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Announcement: A New Method for Indie Financing

by Jeff Steele

Safety, security, risk assessment, numbers, waterfalls, bonding, exposure, bankability, variables.

Top independent filmmakers know their investors and lenders care about these things, and so before they submit their projects, they take their finance plans seriously. Without the finance plan, no funding will occur.

Producers may relate to this… Recently, a producer/writer/director submitted a project to me and asked for my assistance with funding. I emailed back:

  1. What is the current status of the project (i.e. talent, financing, pre sales, etc.)
  2. Do you have a finance plan?
  3. What is the budget level?
  4. What is the background on the script itself?
  5. Are you a first time producer?
  6. Is the script being adapted by a first time writer?

His concept was strong, and he had an intriguing film website, a stellar spec trailer, attractive concept art, an experienced production team, but he didn’t have a finance plan and so he was still far away from a film closing. I told him he wasn’t ready yet, and that until the finance plan was complete, he couldn’t acquire equity, gap loans, pre-sales, or tax-credit advances from a lender or investor.

I offered to give him specific reasons and fixes to the problems and then take a second look and re-consider the project after those issues were resolved. Many producers find this extremely helpful.

It can be frustrating to be stuck in an endless loop of needing financing in place in order to attach creative elements and needing creative elements attached to secure financing. Many indie producers who have commented on FilmClosings.com have told me so. We all know this story.

In today’s market, I am aware we need to explore alternatives to get us out of the no-financing abyss.

I may be a financier who works within the traditional film finance model, but I’m not traditional.  In other words, I like disruption and I’m open to change.

The alternative finance models out there have some novel concepts behind them. Right now, I’m interested in exploring tribe/crowd financing to merge with our current model. This hasn’t been done before in the way that I’m proposing to my knowledge.

The traditional model certainly has its setbacks, but the rules are pretty straight forward and it can close relatively quickly.  (It should be noted that even within the traditional model, no two financings are the same — they’re like snowflakes: they’re cold, tasteless, and always in a state of free-fall.) So, what’s wrong with adding one new snowflake to the mix?

Here’s my thought: Rather than trying to use tribe/crowd financing for the entire film, I am interested in finding out if any of the crowds, micros, tribes, socials, and hybrids in the alternative financing space (such as Biracy, IndieGoGo, InvestedinKickstarter, Trampoline, Rockethub and Massify) can provide funding for 20-25% of the project’s budget. If so, I could wrap a finance structure around that.

I would be interested in hearing from people or companies who have experience with the tribe/crowd financing in the current model. Was it successful? Was it a nightmare?

For this new, merging option I’m proposing to even be considered: (1) Securities laws must be considered — ignorance is not a defense; (2) The funds need to be verifiable.

If nothing else, people like myself need to try to incorporate new sources for film finance. Help me help you. With your involvement, this merging of crowd/tribe financing into the traditional model may indeed be possible.

72 Responses leave one →
  1. April 5, 2010

    This is Bob MacLean in Athens, Greece. My partner Ioanna Kiourti and I are near to closing on a UK-based European co-production, budget £6.6 million, which finance costs will bring to 7.7.

    (By the way I have both a Canadian and an Irish passport.)

    I’d welcome a chance to talk with you, but can find no contact details for Film Closings Inc. Can you supply?

    Happy thoughts,

    Bob
    Pretentious Pictures

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  2. April 5, 2010

    Hi Jeff,

    Thanks for another excellent post!

    I recently did a similar blog posting on new ‘hybrid’ funding models and got some interesting comments as well as links to some case studies.

    I agree with you 100% that crowd funding is a great solution for buttressing more traditional financing models, but in most cases unrealistic for funding entire indie budgets (unless we’re talking ultra ultra low budgets).

    Something I found interesting lately was the fact that Kevin Smith yanked his crowd funding campaign due to ‘legal reasons’. I wonder what those were and whether it’s better to ask for ‘donations’ (like Robert Greenwald has been doing for years) or to pre-sell to your audience (either a DVD or credit in the film).

    I look forward to seeing more interesting comments here!

    Regards,
    Stacey Parks
    FilmSpecific.com

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    • April 5, 2010

      Stacey,

      My assumption would be the usual often ignored securities issues common to indie film financing: unaccredited investors, investors that aren’t personally known to the filmmaker, investors from other states, the list goes on… All are offenses in the eyes of the SEC.

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      • April 7, 2010

        Please clarify – I am a little confused, Kevin Smith was using the model but then stopped due to SEC irregularities? Is this crowdfunding a proper approach as a type of unorthodox funding without the threat of negative SEC action? Is it possible?

        I have thought of this potential fundraising idea based on my project that has a significant worldwide fan base already. Tap into that fan base and get 6 Million fans to subscribe at $1 each – I’m in business. Perhaps even use this $1 as a pre-buy of the DVD/VOD repaid as a coupon?

        Albeit, I was thinking the whole budget – but am reconsidering based on your statement and the fact that 25%, 1.5M would be more reasonable.

        If the potential truly exists – I can volunteer my project to be the guinea pig – at once

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      • April 7, 2010

        @Bruce,

        If you can get 100% from a crowd now, then go for it, but there might be alternatives in the near future. That’s a “bird in hand” issue.

        Preselling DVDs as the mechanism for fundraising seems to be the default solution that producers are looking to in crowd/tribe fundraising. I’m not a securities attorney, but so long as they get nothing more than a DVD (no investment interest/return), and as long as the DVD is actually delivered, then it doesn’t feel like a securities issue. The key is it cannot be an investment and nor should it be an investment disguised as a donation.

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    • April 6, 2010

      Stacy,

      I think Kevin Smith yanked his plans for crowdfunding because someone who handles his affairs told him it was a bad idea. I think the reason was because he was offered a plethora of chances to jump in with a number of already existing platforms (ours included) but declined as he wanted to build his own platform and release not only his own films but others, and when he realized the complexity and accountability that a platform has…he backed out.

      Other people are saying that he used the discussion merely as a platform to further make his dedicated fan base believe that Kevin Smith was all about his fans and small films that are personal just as he was releasing hi largest and most commercial film to date.

      The jury’s out on his decision but if Kevin Smith wants to revisit the crowdfunding issue in the future we will certainly help him out.

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  3. April 5, 2010

    Jeff,

    The Biracy Project is Crowdfunding and Crowdsourcing an entire project, however, the SoKap platform that it is built on can be used just as you described.

    We have been waiting for someone to take note and glad that you noticed!

    We would be happy to discuss it further with you if you are interested…

    All the best, Phil

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    • April 5, 2010

      Thanks for the clarification — it sounds like a step in the right direction.

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  4. Cotty permalink
    April 5, 2010

    This is an intriguing development, Jeff. Time to learn more about how to escrow crowd-sourced funds, I suppose. CC

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    • April 5, 2010

      Very true Cotty. You’ll need a phone tree to execute that capital call.

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  5. April 5, 2010

    Fascinating… Can’t wait to hear more.

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  6. April 5, 2010

    Hi Jeff

    Now that would be really helpful and certainly satisfy an urgent need to us indies at the moment! I was about to pay a bomb to a top London solicitor to answer me some similar questions. Come to think of it, I’ll still need to do it because of the different security laws here in the Britain.

    The two classic cases of crowd-funding so far are “The Age of Stupid” (producer Lizzie Gillett) and “Iraq for Sale” (producer Jim Gilliam). I contacted Lizzie to find out if their crowdfunding managed to pay back the investors and deferrals but I’ve not (yet) had a reply. They’re pretty open with their Finance Plan, which you’ll find on the Internet if you Google the film.

