Conventionally Funding the Unconventional

    Conventionally Funding the Unconventional

    RICHARD PURVES

    PRODUCER/DIRECTOR

     Let me start with a major disclaimer and fail to read this at your utter peril! First of all, I am NOT a lawyer. Secondly, I am not YOUR lawyer. Nothing in this should be construed as actual legal advice: consult the professionals if in doubt! We’re going to touch on things involving securities laws that vary wildly from jurisdiction to another. What’s working in the UK for me (yes, I’m British) may not work in the USA or other countries. Caveat Empor!

     A lot of talk in the indie film world seems to be focused on crowd funding and other unconventional sources of film funding. I’m making the case that while these are an option, you shouldn’t forget the more conventional sources of money for your film project especially if your budget is high.

    Let’s take my own current project as an example. “Forever and a Night”, a romantic comedy co-written by myself and Neil Scandrett, produced and directed by … me!

    We’re pursuing a more conventional funding approach. The initial plan was to avoid the usual complications of funding an over million dollar budget. Complications? Oh yes, talk to a decent line producer and the terms equity finance, bridging loans, GAAP finance and occasionally film tax credits all rear their ugly heads. I’m not going to even attempt to explain all of it, there are books that will do things far better than I can.

    So far we’ve seen plenty of people make successful crowd sourced funding campaigns. We have NOT the seen many more who fail to make their targets completely. Crowd sourcing seems to be great below I’d say the $50k budget but at that level let’s face it, no-one’s getting paid even with the promise of deferments. In the UK this is now pretty illegal thanks to our minimum wage laws and the HMRC is the last organization you want to annoy. Think IRS on steroids …

    So how do you make sense of it all? Simple. Read a few books, get some ideas, google the living heck out of them and see what sticks! That’s what I pretty much did over the course of November 2010. I discovered a tax scheme in the UK designed to encourage investment in new businesses called E.I.S. (enterprise investment scheme) and it’s designed to give various tax reliefs to investors. It’s limited to 30% of what you need per investor, so lets get four 25% investors … no problem!

    That is until you find your film going past the magic million dollar/pound/euro whatever uh oh AAARRRGHHH mark. That’s why I now have an accountant who’s proved very essential! Or you may find yourself wanting to do this …

    Or hopefully not … Tearing your hair out will make you look worse than me!

    A good accountant will help you keep on the right side of various securities laws which I touched upon earlier. This is no substitute for actual legal advice however! You’ll still need a lawyer so budget accordingly. I’m in the process of getting one: he was recommended highly (oh yes, recommendations from trusted colleagues are your friend) but wants at least £1k up front plus another £20k when everything is done and dusted.

    There’s something they never taught me at film school …

    No investor worth their salt is going to give a complete unknown (and let’s face it, as a feature director and producer I am an unknown) the time of day unless there’s something to make it worth their while. That is marketability and takes form in the unholy triumvirate of crew, cast and originators. What we don’t have in originators (myself and Neil), you have to make up for in cast and crew.

    The usual rules apply: get the best people you can! I’ve a Line Producer who’s worked on sixteen different low budget (that’s £1 to £3 million UKP) films. That gives confidence that the film mechanics aren’t being run by a bunch of complete amateurs. I’ve cast attached (no name dropping yet until they’ve signed up fully) who’ve been in major Hollywood productions seen by millions worldwide. That then gives added confidence that the film will be seen and hopefully return some of that nice money they’re investing.

    This is basic film packaging 101. Stars, Crew, good rest of cast and an attractive investment package hopefully using legal tax breaks. This is more business than it is filmmaking so far and unless you’re a noted art house director, your script better be as commercial as possible. (e.g. Gaspar Noe has an audience built up over his films, which is how he can do stuff like “Irreversable” and get away with it. You and I can’t because we don’t have an audience. Yet …)

    Listen to Sheri Candler, for she gives a lot of good advice and more astonishingly for free.  She is wise in the ways of audience building for that is whom you’re making your film … right? If you’re making it for just yourself, you may as well give up now. Harsh, but ego projects rarely make money and rarely attract investment unless you are Mr. Noe (Enter The Void) or Mr. Scorcese (Gangs of New York) or more recently Mr. Nolan (Inception). They are exceptions to the rule but earned that exception.

    Lastly a decent sales agent will also help your packaging. A simple letter of intent added with some initial territory sales projections helps a LOT. Any investor worth their salt will ask for it, so get that in advance. Stacey Parks has a really good book on all this, but remember her book is just a start and isn’t a bible. It’s meant to get you running, but that’s it.

    So we’ve written a commercial script. We’re financing it (hopefully) in a conventional sort of way, but avoiding a lot of the stuff that most producers end up dealing with like GAAP finance and bridging loans.  So what’s unconventional?

    Well this is the hard part and I simply cannot give you any advice on this. Writing a genre script is hard enough, but writing one that turns the genre upside down is far harder. M Night Shyamalan reportedly wrote fourteen drafts of “The Sixth Sense” before he realized what had to happen in that film. That realization was one of cinema’s better plot twists that decade, lent a very satisfying ending and was a major box office success.

    This kind of writing separates the men from the boys. If you’re scripting it yourself, you have the luxury of time to get it right. Get it right you must. Script writers are overlooked but your script IS the blueprint for your story and the film. Without that being as right as it can be, your film hasn’t a hope because good actors will see through a bad script … usually.

    And yes, I think we’ve a script that qualifies for that. I’ve a lot of independent feedback to suggest my confidence isn’t misplaced. I’ve also feedback from people who just didn’t get it either. Your mileage will vary.

    Do NOT rush through the writing just so you can get to the fun bit (the shoot itself) quicker.

    Don’t also assume that just because you don’t have a feature track record, you’ll never get this kind of money. I’ve a single short film to my name so far!  (Mayfly – blatant plug done!) It’s more than possible!

     

    I’m missing out lots of stuff, but the end result is that hopefully you end up doing something like this:

    … only without camera bull bars sticking through your head. And getting paid for it too! (actual making a profit, paying off investors, making something for yourself and any profit points deals is a bonus!)

    Good luck!

    Richard Purves (@n0nsensefactory)

    Richard was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the late 1970′s. He was first taken to see Disney’s Peter Pan at age four and was transfixed with the wonder of the big screen, so much so that went to the cinema as often as he could in his teenage years.

    From there he had a brief career in I.T. and decided to do something more creatively fulfilling. As a result, he graduated from Newcastle College’s HND Media programme in 2002 and has been proud to be part of various short films in varying crew positions. These include Richard Reay’s “Roulette,“ Chris Jones’ “Gone Fishing,” and others.

    In 2007 he felt ready to co-write and direct his debut short film “Mayfly“. He self funded the film through three years of working as a contract I.T. engineer. This paid off and the film had it’s World Premiere at the Burbank International Film Festival as well as win a Gold Award at the 2009 Houston WorldFest.