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On The Table Read, “the best creativity magazine in the UK“, filmmaker Shane Stanley writes about his filmmaking career, and offers advice for independent filmmakers to sell to investors.
Written by Shane Stanley
I have always been a concept to delivery kind of guy. If you don’t know what this means, I will break it down for you in layman’s terms.
Writing A Screenplay
An idea is hatched. I alone, or with a co-writer, sit in front of a computer and type the words “Fade in” onto a blank screen. Over the course of a few months, we’ll continue typing, filling 90 to 100 pages with words that contain screen direction and dialogue, creating an original and hopefully interesting screenplay. Then, I head out and try to raise money to get the screenplay produced into a motion picture. If I am fortunate enough to get the financing, we spend the next three months getting locations and attaching talent, vendors, and a competent crew to the film, to work both in front of and behind the camera.
Over a 20–30-day period, the movie is filmed where we capture images of actors saying the words and depicting the action written in the screenplay. After the filming process is complete, I sit in a dark room for several months and piece together over 140 hours of footage, shaping it into a condensed motion picture. Once everyone is happy (or pretends to be) with what’s been edited, so begins the music scoring, the color correcting and visual effects phase, along with the sound mix and all the other details that in the end, bring you 90-minutes of glee if I did my job well, or if I failed, an hour and a half you’ll be begging to get back on your death bed.
That’s what I do.
Getting An Independent Film Produced
So, what’s the secret to getting an independent film produced? Some will say it’s dumb luck, while others swear its connections or the ability to simply sell ice to Eskimos. Those factors certainly can weigh-in, but eventually luck runs out and ice melts – especially in this climate. I believe it comes down to how hard you’re willing to work and the passion you have for your project that drives you to see it to fruition. Hard work pays off and passion is contagious…and yes, even a blind squirrel bumps into a nut once in a while, so we’re gonna talk in simple terms, in the realm of ‘the real world’ as I like to call it – not fantasy land, so you, the average individual with the desire to get a movie made, can acquire the tools necessary to help become a success in the world of (independent) filmmaking.
Remember, when you pitch an investor to finance a film, you’re selling something different. You’re selling the magic and the sizzle of Hollywood and most importantly, you’re selling yourself along with the upside (or fallacy) of what their investment might return. If someone is really in the position to write a check to finance a film, they’re probably pretty savvy. Trust me, they have been pitched everything from financing movies to night clubs, clothing lines and widgets by someone a lot slicker and more qualified than you. Investors know they hold the key to unlocking the door to the dreams that can change your life, so go deep in thought when creating a presentation…because you’re pitching them on a fantasy (smoke and mirrors), not real estate or something they can look, touch, or feel at the moment.
Pitching To Investors
Something else to consider when pitching your project to an investor is what will they think of the film’s subject matter. If you’re investors are conservative folk, elders at the church and pillars of the community, I am guessing a flick based on a cult who feasts on hallucinogenic drugs and endless violence is probably not going to be their cup of tea. You laugh, but I cannot tell you how often filmmakers waste that coveted magic bullet of an opportunity to pitch something that’s unappealing when it comes to the morals, values, and ethics of the purse strings they’re presenting to. Also, if you don’t personally know your potential investor, I suggest you find out as much as you can before you waste everyone’s time or embarrass yourself.
Google is a wonderful thing, so do your homework and research them. Nothing worse than going into a pitch meeting to talk about a film where a young girl runs away from home then goes missing in the woods only to learn Daddy Roebucks had a falling out with his daughter who took off into the woods and got eaten by a bear. What to put in your film finance package is key. I opt for things to be short and sweet with the less is more mentality. Keep paper weight to a minimum and realize the investor you’re reaching out to probably has more stuff than they wish they already did cluttering his or her desk. Don’t just add more to a bottomless pile they’re loathing to get through anyway.
People with real money are presented opportunity all the time and you must think on your feet and always be prepared for an audible. Know your presentation backward and forward and never be afraid to say, “I don’t know” when asked something you don’t know the answer to. One of the best business relationships I ever had was launched on, “I don’t know,” my answer to a question they asked in our first meeting. Those three words told them the truth; I didn’t know, and I had the confidence to admit it. I capped it with “I will find out for you,” which gave the investor a sense of security I wasn’t going to tap dance or create some line just to appease him right then and there. It also gave me a great excuse to reach out the next day and get him the answer he was looking for, ultimately allowing me to close the deal.
Give Investors Comparables
Think outside the box and keep things in the ‘real world’ when giving investors comparables. I’ve used films in my presentations like Once, Lovely and Amazing, and Like Crazy; films that cost under a million to produce and turned huge profits more realistic to obtain. Imagine if you were pitched a real estate investment. You’d feel hustled if you heard about the investor who put in $50k and flipped it for $7 million a year later. But the story about a person who invested $200k and turned it into $250k seems more realistic. Base hits and doubles make sense to investors, and they’ll be more apt to develop a sense of trust with you early on. The big difference between you and them, besides, they have money, and you don’t, is you’re looking at what’s right in front of you and they’re looking way ahead. You need money now to get your dream off the ground…but they’re envisioning the conversation the two of you will be having a year from now. I promise, your thinking is light years apart, no matter how often they smile and nod their head during your pitch.
Always under promise, so you have a chance to one day over deliver. If your investor turns a profit and makes their money back plus 15%, that’s an attractive investment. But if they are anticipating making five times their money because you said they could, they will only be disappointed when things fall short. Always keep things in perspective so that any return can be seen as a victory, and you haven’t set yourself up for failure.
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