is there a market for shorts? Small and usually non-profit making
to the filmmaker. But there are festivals and competitions and
websites devoted to short films where they can compete and win
monetary prizes, sponsor awards, and most importantly get exposure
and recognition of their work which can open doors and push them
along to their next film. It is a real good idea for anyone making
a first feature film to have a number of shorts under their belt.
You learn filmmaking and get better at it with experience. You
learn so much from making a 5-minute film
imagine how much
you learn by making ten of them and how much more ready you will
be to make your feature epic? Because when you get there, you
do not want to fail! If you do, it will be even more difficult
to make #2 (if ever) and keeping away from ringing phones from
your disgruntled investors.
now comes the Everest climb
how to raise money to make a
feature? How much money? If you are planning a less than $100K
film raised from family and friends, then God bless you and good
luck. The reality of making anything at that level with a possibility
to be sold is slim, simply because you wont be able to afford
enough production values to make it compete in the marketplace.
If youre thinking Hey, what about Rodriguez who did
it with $7,000 and the guys who made The Blair Witch Project for
$35,000 and sold it for a cool mill? My answer is first:
hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent by the respective
studios to increase both films production values to release
level, and second: how many Rodriguez have there been since him
(and he proved through the years he had the big-time gift) and
the Blair boys had a genius idea that surmounted their pedestrian
execution which luckily enhanced their premise, and won the lottery
when Artisan bought it and had the long-shot, first hit release
driven by ingenious web hype. If you are in this game to win the
lottery, buy weekly tickets instead.
are chances so slim to make a marketable feature for under $100K?
Because the first biggest mistake is not to use professional actors
and the second biggest is not to use professional crews like a
good DP, focus puller, dolly grip, soundman, wardrobe, make-up,
at that budget you simply cant afford
them and your results will probably be non-marketable. For the
record, SAG has a low-budget agreement even for this budget level,
and if you have a good script and are personable, and you can
make pro actors believe in your filmmaking abilities (show them
your best award-winning short) then they might devote a few weeks
of time to work on your film with the hope it is a winner. In
short, do not use family, friends, and amateurs in speaking roles
in front of your cameras if you are making a feature film
might be fun on the set but it will be hell at sales time.
my experienced opinion, it takes in todays world a minimum
$500K to $1-mill to give you the ability to put together pros
in front and back of your camera if you are serious about a chance
at distribution sales. Now how to raise it
short of your
last name being Gates, you gotta find investors wherever
they lurk. Welcome to Everest!
talking to people about investing their precious dollars, on what
everyone on the planet (including millionaires at mental institutions)
knows is a very risky venture, youve got to be smart and
know how to put together the right investment presentation that
will give you the very best chance to succeed. How hard is it
to raise private money? Well, it took the talented Coen Brothers
three long years searching for $250K to make their first feature
Blood Simple and it took 46 investors to raise it. And thats
in 1984 dollars! Yes, thats the perseverance and focused
patience it takes!
first hurdle is to come up with the answer to the universal question
you will be asked by 100% of investors: What happens to
my money if you do not finish the movie? Since everyone
knows you cannot sell an unfinished film, your truthful answer:
You will lose every dime? Not exactly one that will
make checkbooks materialize! So what you first need is the boondoggle
for all indie filmmakers: The Completion Bond. What is that and
how do you get one?
completion bond is an insurance policy that guarantees
the investors that if the production runs into trouble they will
step in and insure its completion even if the bond company has
to put in their own funds to finish it. I call it the necessary
evil false insurance
necessary because it provides
the only credible answer to the dreaded investor question, and
evil because they are very hard to get for films under $1-mill
and if you succeed in getting one you will now have a self-imposed
supervisor with powers to rule over you. What does
a bond cost? Between 6% to 3% of your budget
if you are a
first-timer, it will be 6%
if a proven filmmaker with a track
record, then closer to 3%. You will need to include this bond
fee as a line item at the bottom of your budget.
