February 28, 2008

The Art of Film Funding: Alternative Financing Concepts

The Art of Film Funding: Alternative Financing Concepts
by Carole Lee Dean
Michael Wiese Productions, 2007
251 pages

 

Early in her book The Art of Film Funding, Carole Lee Dean wonders what might be the missing ingredient in the filmmaking process that seemed to prevent excellent projects from going forward while lesser films somehow got made. “It soon became apparent that the missing ingredient is faith,” she writes. “You must have faith in yourself and faith in your film.”

As I read this, I thought it was the sort of circular thinking exposed by the Steve Martin movie Leap of Faith. The faith healers would say, “If you have enough faith, you’ll be healed.” So if you’re not healed, it’s proof that you didn’t have enough faith.

But as I read further, I realized that these days getting the money to make a film at the professional level is such a difficult and time-consuming process––so full of rejections––that just to persevere requires an almost maniacal belief in oneself and one’s film. And I’m sure this has to be especially true for a first-time filmmaker. As Dean points out in her introduction, “If you don’t have funding, you don’t have a film…[and] if you do not learn the art of film funding, your film career is going to be very short.”

What becomes clear from this book is that getting a film funded is very similar to starting a new business. It’s hard work—really a full time job for someone. And if that someone is not you, then you probably need to add a partner or hire a producer whose passion for finding money is equal to your passion for making films.

Making a documentary is neither just an artistic endeavor nor just an act of social value. Like it or not, it’s a business—a highly competitive business at that. And the truth is that someone who is not as good a filmmaker as you––but is better at business––may be able to make film after film, while you are still trying to get your first one off the ground.

This book is a long walk down Funder’s Alley, with every stop revealing a different way to fund a film. Dean knows the business, knows where the money is and knows what it takes to pry it loose. She has been directly involved with the funding of independent films and documentaries since 1992, when she created the Roy W. Dean Grant Foundation, which has provided filmmakers with millions of dollars in good and services. Before that, she created Studio Film & Tape, which, among other things, offered short ends of film left over from completed productions to independent filmmakers at prices they could afford.

Her book is full of good ideas about every aspect of film funding:

  • How to pitch your film to a stranger in the line at the grocery store. She tells us about a documentarian who raised $5,000 that way. (p. 26)
  • Getting small businesses to give you things you need to make the film—that you otherwise would have to pay for—instead of money.
  • Getting production services—everything from the use of a studio to lights and cameras—at well below rate card. It’s not automatic; you have to ask. And you have to know how to ask.
  • Product placement and how it can work even for a documentary.
  • Going after foundation grants again and again and again.
  • Why you need a trailer or demo to help you raise money.
  • A 44-point checklist for holding a fundraising party to raise instant cash.
  • Why it's important to make friends with funders, even those who turn you down.
  • How to be a champion rat-runner in the maze of public television.
  • If you can get a little bit of money together, there are people who can help you get more.

She also alerts the reader to the many legal and tax issues that can create a minefield for the uninformed, or ease the way to donations for those who take the time to learn about them.  And she tells you about the other costs that need to be in your budget, that you may have overlooked. Filmmakers tend to focus on funding the three Ps—pre-production, principal photography and post-production—but there are a number of other items that will also have to be funded: marketing, distribution and promotion.

There are several interviews with funding experts and with filmmakers who have succeeded at finding the funds and making their films. Their advice is priceless.

The end of the book is a lengthy appendix of resources that includes:

  • Production resources for public television
  • Internet search tools
  • Databases, resources and tools
  • Online articles
  • Print resources
  • Writing resources
  • Business promotion/public relations
  • Organizations
  • Funders
  • A production list of companies that have donated to the Roy W. Dean Grant Foundation and that offer “quality products at excellent prices.” (p. 240)

This book really needs an index, because it is full of information of all sorts that is not necessarily always located in the chapter where you might reasonably expect to find it.  Unfortunately, it has none. Nor is there a proper bibliography, although a number of books are listed in the appendix under Print Resources.

Warning: There is a bit of new age mysticism early in the book. Dean clearly takes this quite seriously, and that could be a turn-off if you don’t. So, if you like this sort of thing, enjoy it; if not, keep reading, because most of the book is very practical information.

In fact, The Art of Film Funding is so loaded with solid advice, it’s too much to digest all at once. I suggest you read it through to get the big picture, then keep it on your bedside stand and read a few pages every night. You’re sure to hit something worth thinking about.

 

Barry Hampe is a documentary scriptwriter and the author of Making Documentary Films and Videos, Second Edition (www.makingdocumentaryfilms.com), just published by Henry Holt and Company. 

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