Producing : How do I raise money to make my movie? by Georgia Hilton

Georgia Hilton

How do I raise money to make my movie?

it's simply.... spend your own money. Here's the deal... There is no way, absolutely no way, outside an act of God or winning the lottery, that someone is going to simply give you money to make a movie... UNLESS: 1. You have a proven track record , 2. you are marketable/bankable, 3. You have a solid COMMERCIALLY VIABLE script. and 4. You have your project together and truly ready for funding. So how do you get there? It's easier than you think, but will take more work than you think. The first step. Write a FEATURE LENGHT movie script that you can AFFORD to shoot. What? You can't afford to spend any money... well start making film friends and building relationships...( you'll need the anyway ) Help them, and you'll learn how to make movies by working for others, even for free and you'll be building savings in the "favor bank" for your film. Anyway, back to the film issue: Shoot a low cost movie, It's what I call an "In the Box Movie" - basically you write a script that takes place in near real time, in a BOX ( a hotel room , a car, a phone booth, an apartment, a film vault, a bank vault, a small business etc ) You can shoot one of these for under $10K.... probably less. REMEMBER - IT MUST BE A COMMERCIAL MOIVE - not the one you might WANT to shoot, or your fav, or even one that inspires you or tells the story you are dying to tell.... It just has to be commercial. I'll explain why in a second. Show your stuff... either your writing, and/or your producing, and/or your directing skills and make a nice solid quality low cost film. THEN - here's the important part... why commercial? Because you need it to MAKE MONEY... not much , but it has to make money... to make money it has to be sold, to be sold it has to be commercial. Because agents and distributors only buy commercial films. Once you've made and sold your low cost movie and it's made some money you can go to investors and say the magic words... Yes, I made a movie for $10K and it made $100K ( doesn't matter if YOU personally ever make a dime, the movie has to make money. This makes you a successful, film maker with a track record.. Now go to your friends and family and people you know and do it again , this time for $50K with the same rules.... You can go to friends and family for $10K or $20K, you can toss in $10K of your own, you can go to companies and land some product placement ( if not for money , then at least for Craft services supplies a,etc. ) Make the $50K COMMERCIAL film and payback the investors with at least a modest ROI. NOW, you have a track record and are marketable/bankable... Now start talking to the bigger guns for $250K to $500K.. Once you've delivered on that one. you are ready to go after $1M or so.. Do that and you'll be making a living making movies. It's extremely hard time consuming work... This is NOT an easy industry... No one is going to toss you $5 M USD to make your amazing Script... Ain't gonna happen. Hell , no one is going to give you $100K.. unless you already know them. Why. Because you have NO track record of making movies that make money. If you aren't willing to mortgage you house, sell the car and go into debt ( all of which I DO NOT RECOMMEND) then you don't believe in your project... if you don't believe in your project enough to throw in money. why in hell should a complete stranger do it? Stop looking for the bucks for years with just about zero chance of success....... Instead - make a movie you can afford, right now, and get started in the right direction. Once you've make a couple low budget project that are COMMERCIAL and have MADE MONEY , you will have learned how to put a project together, you will have a track record, you will have made connections, and you will b marketable/bankable... and the doors will open.

Georgia Hilton

FYI: if you write a screenplay with a budget in mind, plan and budget accordingly, AND carry out the plan properly and systematically, you should never fall in that dreaded over budget moment and you won't have to "nickel and dime" the project because everything was properly accounted for up front. That's what a good producer/UPM/Line producer can do for you.. If it's simply you or 10 people on the producing team... doesn't matter if your producer has solid budgeting experience and project management experience and the team are committed to delivery of a quality project. side note: ALWAYS add 10% to 20% of budget for contingency... because no matter how good the plan.. it never survives first contact with reality....

David Hanigan

Have you read Indie Film Producing by Suzanne Lyons. It might talk to you. dh

Peter Carr

Producing filmed entertainment is the same as any business. Why people think it takes a 'special' ability to do so I've never understood. Like any business there is a partnership between art and commerce, business owner and bank .The titles may differ but ultimately the players are the same. Do you want to produce it yourself or team up with a company who has a track record?