you sign the bond deal, you give them full power of authorization
on your movie. They get to approve the budget and schedule and
your major department heads
and they keep an eye on you like
a hawk, as they should, to protect themselves. During production,
they get daily reports of everything
how much film did you
shoot, what time you broke for lunch, what time you wrapped, etc
If you are doing well and on schedule and budget, they will not
hassle you and remain in the background. If you start to mess
up, meaning you get 10% behind schedule or over budget, daily
visits and meddling will occur instantly. If they feel your genius
DP is too slow, they can fire and replace him
if they think
you are shooting too many takes and using up more stock than budgeted
or you are getting out of control or youre overwhelmed,
they can fire you and replace you with a hack director who can
step in and finish the sucker fast. The bond is to insure completion
to the investors
not to you. If they take over, they will
finish the movie the fastest and cheapest way possible so they
do not have to spend any or much of their own money.
Which is why I call it a false insurance because if
the movie is completed in a hurried, uncaring, sloppy manner,
it will not be much good. Yes, the investors will have a completed
film but one very difficult to sell
thus the boondoggle!
not go to these bond meetings without bringing along the production
manager who prepared your budget and schedule to answer all questions
you will have no clue about such as how much gas is budgeted for
the equipment trucks or why catered lunches are at $13.75 per.
You will also need to show the resumes of experienced department
heads you have recruited as they will want to approve your DP,
first assistant director, stunt coordinator if any, sound man,
the major players on your team. If one of those
companies approves your show, they will give you a Bond
Intent Agreement Letter which is free and all you desperately
need to complete your investor package.
I have seen hundred of proposals and investment packages and most
all are way too complicated and packed with nonsensical bullshit.
I believe this is the primary reason why most filmmakers fail
to raise feature funds, regardless of how good their networking
skills. If you are doing a boxing movie, do not include 10 pages
of ridiculous statistics about how much money Rocky made! Investors
are not idiots, especially when parting with their money, and
the best success you will have is to be professional in your presentation
of a sober, carefully planned, easy to comprehend business opportunity.
suggest you stick with this very simple, fair, and proven plan.
First, you do not need to set-up a legal entity or hire a lawyer
just make some stationary and if you dont
have a cool company name go with your name John Smith Productions.
The simpler you keep this plan, the more professional you will
seem, and your investors can give you a quick yes-no, which is
what you want to keep moving forward up the slippery slope. How
long should the plan be? One page! Here is all you need for text:
The Business Plan for the production of the motion picture ______.
Structure: 50-50 The Managing Partner (you) shall own 50% and
investors shall own 50% of the movie.
Budget: $500,000 (for this example)
Point: 1 = $10,000 (a point is one percent
you divide whatever
your budget is by 50 since you are selling 50% of the movie. This
becomes your investing formula: an investor who will invest $40,000
gets 4 points
an investor who can only invest $2500 gets
0.25 point, etc
Start Date: ?/?/?? (the one you think you can meet and raise all
your money by
this is when the money will be due from investors.
If you dont raise enough by then, you change the date to
a later one
if you already have committed investors, you
simply send them a letter informing them the Pre-Production Date
has been changed to ____, they never mind as it just delays when
they have to give you their $$.
Distribution of Revenue Sales (were still
on the same page).
First Position: Investors Recoupment (this means investors get
paid first their entire investment
if they insist it should
include interest, dont argue.)
Second Position: Deferments Paid (deferments are delayed payments
negotiated with everyone - crews/actors/service - that will accept
a DP wants $4000 a week and you only have $2500 in your budget,
you offer $1500 deferred. This is not a guarantee as deferments
are paid only if first positions have been paid.
