In a film market that is more difficult to read than ever, independent filmmakers are finding themselves with countless options for financing and distributing their films. But just because there are more options, that doesn’t mean things are easier.
At the recent Middleburg Film Festival, moderator John Horn, host of KPCC’s “The Frame,” sat down with Rick Allen, CEO of SnagFilms, producers Pam Williams (“Lee Daniel’s The Butler”), George Parra (“American Hustle”) and Mark Sennet, financier and producer William Hasselberger and actress and producer Bo Derek to talk tips and tricks for financing your film and getting it seen in an increasingly competitive market.
Start with the story.
“I think it’s all about the script,” said Williams. “It’s all about the elements of the film that hopefully come together before you pitch. It’s about the thematics. What does that movie speak to me about? Find the universal element that you think you and the investor can both feel.”
George Parra, who worked with David O, Russell on “American Hustle” and “Joy,” agreed. “If the script is great, then it pretty much can sell itself,” he explained. “But it’ll always depend on who you’re talking to. I find the ones that are hard to sell in an independent market are more commercial comedies. Because that audience doesn’t really get it. The story can be hard to latch onto.”
Know your goal.
Derek, who produced her first film in 1981, provided some advice for beginners. “I produced my film when I was very young,” she said. “Consider packaging and get your elements before you go in. Get your vision of what you want to make. It’s very difficult once you get going, there’s a lot of compromises to be made and you can lose your way and end up making something you didn’t mean to make. So going in with a clear and concrete idea is the easiest way to stick to what you have in mind.”
Get to the pitch.
“With respect to the story, that’s what compels people,” Allen explained. “Business people are used to getting a story very, very quickly. The elevator pitch. That’s the capacity, very succinctly to state not only what the story is but why it’s important. That’s very hard, to take a long script and boil it down.”
Understand your audience.
“It’s also important to understand who the audience is,” Allen continued. “There are very few films that can touch every demographic and it’s impossible to market that broadly unless you’re a huge studio. So if it’s a smaller movie, who’s the audience that’s going to be compelled to see it and how do you know it’s going to be deeply touching? Those are the questions that become really important.”
Talk to investors in their “own language.”
“[Financers] have our own language, and if you’re asking us for our money, you need to know our language. Be able to explain what you’re doing, from our perspective, from our point of view,” explained Hasselberger.
While it may be tempting to sell your film as a surefire bet, the reality is that most films don’t make much money. “It’s very important,” Hasselberger continued, “to not pretend that there’s no risk. Don’t lie and say something is a surefire project because there’s no such thing. Embrace your risk. Don’t try to run from it.”
“Guys like me are going to try to do due diligence for you and your project, he said. “So don’t lie to us. Also, put some of your own skin in the game. If you’re contributing to a film and the filmmakers put their own money into it, you think, ‘This is a good deal.'”
Hedge your bets with talent.
Sometimes, the most important part of your package can be the most expensive: actors. But getting even big names doesn’t always mean your budget has to grow.
“To pitch a particular script to an actor or their manager, that’s the hard part for me,” said Parra. “Because if you sell the actor, everything kind of falls into place. Actors will definitely take less money just to be in a good film. One of my favorite films that I did was ‘The Way, Way Back.’ Both Steve Carell and Toni Collette took nominal fees for that movie.”
“We’ve talked a lot about the risk and losing money,” added Derek. “And at the same time there are certain projects that might be a little less expensive, and with the help of talent and other good elements, you can certainly hedge that risk.”