Recently, I was lucky enough to attend Film Finance Forum West, presented by Winston Baker. They did an excellent job at rounding up some of the sharpest minds in the world of film financing, who collectively painted an interesting/optimistic/encouraging/bleak portrait of what it takes to get a movie made in today's economic climate.
A lot of facts and figures were thrown around, and I felt my head starting to spin often as panelists discussed tax rebates, legal fees, risk mitigation, federal subsidies, gap loans, supergap loans, and more.
I'll do my best to break it down as simply as possible. Without further ado, here are some of my top takeaways from Film Finance Forum West.
Do your homework and learn as much as possible. If you really want to produce films with a sizable budget, learn everything you possibly can about tax rebates, risk mitigation, federal subsidies, different forms of loans, etc. Did you know that if you shoot your film in Saskatchewan, they'll practically pay you to make it there? I didn't, either. If these terms seem intimidating to you, reach out to more experienced producers, lawyers, etc., to help point you in the right directions. Essentially, don't be afraid of "not knowing", as it's the first step toward ultimately knowing.
"This is the way you're going to make money on my movie" is the approach you want to take with financiers and distributors. It's not enough to just have a cool concept, a catchy title, and an artful poster. Few can afford to throw around money recklessly in a recession, making it as important as ever for independent producers to put together finance and recoupment plans for financiers. Research similar titles and find out how they performed theatrically, on DVD, VOD, etc. Most investors are focused on capitalism, not your artistic dreams.
Know your audience. Accept the fact that very few films appeal to all audiences and target as specifically as possible. (In the case of my film, Bad Batch, I've accepted the fact that in no way is it for everyone. However, people who enjoy either stoner comedies or b&w verite drama may get a kick out of it.) If your film breaks out and achieves mainstream success, that's fantastic; however, very few films are marketed toward all audiences a la Toy Story 3. Know what your consumer wants and supply it.
Action and thriller perform better internationally. If you're looking to produce an action or thriller film and you're able to land bankable stars, (even of the 50 Cent and Val Kilmer variety), you're in a good position. A lot of comedies don't translate well abroad, though car chases and avenging harm to family members seem to always be in style across the globe. (I'm lighting myself on fire as I type this.)
Less movies are being made??? Apparently, Hollywood judges the number of movies being made by how many receive MPAA ratings, which makes perfect sense. Due to current the current state of the economy, this number is on the decline, though submissions to festivals like Sundance and South by Southwest have never been higher. Essentially, there are less mountains and there have never been more pebbles. (However, if your "pebble" has stars attached, it could one day blossom into a beautiful mountain in the eyes of the studio system. I think I may write a children's book about this.)
"There's only one barrier to entry for any business: money." This was a direct quote from Ted Sarandos, Chief Content Officer of Netflix, and it stood out to me like Dirk Diggler's name in Boogie Nights. It's so simple and so true. If you can get the money, you can make the movie. (It doesn't hurt to bring on a line producer to get a better sense of what your budget will be, either.)
"Despite all the #s, it's all about the script." I forget who said this, but it made me happy. Even if comedies and dramas (my preferred genres) may not perform as well internationally and be tougher to finance, it all still comes back to the script. If your script absolutely kills and you're relentless about getting the right people to read it, have confidence that your passion will shine through and people will take notice. It doesn't hurt to have a good marketing and recoupment plan, either...
While film financing (on a scale beyond micro-budget) is something I'm still wrapping my head around, Winston-Baker's Film Financing Forum West did a great job at pointing me in the right directions. If you're totally in the dark about where to start re: film financing, feel free to contact me on Twitter @AbeSchwartz. I might be able to help.
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