David Hanigan

"People are consciously or unconsciously fixated on boundaries and systems. We are hoping for whatever can be delivered through a system. That is a form of mind control. " Creative freedom is not a system. Freedom needs creative power otherwise it just sits there. We all have at one time or the other abandoned our creative power but fortunately it never really goes away. We must try to be aware when we choose roles that don't require creative power. And stop thinking systems and boundaries are a winning strategy. dh

Doug Nelson

You want money? Show me what you can do - then, maybe we'll talk.

Georgia Hilton

@Doug - yup! thanks the part most people seem to think they don't have to... they just want it handed to them.

David Hanigan

Please leave me out of this conversation. Thanks. dh

Geoff Harris

How can a low budget project ever be 'commercial' and 'make money'?! Especially when you can't get the cast to make it so, as per your other post!!

Doug Nelson

All I can suggest Geoff is that you do the research. Jason Tomaric made the film “The Day Bobby Jones Came Home” sometime in 02/03 at a cost of $2,000. It made a profit. Research the “Blair Witch Project”, “Paranormal” and even “Precious” (not a real low – low budget). It can be done if you really, really want to (but no one said it’s easy.)

Georgia Hilton

@ Geoff - easy... make it commercial... read my posts... I'm in final post production on my last film. Delivering to Lions Gate and a number of other distributors. No known cast, overall cost to date $60K. Final delivery the total cost to make the film will be $70K. We've pre sold the movie for over $150K. that's cash we're getting prior to Delivery ( there is a 20% hold back until delivery )... PLUS we get a nice back end percentage. We are estimating the $70K film will gross more than $1M and we will get about $250K to $300K total at minimum... so... $70K Spent Return of around $280K - thats an ROI of 400% - done... Cheap commercial film. We've sold to UK, US, Canada, Japan, Thailand and we're working on Beligum, Germany, Central Aferica and South America, as well as other markets right now to contine to increase the amount we are going to get on the back end by adding more markets.... http://www.subconsciousfilm.com

Georgia Hilton

There is no trick to this... Its about understanding the industry, writing or securing a script that can be well made for the budget available and to make sure the script and movie is something that has an audience and is something distributors are looking for.... We did our homework, found out the distributors were looking for a Submarine movie... We located a sub at a low cost we could shoot on and we wrote a script around the resources we had at our disposal. Lots and Lots of work, low cost in cash. done.

Doug Nelson

Congratulations Georgia, hope the launch goes well.

Geoff Harris

@Doug, good examples, but you can't cite Paranormal and Blair Witch in a business plan saying, 'these low budgies made a fortune so will mine' because they were flukes! Also, Precious isn't really low budget at $10m! @Georgia good to hear your film is selling so well, you obviously did everything right and I look forward to seeing it in the UK. On IMDB though it says the budget for Subconcious was $500k? I guess I just work to a different model, making a film commercial by heading-it-up with sellable cast and making it an easier sell to sales agents, money and distributors. Each to his own I guess, on this day the US celebrates its independence from the UK!!

Georgia Hilton

yup... we listed it at the Fair Value of the work, not the actual cost. For instance I'm doing a shit-ton load of CGI for the film myself. All the editing is by myself and 2 friends and sound design is by friends so these are costs that i've incurred from the "Favor Bank" versus cash outlays.