    Looking forward to reading the results

    All the best

    Eddy Grabczewski

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  7. Fritz Weiss permalink
    April 5, 2010

    Jeff,
    Have you ever posted the necessary contents of a Finance Plan? Or do you plan on doing so in the future?

    Another note: I was involved in producing two films (each between $3m – $4m) which were financed via crowd/group/mob mentatlity. One main issue which producers going this route will run into is that many of the separate investors will wnat the same perks afforded to individual Exec. Producers. If not nipped in the bud early, this can be quite time consuming and costly when they all want groups of tix put aside for them at film festivals, etc.

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    • Martin permalink
      April 5, 2010

      Jeff links to his finance plan article and what goes into one at the beginning of this post. Without the finance plan, no funding will occur. Click on the word “finance plan”

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  8. Andy Halmay permalink
    April 5, 2010

    Forscoos me puleez, I not de speaking Eeenglish too good yet. Holy-camoly, Jeff, this is most intriguing but can you provide some translation?

    What is Bracy, Kickstarter, Trompoline and Massify, etc.? I feel like a parachutists suddenly landed in a foreign land. Let’s hear more about this. Now it’s really getting interesting.

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  9. April 5, 2010

    HaHa… Come on Andy. Get up to speed dude… You’re showing your age!! (Just kidding) Yup, it’s another language, but then you could actually go to the sites and discover what their about and you’ll see how they fit with what Jeff’s talking about.

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    • Andy Halmay permalink
      April 5, 2010

      Listen, Cas, if I showed you my age you’d ship me a wheelchair. You’ve heard of Washington’s Farewell Address? I wrote it for him. You’ve heard of Thomas Edison? I ground lenses for his camera. But if these strange words are linked to sites, I’ll ask Google to find them. Thanks for the tip.

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  10. April 5, 2010

    This is a short step-by-step guide to using the crowd-funding model that has made The Age of Stupid possible. We hope you find it helpful.

    1. Write a Crowd-Funding Budget
    First things first. How much money do you need to make your film?

    Once you know how much you need to raise, you can work out how many investors, each contributing a standard sum, it would take to make up the full amount. How much does the minimum investment sum need to be, and what are people going to get for their money?

    The question of what percentage of the profits they get for their cash investment is crucial. Offer a bad deal to investors (ie too little percentage for too much cash) and nobody will put money in, but offer a great deal to investors (lots of the profits for not much cash) and you’re short changing yourself, your crew and your production company.

    Our Investment levels:

    STAGE MINIMUM NO OF ‘SHARES’ TOTAL RAISED

    Stage 1 £500 100 £50,000
    Stage 2 £5,000 40 £200,000
    Stage 3 £5,000 40 £200,000
    Final £10,000 15 £150,000

    Raise the stakes as you go along. Obviously it’s much more risky to invest at the beginning of the project, when there are so many unknowns including if the film will be any good or even be finished, than at the end when people can see the film. To reflect this we upped the price of ‘shares’ as we went along.

    For Stupid, the initial “unit” of investment was £500 – but that was when the film was nothing but some scribbles on a bit of paper and a twinkle in Franny’s eye. Once the game was truly afoot and the production underway, the minimum investment sum was raised to £5,000. Now that we’ve finished people are paying £10,000 for the same percentage of profits they could have brought at the beginning for £1,000.

    Our Percentage Profit Levels

    STAGE MINIMUM % PROFITS
    Stage 1 £500 0.05
    Stage 2 £5,000 0.25
    Stage 3 £5,000 0.25
    Final £10,000 0.10

    It is quite challenging to administer paying all the individual investors back – more than a couple of hundred and you could find yourself buried under the paperwork so you need to be super organised at every stage.

    Donating – Always offer the option of donating rather than investing. Some people are not interested in getting their money back and this is the brilliant for you – money without any strings attached.

    Syndicates – Individuals who couldn’t raise the necessary cash themselves clubbed together to form syndicates and invested that way. In this instance it’s important to be clear with the syndicate that there will be one named individual who essentially buys the ‘share’ and who you deal with as you don’t want to be dealing with different people from one group. We suggested that syndicates have a letter or contract between their members to formally detail the agreement. You definitely don’t want to be dealing with groups who have fallen out or lost contact with each other for years to come.

    Altogether, a total of 258 individuals and groups invested in The Age of Stupid. Any investment bought an on onscreen credit and a small percentage share in any profits. At one stage, when we were desperate for cash we offered people who invested £5,000 the chance to star in the film (no one was actually interested in this but you see but creative you can be with what you exchange for investments)

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  11. BenL permalink
    April 5, 2010

    Crowd sourcing is intriguing but sounds like a headache (securities laws, overzealous investors)….

    On the other hand, that would be a unique tool if you were able to create (and maintain) a cult-like following that would help to kick-start hybrid-financing efforts for project after project….

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  12. April 5, 2010

    The SEC provides the Playbook for crafting the crowd/tribe fundraising financing structure. I work within that framework on a daily basis.

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    • April 6, 2010

      Jeff

      What’s the Playbook? Can we get a copy?

      Eddy

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      • April 6, 2010

        @Eddy, I hyperlinked to it my comment.

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      • April 6, 2010

        Thanks Jeff.

        The link takes me to a page on Accredited Investors. I take it this is the “Playbook” then.

        Does the SEC acknowledge the explicit concept of crowd funding yet or is that what you have to try to work out within the current constraints of accredited investors?

        Eddy

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  13. April 6, 2010

    Jeff,

    I think the first thing people need to know is what crowdfunding is NOT.

    1. It is not lending
    2 It is not a donation
    3. It is not an investment

    Crowdfunding is the pre-ordering of a product, service or experience or a combination of all 3.

    There are ways to allow the fans to earn and we have figured that out and it was a timely and costly experience to set up, but that’s why we did it…so everyone else wouldn’t have to.

    We’d be more than happy to do a dry run discussion with you about how we could use a hybrid model. I believe Phil has already contacted you.

    I just wanted to make sure that your readers understand the basic principles.

    thanks

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    • BenL permalink
      April 6, 2010

      @David, Thank you for this clarification. That perspective helps to clear up the conflicts I was seeing with my interpretation of crowdsourcing and Regulation D. I took a closer look at Biracy. It is a very creative way of financing. Good luck.

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    • April 6, 2010

      David

      Your definition of crowd funding doesn’t agree with that of, say, The Age of Stupid. There it is clearly an investment vehicle. I’m unsure why the UK laws allow this but clearly it’s not that simple in the US – hence this discussion.

      In an ideal world, the “person in the street” would be able to invest in a security just as easily as some could buy a lottery ticket. It surprises me that in the UK there’s no objection to gambling in the form of buying a lottery ticket and yet I can’t put the same £1 into a crowd-funded investment! I wonder who the government is supporting here?

      Eddy

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      • April 6, 2010

        Edward,

        Part of what proper crowdfunding platforms do is protect the “buyer” by holding the at risk funds in a 3rd party account until all monies required for a project are met by the producer. If the producer manages to raise the funds and has a completion bond, there is a very small chance that the film will not get delivered. if the producer does not meet his obligation the funds are returned and once again the buyer is not at risk.

