Going it alone works for some industries, but according to Casey Neistat, filmmaking is a sport. And most sports require teams to score points. When talking about the sport of film financing, points from film investors and film financing companies become dollars (or equity, pardon the finance reference) for your indie filmmaking ventures.
You may not be The Wolf of Wall Street, Gordon Gekko, or John Tuld from Margin Call. Your skills lie more in the creative realm. Creative in the sense of storytelling and filmmaking, not accounting.
If you don’t know how to finance a film production, well, you’re not going to be able to finance a film production. And that’s okay. We all can’t be masters of everything. That’s why it helps to partner with a fellow filmmaker to help produce your film.
Partnering with someone can help fill gaps in your knowledge, and you’ll be able to accomplish more than if you were working by yourself.
You’ll gain the following by teaming up:
Additional insight and research
Even if your partner doesn’t have a finance background, this extra person will provide insights and suggestions on how to fund a movie that you may not have thought of previously. Maybe they’ve submitted film production applications before, or maybe they know independent film investors.
That last one probably isn’t the case, but even if your partner has zero knowledge of film financing, another member of the team can help research how and why people invest in movies. Another person means more research in a day—gap financing, grants for young filmmakers, documentary funding. There’s a lot to learn about the film industry finance space, and filmmakers need all the help they can get.
Better business skills
Find someone who has a natural business mind. These instincts will be invaluable when negotiating rates, contracts, and budgeting your project. Your partner doesn’t need to have an MBA, but even someone with an interest in business and entrepreneurship will provide value to your project.
In my experience, many filmmakers aren’t fluent in things such as valuation, convertible notes, or what investors are looking for in a pitch deck. And this is good: they’ve spent their time strengthening their creative muscles. Having someone on your team with a business mind will help you learn and practice these skill sets more quickly.
Better pitch writer
The best way to improve a creative work is to put it in front of other people. Whether it’s a short story, a lengthy grant proposal, or a simple one-sentence pitch for The Film Fund, having another set of eyes will tighten and critique your pitch.
Additional critique will cause you to refine your storyline, your character development, your entire project. And it will help you formulate all of this into a succinct pitch.
When writing, it always helps to read what you’ve written aloud. It helps even more to read it in front of an audience.
More nuanced distribution strategy
In addition to providing feedback on the project’s pitch, an extra person will provide an additional perspective on the entire distribution process. Most film textbooks talk about the filmmaking process in three stages that I’m sure we’re all familiar with—pre-production, production, and post-production. But there exists a fourth stage.
Marketing and distribution. It’s left out of countless textbooks, including those about product development. Whether we like to admit it or not, the films we create are products.
I hope I don’t lose the true artists here, but please bear with me as I briefly go into the integrated product development (IPD) process. This is a filmmaking website, so we won’t go into things in this post such as packaging (although, we probably should do so in another post to cover things such as physical distribution, digital packaging, web-friendly videos, etc.).
There exists a tenet of IPD that is absolutely crucial to filmmaking. We make films so that they will be seen. When developing a product, or a film, every step of the process needs to be considered simultaneously.
When you’re in the early stages of creative development, you need to actively think about the last step in the process—sales, service, and support. You can see all of the steps of the IPD process in the graphic below.
Now, fully considering and executing all of these steps alone is impossible. No major filmmaker has ever made it in this world without a crew, a group of people to provide service, support, and insight. They fill in the gaps a director might miss on set.
Your partner can make sure you’re fully considering all of the stages of the process–including distribution. While you might think trying to monetize your film exclusively with VOD is a good idea, your partner could suggest a more nuanced strategy—such as doing a traditional festival run, then VOD, then free online everywhere. Or they might recommend going free online from the beginning to get you the most exposure, pointing out that most people are not going to pay to watch a short film.
Film festival experience
You might not be a people person. Or a graphic designer. Or a master of social media ads and geo-targeted mobile marketing campaigns. If you really want to go all-out with your festival run, all of these are crucial, and they should be factored into the budget from the beginning. Don’t forget about budgeting for stage four of the filmmaking process, as explained above. You need a team who can execute all of these.
Even if you’re a jack-of-all-trades, I guarantee you can’t successfully manage all aspects of a successful festival run by yourself. At least I can’t. Son of Blackbeard’s festival run is going well, but the next time around, I’m going to have my digital strategy planned out before submitting the project anywhere.
Just like the IPD process can’t be done in a vacuum without a support community, a festival run also requires a team. Continuing with Casey Neistat’s line of thinking, let’s think about the filmmaking process as if it were a professional sport.
Consider the NFL. There’s the preseason, the regular season, and the post-season games. But then there are the post-season games that *really* matter. The conference championships and the Super Bowl. Pre-production is the pre-season, production is the regular season, and post-production is the post-season.
If getting people to watch your film is the end goal, then the Super Bowl, one of the most-watched television events, is your distribution and premiere strategy. Coaches and the general manager start executing their playoff strategy before the pre-season in the draft, when they choose their players. In filmmaking, the draft is the film financing stage. So I guess there exist five stages of filmmaking:
1. Film financing and strategy
Get your team in place so you can make the playoffs.
Easier to raise investment
Investors like teams, for all of the reasons above. Treat your film project like a company. You’re trying to raise enough money to get it made. Having multiple people on your team lends credibility to your project and instills confidence in film financiers. Regardless of who funds films, whether they’re short film investors (few and far between) or The Film Fund’s community funding network, people who provide funding want to know their investment is in good hands—plural.
It will be easier to pitch your compelling story when you have multiple people explaining why your project needs to be made. Whether you’re making a one cameraperson documentary or a narrative film, a strong team will be able to demonstrate not only their collective passion but also their resources.
Stress and decompress with a sounding board
We’ll wrap it up with this. Being stressed with someone else is a lot better than being stressed alone. Sure, sometimes it helps to go take a solo walk and breathe, but being in a tough situation with someone else by your side will make the process much more bearable.