Fundraising is a massive topic of discussion not only on this site but in the independent film community in general. Links to Kickstarter campaigns and other ways to contribute to a particular project feature prominently as part of our Project of the Day series and in other features that Indiewire runs about innovations in independent production.
In a session at the Producers Guild of America’s annual Produced by Conference entitled, “Kickstart Yourself: Getting Independent Films Made,” four distinguished panelists spoke with SnagFilms CEO Rick Allen about the process of raising funds for indie films. (Note: Indiewire is a SnagFilms company.) Directors Joe Berlinger and Chuck Braverman (the “Paradise Lost” trilogy and “High School Boot Camp,” respectively) and award-winning producers Sarah Green (“The Tree of Life,” “The New World”) and Lynette Howell (“Half Nelson,” “Blue Valentine”) shared their thoughts on the new landscape.
The varied media experiences of the four speakers made for an interesting contrast in techniques between narrative and documentary filmmaking. Berlinger and Braverman regularly produce their own projects, while Green and Howell have worked repeatedly with Terrence Malick and Derek Cianfrance, respectively.
Whether narrative or non-fiction, all the panel participants stressed the importance of going into the filmmaking process with the highest-quality pieces. When pursuing a story, Berlinger exhorted the audience to “look for an idea and take it further,” relating his own experience of turning the opportunity to make a short CD featurette into his full-length documentary “Metallica: Some Kind of Monster.”
When asked whether she ever had to turn down high-level prospects, Green responded, “If it’s truly a great script and director, I can sell it.” Once all the relevant pieces are on board, Howell explained the imperative nature of supporting the creative process, of being "a true cheerleader when the world wants to say No.” She added, “If you don’t believe in your product, how are you going to make anyone else?”
Several panelists stressed that they don't shy away from bringing advertisers on board during the process. While describing his recent work with Cadillac, Berlinger noted, “Brands have been much more willing to try things. Audiences are so fragmented, that if you have a film that they’d be willing to get involved in, for them, a $150,000 contribution is peanuts. But for you, it could be a lot of money.”
Green added, “I encourage you all to be shameless, actually.”
The panelists believe that film festivals will remain an integral part of the independent film market. “The proliferation of film festivals all around the world is staggering,” Berlinger commented, supporting a claim that Green had made earlier in the session that “showing a film with a public audience, it’s going to play a lot better,” rather than in a small room for executives.
Eventually, the conversation shifted toward non-traditional methods of distribution in an expanding digital environment. Echoing sentiments expressed at the conference by "Dark Knight" director Christopher Nolan earlier in the day, the panelists noted that the theatrical experience continues to wane in the face of increased availability of high-tech home theater systems. And Green spoke about how Malick's “The Tree of Life” crested on the first wave of Tugg, the online service that allows communities to fund and request screenings in their local theaters.
The upshot of all the new avenues for distribution, according to Howell, is that the longer the film stays in the public consciousness, the longer a producer’s role extends. “A producer works on a film like this for a long period of time with no money, working 24 hours a day,” she said. “You have to be committed to giving up that time – a year to a year and a half of your life – to making it.”
At the end of the discussion, each panelist was given the opportunity to convey one last nugget of wisdom to the audience. Berlinger spoke of the value of persistence, saying, “If you’re tenacious, you have to figure out how to get to people and be a salesman.” Howell advocated beginning that search with those most familiar: “Start with who you know. Every project is about ‘Who’s in my circle? How can I get to certain talent or money? What are the areas where you can push the ball forward?’”
Focusing on the built-in advantages a particular story might have as a path to funding, Green pushed prospective producers to ask, “What's inherent in your material? There are always unique ways to money. Really do your research and find out who will draw into your work.”