The Black & White Rules of Indie Filmmaking – part 5

5. No investors = no investors to pay back!

If you think the SAG paperwork is suffocating, wait until you see investor agreements, prospectuses, disclosures, etc., and so on, ad nauseum.

Here’s what it comes down to, you have no more of a chance of selling your film (having it distributed) if you spend $25K or $250K. None. You can’t afford name actors either way. All you’ll be doing with the larger figure is paying those 20 crew members your now over-priced Line Producer hired, and numerous unknown SAG actors. And you will never see a dime. And your investors will never make all of their money back. That unfortunately is just the way it is.

If you have a way of raising between $2 million and $10 million, ok, you’ll have names, and you’ll at least get paid. You’ll get attention and some sort of distribution. And certainly those names will give you a much better shot at the bigger film festivals. But still, all the names in the world won’t guarantee that. You could still be offered $50K for American rights. Which won’t make any of your investors happy. And won’t do much for your career. Unless you want to be known as the director who had names and still lost his investors $10 million. But with $25K, give or take — specially if it’s raised through a crowd sourcing sites like the amazing KickStarter, or IndieGoGo (new ones keep popping up almost weekly) – you have no investors to pay back, only rewards to dish out.

I just raised almost $34K through KickStarter for a rock documentary. Take a look at my rewards. Most of what I offered (posters, DVD screeners, t-shirts) were items I’d need when the film played the festival circuit anyway. And notice I offered them in every combination: poster with DVD, poster with T-shirt, DVD with T-shirt, all three together. Then take a look at the off-beat rewards: a day as PA, a day in the editing room. Be creative. The more you offer the better your chances of being funded are.

I mentioned IndieGoGo as well because they were first on the scene. But really, I’m not a fan. Stick with KickStarter. They took the model and ran with it. They are the kings. No one else is even close. You’ll need to decide what your goal is. We did $20K for EVERY EVERYTHING, and far surpassed it. But that was my biggest raise. For my documentary on The Replacements, I did nine separate KickStarter campaigns. Here is one. I broke them up into the different phases of production, knowing that fans of the band would be slow to find out about the film, and that so many would miss the initial campaign. Overall we raised around $32K for the film through KickStarter. I was confident going into the EVERY EVERYTHING campaign that we had built a strong network of fans. Plus COLOR ME OBSESSED received and continues to receive rave reviews. That certainly helped our cause. But be reasonable. Look at what other campaigns have raised. And work that damn campaign every day. We tweeted, posted on Facebook, on indie rock blogs, any where we could, to get attention for the EVERY EVERYTHING campaign. The money is not going to just come. You have to work it. (And trust me, if you were trying to raise $250K through investors it would be twenty times the work.)

OK…so you raise the necessary funs through KickStarter. You complete your film, and take in let’s say $50K over it’s DVD/VOD/streaming run. That’s profit that can go into your pocket, and the pockets of those who helped make the film. As I explained in the last section on backend, as director I try and keep a hefty share, at least 25%, and split the rest based on the jobs cast and crew members performed. Extras do not need backend. But your two leads who drove the film do. And even if they each have 5%, when they end up making $2500 for their two week shoot, they will be ecstatic. They actually got paid for doing something they loved. Now you’re thinking $12,500 doesn’t seem like a lot of money for all the work you did. Think of it as a starting point (and hell, if your film has buzz, it could be more). You’re going to make at least two of these films a year. (This is a full time job, not play time, which is one thing they never seem to teach people in film school.) And your core audience will grow with every film, as long as you stay true to who you are as a filmmaker, and as an artist.

Next up: Who is your audience?

My filmography.

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