Sunday, January 31, 2010

Financing Indie Films... the options.

When we made 'Shoot The DJ', we were aware from pretty early on that we were going to have to fund it ourselves. No one's going to give us money to make a film about ourselves especially when we've got no real track record of film-making. As it turned out, we did invite people to invest half-way through the production and people did...but we didn't really look into it too much and never really explored the potential of 'investors'.

Since then, i've come to know a few film-makers who have made their films using money donated via their websites...some film-makers are using this method alone and not investing any of their own money...just their time.
The model usually works something like this:
They set up a donation/investment webpage or use something like Kickstarter to take the pledges/donations. In return for varying amounts, they offer different packages. For £10, the investor might get a mention in the credits. For £50 they might get a DVD, a mention in the credits and T-Shirt. For £500 they are sometimes offered parts in the movie itself as well as all the other perks. Some movies are even offering 'Executive Producer' status for big enough investments.
The film-maker usually sets a target budget that they are trying to raise and then they use social networking sites to bring traffic to their fundraising site and generally spread the word.
Now, this is good for several reasons:
  • The Film-maker retains control of the project
  • Investors/Donors often help to publicise the project
  • No one invests so much that they are relying on success
  • Your investors won't tell you what you can/can't do with the money
But...the down sides are:
  • It can be tricky tax-wise. Are they investors or donors?
  • Your film must appeal to a wide range of people... the more specialist the subject matter, the less investors will be part of your target audience
  • If your first film funded this way bombs... your audience & investors may not want to invest again
  • You need a very good pitch to get investment. That means before you have your budget, you need to show people what your vision is..that might mean a trailer, some 'name' cast or even a previous film. Not easy with no money in the bank yet.

So what other options are there? As we all saw with 'Four Eyed Monsters', credit card funded movies are not the way forward. Arin and Susan had to recoup a lot of money to cover their credit card debt before they even got close to turning a profit. It's a one-shot deal. Once you're in's hard to borrow money ever again.

What about private investment? It's always worth a go... approach someone with enough cash to fund your movie with your plan and see what happens. But, to be honest... most people know that even movies with 'name' directors and cast can it's always a risky investment.  That said, people are very often eager to be part of 'the movie business' and this can work in your favour. There's always the outside chance that your movie will be the next 'Paranormal Activity' or 'Blair Witch Project'.
My next film is in the planning stage right now. I'm considering all of the options and trying to think of a unique selling point. That's the key. People will invest if there's something we can give them that they can't get anywhere else.... i've just got to come up with what 'it' is. But investment from punters over the net is only a small part of the plan. Product placement, pre-sales, executive producer investment and personal investment will all need to be explored. And what if a distributor or production company wades in with a deal? Would i be prepared to lose control of the project for enough finance to make the film i can see in my head? That's a good question... and i honestly don't know the answer.


  1. Hey there,
    My vote is the kickstarter model. It's a model that works. Especially since it can allow you to make your film for less. Here is how. Pay your team by giving them soft pay. Say 100 pounds a day. But not real money. Then let them know that upon first dollar in, they get the portion of ownership of the project they've earned. This is much better then deferred pay. Deferred means that after the investors are paid back that the crew gets money and it usually has a cap. This is great for the creative team cause it gives them incentive to want to make it as good as possible and to work for little or no money. So everyone shares in the risk and everyone shares in the gain.

    If that works well for a project, then maybe the next one could be backed by even more people and raise enough to give people larger base pay. Still pay them partially in co-ownership but help them cover their bills and eat.

    You could always take a small amount of investment if you need it, but with FEM, thats essentially what we did. We were investors using the money we pulled off credit cards to make an investment. So we had to pay ourselves back before we could break even and then use what we paid ourselves back to pay off the credit cards.

    Good luck with your film.
    That is my two cents...
    Arin Crumley
    Co-Director of Four Eyed Monsters

  2. Great plan Arin. I like the shared ownership model for the reasons you mention. I've looked into Kickstarter and it seems perfect...unfortunately it's not available in the UK yet. Do you know of any alternatives to Kickstarter?

    Have you looked into product placement at all? I know it's hard to find even for bigger budget films, but i wonder if niche films capitalizing on online marketing might attract web-based products/services?