        The problem with platforms, filmmakers and entrepreneurs that do not do this is that they often make assumptions that are beyond their control. They make statements like “return on investment” and this is where the problem lies. When we started building our platform we did some early experiments to see how people would run with our online project and we were surprised at how people would take our information and make the most grand assumptions when speaking to other people about it. We heard all the usuals like “The Blair Witch Project” and “Greek Wedding” comparisons to people using the state of the tent pole theatrical market as an indicator on how well our little unknown scifi film would do. We knew that we needed add a level of protection when one day we had a discussion with an individual who said that he was going to buy a membership to our project because he would be able to partially pay for his mortgage with the returns. This is where the problem lies…

        If you present to people that there is an opportunity for them to make a return, based on future events that are beyond your control…you are offside.

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    • Martin permalink
      April 6, 2010

      David, does this mean it is like an advance on the back end?

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  14. Andy Halmay permalink
    April 6, 2010

    Well, I looked up all the forms of crowd financing and heard little voices in my gut in different languages – OMG, Mama Mia, Oy Vey, Rotsa Ruck.

    But this is my personal allergy to crowds. I avoid film festivals for the same reason. Once a wannabe producer is over the age of 19 or 21, I don’t think this route would be advisable.

    Question to one and all: HAS ANY FEATURE FILM WITH A BUDGET OF OVER $2 to 5 MILLION EVER BEEN FUNDED THIS WAY?

    I see a paradoxical situation here. The Internet with its global reach could give some sort of crowd funding great potential but the hurdles which I suspect are insurmountable would be the various national and state and provincial securities commissions with different laws. To deal with all of them to raise five million might cost another four million for the effort.

    I’ll let you in on my angle. For starters you have to become a Canadian resident or Canadian citizen. I carry two passports and now make my headquarters in Toronto. The Canadian Feature Film Fund administered by Telefilm Canada will provide funds under certain circumstances but attaches certain demands that in my view guarantee box office failure. I won’t go into detail.

    But Canada has co-production treaties with 51 countries, alas, none with the U.S. If you can find a compatible co-producer in one of these 51 countries, you can pick up about 50% of your share of the split from the CFFF.

    In an international co-production you get relative freedom from the government investor. The minimum participation by each co-producer is usually 20%.

    Say your project has a $4 million budget. You find a co-producer in Germany who picks up 20% ($800,000) Telefilm will give you 50% of your 80% i.e. 40% of your budget or $1.6 million.

    If you play by the rules then your co-production gets categorized as being Canadian Content which makes it more valuable to Canadian TV pre-sales since by law the networks are obliged to carry a percentage of Canadian content. Here you might raise 5% to even 10% of your budget. Your co-producer in Germany may do likewise with German TV sources.

    By the way, today the Canadian dollar hit parity with the U.S. greenback, which is bad for Canadian service producers because it will keep away runaway Hollywood productions. This, however, will give you more negotiating strength with all suppliers in production.

    O.K., now you collect tax rebates which can run as high as 30-35%. Add them all up and you’re left with about 10% to find out of international pre-sales or equity investors or mezzanine or God help us, passing the tin cup in the crowd.

    One of the burdens imposed by the government investor in funding a domestic production is having a Canadian distributor in place before you start. If you can find one, he’ll know he’s got you by the short hairs and he’ll demand global rights. At that point you might as well make an appointment with Dr. Kevorkian.

    In an international co-production, however, you are on your own as far as distribution is concerned. I looked at the Canadian market and I see a great opportunity. It is an overlooked market. The Hollywood majors look at it as an added state and spend very little in promotion, relying on spillover from U.S. efforts. Canadian distributors never have any money so they relay on word of mouth.

    The market is about the size of California but seems to return a bit more than California does at the box office. The average successful film will have a box office of about $30 million. Avatar in the past eleven weeks took in $95 million. Canadian films, which sadly have built a terrible reputation among Canadian audiences very rarely gross more than $1.5 million. In fact, a good number of Canadian theaters won’t run Canadian films, but I figured out a way to get them turned around.

    By spending in promotion what the majors SHOULD spend in Canada the promotion will stand out dramatically and it will reflect at the box office. If you then get a s0-called Canadian film to gross $5 to $10 million in Canada you can count on Canadian media to do flip flops, Parliament may declare a new holiday, and you might get yourself knighted.

    All this noise will echo throughout the offices of distributors from Boston to Bucharest and Tennessee to Timbuktu and you’ll have more negotiating strength than you ever hoped for.

    Of course, to make this happen, your film needs to be relatively entertaining, too.

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    • April 6, 2010

      Andy,

      We’re a Canadian company based in Vancouver, BC and i’m not sure why you brought up Telefilm in regards to crowdfunding when perhaps what you should have included was your ability to leverage the PSTC. You essentially blocked yourself by attaching expensive and top heavy money that by the way is not guaranteed to you if you meet all other pieces of your financing.

      Additionally, I’m not sure why you are applying CAVCO and CAN CON to the discussion either. If you actually looked at how crowdfunding could work for you, all these other issues would be non-issues as you could simply make the film your way (as long as the fans loved your idea).

      cheers

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      • Andy Halmay permalink
        April 6, 2010

        You’re right they are apples and oranges. I guess I can’t quite fathom that crowd funding would work, thus brought up an alternative.

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  15. April 7, 2010

    Encouraging crowdfunding comments from a seasoned traditional investment agent like yourself–cheers to disruption and change!

    Please add IndieGoGo to your list of crowdfunding platforms. They were around before Kickstarter and there terms of engagement are distinctly different. Having said that, they have recently acquired Distribber–empowering filmmakers from concept through completion and onward into distribution, delivering their crowdfunded film straight to their audience without a single middle-man in sight.

    Questions:

    Assuming your finance structure can accommodate my 20-25% funded film via IndieGoGo, I still need a finance plan, right? What budget level will this model ‘fit’ and do first-time filmmakers benefit?

    There are a whole lotta potential setbacks and a barriers in the bonding process for newbies so please address this issue.

    [Miles Maker is a story author, auteur, cross-platform distributor and thought leader whose dynamic media ventures converge mobile, social and real-time interactions.]

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    • April 7, 2010

      Added IndieGoGo
      @Miles,
      Being able to obtain 20%-25% of a film’s budget through IndieGoGo is very encouraging, but you still need a finance plan to map out the other 75%-80% (there’s more to it than just scribbling percentages onto a sheet of paper). Plugging IndieGoGo into the traditional finance model (using entertainment banks and mezz lenders, etc.) would require IndieGoGo to to put-up at least $2m or more.

      However, if IndieGoGo can come in with 20%-25% of a $2m (or less) budget, then yes, there is a model that this can fit into, but it will be something new/unconventional — which I like, and what this post is about.

      First-time filmmakers are fine (in a limited capacity), but regardless of the budget, you still have to go through the closing process and production, so you’ll need people heading that up that all parties are comfortable with and confident in.

      Regarding bonding (completion guarantees), they generally don’t apply to films under $2m, so you’ll need to “self” bond via a corporate or personal guarantee. Or otherwise go commando style (which is always a very very bad idea.)

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  16. April 7, 2010

    I like this topic, I’ll toss my two cents in. Putting aside gap loans, bonding, and anything related to banks I have a proposed idea:

    Let’s say your budget of your film is $1 million. (simple number to work with). On a simple independent film budget that excludes borrowing money from an entity, a film producer would ask to borrow money from individuals on an equity loan. The equity loan would be paid back once the film producer raised half of the needed budget. Let’s say they needed $50,000 for legal and other expenses like some up front money to secure some name talent to get the ball rolling. Then they would raise the rest of the funds via private investors. They hit the half way point of raising the budget and then pay back the equity loan. At this point, just like in crowdfunding, once you hit the halfway point on raising your funds more people become interested and start to get involved because it actually looks like the film will be made and isn’t a pipe-dream. Then you raise the rest and produce the film. Each investor getting a cut of the profit.

