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Attention Filmmakers: 5 Tips for Financing and Distributing Your Next Project

Attention Filmmakers: 5 Tips for Financing and Distributing Your Next Project

The second annual Middleburg Film Festival wasn’t just filled with good movies and fine wine. There were also filmmaking panels including one dedicated to film distribution and financing.

READ MORE: Attention, Filmmakers: Here’s How Not to Negotiate a Distribution Deal

A tight-knit group of aspiring and established filmmakers gathered to listen in on a panel dedicated to the nitty gritty mechanics of film financing and distribution. Moderated by John Horn, arts and entertainment host for 89.3 KPCC, the panel consisted of Rick Allen, CEO of SnagFilms (Indiewire’s parent company), and producers Pam Williams, William Hasselberger, Lauren Versel, Mark Sennet and Laura Bickford. 

Here are five take aways from the panel:

1. Respect the boundaries and truths of the filmmaker/investor relationship. 

“It’s a hyper-rational world. We have a different language, we have a different expectation. We expect to be able to employ mathmatical based model to come up with predictions of the future. I think when [filmmakers] come to people like me, I think it’s a mistake to try and talk our language and try to convince us that there’s a rationality involved in this…there are expectations that are reasonable to have…so I think it’s important when you come to people like me who are not in your world, not to try to make it sound like your investments are like my investments…[they’re] fundamentally different. But there is potential for greater reward and therefore we expect people like me—we expect there to be more risks.” — William Hasselberger (Investment banker, producer)

“There are investments that are non-risky, there are investments that are risky and I don’t think anyone investing in a film is putting 80 percent of their portfolio in. So some investments are to make money or to make their money back…and other investments are for fun. And you should do it if you’re passionate about the story, if you’re passionate about the people that you’re working with and you’re going to have fun with it and you could make money.” — Lauren Versel (Producer, “The Last Five Years”)

2. Recognize that studios are going to superhero franchises, thus making it even harder to produce films outside of that scope. 

“Looking at ‘Spiderman,’…which has franchised, has a built an audience…it’ about risks. They do the same models that you do on the independent side and they look and they say ‘okay.’ They’re going for the sure thing. ‘The Butler’ was a movie that started in a studio. And again, while the costs raised up to $30 million, at the end of the day, had that been studio movie it would not have made money. Because we made it, all of the cast was paid $65,000, you know, nothing. Everybody came because the passion for the movie. If Sony was making it, they wouldn’t have taken $65,000. That $30 million would have easily been $60 to $70 million…[and] that’s not in profits. I think that’s why they don’t make medium-size [budget films]. [They’re] really hard to make.” — Pam Williams  (Producer, “The Butler,” “The Amazing Spiderman”) 

3. The digital revolution, influenced by shifting consumer patterns, is changing the distribution landscape rapidly. 

“Money is getting back to the filmmakers in each of the areas of on demand distribution. And I’ll go in descending order of where the money seems to be,” said Rick Allen, CEO of SnagFilms, then pointing out two of the major models dominating today’s distribution platforms:

Pay on demand: “They split the revenue for the charge to view.”

Subscription Services: “Netflix is obviously the biggest and has been the most important for the independent film sect. They are buying fewer films now. Their acquisition budgets are not picking up the same number of films that they used to, in part because they’re focusing on their own original productions.”

Allen also outlined Netflix’s priorities in this order: TV shows, major feature films and then independent films. “They will pay license fees so that is extremely important to pencil any project,” he said. “The difficulty is what they’ll pay is markedly less than what they used to pay five, six years ago.”

4. Allow no room for coddling in collaborations.  

“You want to partner with studios. You don’t want them as your mother and father to wrap their arms around you.”

— Mark Sennet (Producer, Sennet Entertainment) 

5. Most important of all: have a damn good story to tell. 

“The script is really your best weapon to put the package together. And it is amazing how many bad scripts are out there. And it is finding the needle in the haystack to find a script that is really good, that is compelling, that has all the attributes that are going to bring…talent.” — Pam Williams 

“Content is king.” — Mark Sennet

READ MORE: How the Middleburg Film Festival Attracts D.C. Heavyweights and Locals Alike 

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