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Old 07-27-2017, 12:30 PM   #1
purplenurple
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Default Financing Your Own Movie

Anyone ever bite the bullet and attempt to produce/finance their own script? Was it fulfilling? A waste? I went to a film festival several months ago and this guy was teaching filmmaker 101 panel. He made a few movies 15 years ago. I found his information to be dated. An example is if you are trying to raise money for a film hit up dentists. Sam Raimi and The Coen Brothers did that in the 80's. Anyway, a woman said she had 25K and was wondering if she should exec' produce her own film because she's frustrated. The guy said absolutely not. I guess to each their own, but it is a gamble.

On the same subject I saw a doc' on a CW actor who was trying to raise money to make his own film. In the doc' there were several people interviewed about navigating the finance world for a film. They talked to Mark Ruffalo (The Hulk) and he told some examples of his crazy adventures trying to raise money. I think he subscribes to the "never use your own money" theory because he can easily finance an indie film. Even if he went 10 mil' into a movie he can just act in 2 films and get it back.
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Old 07-27-2017, 06:31 PM   #2
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Default Re: Financing Your Own Movie

It seems that no one with real experience in this wants to step forward with an answer.

I have no experience in this.

But I think that eventually someone is going to say, "Don't do it."

I will be interested to see what some others say.
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Old 07-27-2017, 07:22 PM   #3
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Default Re: Financing Your Own Movie

I have a writer/director/producer friend who has been financing his own low budget/SAG ULB projects for the last few years. He pays for almost all of the film to be produced but does get some additional funding here and there ($5K or so range.) He shoots the films in about 12 days or so. He's not getting rich off any of this but he gets his films made, released on DVD, goes to and wins festivals, and clears enough to make the next one. I've helped him to some degree or another -- notes on scripts to polishes to even editing a 1/3 of his last feature.

Here is the thing to keep in mind... You will probably never see your money back in anyway unless you can get a distributor. To get a distributor you have to make a film that is pretty good and/or reaches a niche market that needs to be served. He does the latter as much as anything. The company(s) that have released his films have flat out told him that for the films he makes the most the film will make is around $300K. He'd get half of that at most -- if he is lucky -- and they keep the other half. Thus, don't make films for more than what you can possibly make back. Now, I won't even go into the nightmares of dealing with distributors, unexpected fees that get charged against the profits thus you see little, the hassles, the ups & downs, all the extra assets you need to have from key art, to set photos, to bios of the filmmakers & cast, etc. etc.

It's an adventure every day even after it's released and "adventure" is an extremely kind word.

If you, your friend or anyone else has money to burn, then maybe do it. It might be a stepping stone to more. But expect to lose the money. Expect nothing to ever happen with it. Expect pain & heartache. And so on.

If you know going in you'll never see that money again and probably nothing will come of the film, then make it. Do it. But please don't lose your home or apartment. Please don't starve. Please don't put yourself in a life long debt. I love movies and making them. But nothing is quite worth that.

Yes, there are those stories about Spike Lee, Robert Rodriguez and others. But those are a very few in a crowd of hundreds & hundreds of thousands.

It's true. Try not to spend your own money. Financing is much better particularly if they can lose the money and not ruin their lives. Use crowd funding, if you can. Or whatever might work. The talent never pays; but then I always heard that on studio films on which we had tens & tens of millions for a budget.

I don't say any of the above to discourage anyone. Just be really smart about it or as smart as you can. And if you have never read it, you might want to look at: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0029129NE...ng=UTF8&btkr=1

Even with money, making a movie is tough. If you are dealing with only $25K, I hope you are making THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT or PARANORMAL with a bunch of good friends.
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Old 07-27-2017, 08:50 PM   #4
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Default Re: Financing Your Own Movie

Just a different take:

I was in a writing group with Ava Duvernay about 7 years ago. She was a publicist with no film production experience. She brought her script to our group called "Middle of Nowhere". We all thought it was meh... She used 50,000.00 of her own savings to produce a smaller film called "I Will Follow". We all helped her out and worked for free. I don't think she made any money off that film, but that film was enough for someone to give her money to make "Middle of Nowhere"...which won best director at Sundance. The rest is history...Selma, Wrinkle in Time...

