Friday, December 10, 2010

Give Me Money - Money Can't Buy Me Love

While submissions roll in, which puts our focus on the finished product of the uber-indie film world, I ran across an ad on Craig's List that has my thoughts turning to other end of the process – fundraising.

We've all seen these ads before, where some filmmaker has a script that's "a guaranteed hit." All they need is a producer with funding. This particular ad boasts "access to A-list talent." They are looking for five million dollars and expect to find it from an "executive producer" that must provide "proof of funding."

Well, hell. All any of us needs to get a project off the ground is funding. And you know what? If you have five million dollars in your war chest, you've got access to all the talent you want. It's called a casting director, and they'll work for whoever can pay them. Some will even work for a producer credit and backend participation if they believe in the project.

But I can't fault these guys for asking. (The Securities and Exchange Commission might, but not me). The fundraising process is impossible. Doing the impossible is extraordinarily frustrating. I remember going to conference after conference trying to learn how to raise money for my first movie. I summed up all of the advice I heard as, "To raise money to make your movie, first, you make your movie, then..."

Major studios have difficulty finding investors. Major production companies with distribution deals with major studios have difficulty finding investors. So you're an inexperienced filmmaker with access to "A-list Talent," whatever that means, and a script? In other words, you're an average Los Angelino. Why should a stranger consider your request, when the A-list talent has a pile of scripts of their own that they'd like to get funded as well?

So, enough of the negative. Let's look for the positive.

I'm positive you can't raise five million dollars on Craig's List.

What's a filmmaker to do? Let's take a closer look at the advice I gleaned from all of those conferences. "To raise money for your movie, first, you make your movie, then..."

You've got a script with a five million dollar budget, but you don't have five million dollars. You believe in your filmmaking skills. Chances are, you've got friends and family who either believe in you as well, or can be guilted into an affordable investment. But, you'll never raise anything like five million, so what do you do?

You make your movie. Your OTHER movie. You think you've got skills, then it's time to show them off. Sit down in front of your computer and write a script that you can afford to shoot. This will be a lot harder than the million dollar script. You're going to have to write-the-hell out of it. Dig deep into your imagination, your emotions, your soul. You won't have expensive film tricks to make dog & pony show gags to hold your audience's attention. Sure, if you're doing a slasher film, you can use cheap film tricks – but those have been done so often that you'll need a boatload of imagination to make them fresh.

When you're done with your script, read my blog from cover-to-cover. There's a good chance you've written something exactly like a thousand other finished movies that are making the festival rounds. If you want to make your five million dollar movie, you're going to have to prove that you're a good investment risk – that might mean you write two or three scripts before you get one that pops off the page for the budget you can afford.

One good writing trick I recommend is the 180 degree rule. If you're writing a drama, make sure you've got plenty of comedy. If it's a fast-paced action film, make sure you've got some nice quiet emotional scenes, etc.

Once the script is done, polished, re-read, re-write, work-shopped, thrown away, re-write again, etc. then you're ready to hit your friends and family up for the money. Make it for less than $10,000, since that's about what you can hope to recoup in the best possible world of Netflix and Amazon downloads. If you do better, great. The main thing is to be able to say your first film made money.

Now it's time to put those filmmaking skills you think are worth five million dollars to work. Your no-budget film has to look like a low budget one, since it will be your calling card. Make the very best movie you can make. Shop it around. Do the festivals. Find a distributor. Pay back your investors.

Then do it all again.

After a couple of hits with movies below $100,000, you might be ready to look for the bigger money.

Final bit of advice: Don't think of the ultra-low budget movies as a stepping stone. You have to love them. You have to put your heart and soul into each of them, because if you don't, it'll show up on the screen. With no money, no stars, and no big distribution deals, all you have in your corner is your own love for the story and the process of telling it. Without that, you might as well quit right now.

Good luck, and thanks for reading.