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To Self-Produce OR To Pay an Experienced Producer?

Hey SP'ers :)

It seems that finding money to make your film is the number one challenge for many of you out there. The knock-on effects of an under-funded film are infinite, a small, inexperienced crew for example.

And the main reason for a lack of money to make your film is probably your inability to find, professionally engage with, and then effectively pitch your project to investors or funding organisations. Quite likely, your skillset is in film production, or something similar, not the 'business' of filmmaking.

Successful funding by producers appears to prove fruitful more so than not, if they have a background in fields such as finance, accounting, banking, etc instead of or as well as, filmmaking. Fundraising can be considered an art form that takes time to master, and also there's the ability to be able to speak the same 'language' as an investor/funder. These are just a couple of vital skills needed for success.

But, many don't filmmake as a business. They filmmake as a filmmaker only, forgetting that it is ALSO a business. So they decide that, despite lacking the requisite skills that a producer needs, they try to produce their film themselves.

But I realise that some filmmakers that do it this way do make a success of the business side and do raise money to make their films. So please don't think that I'm taking a big broad brush and painting all filmmakers the same. I'm not. But let's not disagree, there are still many filmmakers out there struggling to get started making their films because they have been unable to raise enough money to get to set.

So, if you really do consciously know that you lack the experience, ability and skillsets to fundraise yourself, have you sought out a producer to help?

And if not, why not?

I'd love to hear your experiences etc :)


  • In my opinion, for people on this board, is if you need investors to fund you, you need to really get to grips with the MATHS, so that you can crunch all the numbers and understand what is being said.

    Whether or not you'll be finding your own money, understanding this stuff will make for more productive communications with your producer!

    I so well remember watching a filmmaker sit in a room with someone (a very serious fund manager) with a DEV FUND and access to full financing, and walk out with nothing because when the investor talked numbers, while I heard "I, the investor, am now telling you that IF I invest, at least 1 in 3 of these projects need to make it to full funding, because if they don't, I'm losing money". The filmmaker heard what they thought was a greedy number. The investor quickly realised they were not being understood. Game over.

    If investors don't think you understand their language, they won't trust you with their money, no matter much they like your project.

    Have you done a proper budget? If you really know how to make your film, you can do a budget. If you CAN'T do a budget, you don't know how to make your film, and if you don't know how to make your film, you don't know how much to ask for. Your producer doesn't know how much to ask for.

    And your budget doesn't stop with a final edit. Selling stuff costs money.

    Including and a cost of sale/marketing plan. If your plan is "make it, go to Cannes, sell it", that's fine. The investor can be happy that for this movie that's where your buyers are, but there needs to be a costed line. Investors might not have a clue about how realistic your "Editing" number is, or even understand when you tell them, but "4 people on a 3 days sales trip to a conference in France" they have a number for that in their head, and if yours is LESS than theirs, then they wonder about your other numbers and start thinking "they will come back and ask for more money. Pass". If your number is BIGGER, they might ask for a breakdown, and you say, booth, screener, etc and duly impress them with.

    Can you model a range of gross revenues and break that down to returns for each player? Do so. This is where you see breakeven numbers and helps you know what you need to aim for on sales.

    4 months ago
    • What a great response, Marlom :)

      If you can't afford to self fund a project, then you inevitably have to ask for money from other people, technically known as Other Peoples Money (OPM).

      And if you need OPM, then you most certainly need to act in a way that you are running a business, not for fun or just a hobby.

      This fact will most certainly dismay many and possibly strike fear, hesitancy or reluctance or a combination of all three in quite a lot of people. The realisation that in order to stretch your creative wings and let loose your most excited passions, you will have to become a business person, first and foremost, in order to stand any chance of realisations of these ambitions, can, will and have killed any desires faster than a speeding ticket.

      Awareness though is not nearly enough. As Marlom correctly states, you may know that you need a budget, even a detailed budget, that explains where an investors money will be spent. But creating an accurate one, in enough detail, may be beyond your expertise. Because it's not just the actual number on a line item that's important, it could well be some specific logic behind how it was arrived at that my count, or perhaps it's a dependency on one or more other line items that are important. And you may not realise that and therefore not have any answer when a savvy film investor asks.

      And not just for private professional investors, there's also the various film funds and what they need when applying. One of the best know funds I've worked with have a number of hoops to jump through and at each stage, you need to be at your best game to stay in the game... For example, for this particular fund, you'll need to supply the following, understand, in detail, the requirements and be fully prepared to defend each aspect:

      Production Budget
      Sales Estimates
      Full Script
      Budget and Finance Plan
      Ripogram/Anamatic/Short Clip
      Pitchbook With Directors Statement
      Bios Of Writer/Director/Producers
      Key Stakeholders Contact Details

      The above is just a sample, but it's a huge amount of work that can take an inordinate amount of time to compile correctly. And don't forget, you're not competing for money from the Fund, you're competing against other filmmakers with their submissions. You have to be better than they are in every single aspect, not just with a better script/story.

      So, don't underestimate what you need to do in order to attract OPM. These people/funds need to see a return on their investment. For many people, this is going to mean a huge stepping up of their game.

      Good luck.


      4 months ago
    • @Lee 'Wozy' Warren

      Very good comment about the logic behind a line number.

      Some years back I was sent a budget to look over and assess. This was a for a live action movie with elephants.

