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Why do film projects fail to get made?

Plain and simple – no funding!

It doesn’t matter if the script is amazing, or the crew worked on big budget Hollywood blockbusters, or the actress is A list… If the financier, whoever that may be, doesn’t buy into your project, you’re f*cked!

This can be for several reasons; like they don’t have confidence in you as a filmmaker, or you have no track record, or you appear difficult to deal with, or… on and on.

When you present your project to investors or financiers, you’ll typically have one shot at the sell. F*ck it up and you’ll be out the door quicker than you came in.

When you come to present your package of the project, one of the key things the money men/women/people will scrutinize, will be the budget. Can you make it for what you say you can make it for? So, how good are the numbers? Your numbers! Do they stack up?

Being a numbers man myself, in investment banking, asset and fund management, film production and now property, I can tell you for sure that if you get these wrong, the professionals who are assessing them, will know. They will see where you underestimated for A and overestimated for B and so on and so forth. And this will tell them several things…

You’re not investible in.

You’re not credible.

You’re not professional.

And you’re not ready…

Boom! The door hits you in the ass and you’re out.

I’ve seen this a lot in film as well as in property. People with little to no experience trying to convince the professionals that they can do something that they have never done before. Like make a 90-minute action movie in two weeks for £4,500. With no contingency, no stunt coordinator, one camera, one grip and a borrowed location with no insurance and no power.

You need to be realistic and present the numbers as they should be. If it should take 6 weeks, then plan for six weeks. If it needs a crane, then budget for one. If it needs overnight accommodation, then budget for hotels and not tents.

Budget it correctly and detail the costs, professionally, and that will go a long way to showing the money people that you know what you are doing.

If you don’t know how to budget effectively, then pay someone to do it for you.


  • Or another example, film makers not really knowing the market and asking for 450k for a film about a relationship breakup set mainly in 2 or 3 rooms in a house... Also not even considering the advice to try to get a 'name' involved, not even a celeb of some sort...

    2 years ago
  • No, money's not the main reason. I've looked over the years at film projects, and often people have enough to make an El Mariachi or a Clerks at least. And, they blow it on seminars, or some other nonsense.

    Napoleon Dynamite didn't have stars, and raised some money. Benji had minor stars, but raised the money before they were involved (and the stars weren't worth it, either.)

    As for logically budgeting things, yes, that's one step. I'll tell you though, not all successfully funded films are well prepared beforehand. Directors and screenwriters don't need to budget.

    But, I'll tell you something else. Since I was a teenager, people have pitched their films to me. The bane of advertising your production company is that people think you have money. Some have pitched scripts, others business plans. Some have asked for investment, others to borrow film equipment, others for crowdfunding money. Sometimes I'll ignore them, other times I'll say no.

    Over the years, a few which I have turned down have made it to the cinema. It taught me an important lesson, something I already knew, but might have forgotten otherwise. Just because I dislike something, that doesn't mean it's not of value to someone else.

    What's the key ingredient? There isn't one. Investors are humans, just like filmmakers are humans. Some of us want to make big budget sci-fi, others low budget horror, others mid budget romantic comedy. Some want to be near glamour, others are artists, others look toward the audience, or social issues, or to relieve the works of their childhood, or try something new.

    The biggest problem is listening to too much advice. People who don't trust their gut lose enthusiasm, lose self confidence, and lose themselves to the enemy. If someone is a legitimate stakeholder (investor, wants to act in your film, will edit it, etc) then maybe their advice is worth something, but most people who like giving advice will wreck your plans.

    Find people who share your goals. Film is not a valid goal. A goal must spring from your values, from yourself. Making a children's film where the dog is the hero, that will make grandparents and grandchildren laugh together, that's closer to a valid goal. Or, making a film that changes the way people think about soap, or homelessness. But, it needs to be your goal.
    It needs to be specific, and it needs to inspire you. It needs to come from inside you, not from a seminar.