Third Position: Profit Distribution (every dollar now gets split
50-50 between you and the investors)
if you cant get
the actors and crews you want to work for your budgeted salaries
plus deferments, the last offer you can entice them with is points
out of your share. If you made a winner, they get to share the
win and own a small piece of the pie which everybody likes.
point: if you are the writer/director/producer or any combo or
single title, do not write a salary for yourself in the budget
when asking investors for their money to realize your passion
they dont care how you have to survive while
making the film
you show confidence and trust when they see
not a dollar of theirs is going to pay your rent, food, or phone
you show that you are sure this film will make enough
money to wait till profits to see your end. Thus, try hard not
to give away points to others, as this is your share and all the
money you will ever see on this film, that is if there is enough
revenue to ever get to Third Position pay-offs.
paragraph: As soon as the investor points have been committed,
we will hire a lawyer to set up our legalized company to meet
our start date.
your entire business plan and all anyone needs to say
yes or no. Attached to this is another page titled: Investors
Letter Of Intent. Write two sentences on it: I _____have
agreed to the intent of investing in the motion picture titled
_____ and will commit $_____ for the ownership of ____% points
due on the pre-production start date ______. I understand that
a production company shall be formed by that time which will hold
the copyright to the film, and I will receive a formal agreement
with final terms and conditions to be agreed upon. Thats
add a space for your investor to sign and date below.
This is not a legally binding commitment, just an intention, thus
no need for a lawyer or costs of setting up an entity
you never raise the budget, why waste your money on legal fees?
Now, when you have enough signed letters in hand to make your
movie (totaling 50 points,) hire an entertainment attorney (legal
fees should be in your budget but youll have to front it
at this point as no investor has given you funds yet and youll
get reimbursed later) and let the lawyer decide which is the best
way to proceed. They will recommend a few ideas: probably a corporation,
a limited partnership, or an LLC. This will partly depend on how
many investors and what states they reside in as it applies to
state taxation laws. Once the attorney has set up your company
and all its intricacies, they will provide you with a more detailed
investors agreement outlining the terms
you make copies
and take those back to each investor before the due date
hopefully read, agree, sign, and give you the check amount they
had committed. Bravo
go make your movie!
However, if an investor has changed his mind months later when
you returned or his daughter suddenly decided to marry the wacko
kid next door and he now needs the money to throw a big wedding...you
smile, grit your teeth, and quickly go out and find another to
either that or run over the wacko kid
part of the Everest icy slippage factor.
investors package includes the following in this order:
The Business Plan page and the Intent to Invest letter.
The script with a double-spaced, one-page synopsis clipped to
do not ask investors to read screenplays
are busy folks making money
most will be happy to just quickly
read what the movie is about Oh, another teen comedy with
lots of fart jokes
my kid likes those! Bingo!
The full budget
they will never read it but they will know
it exists and will read the top sheet which is all
they care about. Explain the above and below-the-line numbers,
point out the zero salary for you, the contingency
at bottom (10%) to cover any surprises, the completion bond fee
(6%), and of course the grand total at bottom.
The shooting schedule
again they wont understand it
so make sure you have a top page with the basics: # of shooting
days, # of night shoots, # of location interiors and exteriors
you look organized.
Resumes of department heads committed to your movie
those to show you are surrounding yourself with experienced folks
to make up for your lack of it. If you have enough money to hopefully
attract a small name actor pal, or you have chosen your lead actors
already, have those pics and resumes included here.
Your own resume
make it sound as good as you can
short film, every competition entered even if no wins, any awards,
if still sparse, throw in the Science Fair win in high
at least theyll think you got smarts and youre
not just a lunatic asking to take their money.
The Completion Bond letter that answers the dreaded question.
now have a professional presentation for your film project: easy
to understand by any interested layman, and a clear and concise
investment structure for the production. Start out by printing
about fifty of these presentations and then start looking for
investors to hand them to at hopefully lots of meetings. How do
you find gambler-spirited investors? Well, thats
the really hard part! If you want to make your film bad enough,
start climbing Everest and dont forget to bring along a
first-aid kit for cuts and bruises.
I almost forgot, there is another option: the life affirming,
karma positive, zen of craft, reality by fire experience
Greenlight. I hear thats only a 50,000 to 1 shot for the