Film Funding: The Cold Hard Facts
Once you’ve launched a film production company, the next step is looking for funding for your productions. Funding a film is much easier than you may have heard. Most of the people writing books and teaching classes how to raise money for a film have never actually managed to do it themselves. This makes them set the bar to unachievable things like A-List Cast or Signed Distribution Agreement. Some of the things you may have been told you need may actually be liabilities in the eyes of most funders. Expensive cast and bad distribution deals make a film very hard to fund.
The truth is, films get funded because they have a good "package" in most cases. A film package is nothing more than a very solid and attractive business plan for funding, a good script, reasonably priced/well-known talent, proven key crew, the right budget, a solid marketing strategy, the right distribution plan and rational financial projections.
The right film package in the hands of the right funder always results in investment.
Image courtesy of Andrew Magill (cc)
How to Write a Film Business Plan
Film packages are created by film producers. Sometimes the producer of a film is also its writer, or its director, or its leading man. A film producer is just the guy who decides he is going to take responsibility for putting all the pieces of a film together, from the caterer to the camera man, from the leading man to the editor. The producer embodies and champions a film before it is made.
To create a good film package, a producer must simply decide that they alone are responsible for creating a profitable film.
Most unsuccessful film producers have a distribution plan that stops with "get a distribution deal" or "get a sales agent". Their marketing plan stops with "get our film into festivals."
A good producer explicitly and concretely nails down exactly how a film funder is going to get their money back. Producers prove, through their package, that they have created the relationships, skills and information required to make a film make money.
Read on to the next page to find out more about what should be included in the business plan for a fundable film package.
What’s in a Fundable Film Package
Film packages vary from film to film and from producer to producer. Proving you can produce GONE WITH THE WIND and sell its rights profitably takes a more complex plan than a plan to produce and distribute CUBE profitably. One is three hours long, has hundreds of scenes, thousands of cast members, and it is about the unpopular topic of slavery. CUBE requires one set, a few actors, and a lot of moving around.
The following elements may appear in a film package:
A script which has been carefully chosen and tested. Tested means that it has gone through multiple readings with multiple actors, directors, line producers, and others. A script has to be something actors want to be in, that directors think is worth producing, that line producers think is cost effective and safe to make. A script that gets through that process is one that most investors will like.
A shooting schedule which has been produced by a line producer with lots of credits. You might as well make the line producer the piece of the puzzle you get after the script. Pay him to break down the script, to create the shooting schedule and the defacto production budget. The shooting schedule lists the locations, scenes and actors you need to make the film. From the shooting schedule the line producer can create the budget. Don’t try to do this yourself unless you are very familiar with labor laws, union rates, and have line produced a few dozen productions yourself.
A production budget that completely describes the costs of production. It should also cover the costs of editing, post production, writing, directing, producing and executive producing the project. In mine I also like to include cost associated with prints, advertising and theatrical release. The budget you give a funder should include all the costs of funding the film. The more exhaustive and accurate your cost analysis is, the better your chance of funding. Do not try to copy someone else’s budget and tailor it for yours. That doesn’t work and it can get you into a lot of trouble because it will look like a reasonable budget but it won’t be.
A marketing plan that accurately describes who the film is for and how you will know for a fact that those people will like it. The marketing plan should discuss similar films, methods of reaching your target markets, who you’ll be working with to implement marketing, how much marketing will cost, and how it will be staged over the production and release of a film.
On the next page, we’ll cover additional components that should be included in a fundable film package.
Business Plan Story Board by Scott Siedman
What’s in a Funding Film Package (continued)
A distribution plan that describes exactly how a film will be distributed. How can you absolutely guarantee theatrical release? How can you ensure the sale of PPV and cable rights, overseas rights, broadcast rights, DVD rights, and any subsidiary sales? Nothing must be left to chance in the distribution plan. You do not need to have a distributor signed onto your project in advance of production, and in fact this can be a liability. The deal most producers can cut with a distributor before production are very bad. Distributors value a finished commercial film and a good P&A budget.
Biographies and letters of interest from the right crew. A good line producer is absolutely essential. The line producer is what gets you a good completion bond and good insurance rates. A good Director of Photography will have good credits and great portfolio. Art director, production designer, 1st Assistant Director and obviously a Director with good credits if possible. Since many writers these days are also directing, funders may accept a good line producer and 1st AD with DGA credits as back up for a new Writer/Director. The object is to prove that your team can produce commercial quality films.
Pictures of key cast, with letters of interest if available. You can call agents for most actors to ask for their availability and budget rates. Most will not read a script or provide a letter of interest unless you have an employment contract and funding in place. Funders understand that talent can be determined after funding is in place. They just need to know who you are looking at and how much you plan to pay them. They will want to have the right to approve key cast, just to ensure you don’t cast someone who they find completely unacceptable.
Revenue projections backed up with lots of analysis. You should show how 15-20 very recent films very similar to yours have performed in theatrical release and DVD sales. You can find this data on www.boxofficemojo.com and www.the-numbers.com. You should project the value of rights sales based on industry averages by regions. You may find www.filmspecific.com has resources that will help you meet this requirement. You should include revenue from product integration (www.brand-inentertainment) and state film production rebates as well.
A letter of intent for a completion bond from a reputable bond company. You can get this if you have all the other pieces in place and you know where you’ll be shooting. You submit the package and they decide how much the bond will cost. Often you will have to pay your line producer to work with them. A good line producer will have bond companies he works with often
A letter of intent to insure your film from an insurance company. Your line producer should have a good insurance contact as well.
By the time you have all that compiled, you have a very solid film package. Adding some storyboarded scenes, a commercial quality poster, a photographs of locations and some clipart (available from clipart.com) complete’s the package. Turn the document, or documents, you’ve assembled into one or more PDF files you can email to funders. This is easy to do using default tools on a Macintosh. On a PC you may have to purchase BCL PDF which will let you "print to a PDF file". No funder I’ve ever met prefers paper documents.
Where Do You Send The Package
Film funds make a business of funding films, so they are a good place to start. You can find them on Google. You can also find private lenders that specialize in funding films, and private investors who are willing to consider film packages. There are literally thousands of funding sources available once you begin to look for them.
You should never pay up front for help getting your film funded. You should look very carefully to ensure that anyone you work with has funded other films. Before signing an agreement with anyone to fund your film, make sure they can provide "proof of funds" and ensure that those funds they provide proof of are the ones that will be used to fund your film. Make sure the funds are domestic, and that your funding contract has specific dates for when you will receive funds. Failure to receive funds by that date should allow you to terminate the contract without losing anything. Do not start production until all the funds you asked for in your package are escrowed. You may want to run credit and background checks as well.
Now that you’ve reviewed this rather long document, you should be ready to put together a film package that can actually get your film the investment that it needs.
This post is part of the series: The Film Business: How To Produce Feature Films
- Film Funding Fundamentals – Writing a Solid Film Business Plan
- Marketing an Independent Film or Documentary through Press Releases