I also know a few other people like Drake Doremus and Zal Batmanglij who made their first films for very very cheap (though I'm not sure it was their own money...). Drake shot Douchebag only on the weekends for a few months. They both took the first step of just doing it...without waiting for permission. And it really paid off for them, not financially at first, but as far as a calling card. But it has to be GOOD, like Sundance worthy...
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Old 07-28-2017, 05:38 AM   #5
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Default Re: Financing Your Own Movie

I made my feature for about $20K, and I always say it was the hardest thing I ever had to do. I got two distribution deals, but one company was a nightmare and since folded, and the other was pretty bad, and I get a small check every quarter that will never amount to break-even.

It's called The Touchstone and it's on Amazon Prime and some other outlets.

And yeah, I say don't do it, unless you have real money to pay everyone, and can afford to lose it besides. Because when you say "financing" what you're really talking about is producing the film, right? It's no fun being on set with thirty people all waiting for you to tell them what to do, in a location that you only have for two hours, and it starts raining and your only sound recordist is awol and not answering his phone. And something like that will happen multiple times a day, I guarantee it.
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Old 07-28-2017, 11:07 AM   #6
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Default Re: Financing Your Own Movie

Quote:
Originally Posted by purplenurple View Post
Anyone ever bite the bullet and attempt to produce/finance their own script? Was it fulfilling? A waste? I went to a film festival several months ago and this guy was teaching filmmaker 101 panel. He made a few movies 15 years ago. I found his information to be dated. An example is if you are trying to raise money for a film hit up dentists. Sam Raimi and The Coen Brothers did that in the 80's. Anyway, a woman said she had 25K and was wondering if she should exec' produce her own film because she's frustrated. The guy said absolutely not. I guess to each their own, but it is a gamble.

On the same subject I saw a doc' on a CW actor who was trying to raise money to make his own film. In the doc' there were several people interviewed about navigating the finance world for a film. They talked to Mark Ruffalo (The Hulk) and he told some examples of his crazy adventures trying to raise money. I think he subscribes to the "never use your own money" theory because he can easily finance an indie film. Even if he went 10 mil' into a movie he can just act in 2 films and get it back.
I think it was around 12 to 15 years ago that a lot of the tax breaks went away and most of the doctors and dentists, who were into it, decided they didn't want to be movie producers after all. (I admit a lot of this is guesswork.)

I was involved with one of these around 2003 or 2004. My brother and I used to spend time on the late, great misc.writing.screenplays. We got acquainted with someone who was brand new to screenwriting, but really excited. By acquainted, I mean personal emails and some phone calls. We never actually met in person.

One day someone who claimed to be a doctor and that he represented a group of doctors posted a message looking for a screenwriter for a low budget (around $2 million dollar) horror film and said that they were willing to pay 1% of the budget for a script. Unfortunately most people insulted him, told them they wouldn't work for a non-WGA company, or for a mere $20,000, etc. (Most of these people had never sold anything and probably never will.)

Of course our acquaintance jumped on it. He was really excited about everything and was immediately all in. It turns out the doctor was legit and was working with someone who had been pretty high-up in the food chain of the original "Evil Dead" and wanted to do another one (sequel -- update -- whatever).

This doctor wasn't a complete idiot about making movies. He had even taken college classes on movie budgeting. And he was organized. He worked in Nashville at the time and put our acquaintance up, rent free, in his mountain summer home. It turns out that our acquaintance was a "little" manic-depressive. Usually when he'd hit a snag he couldn't work through, he'd start drinking and become completely unproductive.

Since we had had been writing back and forth, the doctor got a hold of us (by email) and wanted to know if we could get our "friend" back on track. My brother ended up helping quite a bit and wrote/rewrote parts of the script. Eventually the script was finished (about three months). It wasn't great, but it seemed to be on par with a lot of scripts in its genre.

And that's when the doctor found out that the high up in the food chain guy, from the original "Evil Dead", didn't actually have permission to do another movie. When he pitched the idea to the people who actually did have the rights, they told him he was nuts and (at that time) they didn't intend to do another "Evil Dead" movie.

But the doctor paid off the $20,000 to our acquaintance anyway.

A couple weeks later my brother and I got an email from the doctor asking if we had any horror movie ideas we would be willing to write and sell to him. I had one that I briefly described. He asked me to send a synopsis. I spent a week writing probably the worst synopsis ever written. I think I made every mistake that you're not supposed to make in a synopsis. I even included several five to ten page chunks of the still unfinished script. (But I did and still do like the idea and so I was really excited about it and I think that came through in the synopsis.)

He liked it -- called me the next day -- we talked for around three hours. He asked if I could rewrite a couple of scenes to lower the budget and I said sure. (Hey, I'm easy to work with.) He said the budget would be $1.8 million to $2 million and he could pay me 1%, and asked if I could have the script done in three months. I told him I'd let him know after I talked to my wife. I had just been laid off my real job, so I figured I'd be doing it.