    So, that's the second challenge. It's finding other people who share your goals. The first is being honest with yourself. If, however, you are enthusiastic enough about your goal, perhaps you can convert others to share it.

    But, if you want some advice, here it is. Don't listen to people who say no. Listen to people who say yes. Anyone can come up with an excuse for saying no, but the real investors will tell you why they said yes.

    Film is not a numbers game.

    2 years ago
    • Let me argue back and say that yes, funding is the main aspect that either gets your film made or not.

      With funding, you get:

      Actors you want
      Locations you want
      Set design you want
      Costume you want
      The crew you want
      The cameras you want
      The director you want
      The VFX you want
      The sound track you want
      The schedule you want
      The props you want
      etc etc

      Many scripts 'demand' certain aspects of the above in order to achieve the narrative. Without the desert, there is no Lawrence of Arabia, without VFX there is no Star Wars...

      Funding achieved the goal of making these films. Otherwise they would have sat as words on a page, or lesser films with lesser funding.

      Films can be shot on a shoestring in a single room with unknown actors, of course they can. But how many of them have commercial appeal? Some, yes. Most, no.

      Most filmmakers want to make films to become commercial filmmakers - ie make a career out of making films that get distribution and into theatres. Without funding, those goals are dead in the water.

      You can get funding with a bad script. Indeed, we see it a lot. But with funding, you can improve the script, if you had a mind to.

      You can get funding with inexperienced actors or crews (including a director), but with better funding you can get more experienced actors and crew and a director. Or you can spend more time in rehearsals (whatever they are) to get the actors and crew better prepared for the project.

      so, films don't get made because of a lack of funding. Everything on a film pretty much costs money - there are only so many times you can beg, steal and borrow. But a lot of those films show they've been made for nothing. Not all of them. There are some rare gems that occasionally shine through.

      But for the most part, without funding, your film sitsas ink on a page!


      2 years ago
    • @Lee 'Wozy' Warren There's never enough funding to get everything you want.

      As far as locations, there's a lot more to it than funding. Locations was a challenge for me to start with, but if they think that you have a lot of money, prices go up. So, really, having very little money can be an advantage there.

      Also, the talent are humans, and if you treat people right, you can get them for less money (and perhaps points and other non-monetary incentives). If you treat them terribly, all the money in the world won't help.

      Many films that could get funding don't, because of internal arguments, because of other reasons. It's like buildings, some go over budget and never get finished.

      2 years ago
    • @vasco de sousa What's the biggest budget feature you have produced on?

      2 years ago
    • @Lee 'Wozy' Warren I'll return that question to you.

      My knowledge is largely gained from research, I don't limit it to personal experience. When you limit your knowledge to personal experience, then you can't see the wood for the trees.

      2 years ago
    • @vasco de sousa I guessed as much...

      2 years ago
    • @Lee 'Wozy' Warren Even when I make a thousand films, most of my knowledge will be from research. I don't have to get run over to know to look both ways before crossing the street.

      2 years ago
    • @vasco de sousa But with each film you actually make, you become more knowledgable from 'actually' doing it rather than just reading about it.
      I get your point about being run over when crossing the street, but in this business experience will get you a lot further than only knowledge. The cliche of "You're only as good as your last film..." does actually stand true.
      Find me a producer (a real one) that would employ a director (or actor or DoP etc etc) based on the books he's read over what films he's actually directed (obviously they have to be reasonably good films), then I'll buy you a pint.

      2 years ago
  • I'd like to ask a related question, why do screenplays fail to get finished? Why do budgets, production schedules, and shot lists fail to get made? And, why do people fail to apply for funding from all available sources?

    I suppose if you've done all the preliminary steps, done all the development and pre-production that can be done with only time and your own efforts, then funding is your main issue. But, from my time as a producer, I'd say that most projects I was sent failed to excite me enough to even want to try.

    As for books he's read, that's not what research is. Look at scientists in a lab. They don't limit themselves to reading books. That said, if someone can't even read a book, they won't be able to read a script.

    2 years ago