Georgia Hilton

Remember, You gotta get that first film put and make it make money. Don't write a $5M USD script and expect to make it right out of the starting line. Subconscious was a demonstration and test case for my students and film followers. I have stated for a number of years that you HAVE to MAKE a movie that makes money to get started in this business as a Producer /Director. I was lucky I started on much larger projects for other people so I skipped this step. In order to "prove" to my students/clients that THEY can do it we made the movie with the following Rules: I could invest no more than $10K ( a number most people, if serious could scrounge up ), My friends/family could only invest $20K ( same deal ) and the rest from crowd funding / pre-sales. So we met those self imposed rules. We're using this project to train/teach new/young/inexperienced producer, directors, 'filmmakers', about a REAL WORLD path to making movies.. Since it was to be a test case, we're donating the lion's share of the profits to support Veteran Suicide prevention and veteran memorials in the US, UK and Australia. My firm belief and what I teach as a producer and as a consultant/lecturer is that you HAVE to make that first film and see to it that it MAKES money. Then you can start with a slightly bigger one, gain more experience, make it generate profit.. then again, with a bigger budget... etc etc... until... maybe after 3 or 4 commercially successful films. ( success as measured in "LOOK I MY LAST 3 FILMS HAVE ALL MADE A PROFIT" ) you can pul that script YOU want to do for $2M and actually GET funding for it. In the mean time don't bother with scripts that cost too much, or don't have an audience - write/option ones you CAN shoot for cheap and DO have commercial value. Its the first step to the road of recovery for Filmmakers that think People are actually stupid enough to give them money to make "their" film, "their" way, and "they" are going to write/produce and direct it... with no experience and proof of ability and delivery track record. ..... to the multitude of wanna-bes - IF you want YOUR Film, YOUR way, then pay for it out of YOUR pocket and stop whining! If you want someone else to pay for it, then you need to be able to provide a REAL WORLD Return on their investment... Because it IS an investment. IF you are in it for the art and are just having fun... well enjoy. ....I do this for a living and I pay the rent with my income so my work has to make money.

Doug Nelson

Geoff – I just completed a 9 min short film that I wrote and produced myself. My total out of pocket expenses was about $200 - Nine people were involved in the production and I fed them for 2 days on set. Accounting wise, I could easily book the expenses at nearly $9,000 if I included all the labor expenses at market rate (and of course, if I were planning to sell this film – I would.) Don’t you guys fiddle the tax man? I certainly understand what Georgia is telling you.

Geoff Harris

Georgia, then surely you're presenting your students with an unrealistic scenario if your film was made with the, 'sweat equity' of yourself and your hugely experienced friends to give it the value of a $500k film when your students don't have access to such a pool of skilled friends to raise the commercial value of the $50k film you're telling them to make!

Georgia Hilton

I simply don't agree with you Geoff. Anyone can make a decent commercially viable film cheap... its all about the willingness to write and shoot a commercial story that is affordable and doable with your personal team and their experience, versus writing that epic "the royal you " wants so badly to do... If a producer/director/writer can pull together $50K or even $25K they can make a movie that makes money. If, on the other hand they don't have ANY experience, and have little or no knowledge of how the business works.. then you are right. It can't happen until they gain some experience and a knowledge base. for those people, they need to spend some time working for others and learning the business first.

Doug Nelson

Geoff – the nine people I had on set included 1 experienced/known actress, 1 student (Cameraman) and I (very limited experience.) 2 had done some ‘little theater’ acting and the rest of them had never been on a set before – and yet, we did it! I have to admit that it’s not a commercially viable film – but it is festival accepted and we’ve at least started. I confident that the next one will be better and when we can show ‘em some really good stuff – only then will we look for outside money.

Nick La Salla

Thank you so much for your posts, Georgia. You're offering real world advice, no frills attached, and I for one much appreciate it.

Georgia Hilton

you're welcome... sometimes I come off as an evil curmudgeon on line, but i the real world i'm normally a pragmatic optimist. :)

Don L. Kirk

Georgia: As a producer of concerts and off-Broadway shows, I have funded a lot of projects, that I can produce. Right now, I'm putting together a 2015 tour "Revisiting (or Remembering) Woodstock"; where I'm taking some of the world's best tribute artists of groups that performed in Woodstock; and plan a major tour, which will consist of all day concerts; in 30+ cities in the U.S. I believe you're wrong saying that someone just doesn't come along and fund projects; as I do.