Then the same day I got a phone call for a one year contract to install a large phone system at a military base. Pretty good pay. So I went with my day job and didn't write the script.

I did stay in contact for awhile and the doctor got out of the "movie business". He invented some kind of a heart valve, improvement, checker, or something like that and was busy promoting that -- so I guess he went back to his day job too.

But it was fun for awhile.
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Old 07-29-2017, 08:14 AM   #7
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Default Re: Financing Your Own Movie

Wow, interesting story, StoryWriter!

I think that Will gave an excellent answer to the original question.

I also have a friend who has made three films and is currently making another. She writes, directs, produces. Her husband works in media and is, I think, a photographer. And this is in Tennessee, I will add. She spent about a year in Hollywood several years ago, getting some experience from bit parts and from just being around the biz.

I saw her second film (DVD), which was a kind of "The Breakfast Club" knockoff with a slightly religious slant (it could possibly be something that would be appropriate for one of the religious networks or producers). I should stress that it was more ethical and moral than narrowly religious. It did not have crap about how you are going to go to hell and all of that.

Like Will's friend, she finds the money to make the films. I do not communicate with her very much, and I do not know how she gets financing. She is remarkably talented and is a real go-getter. I think that she makes a little money from DVD sales, and I know that she makes the films, as they now say, "on the cheap" (I think that this was originally a British expression).

She has a day job as an arts director in a rural county in Tennessee (one which actually has a well-respected theater). She is probably not yet 30, and she has been acting and singing since she was a child. She has also recently published a YA novel. What I am saying is that she is exceptionally talented and has a track record of getting things done.

For someone like her, the option of making a film herself is reasonable. But I would see that kind of project as a disaster for most people.
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Old 07-29-2017, 11:26 AM   #8
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Default Re: Financing Your Own Movie

Quote:
Originally Posted by ComicBent View Post
I have no experience in this. But I think that eventually, someone is going to say, "Don't do it."
Quote:
Originally Posted by Done Deal Pro View Post
Here is the thing to keep in mind... You will probably never see your money back in anyway unless you can get a distributor.

If you, your friend or anyone else has money to burn, then maybe do it. It might be a stepping stone to more. But expect to lose the money. Expect nothing to ever happen with it. Expect pain & heartache. And so on.
Quote:
Originally Posted by muckraker View Post
And yeah, I say don't do it, unless you have real money to pay everyone, and can afford to lose it besides. Because when you say "financing" what you're really talking about is producing the film, right? It's no fun being on set with thirty people all waiting for you to tell them what to do, in a location that you only have for two hours, and it starts raining and your only sound recordist is awol and not answering his phone. And something like that will happen multiple times a day, I guarantee it.
If you're thinking of financing your own production of your screenplay, you might as well burn money, something I once had to do to stay warm in the dead of winter deep in the Chattahoochee National Forest after I discovered a dead black bear near several military duffel bags stuffed with bundles of cash.

The moral of the story is, it takes a lot of money to keep things hot, especially a movie project. Money burns up quickly, but it burns up even more quickly in the movie business.
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Old 07-29-2017, 06:49 PM   #9
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Default Re: Financing Your Own Movie

When I was at this film festival I mentioned starting this post and this producer/director was talking about financing and how to raise it. I think he meant this to be a small fraction of his discussion on filmmaking. It turned out to be a sticking point because he was bombarded with questions he wasn't equipped to handle it because his background was more traditional. He sold a script to a production company then got an agent off the sale. On his second script sale (with agent) he was able to get into producing by being on set and from there eventually he got into directing. This was all in the mid-nineties or so. Mind you he wasn't making big movies - just low budget stuff and making a living at it. As I said his suggestions seemed dated, but that was because I read a lot of biographies. When this woman mentioned should she take on the financial burden of making her own movie he thought that was a terrible idea. BUT there were a hundred of us in that hall and most of us either wondered about it or were intrigued because despite all the avenues that need writers now it seems more difficult to break in.

About 15 years ago I used to pay for a query system to pitch to agents/managers & producers. I wasn't even very good at it and could usually garner a few interested parties. Twice I landed a manager and got a few reads from producers. Now in 2017, I strategize and work on a log line/synopsis with the same concentration as a tech on a space program. I even invite various experts to lend their skill to my letter and I rarely get a bite.
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Old 07-30-2017, 10:53 AM   #10
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Default Re: Financing Your Own Movie

I think it really depends on what "your script" is. Some people here have 1-2 screenplays and they've written them to be classic Hollywood big budget films. You shouldn't try to finance something like that yourself unless you're a) rich b) well-connected and/or c) really experienced/knowledgeable and have tons and tons of talented friends who will work for free.