    Take the equity loan out of the picture. You need $50,000 to get the ball rolling, so you crowdfund the $50,000 by offering pre-sale copies of the film after it is completed. What I would do in this case is not just offer that, but also create something they can have then and there (more immediate). I would use a portion of the $50,000 to create what some call a microshort or Scene Select or what I term Visual Pitch. Grab a sequence that is either in the film or something that could have been in the film and shoot it. Great example is the original teaser to Finding Nemo. It’s a scene not in the film. Use a portion of the $50,000 to create this Visual Pitch and give it to the people who contributed to the crowdsourcing campaign.

    Now take the Visual Pitch, use the rest of the $50,000 for legal and to get name talent involved and reach out to investors. The Visual Pitch is an example of what the film will be like. Even post the Visual Pitch on YouTube and other video based sites. Build a following, show the investors the following. Investors are all about numbers, so show the numbers of people interested.

    Also, when you do your crowdsourcing campaign, be totally up front that these funds are not the full budget, they are designed to kick start the project. Tell them the full budget and everything you are going to do with it. By being totally up front no one can accuse you of dishonesty. When the entire film is completed, each contributor to your crowdfunding campaign receives a copy of the film (obviously after the theatrical run).

    This is how I think it is possible to create a hybrid project.

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  17. Andy Halmay permalink
    April 7, 2010

    All these funding ideas bouncing around bring to mind the greatest fun funding story – “The Producers,” by Mel Brooks and starring Zero Mostel, Gene Wilder and Dick Shawn.

    In 2001 Brooks adapted the film into a Broadway musical of the same name (The Producers) and in 2005, a film, based in turn on that musical, was released. Talk about milking a cash cow story about raising cash. Our e-exchanges might have material for another film. Are you ready to exec-produce, Jeff?

    Investors can’t stand complicated deals. As I see it, the web could help create miracles but the hurdles are the securities laws. You need to sell the investor something attractive that is concrete and something that would want them participating for reasons above and beyond the prospect of making money.

    Now I’ve been left shaking my head over reports of suckers paying a king’s ransom to scalpers of concert tickets of various sorts – $50 tickets going for $1,500, etc. Ticketmaster got in on such scams by directing would-be ticket buyers to a supposed re-seller (scalper website) and the suckers paid.

    Well, the most uncomplicated thing to sell the sucker-investor is a ticket to the film’s premiere. No securities commission can give you an argument because there is precedent for tickets to events having sold for outlandish sums.

    You need to hold the premiere in the world’s biggest movie house. Paris had the Gaumont Palace with 6,420 seats but that was demolished. Bucharest has the Palace Hall with over 4,000 seats and you could probably get a good deal there but it’s a bit far. Besides, you want to sell your tickets in the biggest sucker town of the world, New York. And New York has today’s biggest venue – the Radio City Music Hall with 5,933 seats.

    If you have a budget of $5 million, then to set a price for the tickets, divide $5 million by 5,933 and add $300 to cover a night at a decent hotel (which you generously throw in) That comes to 1,143. That’s too little. Make it $1,500 for the best seats – you’ll need to cover the cost of the 4-walling, too (wow, imagine 4-walling Radio City Music Hall) – and then you can discount the poorer seats. $1500 per ticket will give you a kitty with $8.9 million.

    Now for this kind of deal you have to give them a film filled with entertainment. And it needs good music. And then you have a grand party (with a cash bar in lieu of popcorn) and the press coverage sets you up for a grand run throughout the world.

    Of course, you structure the deal with a sweetener which gives the suckers a chance to become winners through profit sharing in traditional structures. I like this idea so much I may try it myself. What do you think, guys?

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  18. April 7, 2010

    Jeff, this is your most intriguing post yet. I’ve been following your blog, and need to confess: I apologize, but I presumed you to be a blue-suit Wall Streeter who wouldn’t even notice an indie filmmaker chatting about crowdfunding. I apologize. I was thrilled to see your comment, “I may be a financier who works within the traditional film finance model, but I’m not traditional. In other words, I like disruption and I’m open to change.”

    One thing first: crowdfunding is the new mania, born of the opportunities and fears resulting from the malaise of the indie film biz. So, please add to your list this brand new crowdfunding site launched last week: invested.in Undoubtedly, there will be many more; then, of course, a shakeout.

    I have several concerns about crowdfunding.

    1) As has been noted, there are no success stories of full length feature films being crowdfunding as the concept is currently understood. AGE OF STUPID was an exciting effort, but it was a) pre-crowdfunding mania so it had a leg-up by being innovative; b) a hybrid of many investment types (some gave over $100,000); c) a documentary driven by political passions more than a drama driven by marketplace expectations.

    I watched a few crowdfunders. AD Layne has spent months and months on Twitter aggressively begging for donors for a horror film, and has raised approximately $5,000. I think few people have the tenacity he has exhibited, and doubt most crowdfunding efforts will ever raise even $5,000 as the market exists today.

    If I were going to raise 10% of my budget for A FATHER AND SON, I would need to raise $100,000. I can’t imagine putting so much effort into crowdfunding to make that any more easy, or logical, than “just” going out and finding investors for $1 million. Both are incredibly painful, but at least a few investors would be easier to handle than hundreds of the “crowd.”

    I’m scared shitless about the SEC. It was a gutless threat until Bernie Madoff; now it has to prove itself to be aggressive. What could be worse than a government bureaucracy that needs to prove its power? But of course, nobody really feared the SEC before. Not because it was toothless, but because one really needs to fear the INVESTOR himself. The SEC is just the excuse investors use to sue the producer when they don’t get what they think they should have gotten.

    It’s not possible to verify all crowdfunder participants as accredited investors. Not only that, but the whole concept is based on the notion that they are NOT accredited investors. They are your neighbors, acquaintances, and friends from whom you beg a few bucks.

    Crowfunding, as it sits today, in my mind, MUST be nothing more than the “love gifts” that tent preachers extracted from the flock decades ago. If it’s not a voluntary gift, how can it escape securities regulations?

    Worse, again, is the confusion that will come about in the near future when these movies begin to go into production. That “gift” that John Doe gave, he thinks it’s really an investment security. When he reads that your little film had a gross box office of $50 million (don’t you wish!), he’s thinking that 10% of it is HIS! Of course he is! And he’s going to sue you for it. And what judge or jury would listen to the producer trying to make a convincing statement that it was simply a love gift? Producers are universally despised, and considered deep-pockets. John Doe is going to be awarded $10 million. Or more.

    I really like Andy’s idea of pre-selling premiere tickets. That seems even more valuable than pre-selling DVDs. (I wonder if Andy has a blog? He sounds as if he’s new online.)

    Somewhere, we need a hybrid that fits today’s challenge. We need a resource, a crowd, of accredited investors to whom we (indie filmmakers in the new world) can present our financial plans. A group of people who can see today’s film strata–$1 million or less, or $90 million or more–and be attracted to what can be done at the low-budget level. Maybe they could see their investment as being about the same as buying a foreclosed home…and much more exciting.

    Lay out the reality and the potential. Spell out the possible drawbacks without fear. Talk to investors who don’t willy-nilly buy into the “movies never make any money” lie. THAT’S the crowdfunding I want to see.

