Film Funding Blog


Film Financing Information provided by Sharp Angle

Digital Distribution: Pro’s and Con’s


Will digital distribution be the savior of the independent film market? Steve Zeitchik sets out to explore this question, using indie producer Seth Caplan as a case study.  Caplan has produced numerous award-winning, festival screened features, but his only real financial success barely left the internet. “Flatland – The Movie,” a thirty minute animated featurette sold mainly via web streams, generated more profit than any of his other films due principally to a well-placed Google Ad.


With the advent of YouTube, distribution was democratized to the average Joe, but now its success is “trickling up.” Industry professionals, the big fish and the small, are increasingly taking advantage of all-access digital mediums.  But it’s those with limited resources, the indie players, who stand to gain the most. Where else but online could they reach so many people at so little cost?


Of course, this supposed Promised Land comes with a catch or two.  Many fear that, like in the digital music space, an “increased dependence on digital will mean similarly small profits and expectations.”  This has been the case so far for most films released digitally. However, theatrical avenues are drying up, and films are coming out of festivals without theatrical distribution, leaving filmmakers little choice but to turn to online.


Still, there are promising signs for those that take a strategic approach to digital. Major portals, including Amazon, Hulu, iTunes, and YouTube, now have their own indie businesses. Though the sites have yet to garner much revenue for filmmakers, they can cut out the middle-man, like they did for Seth Caplan. IndiePix president Bob Alexander elaborates:


“The problem with streaming is you need millions of views for what’s essentially a niche product…what streaming can do, however, is provide the visibility and platform to lead to transaction-based sales [i.e., dvd’s].”


[Disclaimer: Filmmakers Beware! To turn a profit this way, you can’t let your budget get away from you.  It’s more essential than ever to contain costs when margins are so low.]


As the way we consume media continues to evolve, streams and other online viewing have the potential to capture greater market share, so early adopters are well-positioned to benefit. But for now, caution is advised.


*Source: The Hollywood Reporter, “Clicking and Screaming”, pp 10-11, March 20, 2009, by Steven Zeitchik

To read the entire article, click here. (available only in plain text for non-subscribers)




Documentary Do’s & Don’ts from a Vet Programmer (via Twitter)

Twitter has officially transcended its humble origins as a medium where you let family, friends and willing strangers in on the most minute details of your life. Among other things, it’s now a forum where professionals can give advice to those who seek it.

At least that’s the case for Basil Tsiokos, the Programming Assistant for Documentary Features at the acclaimed Sundance Film Festival. He is using the popular networking site to “both gripe about (and occasionally even celebrate)” the little things documentary filmmakers do that tend to irk him, resulting in many snide comments and some useful tips in his series, “Dear Documentary Filmmakers.” Below are the “tweets” taken directly from Tsiokos’ feature on Documentary Do’s and Don’ts, which he contributed for IndieWire. Our input is mixed in, minus the snark.

“Dear Documentary Filmmakers” on Twitter: @1basil1

  • Sprinkling a dozen still photos amidst three dozen talking head shots does not make for an interesting film.
    • Film, if nothing else, is a visual medium. Utilize what can be shown, and don’t just focus on what people have to say.
  • Your incessant narration is driving me to drink. Shut up already and let the images tell the story.
  • Having ponderous voiceover narration = bad idea. Having it delivered by inarticulate children = worse idea.
    • The key mantra in filmmaking is “show it rather than say it.” While it is sometimes necessary to convey information via spoken word, this is best used sparingly. A helpful hint: use titles instead. People are more inclined to believe what they see rather than what they hear. If you do use voice, make sure it’s clear and engaging.
  • Please use subtitles instead of dubbing foreign languages with fake accents and emphatic “acting.” Please…
    • Dubbing is distracting in documentaries. Let your interview subjects tell their own stories in their own language, and then translate it with subtitles. This helps to eliminate “performance” of voice dubbers. Also consider subtitling inarticulate subjects for the sake of clarity no matter what language is being spoken.
  • Next time, hire a good sound person so that I won’t have to hear background noise or dead air in every scene.
    • As emphasized above: we want to hear what your subjects are saying. Bad sound is the most tell-tale feature of an amateur film. Also, don’t forget to prioritize other technical considerations like lighting and cinematography. The most compelling subjects can be rendered ineffective by poor technique.
  • Picking the right subjects to follow is so important.
    • Don’t feature too many subjects speaking about the same issue. One or two strong subjects are more effective than ten or twelve weaker voices.
  • Two films in a row about the same exact topic? Really? Sigh.
  • Next time, please try to have a point before making your film. Filming your search for one is not new or fun.
    • Ask yourself “Has anyone made a film about the same or similar topic already?” If so, bring something different to the topic—do your homework. Also avoid meta-films— it’s been done.

Many of these points apply to narratives as well as documentary films. Indeed, the undesirable qualities noted above are found in many conventional, high-budget, high-grossing ‘blockbusters’—but that’s a topic for another day.

For the full article in IndieWire, click HERE.

Finding Investors & Raising Money for a Film

Here is a video on film finacing you may want to take a look at:

Learn how to create a business plan for film making for a feature film in this free video series. Get movie producing tips from a producer.

Bollywood Year in Review

I came across a very insightful blog post from Tanuj Garg on the international box office performance of Bollywood films in 2008.

One nice tidbit is his quick list of the key markets for Bollywood product:

In terms of the market size, the UK, US & Middle East lead the way, followed by Australia, Mauritius and South Africa. Select films have had a day-and-date release in East & West Africa, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong, Germany, Netherlands and Scandinavia. Indonesia, once lucrative, has collapsed, while Pakistan, which successfully opened only a year and a half back, seems to have closed down pre-maturely (starting Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi) in the light of the attacks in Mumbai.

