As a micro-budget producer with films in distribution and on the festival circuit, I am often asked to go to coffee so someone can ‘pick my brain.’ If something I’ve experienced can help someone avoid a pitfall, nothing makes me happier. I love it when I can connect dots and match-make other collaborators. Transparency and free sharing of information is critical to transforming our industry into a place where underrepresented groups can find success, support and move into positions of greater power.
I am constantly toying with ideas for making these coffee talks reach a greater number of people, because, while personal, taking the time to have coffee or a phone call with each person that asks…well, it takes a lot of time. I thought I’d answer my top five “indie producer’’ coffee talk questions for you and save you the price of my latte.
I’m thinking about doing a Kickstarter. Do you think I can raise 100k for my project that way?
Let’s back up. You’re a filmmaker. In my opinion, you have no reason to crowdfund with any platform other than Seed & Spark. They provide amazing filmmaker perks (like hard drives and discounts on film festival entries) that you can unlock for building a bigger audience of followers on their platform. They have an 80% success rate, personalized feedback on your campaign, the lowest fee (2%) which your donors can actually cover for you, and they are also a streaming platform. They also have fantastic industry partners who are offering support and funding through rallies. They have an inclusivity mandate. There’s just no comparison. Watch their crowdfunding class online (yes, it’s free) and Kickstarter, IndieGogo will quickly retreat in your rear view mirror. As for how much you can raise, I am not going to entertain numbers until you have an editorial calendar and a plan and a clear understanding that a crowdfunding campaign is a huge job. It’s more than a way to raise your budget. It’s a way to build your audience and make your filmmaking sustainable. If you aren’t speaking this language, you don’t yet understand your tools. If you continue to say, “yeah, but is 100k reasonable?” without doing your homework – I will be forced to say no, no it is not.
SEED AND SPARK EDUCATION: https://www.seedandspark.com/education
EMILY BEST’S CROWDFUNDING TO BUILD INDEPENDENCE: https://youtu.be/UmFiAS2RoVA
What are distributors looking for and is the festival circuit worth it?
A better question is – what are audiences looking for? The festival circuit helps you figure that out because you are connecting with real audiences of film lovers across the country. The truth is distributors are looking for something different seemingly every six months, shorter than the average film cycle, so you need to believe that you have an audience for your film and be able to demonstrate that (hopefully before you greenlight). How is that demonstrated? By your robust email list of fans, by your social media followers, by your ability to attract talent that has data tied to their box office or VOD success, for instance. Distributors are always looking for talent. Names and production value matter to them. That doesn’t mean your film won’t get attention without them, but if you’re looking for the first question they ask, that’s it. It is not a film festival’s job to find you a distributor. They might end up being a part of your distribution story, but the purpose of film festivals is not to entertain distribution offers. Are they worth it? You have to define for yourself what success means, what your budget for post-post production is and what you are willing to put into festivals in terms of networking and effort. I see them as a way to build community, my audience, my brand as a filmmaker, expand my awareness of what is happening in the industry, and share my film in a theatre…so yes, for me, the festival circuit is worth it.
Do you think I need to budget a lot for post-production?
Is this your way of asking if sound is important? Because yes, sound design and a good mix is what often separates a professional quality film from amateur hour. I know you can create a soundtrack with your roommate on ProTools in your living room, but I don’t personally recommend it. Good sound shouldn’t be an aspiration or after-thought. It is one of your greatest tools, and yes, you should budget for it at least as much as post-editorial, if not more. Give it some flexibility of schedule to fully benefit from the possibility of discounts when mix stages might be in a less-busy time or a sound designer is on hiatus from their television show. Have a proper spotting session early and let your sound designer be part of your creative process.
Do you know any Producers who will help me raise money and also do a budget and schedule and also be on set and also use their network to get me talent attachments and also _________?
Producing is a lot of work. I believe producing is creative work, but many people see it as boring or technical or “businessy”…it is also all of those things. There are no shortcuts. If you want to be an independent filmmaker, you have to work incredibly hard, nearly 24/7 and often not on things that you have been trained on or naturally gravitate toward. Often when people ask this question I think they’re just resisting the work. No one is entitled to a good producer. Become one yourself, learn to respect them, or do the networking you need to do to inspire producers to join your team. There really are no dumb questions, but this question is akin to “do you know anyone that will do my homework for me?”
Someone told me my script is really good. I have some great actors I love working with and I’m excited to direct. How much money do you think I need to make my film? Should I do it?
Again, indie filmmaking is about preparation. Start making the film inevitable now. If you’re not a producer, there are so many things you can do to attract attention. Workshop some scenes. Film a teaser. Make a look book. Create statements about why you’re passionate about it. Start a facebook page or instagram page and build an audience interested in your content. Gather inspiration that you can share with the people you want to work on the film. If you don’t know producers, start going to film festivals and talking to other filmmakers. Volunteer to help the people you meet. The reason I have a network that works for me is because I have offered them something. Again and again, the answer is what do you have to offer? If you have no idea how much money you need, you’re not ready to make the film. Back up. Meet more people with knowledge. Identify your big ticket items. Make a list of your resources. I can answer this question so much better if you’ve broken down your script, have a sense for what you’re bringing to the table in terms of production assets.
Bonus question – how do you juggle everything?
I take action. Less talk, more do.
CODA: When you decide to reach out to someone who has a particular skill set, knowledge base, or experience you want advice on, have your questions ready and do your research.