      Step 1 : skim it and look for any numbers that just POP, (guys, for people who do spreadsheets numbers can look instantly wrong). That's what you look at first.

      So the budget included a line for elephants. It was, and I make no apology for this terrible pun, an elephantine number :-)

      What did I know about the cost of elephants? Nothing. What did I know after a few phone calls to zoos? Enough to know that the line was made up by someone who hadn't made those calls.

      What else had they made up? Didn't care. PASS.

      4 months ago
    • @Marlom Tander - It's amazing what you find in some budgets. A line item called - lighting, for example. And a single value for all the required lighting, interiors and exteriors, all bundled together. So anyone reading the budget has no idea if the given value is actually enough for all lighting and rigs because it doesn't say. Then when everyone arrives on set and it's discovered that there isn't enough light to cover the scene, either the contingency starts to disappear or the post-budget does...

      4 months ago
  • Just acknowledging and thanking the OP and Marlom for your insights and, yes, slightly terrifying realities!

    4 months ago
  • Just for reference: there's a huge difference between the hugley excited, commited and determined hobbiests, (not that there's anything wrong with that) and wannabe professionals and to lose the actually delivery on their of desires.

    4 months ago
  • I'm having exactly this problem at the moment. Not that I don't know how to budget - I've made 3 feature documentaries off my own back doing pretty much everything apart from a final sound mix - but rather the issue of finding a producer to help me and specifically to help me find larger funds.

    My funding has always come from public funds like the arts council, where a profit is not a per-requisite. This has enabled me to make work that no investor wanting to turn a profit would touch. We are only talking sub 10k though, but my last film about a poet still premiered at CPH:DOX and was made (painfully) on less than 10k.

    But now I really need to step up to bigger funds to make more ambitious work. But how to find a producer that would take the risk to find investors on work that is still possibly pretty niche? Or investors for that matter?

    4 months ago
  • "Produce" covers such a range of disciplines! I think a big issue, though, is that people who have access to money are also people with a stack of projects they're hitting that money with. Finding someone with access to cash but nowhere to spend it is pretty much impossible, the demand is all in the other direction.

    4 months ago
    • Spot on Paddy - Try and standout in the crowd as a filmmaker of note/worth - that will attract the money without having to pitch too hard :)


      3 months ago
  • There are a fair amount of posts on SP asking for producers. And I think it's fair to say that most of these posts are really asking for someone to come and help fund the film.

    This type of producer is a specialist role and one that is in high demand if the producer is any good.

    This discipline is also really an art form and one that takes time and effort to perfect. With investors, you really only get one chance to pitch. And professional investors can see a newbie pitcher a mile off.

    Most filmmakers will f*ck up the pitch for a number of reasons and will probably never realise what they did wrong. So they go on to make the same mistakes over and over again.

    They will then most likely go on to make their film on a budget that is a minuscule amount compared to what is actually needed to produce it effectively and then end up with a substandard film all so they can at least say they made it. But this approach does nothing but hurt the filmmakers future career as they end up with a number of sh*t films under their belt.

    So either learn how to become a funding producer OR hire one to do it for you.


    3 months ago
    • Crowdfund. Don't bother trying to get money for your film from investors. It's a waste of time. Or turn your project into a web series, even if it's rubbish. People love watching trash online. A pretty chick running through the woods and looking back fearfully. It never fails!

      4 weeks ago
    • @peter goodman the world has moved on from fetishisng violence against women. I'm sure OP can do better than that!

      3 weeks ago
    • @Beth Park And no, the girl running through the woods, which is from a sci fi story of mine set in the near future, is fleeing from something imagined though not real. We all fear the dark woods. Two women trying to stay alive in a dark future. They are the only two characters in the story.

      3 weeks ago
    • @peter goodman
      Please let's throw capitalism in the bin along with sexism and then make films for entirely different reasons. All this talk of money is really depressing.

      3 weeks ago
    • @Huw Wahl Capitalism or cronyism, pick one, once your desired budgets are bigger than self funded.

      I say cronyism deliberately, because Arts org money, charity money or whatever other non capitalist money you are asking for, it goes to the people they know, or people who the people they know, know. They dress it up with application processes, but if you can't speak their language, they won't give you money either.

      IMO the capitalist route is much more honest - if you don't get the money, it's because they think (maybe wrongly, but that's what they think) someone else had a better project. If you fail to win a grant, it might be because a project they know to be a worse film got the money because of some nebulous "means whatever I want it to mean" criteria like "local capacity building".

      2 weeks ago
  • My comment was flippant, but really what I wanted to say is that profit does not always produce the best work. In my opinion, it often leads to the lowest common denominator.

    But, you are right that cronyism exists in the art world. However, it also exists in the 'market' - why do all the governments mates get contracts via whatsapp? What I would say is that if you've ever filled out an arts council form its become very, very kafka-esq, and there isn't much cronyism there. You're right about language here too, but I'd also say marketing speak is a dialect in itself!

    There's no perfect route to money, and I'm not saying it's all bad - but I do strongly feel that if profit it put above all else, and experimentation is basically drilled out of the system in place of viewing figures, we lose a hell of a lot of interesting work.

    2 weeks ago
  • Neither. I pitch to a producer, and a producer hires me.

    2 weeks ago