Film financing for actors

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In this day of cheaply available movie making technology and free publishing platforms like YouTube and Vimeo, there really is no reason for actors to not take control of their careers by actually shooting content they can star in, in roles that showcase them in their perfect brand sweetspot, that hopefully will be seen by other decision makers.

 

I’ve done this myself though I made many, many mistakes. I co-wrote and acted in a Bollywood style feature called “Mumbhai Connection” that was set and shot in Atlanta. If I were to re-do I’d do things a lot differently. But that’s a whole another post for another day.

 

For now, let’s say you have made short films and sketches and are now ready to make your own feature. Then you need to know how indie film financing works. I know we actors are creative and just want to tell stories but trust me, this is show “BUSINESS” and the better educated you are in all aspects of filmmaking, the better your acting career will be.

Back in 2016, I attended a seminar on independent film financing, specifically the methodical, structured process used to raise money for a $1M budget.

Below are my notes from the workshop.

The presenter was Fanco Sama, a producer (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm2770874/?ref_=fn_nm_nm_1)

**BEGIN NOTES**

Film finance is a very structured process. There is a way to do this such that you can actually raise money for $1M budget movie. Most filmmakers start out with a script and then a haphazard/shotgun approach of asking friends and family for money and starting a “not too well thought out” crowdfunding campaign. While most of these projects also have the writer/director/producer also being the star of the movie, they might also try to get some starts attached. Most of this is guaranteed to fail. A script alone is worthless. You need to think and behave like a startup company. And like most startups, you need an seed funding to get started.

SCRIPT & COVERAGE
But first you need the business/service/product idea. In the movie world, you need a script. Yes, it does start with a great script. Absolutely get the best script you can get. If you are not a writer, there are plenty of places to go scouting for scripts including our very own r/ProduceMyScript and r/ReadMyScript etc. Option for free or cheap. But you do need to find a script that truly compels you and one you can genuinely champion because you will need that authenticity when you start to build out your development team. After you’ve found a script you really love, get coverage done of the script. Coverage is where a professional screenwriter reads and scores your script. He/she prepares a report card on all aspects of your script with a final overall recommendation like “Go”, “Consider with reservation” or “Pass”.

There are companies that do this. You need a script coverage score of 6 or higher. Professional coverage services can cost around $200-$350. Once you have done coverage and are happy with the results, you move to the Development Stage.

DEVELOPMENT
Setup your legal structure. Ideally, you would setup an LLC in the movie’s name and create a dedicated checking bank acct for the movie. If not an LLC, you can also operate as a DBA (Doing Business As) at this stage. The most important thing at this stage is that you have a separate bank account for the movie to track funds.
You need to build out a development team next. For this you need money so you can hire the 6 key team members of this development team. Development doesnt mean asking everybody to work for free because they will leave as soon as they get a paying gig. So you need development funds to pay for these people to work on the development of your movie. Development fund is the riskiest fund because you could spend all of it and still end up not moving past the development phase. But development funds get first rights and usually guarantee Principal plus 20%, if the movie is completed and released.

You cannot go to an investor for development funds, unless you count rich Dad or uncle or credit cards as “investors”. You can also use kickstarter or a service like http://filmfundingla.com for the development funds. At the minimum, you need $25K of development money per $1M of total budget. This $25K will be spent on hiring the following people on temporary gigs:
1. Line Producer: to review your script and break it down for budgeting and schedules
2. Casting Director: to attach names and build IMDB presence for your movie. A decent casting director can be paid $2500 – $3500 to start with promise of more if movie gets to the next stage
3. Production Attorney: to put together all the watertight legal agreements.
4. Executive Producer (EP): to pull the project together. Get the names attached and make intros. It is possible for a project to have more than on EP. And often you might also be an EP. Or be the EP.
5. Domestic and Foreign Sales Rep(s): No commitment to buy the movie (on their side) or to sell the movie to them (on your side). At this stage, you are just paying for their expertise and insights. They validate the names to be attached and possible presales prices across territories. There around 28 major territories around the world not including US and Canada. Each territory gives low, mid and high purchase prices specific to your film based on potential cast. This is called pre-sales.
6. Post Production Supervisor: to help you plan out your workflow as you go through the shoot and the deliverables you will need to provide to the distributors. Also they help plan for contingencies in case you fuck up during production.

Make sure you have access to an IMDBPro account. You can find all these people by looking up the team members for movies that are similar in budget and genre to what you are planning, and contact them directly. After you have hired these 6 people, you can now create a presentation package together to take to investors.

ATTACHING NAMES
After your sales rep consultants have given you names of stars – typically an A list and B list of stars for each of the lead roles in the project – and possible sales prices across the regions, you need to attach one of the stars to your project.

Getting a Letter of Intent for star attachment means nothing. To have a star attached means the star has read the script. To really confirm star’s attachment, you need to have another $25K available. Call the star’s agent and say that you want to make the star an offer. Ask for email address and routing number to their trust (escrow) acct alog with offer. All reputable agents should have such an account. Offer to send money today. Along with this offer comes a deadline, say for 10 days or 2 weeks. If the star accepts, this is an advance. If not, you get your money back. This is the only guaranteed way to get a star’s attention and get them to read the script. Money talks.
So if you want a star attached, your development fund needs to be $50K – $25K for 6-person development team and $25K to attach one star. First-time directors are fine for a $1M project. But the only way you will actually get investors to believe in the director is to show that they have made a FEATURE film in the past that actually got somewhere – even if it is on Netflix only. Not Vimeo or YouTube though. Whether the movie made money or not is not that important. Just need to show that the director was able to take a project all the way through. Shorts, no matter how many you’ve made, do NOT count.

But ultimately, better to bring in a director with name and clout.

THE BEST WAY FORWARD
Franco actually ended on the note that to make the process really smooth for a $1M movie, you need to actually come in with $250K of your self-raised money. This is called First Money (and includes the development money and star-attachment money). And it shows that you have a skin in the game.

But this $250K is the hardest to raise.

**END NOTES**

Franco continued to talk about other aspects like tax credits based financing, waterfall investment returns process etc but that is a post for another day.

Interesting thing is I thought I saw a familiar face at this workshop. And it turned out it was Dov Simens, whose blog I used to read when it was active: https://webfilmschool.blogspot.com

As it turns out, Dov had indeed attended the workshop to check out his “competition”, so to speak 🙂


This post was originally published by me on Reddit here: https://www.reddit.com/r/Filmmakers/comments/4rrumy/xpost_from_rfilmindustryla_my_notes_from_the/

If you enjoyed this post, you might enjoy my book about how to become a film and TV actor in Atlanta: Acting in Atlanta.
And you can always follow me on Twitter: @rafiqactor.

 

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