    Michael

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    • Richard permalink
      April 8, 2010

      Michael,

      I appreciate your comments. But generally accredited investors don’t think of film as the best use of their money. I have raised some money for an oil deal and that has been a lot easier than working on raising money for a film that I have been asked to executive produce. It sounds like you are very experienced and knowledgable so please don’t take my comments the wrong way, but the film business to me is odd in the sense that the people who are asking for money rarely have any skin in the game. In all the other business ventures I have been involved in it is very natural for the the promoter/producer to have money at risk. This always makes investors feel more comfortable in investing.

      It would be impossible to present a movie deal as the same as a foreclosed home. Since I have invested in real estate, I feel reasonably confident that there are extreme differences. In buying a foreclosed home an investor has a couple of things going for him/her. 1) comps – he or she can compare the price for the foreclosed home to the homes that are not in foreclosure to get an idea of value 2) A home can have value as a rental, a place to live, or a flip 3) The financial upside can be reasonably determined. Even oil deals are better than movies because 1) If you are drilling multiple wells if a couple hit you have some income 2) even if the oil quality varies someone will buy oil it is just discounted by the quality.

      In film 1) cannot necessarily determine the potential success unless you have a proven track record 2) you don’t have cashflow streams as long as rental property or oil 3) generally, the product either has traction or it doesn’t – with oil wells and homes it may take longer than planned to get your money back – but you can get it back. If the film is bad, the odds are much tougher.

      I think the problem with most of these film investments is that people want to make films for their egos, fame, glory, sometimes to tell an important story, but they want someone else to pay for it.

      That is my issue with investing in films. I am doing it because I believe I am investing in a project that can make money. But I am not sinking all my resources into it, I can’t take that kind of risk.

      So if you want a group of accredited angel investors to be willing to look at deals, you’ll need some way of presenting deals to them that have a viable chance vs just everyone inundating them with documents hoping to be picked. That would require some middleman like Jeff who has talent and gravitas.

      But I think something like this already exists, I think I saw a website that does get investors who are interested in films and circulates deals to them. But you need to get past the gate keeper and they didn’t look at unsolicited projects. I hate to say it but it is who you know most of the time.

      My thing as an investor who has been pitched to is that peopl want money, but don’t do a good job explaining how I am going to make it back. Some people can’t even explain things like Sec 181 well. Some people think the ability to write off 10,000 dollars is like having 10,000 dollars, but it isn’t. The true benefit to the investor depends on their marginal tax rates, but writing off 10k will never make them whole on their 10k.

      Starting to ramble shold go to sleep it is late.

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      • Martin permalink
        April 8, 2010

        @Richard

        How is Jeff Steele a middleman? He’s the CFO of an equity fund.

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      • BenL permalink
        April 8, 2010

        @Richard
        You raise good points, but film is an industry unlike oil, real estate, etc. It is practically impossible to predict the success of any indie. Hence weak comps. Film is inherently high-risk and investors need to be reminded of this. Manage expectations.

        One thing your post reminded me of was the angels who funded Precious. The story I read in the WSJ basically recounted the millions lost in previous ventures but the passion to be part of the film making experience keep them going. I think that can say something about the appeal of this kind of investing. It also echos other comments about involving the “investor” in the process as that is part of the soft (non-cash) return (mentioned in other replies on this thread).

        Lastly, I believe Indie Vest is one company that uses the pool of accredited investors as a financing model.

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    • April 8, 2010

      invested.in has been added.
      @Michael,

      You make several good points. People are much more agreeable early in the financing process, when profit is just an abstraction. But once the potential for profit starts to actually matialize (from box office numbers), the warm fuzzies and kumbaya support for this once passionate, artistic endeavor can become quickly forgotten. I’ve cautioned on dumb money in previous posts, so I can’t imagine that times 250 or more.

      The shotgun model of national crowd funding will need either a major private letter ruling from the SEC, an act of Congress, or an activist judicial ruling that will envariably have to make its way up to the Supreme Court. Until then, it’s probably best to go local via tribes.

      I agree that these alternative concepts are currently in the mania/zeitgeist phase, but shake-outs are a natural part of their evolution that ultimately makes them stronger.

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      • April 8, 2010

        Jeff,

        As far as getting an opinion on and creating a bill or legislation for crowdfunded “investment” vehicles, there are a group of people over at boingboing.net who are putting together a legal argument to propose a new bill.

        The funny part is that they are going to crowdfund the legal costs of doing the work….

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      • John Green permalink
        June 13, 2010

        By local tribes, are you refering to family and friends etc? I’m just trying to dicipher the terminology being used here.

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    • April 8, 2010

      Michael,

      I like your point about John Doe wanting a return on his gift of 50 bucks. There’s a simple way around this…its called an agreed upon Terms and Conditions page – simple.

      here’s ours…

      http://www.biracy.com/terms-of-use/

      you tell me where Joe is going to sue and/or win and I’ll give you a membership for free!

      Good luck with your project by the way!

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      • April 8, 2010

        Thanks, David!

        I know I sound harsh about crowdfunding, but I hope it succeeds. I hope you–and others–succeed in the new business model of providing crowdfunding support. I suspect it’s inevitable I’ll use crowdfunding to raise enough money to use as “my skin,” as Richard mentions.

        Your legal document is very important, but yet-to-be proven. Courts toss out legal documents all the time (for instance, read http://www.vincemanapat.com/index.php/archives/523 and note that the wording of the LLC agreement was tossed out by the judge — leading to PRISON SENTENCES for the people raising the money.)

        I stick to my assertion: when the box office results get reported, John Doe will sue me. He will at that time have an entirely new understanding of his “investment.” Anybody can sue at any time for any reason. The trick is to fight it somehow. But the courts are very, very inclined in favor of the common guy–the investor, instead of the producer.

        Here’s another real-world example, close to me because it’s not too dissimilar from my project, A FATHER AND SON. Randy Quaid agreed to play a role in a little film called BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN. The entire industry “knew” that this little film would never play outside New York, L.A., and San Francisco. It was Ang Lee’s arthouse film about gay cowboys, for godz sake! Who would see THAT?? Randy took the role at scale payment. Then, guess what? BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN surprises everybody, playing everywhere (even Kansas) and making money. Randy suddenly gets a whole new memory, and files a complaint against the producers for bamboozling him into playing the role for scale.

        THIS is what happens. The only time it doesn’t (usually) happen is if my film is a failure, and that is a lousy legal strategy.

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        • April 8, 2010

          @michael,

          Take 5 minutes and read the site. We are not an investment nor are we selling anything that promises a financial return of any sort. We are a crowdfunding platform not unlike Ticketmaster. If you buy a 100 dollar ticket to an Aerosmith concert 4 months in advance and they don’t meet their obligations in ticket sales to the promoter and venue you are refunded your money….same with us. If Aerosmith does meet the numbers and takes the stage only to perform poorly…that’s their fault not ticketmasters…same with us. If Aerosmith has the greatest live show rock moment in history and captures it on video for sale later on itunes, guess what Michael…you don’t any of that revenue even though you were part of the financing at a micro level.

          Crowdfunding is NOT investing. The moment you realize that the easier it will be for your to let go of these legal nightmares that plague you.

          We’ve done 18 months of legal homework to ensure that we are onside. We would never have built the platform in the first place if we were.

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          • April 8, 2010

            David, I want to be convinced. I want to use crowdfunding. I’m excited to know about biracy, indiegogo, investment.in, etc. I’ve read them and even set up accounts on most of them. I’ve always backed out before launching because I’m not comfortable personally for ALL the reasons I’ve mentioned.

