s simply no set formula how to make a low-budget indie in 2016.
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Ryan Steven Green, "The Hollywood Shorties": My co-producer/director of photography and I took turns swiping credit cards. But beyond that, I think that the festival run and subsequent distribution of my first feature film, "Circle the Wagen," was enough to convince prospective crew that participation on this film was a good bet. Folks were willing to work for free, deferred or incredibly reduced rates as a result, which made production costs far more manageable. Readiness to do any and all work needed is also imperative, because nobody is ever going to love or believe in your film as much as you yourself.
Jake Mahaffy, "Free in Deed": A private investor in the U.S. bought the film for production costs. The New Zealand Film Commission supported post.
Stephen Kijak, "We Are X": Luckily for me, Passion Pictures came to me with this fully packaged. It was a work-for-hire situation that quickly blossomed into a passion project.
Clay Liford, "Slash": We’re your typical independent film. We arranged a combination of grant money, individual investors and crowd-sourcing. And, naturally, globs and globs of elbow grease.
Anne Hamilton, "American Fable":
We found financing through a wonderful private equity investor in San Francisco who grew up in a farming community, who loved the story and who really wanted to support a female director.
Jamie Adams, "Black Mountain Poets": Three years ago I was doing the day job — working as an assistant editor on a small sci-fi feature and Jon Rennie was supervising the VFX shots. We would have lunch together and this one day I looked so down because this movie I’d been setting up no longer had the finance. Jon said, "Okay, let’s not get carried away, but I have just come into some money. How much do you need?" "11.5k," I replied. Next day, Jon says "I’m in, let’s do this!" Once we completed "Benny & Jolene" for £13k I convinced Jon it was part of a trilogy of five day features, he bought it and I got to work.
Emma Rozanski, "Papagajka": Indiegogo and the generosity of various sponsors.
Chadd Harbold, "Long Nights Short Mornings": It took a long time, several years, and was by far the most difficult part of this process. The film came together with different financiers and different actors, only to fall apart. We never would have the financing and a lead actor attached at the same time, until we finally did. Shiloh Fernandez, the actor we cast, will always have my thanks, for a million reasons, but because he stuck with the film for a year when we had no money.
Alex Lehmann, "Asperger’s Are Us":
The movie had three stages of funding. I paid for it myself until I knew I had something great, but I couldn’t afford to finish it out of pocket. Next I crowdfunded and got it to a great place and showed it to my friend Mark Duplass (we worked on "The League" together for four seasons). Mark fell in love with the doc and asked to come on board to help shape the final phase of editing.
Matt Ornstein, "Accidental Courtesy": It was traditional diversified financing. Mostly begging and borrowing, but also some stealing.
Josh Bishop, "The Dwarvenaut": Nate Taylor, our producer, cobbled together some cash from a bunch of places. Mostly from gamers from the Dungeons and Dragons community who really support the message of the movie. It also helped that a ton of our crew worked next to nothing because they really believed in the project.
Kate Trumbull-LaValle, "Ovarian Psycos": We raised initial funds through ITVS’ Diversity Development Fund, coupled with our own money to help us get started. Soon after we launched a modest Kickstarter campaign to begin production. We then were lucky to receive ITVS’ highly competitive Open Call. We were also generously granted support from Pacific Pioneer Fund and Cal Humanities. We also launched a final Kickstarter campaign to help us cover feature costs (not covered by the broadcast), festival expenses and to help bring our main characters to SXSW for the premiere.
Todd Bieber, "Thank You, Del: The Story of the Del Close Marathon":
The film was financed by Upright Citizens Brigade, the comedy theatre based in New York and LA. Del Close, the subject of the doc, mentored the founders Amy Poehler, Matt Besser, Matt Walsh and Ian Roberts. It was a tiny budget, but we made it work.
Ti West, "In a Valley of Violence": Jason Blum has an amazing ability of getting small genre films financed quickly. Plenty of people claim they can do that, but very few actually can. Jason actually can, so he was the first person I told the idea to in hopes he would dig it. He sent me to NYC to pitch it to Ethan Hawke, and then I went home and wrote the script in a couple weeks and sent it to both of them and they liked it, and a few weeks later John Travolta signed on and about six months later we were in New Mexico making a Western. As a low-budget filmmaker, momentum is your biggest motivator, so major thanks to Blumhouse for believing in the film and moving so quickly.
Mike Flanagan, "Hush": "Hush" was co-financed by Intrepid Pictures and Blumhouse, both of whom I’d worked with prior to this picture. I approached Trevor Macy and Jason Blum with the idea, and I was nervous that it’d be a hard sell because of the concept — not many people would take a chance on a movie with so little dialogue — but they were both enthusiastic about what the movie could be if it was executed properly.
Bobby Miller, "The Master Cleanse": Bron Studios produced and financed the film alongside their backers Creative Wealth. They’re Canada-based and recently produced "The Birth of a Nation."
Adam Pinney, "The Arbalest": The film was financed through my producer, Alex Orr. We pretty much had a set budget and worked hard not to exceed it. Early on, we discussed crowdfunding, but ultimately decided to keep it all solely financed.
Patrick Shen, "In Pursuit of Silence":
Through two Kickstarter campaigns, a small grant, birthday money, my kids’ birthday money, and a lot of generous support from trade associations, corporations and other organizations who really wanted to see this film made.
Morgan White, "The Slippers": I am very lucky to work for a production company called Tricon Films & Television, who generously financed the film.
Fran Strine, "Hired Gun": We financed the film through a combination of pooling our own money, sharing our vision with a private equity investor and finding a corporate sponsor, Monster Products. They caught the project early on and really believed in the message.
Jason Cohen, "Silicon Cowboys": Our producer raised funds from independent investors who were interested in the subject matter.
Musa Syeed, "A Stray": We were very fortunate to receive grants from the Jerome Foundation, the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, the Vilcek Foundation, and the Luce Foundation. We also received in-kind grants from Canon and Convergent Designs, which took care of our basic camera/media package.
Carles Torrens, "Pet":
After two years chasing "Pet," a movie that had been in turn-around at MGM for over 5 years, I decided to buy the screenplay myself, and make it as a low-budget indie. I shopped the project around for a few months, until the guys at Revolver Picture Company decided to take it on, putting up half of our budget, in addition to producing. The other half came from private investors in Spain, as well as a cash prize I had won at the Sitges Film Festival a year prior, the Cine365 award. Such a prize involves getting funding for your next feature from the European cell phone carrier Orange.
Zach Clark, "Little Sister": Forager Film Company, which is run by Joe Swanberg, Peter Gilbert and Eddie Linker provided the majority of the financing. The rest was pieced together mostly from friends and family.
Joel Potrykus, "The Alchemist Cookbook": Two years ago I met Bryan Reisberg at SXSW. I was there with "Buzzard," he was with "Big Significant Things." After hanging at a few other festivals, we decided to join forces. He tracked down money, along with his producing partner Andrew Corkin. We knocked on a a lot of doors and were able to piece it together through some cool, trusting people. Finding money is always tricky. No different this time around.
Julia Hart, "Miss Stevens":
We wrote the script, put the main cast together, put together a lookbook, and then the sales agents at WME and ICM sent the package out to several financiers who they thought would respond to the material. Beachside responded almost immediately. They really got the story and the characters and the movie we wanted to make from the very first time we all met up.
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