Finance for the Independent Film

Without money it is impossible to make a feature film. You need to have equipment, canary-1locations, crew, cast, props, make-up and the list goes on. Currently I am going through the process myself in preparation for my feature film ‘Canary’. I have secured a director and have put out word for cast and crew (mainly thanks to Jamie Weston).

Today the average Hollywood movie can cost from $50 million – $250 million (Trigonis 2013) while independent films usually have a lot less to work with. The big question is where will we get the funds?

There a number of sources to gain funds these include grants, crowdfunding and investors. By the end of a project a feature could have used all these sources or only one. For this post I will be focusing on start-up funding and disregarding distributions funding which is often gained once a film has been created.

Investors:

For the majority of independent film projects, investors will only invest if they see a financial gain in the project and therefore the film has generally already been made and has completed/completing the festival circuit (Reiss 2011). However if a company feels the project has a strong cast, crew or story they may invest early on although in today’s financial climate this has become increasingly rare.

In a forbes article written by Emma Dunkley (2015), she discusses the risks of film investing with Marin Sherwood, highlighting that the risk doesn’t just lie with the filmmakers but also those investing the money. “Film has a reputation of being highly risky and only a very small number become blockbusters, so the stats are against the investor,” says Martin Sherwood, a partner at Enterprise Investment Partners. “A lot of UK movies do not make much, if any, money. Only occasionally one or two do.”  Some investors in tax-efficient funds face a loss of 40% when unlisted media companies performed poorly.

Tax relief schemes also encourage investors to put there money into films (Mannan 2013). However it is still important to make sure the film scheme is under the Enterprise Investment Scheme to although for the tax relief to pass on.

Sponsors:

A simple and easy way of getting funding is through sponsorship (Brindle 2013). In most Hollywood blockbusters audience members will be able top spy key brands such as apple and coca-cola. In the film ‘Fight Club’ directed by David Fincher, it was claimed in an interview that a Starbucks coffee cup can be seen in every scene (O’Neill 2014). However sponsorship doesn’t need to come from large brands charities, individuals or companies will often sponsor documentaries which promote there services or products. Thurlow (2008) emphasis the use of small companies sponsoring so their logos can appear after the credits showing their support.

Grants and community organisations:

Clifford Thurlow (2008) in his book ‘Making short films’ explains the difficulties of gaining grants due to the limited sources available. “Funders face the unenviable task of shifting through a deluge of paperwork and, to help them select which projects are going to get backing, filmmakers with a track record tend to rise to the top of the pile.” Thurlow adds that the process isn’t a bad idea but preparation is key. It is more like a ‘lottery’ than skill but preparation can make your project stand out that little bit more.

The largest source of finance for films in the UK is the ‘Film Council‘ which often post online applications for film grants. Another source is Creative England which looks to promote English made work, promoting the history and culture as well as work ethic. The number of grants and investment available is a reflection on the financial suitability of the country. There are therefore less grants available today than there were before the 2009 financial crash.

Crowdfunding:

Thurlow (2008), Brindle (2013) and Reiss (2011) all recommend crowdfunding as a source of film fiance. It is a way to market your film and gain a following as well as receive the necessary funds needed to create the project. Howkins (2013) in his book ‘The creative Economy’, believe that the online platforms work best for films, games, performances and music albums due to its “scope outside of mainstream financial regulations.” It was also reported that 10% of films shown at Cannes and Sundance Film festivals were made due to crowd sourcing. Due to campaigns lasting anywhere between 1 week – 50 days, it allows filmmakers to promote the project directly to an invested audience and secure a small distribution opportunity immediately.

 

In conclusion film finance depends on each individual project and the strength of a director’s/producer’s preparation, contacts and opportunities available. It is also important not to focus on only one method but use as many revenues as possible to acquire the budget needed. For most films the majority of finance will open up after the festival circuit or during the distribution process such as ‘This is England’ (2006) directed by Shane Meadows or ‘Whiplash’ (2014) directed by Damien Chazelle.

References:
Brindle, M. (2013) The Digital Filmmaking Handbook. London: Quercus Editions Ltd. Pages 136-137.
Dunkley, E. (2015) Film funds offer a possible route for investors. Available at: https://www.ft.com/content/ebbbb892-6b88-11e5-8171-ba1968cf791a (Accessed: 12 December 2016).
Film, B.C. (2016) British council film. Available at: http://film.britishcouncil.org/ (Accessed: 12 December 2016).
Howkins, J. (2013) 2nd Edition. The creative economy: How people make money from ideas. London: Penguin Global. Pages 65 – 67.
O’Neill, O. (2014) Fight club: 19 things you didn’t know about the film. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/11130111/Fight-Club-20-things-you-didnt-know-about-the-film.html (Accessed: 12 December 2016).
Reiss, J. (2011) Think outside the box office: The ultimate guide to film distribution and marketing for the digital era. 2nd edn. Los Angeles: Hybrid Cinema Publishing. Pages 42 – 44.
Thurlow, C. (2008) Making short films: The complete guide from script to screen. Second edn. New York: Berg Publishers. Pages 81-83.
Trigonis, J.T. (2013) Crowdfunding for filmmakers: The way to a successful film campaign. New York, NY, United States: Michael Wiese Productions. Pages 3
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