            But I recognize that as crowdfunding becomes mature, I’ll probably launch.

            I would feel more comfortable with proven legal precedent that agrees crowdfunding is NOT investing, but I’m wild and wacky and will probably soon dive headfirst even with the concerns I’ve expressed.

            I still suspect donors will think in terms of investment (hell, “invested.in” USES the term “investment”!) even though the donors shouldn’t think that. Read BARNARD’S LAW #9 (click the link at the bottom of the home page at http://MichaelRBarnard.com )

            Again, I wish you the very best with biracy. I hope crowdfunding serves us and helps save the indie film biz.

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  19. April 7, 2010

    Hear, Hear!! Great post Michael.

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  20. Richard permalink
    April 8, 2010

    @Martin – I didn’t mean it like the way it read – I shouldn’t be posting at midnight. What I mean is Jeff has clout with people as I mentioned gravitas. I meant it as a compliment because of his experience and credibility. Not that Jeff is a middleman, but that whoever was to operate in the gatekeeper role would need to be respected by both sides.

    There are some people I know who are investing in a film just because I was asking and they had no interest in learning more than what was it about. Others totally kicked my ass even though I have known them for years. But I can only imagine the beating a complete stranger would have gotten from the ones that really asked a bunch of questions, and I know they wouldn’t have gotten anything from the ones that did it on my reptutation and trust alone.

    So a person who was respected by both sides would have the best chance of getting a meeting/introduction to take place. But now this person in the middle won’t do it for free. That is why most deals have finder’s fees. But just because you have a finder’s fee won’t mean the gatekeeper will show your deal. Your deal can’t embarass him. Any legit person won’t represent your film deal if it sucks even if you are paying a big finder’s because of the damage to his reputation. Indie filmmakers are in a bind but as Jeff said 250k today is the 2.5M from the year 2000, the costs of filmmaking have dropped tremendously. But maybe people need to make that first calling card film out of their own savings. Maybe we need to stop thinking of a white knight and actually save ourselves by ourself.

    Just for clarification Jeff is the best and I appreciate his generosity with his time and knowledge and please don’t misread my late night post as anything but admiration.

    Thanks.

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  21. April 8, 2010

    Totally agree with most of the comments here. I’ve been an Indy Moviemaker for over 30 years and have also had the good fortune to be an entrepreneurial businessperson with a marketing background… I find most of my filmmaking colleagues to be financial morons. They usually have no idea what they’re talking about when it comes to funding a project. It kind of a “right brain” versus “left brain” thing.

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  22. Richard permalink
    April 8, 2010

    @Ben

    Just for clarification, that was exactly my point about film vs other investments, which is why I made them. It was a response to Michael about foreclosure investing.

    The great thing about films is that it is not a cyclicall product. What I mean is, unlike real estate, the economy etc which are cyclical meaning that over time it will have ups and downs.

    With a film – if it is good – it doesn’t matter how the economy is doing. That is the fabulous part of it as an investment. But it seems to have a bad track record. Now if you split out the films that had a good team/script vs the bad team/bad script (and all other combos good team/bad script, bad team/good script) – I would imagine that the good team/good script would have a decent record. The problem is that when we try to manage expecations it comes down to “assume that the money is lost” and let me have shot – that seems to be most deals.

    I absolutely agree about the other value. If you really step back and look at human behavior – we are trying to optomize what we believe is our overall happiness. It is happiness on our terms – meaning I don’t personally maximize my happiness by getting so hammered that I can’t think straight, or do drugs, but that may be what other people do to maximize their happiness. So from investing in a film it allows an investor to get some other benefit then clearly the proposition in their mind was happiness maximizing. So that makes sense but that criteria is different from everyone.

    A great money raiser will know what each investor’s needs are and make the appropriate pitch – examples would be more business, more hype, etc. But much of what I have read (across many websites) is that it filmmakers want to make movies (which they all believe are good) – but when we objectively look a the deal it isn’t a good one. So I think filmmaker’s really need to objectively look at the deal they are pitching – is it good for the investor, not if it is good for you. So maybe the script you have worked on about love affair between–I don’t want to offend anyone so just insert something that would seem ridiculous but that you really want to make–isn’t ideal for an investor. Maybe work on making a movie that has legitimate chance of making some money and then use your profits to make your own pet project.

    If people who are investing in your film are doing it just to help you out, that is great, but think of the selfishness of it if you don’t have a commercially viable movie. Basically you want to “throw” their money away (ya they get some tax losses great) – so you can do something. If they are wealthy great, but just think about how little you value their money and them if you want to make a movie that has little chance of making anything. Some people have movies that they need to make but know their is little chance of being commercially successful – I think those should just be made with your own money. This is just my opinion and I am not trying to start any trouble.

    Sorry for the rant but I was at an event recently and people didn’t seem to care about the people who were putting the money in – just more about themselves and it troubled me, especially because I am an investor.

    Please don’t get me wrong, I am on the side of making films. I am involved in a film at the moment. But I am doing everything I can to ensure its commercial viability including forcing the budget down so that it has a chance of earning enough to pay the investors back.

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    • BenL permalink
      April 8, 2010

      @ Richard
      Well said. Some quick thoughts:

      – If only “good” indie scripts and “good” teams were easily defined!
      – I also agree that films are uniquely uncorrelated with the market. A bonus in some situations (involving diversification and beta comparisons).
      – Relating to cyclical nature of other commodities, one issue to consider in film is the impact of technology on media consumption behavior (ie. digital distribution threat to DVD revenue – Where/how do we think small films going to make the cash in the end? How does that impact the financing plan? Are indies more sensitive to consumer’s disposable income than studio productions?) Some of the many questions that are on my list.

      My apologies for missing the context of your earlier post. Best of luck on your projects.

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    • April 8, 2010

      Richard,

      Thank you for your comments, and it’s great to have this discussion with “real” people who have investment background. I appreciate your willingness to contribute.

      I didn’t make clear enough that my statement about “foreclosures” was a wish to have investments in movies evaluated as routinely and honestly as investments in foreclosures. First, foreclosure investments are discretionary, not critical, investments (the investor is not using money needed for living expenses, education, medical needs, etc.). Second, the routine dismissal of movie investments is legendary but based more on myth than clear analysis. The presumption that NO movie ever makes money is not realistic, but it is the popular belief, while investments in real estate are equally mythic in their “guaranteed returns” that ignores the number of upside-down mortgages right now, for example. Risk is everywhere. Otherwise, put the money in a savings account and earn 2%.

      So, it’s a wish: I wish investors would evaluate movies as they do foreclosures. Or any other investment. Oil. Whatever. Anything other than buying into the unevaluated myth that one NEVER makes money on a movie. Or the belief that all producers are con artists or incompetent.

      For what it’s worth, a few years ago, when seeking investors, I went overboard in laying this out for “newbies” to the indie film world. I wrote a document of amazing complexity that laid out the business plan, the financials, AND summarized the entire indie film biz. It got a lot of attention and changed some people’s minds, but, alas, the business it described is now in shambles, so I have to start all over again. And WON’T go into such depth again. If anyone’s interested in what the indie film biz USED TO BE, that document is here: http://sn.im/vc568

      I fully understand the concept that investors want producer’s skin in the game. I think I’m like a lot of indie filmmakers: I fully developed the project over years, spent time and money on getting the project to where it is, KNOW HOW TO MAKE THIS PROJECT (I emphasize that because it’s like the old saw about the electrician who comes to the house and charges $50 to flip a switch: “It took me years to learn which switch to flip, and you don’t know what I know.”) Etc., all of which, I understand, don’t mean diddly-squat to most investors because, of course, CASH talks.

