On Thursday, March 3, 2016, Georgia Lawyers for the Arts hosted a seminar by then-Emory Law student Vasili Brasinikas entitled Project Funding: Independent Film Financing in a Nutshell. This seminar covered the various ways in which independent filmmakers can finance their films. The following is an overview of that seminar.
The seminar began with an overview of the different kinds of financing. The first major form is equity, hard cash investments made by individuals who then claim a stake in the film. Another is that of pre-sales, in which a distributor will execute a contract with the filmmaker at the outset of production that then allows for the filmmaker to take out a bank loan, using the pre-sales deal as collateral. Perhaps the most well known (and risky) form of financing is crowdfunding, a donations-based model for raising capital without selling equity.
Mr. Brasinikas proceeded to discuss how to finance by going the industry route. While highly difficult because big studios are not likely to take on an unknown filmmaker’s project, it was still necessary to discuss how financing under a big studio works. Under this model, the studio holds the rights to the project. They institute the use of step deal, in which the people working on the film are paid incrementally as the project develops. The studio of course holds the right to stop development of the project at any given point.
A filmmaker can also seek an independent distributor to finance his or her project. An independent distributor is not regularly affiliated with a major studio and thus does not have the financial resources of one. Nevertheless, an independent distributor is more likely to negotiate a better deal on the filmmaker’s terms and well as give more personal attention to the project.
Thirdly, a filmmaker may utilize end-user financing, in which a theater, cable or television station puts up money in exchange for equity percentage participation in the film’s revenue stream. This is similar to pre-sale financing in that the amount of money put up by an end-user will be pre-determined.
Mr. Brasinikas then shifted gears to discuss the best tool at a filmmaker’s disposal: creativity, particularly in regard to cutting costs. At this point, the seminar covered a number of big name filmmakers and the clever ways they got their initial projects off the ground. For example, acclaimed director Christopher Nolan filmed his first film, Following, on Saturdays only, because his whole cast and crew had full time jobs. He only used natural lighting and filmed the movie in black-and-white to accommodate this setback. Likewise, Kevin Smith filmed his first feature, Clerks, at the convenience store he was employed during the hours when the store was not open. The final portion of the seminar offered up other methods of cost-cutting. These include utilizing film students, who usually are eager to attach their name to as many projects as they can. Also, film students typically have access to professional filming equipment. All in all, the seminar laid out the more conventional forms of getting a film made, while also delving into the shortcuts available to aspiring filmmakers.
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