Billed as an intimate weekend of unbridled truths and inspirational success stories, the Film Independent Forum dangled film financing insights as the primary hook to attract aspiring producers to four panels on October 22 at the Directors Guild Theater in Hollywood. Attendees came away reassured that the key to getting a narrative feature film made in today’s economy is having a budget that matches the filmmaker’s available resources.
“Every picture has dream budget, and then the budget that you can actually get the film made for,“ said attorney Craig Emanuel of Loeb & Loeb during the first panel of the day, Movie Math: Film Financing Today.
“Budgets keep going down,” Fox Searchlight executive Matthew Greenfield stated in the afternoon’s Shopping Your Project: A Financing Clinic panel. “Budget is only sometimes related to quality. Only you know when you’re going too low. Find ways to do things cheaper that don’t hurt the project creatively.”
Here's the day's five key indie film financing talking points.
Yes, equity investors are still interested in independent film. During the financing clinic panel, ICM packaging agent Peter Trinh said he’s seeing more private equity coming to the table. A producer who wants to fund a film for $2 million is in luck; that's a favored range for wealthy individuals. However, "Che" producer Laura Bickford reminded attendees that once you find such a person, you must speak their language: Skip the passionate pleas; present a business plan. They want to know how a film will make its money back.
Do not overlook the benefits -- and hidden costs -- of incentives. Incentives and rebates offered by foreign countries and individual states remain the independent filmmaker’s best friend when it comes to augmenting a budget. That said, Emanuel warned that many states are currently reassessing the viability of such programs.
In the Ways & Means: Production Case Studies panel, producer Gina Kwon said that German production incentives greenlit “The Future," while Eli Craig said they sent him to Calgary to shoot his “Tucker & Dale vs. Evil“ flick.
However, both Emanuel and Kwon warned that such deals can have side effects, including travel and immigration issues, tax return complications, local union and guild issues. Emanuel advised filmmakers to carefully do a viability analysis to make sure the cost/benefit of location incentives outweighs the benefit of shooting locally.
Your genre matters. Craig wanted to make a comedy that mocks horror films. He met with production companies that said they’d love to finance it – but as a straight horror film. Later, when the completed film played Sundance and won an audience award at SXSW, distributors shied away because they didn’t know how to get a handle on the mixed genre. Other panelists warned that comedies and American sports films were nearly impossible to get foreign pre-sales.
The more days you can shoot, the better. When asked what they would have done if they had more money, all the panelists on the Ways & Means: Production Case Studies panel agreed: First choice is more shooting days.
Mike Ott, who made his largely self-financed no-budget film “Littlerock” over the course of 36 days, said having so many shooting days allowed the actors to try things and experiment. Kwon said the 21-day shoot for “The Future” wasn’t ideal, but it allowed them to make the movie rather than waiting for a larger budget to materialize.
Crowdsourcing works. Let the Crowd In: Crowdfunding Case Studies, showcased films that raised half of their budget by using the platform Kickstarter. Motivated by an agreement with an equity investor who promised to provide matching funds, Jennifer Dubin, Cora Olson, and Jocelyn Towne raised $111,9565 for their feature “I Am I” over 30 days. By working full time on the campaign, doing publicity and utilizing Twitter, the filmmakers were surprised to find they knew only 20% of their funders.
Additionally, making the Kickstarter video and handling all the promotion for the campaign helped launch director Jocelyn Towne’s voice and built a fan base for her and the film. Said her producer, “It was clear that she could do this movie and it would be awesome.“
The Film Independent Forum continues on Sunday with panels covering the festival circuit, distribution and marketing.