      But also: I have lost all of my money in the pursuit of this production. Stupid of me, yep, but that’s the way it is, and I know others who are in similar position. My skin has been FLAYED, and yet I can’t throw in the towel. So I keep trying to find investors to bring A FATHER AND SON into production. Sicko, indeed! =}

      And because I’m not so very unique, crowdfunding is becoming a mania as each of us scrambles to find a way to save our skins. Just look at the response to this post of Jeff’s! I suspect there are more comments here than on any other post. We are all scrambling for money in a new world.

      If we don’t find it, if we can’t justify the investment and provide ROI, then I fear the indie film biz will devolve into hobbyists with home video cameras, crews and actors who are family friends, and masturbatory scripts, yielding mostly-unwatchable YouTube videos. And I do NOT want the indie film biz to become that.

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      • Richard permalink
        April 8, 2010

        @Michael

        I wouldn’t want to see independent film die either. And I want to be clear I am not experienced with the film industry I am learning bringing to the conversation my experience in other businesses. In the land of the free no one can tell someone else not to do something, but it would be nice if people could go through a process to really figure out if the film is worth making. It would lower the noise volume and maybe change people’s attitudes about investing. But I heard that Sundance alone gets 10,000 submissions and some of those films are decent budgets.

        –A little tangent here–If people could just collaborate on ideas I bet you could produce better products. I know people collaborate now, but what I mean is, some people have some funding but not all of needed for their film. Most of the time it is money committed mainly on family and friends. What if we created a site that brought together filmmakers that had commitments and see if they could be pooled to make a movie that made sense. All you need to do of course is control egos and self-promotion, good luck with that.

        What if you got together a team with a writer, producer, director, sound person, light person, etc. and each person contributed x dollars of their own. You would have all the skills and access to equipment in place, personal money committed and a story that could be worth making. Everyone pads their resume with a completed feature, if budgeted right and kept low, everyone might have a decent chance to make their money back.

        NOT TO BE MEAN…But I just think egos in the business are bigger than other industries and people overvalue their creative talents. Money talks at the end of the day. I hate to say this, and I think I am creative, but when I speak to creative people I hate how most can’t make reasonable comments on why I should invest. They can’t explain how I benefit. I get how the creative types put money into projects before they get investors into the deal and they would like it back or at least credit for it. But without funding your deal is dead and that is how investors see it. So yes an idea is needed for an investor to invest in, but a film doesn’t get made without funding. Which is more important? I hate to say it —I think it is pretty obvious.

        In some schools of thought that is a “sunk cost” and not something an investor needs to value or pay for. Unless it is a patented idea or something so special and unique where they may give you value. I know as a creative type you want credit for the money you sunk creating the idea etc. But that is not how it always works.

        I think I said this earlier but there are more people looking for money to make films than people willing to invest, so they hold the negotiating power. If people don’t like that dynamic maybe they shouldn’t be in the business because this relationship will exist forever. Let’s not forget as crowdfunding takes off you will be competing with even more projects for the generosity of strangers. So if you want to get crowdfunding money, get it now.

        Once again, I like the film business and I appreciate the contributions makde by Jeff and everyone. I like how the conversation is mature and not whiny as we try to find a way to make it work for everyone.

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        • April 8, 2010

          Richard,

          I agree with you. Well, except for the part about crew investing, that’s rare and difficult but usually is accomplished in some way by deferrals and lowered rates. It’s a hot-button subject in the indie film biz.

          I am very investor-centric. For instance, I’m in constant battles with others over protecting ROI by fighting piracy. Many filmmakers attack me for not capitulating to piracy and buying into some unproven theory that has no basis for any reasonable ROI. See some of the comments to my blog “Free is not worth the price” on Ted Hope’s TRULY FREE FILM site, as well as other conversations on the ‘net.

          Richard, since you are so freely sharing your insights and knowledge, I’ll suggest you look at the document I crafted for my movie (then titled HOLLYWOOD BOYS). It justifies every single dollar for the investor, and explains the entire business to them to help avoid missteps. It’s at http://sn.im/vc568

          I want to say again how much I appreciate your contributions and do not consider anything you’ve said to be “mean.” I am painfully aware that cash talks, and have no problem with that. I just want a fair shot at convincing someone who CAN invest to consider, in realistic terms, the potential for A FATHER AND SON.

          Frankly, I don’t expect to do a PPM, and certainly no bank will gap me, so I hope for angels. If I could partner with someone, that’d be great. But it’s not just egos: anybody who is in this game is tied up with their own project, and each project is all-consuming and rarely would dove-tail with someone else’s project. I think it’s more practical than ego-centric.

          If you have concepts or suggestions about ways to partner with others, I would be grateful to hear them.

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      • John Green permalink
        June 13, 2010

        Hi Michael, having just read your business plan pertaining to Hollywood Boys, thanks for dymystifying the business plan structure and content. Obviously, you did your homework and spent many many years developing not only your screenplay, but also the business plan. I appreciate your committment. Now my question is this, are you saying that because of the down-turn in the credit/financial markets and national economy, that the industry has changed? If this being the case, does this make the overall business plan in-terms of its structure/layout and content void?

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  23. April 8, 2010

    Thank you for bringing the topic of crowdfunding to the forefront of your blog.

    I’m one of the co-founders of Rocket Hub. We’re an open grassroots crowdfunding platform for Creative projects such as film.

    Although we’ve only been open for about 2 months, we have quite a few film projects up already. What’s most interesting is that the purpose for the fundraising is quite diverse for each project. Some of the film projects are looking for distribution funding, others are looking to fund a special effect, while others are looking for editing funds.

    I think you’re completely correct in your assessment that crowdfunding is the new path for funding particular chunks of a film project. We’ll see if anyone pulls off funding an entire movie process from start to finish.

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    • April 8, 2010

      Hey Vlad,

      Dave here from The Biracy Project. I’m glad you chimed in here. I hope things are going well for you guys. If you ever want to bash ideas around let me know.

      cheers
      dave

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      • April 8, 2010

        Hey Dave,

        Things are going quite well – every day is a new lesson. I would love to talk to you. Email me at vlad@rockethub.com and we’ll set something up. I think there is much we can learn from each other.

        Cheers,
        Vlad

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  24. April 8, 2010

    Jeff,
    Really great post. I think there is certainly room for a combination of tribe/crowd and the traditional sphere of financing indy film. For my documentary, we are exploring alternative financing avenues because of the uniqueness of my project and technology. Because I am shooting “Static Ocean” in 3D, we are exploring some of these more exotic forms of financing to see what fits best for our model. I’m interested to see how the 3D TV channels will start negotiating content since there is a huge supply/demand gap for them. Any thoughts on pre-selling TV distribution rights?