If you've been writing a while and always WANTED to be a filmmaker, then you really should start it from the filmmaker angle. Make some CHEAP/FREE shorts, like one every weekend, make them all yourself, do it all the time til you're good at it and then start getting shorts good enough to WIN in film festivals (good ones.) THEN you can start making features.

I've posted this before. Good people to google: The Duplass Brothers (Cliff Notes: They spent $30,000 of their parents' money or their own and made a really shitty feature, then spent a long time kinda depressed, then made a short called "This is John" that cost about a dollar and got into Sundance. This got the ball rolling, they made a bunch of inexpensive but clever shorts, then inexpensive but clever features and now they get stars in their features and are getting ready to show-run their (second?) TV show. Important to note: Mark and Jay both act, so they can make money while they're not writing/directing AND add to their visibility. This is really smart. One article from 2015 Another.

Joe Swanberg, similar situation and if you google him you'll find articles about how he kind of wasn't making money at it, even though he was successful but kept investing in his movies and after a while, he's doing well.

Kat Candler started out as a screenwriter, I think, won the Chesterfield, made several features on her own, then went back and made really amazing shorts that got into Sundance, and then started making Sundancey features with Jesse from Breaking Bad and now she's directing lots of episodes of Ana Duvarnay's Queen Sugar.

Other people I know have spent $20-$30,000 (all their savings) on a feature that tanked them and they're still kind of recovering -- emotionally, financially, etc.

If you're an amazing writer and have an amazing script and can get acccess to funding and/or get into those programs, then maybe it'll work.

But like others said, don't expect to make money.

From my experience, I shot a short doc for $200 that made zero and got into a few festivals and won an award. That got me a bit of credibility with other filmmaker friends. Then I made a terrible but cute narrative short with my family for like $200 (because I suck at editing I needed to pay someone to finalize the edit on both). Then with those and a Sundance QF/2nd round thing on a screenplay I wrote I was able to gather a cast and crew so I could direct/produce a web series adaptation of a feature I had wanted to make. This ended up costing a fair amount from my pocket, but overall was probably worth it. I never made any money from it and it was admittedly not awesome. But. Onward and upward...

What I found from that experience: you can't afford to shoot it the way you want it to be if you're doing it yourself. (At least in my case) but it's cheaper than film school and you learn and you'll have something to lead you toward the next thing.

I ended up deciding writing was way cheaper than filmmaking, so wrote more scripts and ended up adapting the web series into novels. Then I sold a short and didn't love the way it turned out, so tried making another short. That one totally turned out, but was expensive (and shouldn't have been... I wanted to shoot it in another state. Also, again, keep in mind, to make a film you should either LOVE editing or be willing to pay someone.)

It's a trade-off. Kind of a question of how badly do you want it to exist and in what format, with the added bonus question of how much of your life and money are you willing to sacrifice to make it happen?

(Because at the end of the day, these studio people are also sacrificing time and life and money... if you wouldn't sacrifice it, should they? Be prepared with reasons when you pitch...)

Also: regarding funding. You'll hear stories about investors and dentists, but they really need to trust that the people they're giving the money to are talented professionals who will complete the project. Be sure your group has that. Otherwise, you can go to crowdfunding, but the truth is unless you have a zillion enthusiastic friends (aren't most writers loners?) they tend to fall a little short if you have never done anything like this before. You have to write a really compelling pitch and have some great giveaways because even your friends will secretly look at your pitch, think about what you've done, and evaluate whether or not they want to give you fifty bucks. They say you really only have ONE CHANCE to ask -- beg -- everyone you know for money on a crowdfund, so you should be really sure the one you pick is THE ONE.

Most people fund early shorts and things on their own -- maybe they had savings, birthday money, rich aunt died, etc. When you don't hear about funding or people yammer about "private investors" it's usually stuff like that. I honest-to-God was talking to someone in line at a festival about my web series and he kept asking about where I got funding. So I answered honestly, "So I'd shoot a little and then wait til I got another check, and then shoot some more..." Him: "Where are these checks coming from?" Me: (huh?) Him: "Who gives you these checks?" Me (flabbergasted): My EMPLOYERS! And POP -- the disillusionment bubble, folks! There it is!

I think there's no getting around hard work.

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