Georgia Hilton

Hi Don... first CONGRATS on your project! You fund independent film projects of others? ... Cool. How many first or second time independent films have you funded for production from first time or second time writers, or directors ? If you do. I've got two of my own ready for funding and a few from others I'm helping.

Georgia Hilton

so ok Don, I'm being a bit sarcastic... You fund your projects... Hey, I fund my own projects, but it doesn't mean anyone can expect me to fund their's especially if its not commercially viable an they have no track record of delivery. PEople either fund projects to 1 - make money 2- further personal or political agenda, or 3 - to support a charity/organization or other philanthropic effort. No one is going to throw money at a project unless it meets one of those requirements. If you are making a feature film that you wrote and it's your message/story, you're going to either have to fund it yourself or make sure that story support a specific political / personal agenda or can be utilized to promote an organizations efforts. If you happen to meet one of those requirements, it STILL tough to get money out of people without a track record of being able to complete and deliver a product (read film).

Don L. Kirk

I take other's project and fund them, with the condition that I can produce tours with them. Those productions are not my idea, or my scriptwriting/songwriting. If you have a dance or musical off-broadway type show and want it to tour, then I get involved and fund it (again, if I can produce it on-tour). I didn't say it was easy for people to find funding, but you make it a point that people just don't offer to fund projects. If I can make money with it, and my money is freed up enough to produce it, I'll offer to fund it. That's not political, fundraising (although I do fund fundraisers to help theatre's that are being restored; with the condition that the first funds coming in replace my money; then the balance is the theatre's). I'm currently setting up with my money, a fundraiser concert in Fullerton, CA, to benefit the restoration of the Fox Theatre there. This is not an official fundraiser, but one I'm holding, with the theatre knowing in advance that I'm doing it to benefit them. Most promoters give only 10% of the net to the nonprofit. I give an amount "far" higher than that. I have managed live stage theatre's and am in the process of trying to buy 2 closed 1700 seat theatre's for restoration. Yes, I throw my money to those projects; and will continue doing so. I know of others that also do the same.

Georgia Hilton

the discussion is about feature films, not tours or off-broadway shows.

Doug Nelson

I stick by what I said – show me what you can do, then we’ll talk (or not.) If you are just starting out – make a top notch short on your own dime. Use it for fundraising for your next (larger) project. Then do it again and again until you become an overnight success or get so burned out that you start thinking of other careers.

Allan Chen

Lets just say I made an awesome commercial movie for 10K, my question is how do I sell it? Is it difficult, complicated? Any suggestion? Thanks.

Georgia Hilton

The first step in selling your movie is to make sure you are making a movie that distributors want. Research agents and distributors. See what they purchased last year. What kind of movies are selling, what kind aren't. Assuming your film is something that distributors might want. The first step is to land an agent. In order to land an agent you need to put a solid sales package together. script, one sheet, poster, and trailer. If these are done professionally, you'll have no trouble finding an agent. The trick will be finding a GOOD agent. That. Is something your producer needs to find for you. Any good producer will have access to a few agents. You need to have your script in excellent shape and in standard format. You're one sheet needs to have an excellent, simple and catchy title, a sold and interesting longline, a short, concise story synopsis, and any attachments you have in the film. your poster is. One of the strongest tools you have and IMHO ...MUST...be created by a professional movie poster company. Be prepared to spend around $3000 to $5000 for a professional poster.. But have no fear, that money is the best spent money you use in the sales/marketing of your movie. The trailer needs to be as good so possible and be the best of the best of your. Movie.. With these tools a good producer will get you an agent , and a good agent will market your film at AFM, BERLIN film market, CANNES film market and Toronto film market for starters.. Those are the fail markets that will do you the most good when it comes to making money . Notice I assay film markets and not film festivals .... Film festivals are simply a wast of time in most cases when it comes. To making money on your film. Remeber, 1% of indie movies ever see a dime. If you want to be in that 1% you need to have the sales tools and a good film! but frankly the sales tools are more important. And a good producer who knows how to sell is imperative.

Allan Chen

Thank you Georgia, its been very helpful.

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