    Joseph Zaki

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  25. Kate permalink
    April 9, 2010

    Hi,
    Thanks so much on your article about “crowdfunding.” I love this concept – and I think we are living in an incredibly exciting time! Finally artists are getting the opportunity to produce art without waiting for that one big investor thanks to different websites dedicated to this. My website of choice is: RocketHub (which I noticed you didn’t mention — it is such a cool site that has an awesome aesthetic and is very user friendly). Because of this site, I have a place where I can feature my work, pool my resources, and continually update fans/supporters as the project grows. — But, I think the biggest challenge right now is that the concept of “crowdfunding” has still not reached a tipping point… yet. People love the idea (when they hear it), but aren’t really actively participating. When I posted my project I assumed that all my friends would throw in $5 or $10 dollars because we’re friends… but I think people still equate it with fundraising and that can be a turn off. I wonder if a better term could be associated with this same concept. Something that emphasizes a community of people all helping to bring something great into the world…
    that’s my 2 cents,
    Kate

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  26. April 11, 2010

    Richard, I like your comments. Would appreciate an opportunity to communicate with you privately. Thanks. brianmathewkowalchuk@yahoo.com

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  27. April 21, 2010

    For all future comments on or about The Biracy Project please visit the facebook page

    All crowdfunding, crowdsourcing and transmedia fans please head over there for details and feel free to ask me questions directly.

    We will no longer respond to people claiming to be attorneys who hide behind firewalls and blogs.

    Thanks for the fantastic blog Jeff, and as always I am huge fan of this site.

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  28. September 19, 2010

    As an indie film producer I’ve been following the crowd funding initiatives with great interest for a while now. David Geertz is among the most active and knowledgeable in this effort – no secret – and I’ve learned a lot from his efforts and comments.

    And these money discussions are so vitally important because while everyone (thinks they) can write and creative exceptional content, most filmmakers don’t have the slightest idea about financing, so thank you Jeff for initiating these discussions.

    One of the most salient comments about funding is that filmmakers seeking funding must have some skin in the game. I suspect if filmmakers started off their crowd funding efforts with some percentage of the budget with their own money, their project would hold far more legitimacy with the crowd. Not that this is any guarantee of success, but without it I can’t see why anyone else besides F&F would toss their money into the project.

    This leads to the second major fault on the filmmaker side when seeking funding… of any kind. Too often – anecdotally I’d say in 95% of the cases -the projects seeking crowd funding stink. The concept stinks, the script stinks, the production plan (if it exists) stinks and the “vision” of the filmmakers appears paramount over any other consideration. That’s a terrible starting place.

    I’ve looked at literally hundreds of the crowd funding pitches by filmmakers across several sites. Sometimes this seems about ego, but mostly it is simple ignorance of very passionate people. Either way it doesn’t help the crowd funding world.

    Why? because while the average people out in the world – the crowd – may not be film market savvy, they can still read, view media, and have experience with good and bad, quality and crap.

    Read any sampling of random pitches on some of these sites and you’ll quickly tire of trying to find a project that is well conceived with superior concept and writing. I’d conjecture the crowd has far less…

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    • Jeff Steele permalink
      September 20, 2010

      David,
      Your points are valid; I have had similar experiences in the crowd-funding space. You are also correct with regard to the value of the producer having actual skin in the game, as opposed to just sweat equity — this is just as true for technology, real estate, or any other commercial start-up venture, as it is to entertainment. Financiers want to know that the producer is a partner who is in it for the long haul and won’t jump ship when the going gets tough (or a better project comes along.)

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      • September 21, 2010

        It appears I rambled longer than the word count allowed and lost a few paragraphs – I’ll conclude briefly …

        If I was a member of the crowd my question would be why. Why should I invest? Filmmakers try to answer this by incentivizing The Crowd with offers of tickets to premieres, roles in the film, DVDs, or credits when they should be working on improving the projects. These are pretty weak incentives anyway, especially for narrative features.

        There are innovative ways to incentivize The Crowd, but doing so requires an understanding that like everything else, The Crowd is actually made up of thousands of crowds, which are made up of millions of individuals. The first step in reaching them is placing the wants and needs of these individuals at least on level with those of the production team.

        Capturing the focus and commitment of the crowd has given rise to the possibility that anyone can get a film funded and then produced. This is both good and bad. Good for inclusion, bad because quality can be buried under quantity.

        I agree Jeff. Showing you’re in for the long haul is key in just about any relationship… just ask my girlfriend.

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        • Jeff Steele permalink
          September 21, 2010

          David, What would you use to identify the wants and needs of millions of individuals? And how would you go about placing those wants and needs on the same level as the production team? Lastly, what assurance would you provide that those needs would be met?

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          • David C Stuart permalink
            September 22, 2010

            Hi Jeff,

            How to articulate answers those complex questions within the word count… I’ll do my best.

            An old hobby of mine was standing outside theaters asking people what they thought of the movie they just saw. The answers (and sometimes the looks) I received were as individual as the people… cool effects, great clothes, the performances, etc. Yet, all these different people had one thing in common — in almost every case they’d close with their evaluation of the story.

            My point was we can’t identify the needs of millions of individuals. We can try to consider what an individual may want when going to the movies, and when everything else is stripped away, individuals seem to want a movie with a good story. So that’s where I put my efforts – into telling stories an individual might enjoy. As it relates to crowd funding, most filmmakers present their projects as if the crowd is an entity.

            Placing audience wants and needs on level with production team? By understanding we’re not making the movies for ourselves, but for the people who may pay to see them. They are our customers. The film business in general seems to be too inwardly focused. Instead of asking about “my vision,” or “retaining control” indie filmmakers should be asking how we can give the customer an enjoyable experience for their money. I don’t even think the answer is most important – it’s asking the question. I never hear filmmakers ask that question.

            I can’t provide assurance. All I can do is create a mindset where the audience must be considered and counted among the stakeholders – the same way I’d consider you as Jeff Steele, a person who helps finance movies – rather than a Financer.

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  29. Cameron M Fatemi permalink
    November 5, 2010

    To all,

    I just read this entire blog with comments. Phew! Based on that, thought I’d share a recent experience to give an alternate perspective on dealing with the filmmakers themselves.

    I just finished producing a short film (10min) with a very tender writer/director. I moved to LA from SF a year ago; he moved here from Florida 6mos ago. Along with our love of filmmaking, our newness to SoCal is what we primarily have in common. Our differences lie in that I have a BA in Cinema, a MBA, and 15yrs experience making (crappy) indie shorts. He just made his first film 3mos ago and together we just made his second one 3wks ago.

    Though this may be in the guise of self-agrandizing ego-boosting, I have a point. If it was up to him, we would have grabbed his SD camera with its integral mic, roped in a couple actors, and shot the movie. Instead, he took my advice. We hired a real crew and experienced actors (albeit on the cheap) and got a real nice project completed on budget and on schedule.

    Tangentially, the other really important thing auteurs never pay attention to: contracts. See, I have my own LLC. So, before any filming began, I made sure EVERYONE, including myself and the writer/director/producer were under contract to my company. (OK, so I couldn’t afford lawyers, and there may be all kinds of legal issues, but the important thing here is that a judge will have to pierce the corporate veil before anyone can come after either of us.)

    After we finished this project, he gave me a half-finished feature script and suggested that with that and our short film, we should be able to just knock on doors and the money would come rolling in. It was very difficult for me not to laugh out loud. Needless to say, I told him when he had a finished feature script that “I” was interested in, then we would talk financing.

    I say all this to raise my main point. How am I to raise funding for a project if the wannabe filmmakers (and no, he’s far from…

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    • Cameron M Fatemi permalink
      November 5, 2010

      (My point got cut off. Let’s try this again.)

      I say all this to raise my main point. How am I to raise funding for a project if the wannabe filmmakers (and no, he’s far from being the exception) can’t grasp simple concepts like I can’t sell something I don’t have? At this point, I’m beginning to empathize with the investors.

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