If you’re a filmmaker like me then a lot of your time and effort goes into the hunt for funding. For me it completely consumes me. I literally am incapable of attending any event or meeting new people without sizing everyone up to see if there is a potential new source for financing.
At any given point I am working to find funding for at least half a dozen different film endeavors. I’ve discovered that trying to focus on one thing only is problematic for a couple of reasons.
First, it’s hard on your psychology.
Having multiple projects going to keep your mind diversified is important because it offers multiple opportunities for success, as opposed to putting all of your eggs in one basket and potentially driving yourself crazy.
Second, I find it’s useful to have different offerings so that whoever I am in front of I may have something that fits their interest as well as their check-writing ability.
But once you actually tap into some real money, I find that the biggest challenge is getting them to actually pull the trigger.
I’m not necessarily talking about closing though. Closing is definitely a challenge and an art, but closing is not always as tough as just getting the meeting.
More often than not your money sources come through middle-men.
Whenever possible you want to expedite the process and discussion by eliminating the middle-man, or rather, get direct access to the money. It is insanely difficult to close money through a third party. Your chances of closing money are vastly stronger when you are speaking directly to the source.
So how do you get to the source?
Having dealt with many potential investors over the years I have learned a lot about sizing up an investor. Just because a potential investor has the ability to write the check, that does not mean they are real.
The sad reality is that a lot of investors like to be involved in the conversation much more than they like actually investing.
The bottom line is that in order for an investor to prove him/herself to me as real, they have to do one very important thing: They have to be motivated to talk to me, the producer, directly. That is essential in order to make progress.
If the investor only wants to speak through a middle-man, there comes a point pretty quickly where I know they are full of it. A real investor will want to talk directly to the person they’re considering investing in as much as the producer – that’s you and me – wants to speak directly to the money. It’s absolutely a two way street.
Another big red flag I’ve encountered is when potential investors make demands up front before making a commitment.
I learned this lesson the hard way when I was younger.
Back around 2003, I was partnered with Michael Madsen on several projects that he and I were trying to produce together. One of those projects was intended to be my directorial debut, a script I had written.
Back in 2003, Kill Bill Volume 1 was just about to be released and the digital boom hadn’t exploded yet. Madsen at that point in time was a bona fide movie star whose name alone could greenlight a small indie film.
I had been introduced to an investor through a friend and I knew that the investor was very excited about the film and I knew he definitely had the money we needed. The investor asked me if he could meet Michael Madsen.
I was too young and inexperienced to demand a commitment before I agreed. Instead I went to Michael and asked him to come to lunch with us to meet the investor. Michael asked if the guy was on the line and I said, ‘Yes, he just wants to meet you.’ Michael obliged and the three of us went to lunch.
The investor was very taken with Michael and throughout the lunch asked a lot of fanboy questions about Michael’s iconic roles and career.
Finally, about halfway through, Michael stopped the guy mid sentence and said, “So are you going to write us the check or not?” The investor looked at me dumbfounded. I laughed, trying to make light of the moment and said, “You wanted to meet Michael!” The investor never wrote the check.
I learned a very valuable lesson that day.
When investors ask for big or unreasonable favors or opportunities prior to a commitment, it’s a huge red flag.
These days when an investor asks for an actor intro my response is, “Absolutely. I can’t wait to introduce you to them on set.” To clarify, I’m not referring to an investor asking for proof of an actor’s attachment. That is a reasonable request.
There are hints that investors give that let you know they are serious as well.
Obviously if an investor is inclined to speak to you, the source, directly, that’s the first big step. When investors ask a lot of business questions then that is also a good thing and lets you know they are seriously considering it.
Recently an investor asked me how much we needed in total for a particular project. After hearing my answer he then asked me how much would it take to get the ball rolling.
Those two questions alone told me that this investor is interested in the numbers and more importantly, willing to consider at least a sizable portion of the total amount. Following that he inquired about ROI (Rate of Interest) and the finance structure of the investment – meaning he wanted me to show him how he would recoup his money.
Those are serious investor questions and as long as you’re prepared to provide solid answers, there is a good chance of closing that money.
Another thing you need to have when dealing with potential investors is flexibility.
It’s easy to fall into a pattern or a script when you’re soliciting for funds, but you need to be able to size up your potential investor so you can tailor the pitch to him/her.
Basically what I am saying is know your audience. Get a sense of whether you’re speaking to someone who is more business minded or more driven by vanity.
Is your potential investor interested in hearing about ROI and tax incentives or do they want to hear more about the creative and the glamour?
Regardless, you need to be comfortable enough to stray from the script and talk intelligently on every level so you appeal to the sensibilities of the personality you’re pitching.
As producers we are constantly on the lookout for new funding sources. Everywhere I go and everyone I meet is a potential new resource.
You really have to embrace and enjoy the hunt and if you learn to do that, you’ll not only eventually meet the right investors, you’ll likely be able to close some bread and make your movie…
If you need help building a pitch deck that will entice to your potential investors to say yes, join me on my free webinar, The Ultimate Indie Film Financing Plan, where I share my proven strategy for building a compelling pitch deck that gets films financed.