Read his full post here

Top Five Most Common Ways to Finance Your Film - Part III

To close, we describe End-User Financing and Completion Funds Financing. Based on How to Fund Your Film by Robert C. DiGregorio, Jr. imageMATTE Executive Producer

Part III:

End-User Financing occurs when a theater, cable network, or television station contributes money for a project in exchange for an equity percentage in the film’s profit stream. The greatest advantage is that you are in the best position to generate profits because the end-user is creating revenue in its own familiar territory.

Lastly, Completion Funds provide partial financing based on a couple of requirements:

  1. completion of principle photography,
  2. entire project complete with the exception of post-production, or
  3. everything complete except lab fees.

The financiers can have the upper hand in terms of negotiating a better deal for themselves because without them, production may never finish. The advantage to you is that you are able to spread some of the risk to the completion financier.

These are only some of the basic and popular ways of financing your film. There are a limitless number of ways to fund your film.

To get even more detailed descriptions on these financing methods, continue to the link below:

Download the .pdf file


Contributed by Christina Chen,
UC Berkeley student

Tough Times at Sundance?


The Associated Press is reporting that the Sundance Film Festival is concerned about the slow pace of corporate sponsorships and is requesting funding from the State of Utah.

Read a brief report in the Salt Lake Tribune.

I’ve also heard that there are a lot of open condos & rooms to rent in Park City for 2009.

Sundance 2009

The Black List Combines Filmmaking and Indie-Inspired Brand Building

The film and multimedia project The Black List is terrific idea.  It looks like it very nicely combines documentary filmmaking, social media/web 2.0, and good old fashioned brand building. You can catch the first film installment on HBO, if you did not see it at Sundance or SXSW.

Here is some background information:

Project Overview

The Black List Project was conceived of by photographer/filmmaker Timothy Greenfield-Sanders with Elvis Mitchell, public radio host and former New York Times film critic. It consists of a number of components including a film, a book, a traveling portrait exhibition and an educational initiative. The project was produced by the media collective Freemind Ventures. The idea was to interview, film and photograph prominent African Americans of various professions, disciplines and backgrounds. These stories and insights on the struggles, triumphs and joys of black life in this country would work toward re-defining “blacklist” for a new century in the process.

The media coverage has been very positive and The Black List brand is being launched successfully. In addition to the film (and upcoming DVD), the book will soon be on sale.

To see a well-executed and multi-faceted campaign, take a look at their web presence and marketing:

Business of Film Conference - Houston, TX (Sept 20, 2008)

SWAMP and TALA present the Business of Film Conference 2008, a day-long event focusing on the business of making movies. This information-packed conference features panels and discussions with professionals from the film, legal and financial worlds that address a wide range of topics, including budgeting for film, funding resources, music rights, distribution and much more!


James Barham (Documentary Filmmaker, For the Sake of the Song)
Greg Carter (Producer & Director, Ressurection: The J.R. Richard Story)
Barry Coffing (Musician/Music Supervisor -
Don Gillespie (Production Accountant, Tree of Life)
Roanna Gillespie (Musician/Music Supervisor - WOW Sounds)
Deena Kalai (Entertainment Attorney)
Linda Olszewski (Co-Head of Global Acquisitions, Development, Podcasts for Shorts International)
Clark Richards (Attorney, Texas Motion Picture Alliance Board Member)
Danae Ringelman (Founder and CFO,
Al Staehely (Entertainment Attorney)
Nguyen “Wyn” Tran (Sales Agent & Executive Director, The Institution)

Full details are available here

Funding Documentary Films: Houseparty or Grants?

There is a great article on financing a documentary feature film over at The Independent:

The Independent

I recently talked to fundraising expert Morrie Warshawski, whose book The Fundraising Houseparty: How to Party With a Purpose and Raise Money for Your Cause, is now out in its second edition and includes new sample invitations, new tips on making use of the Internet for the party, and a brainstorming worksheet to help filmmakers identify potential new partners and hosts.  Warshawski is also the author of Shaking The Money Tree: How To Get Grants And Donations For Film And Video — 2nd Edition and speaks regularly about fundraising and career issues for independent filmmakers.

I also spoke with filmmakers Almudena Carracedo and Robert Bahar who successfully raised funds through parties for their 2007 film, Made in L.A. about the labor struggles of immigrant garment workers in Los Angeles.  The film screened on the PBS series P.O.V., is continuing to play festival and community screenings around the world, and has been nominated for an Emmy.  Also providing insights fresh from the experience of his first fundraising houseparty is first-time producer/director Christopher Wong. He is in the process of raising funds for his film Whatever It Takes about a year in the life of an urban high school whose staff is determined to protect their kids from falling through the cracks.

This is very practical film financing advice and I encourage you to take a peek

Tribeca Unveils Ambitious Online Film Distribution: Reframe

The Tribeca Film Institute, financed by the MacArthur Foundation, is beginning to digitize and deliver films from indie documentary, foreign, and experimental filmmakers. It will be interesting to see if this takes off or not.

Hoping to launch a viable new revenue stream for a wide swath of independent films and filmmakers, the Tribeca Film Institute has unveiled Reframe, a curated online outlet with its sights set on filtering some 10,000 films and videos via the Internet.

[Executive Director]Newman added that he is not necessarily looking for new work that is just hitting the film festival circuit, but rather is hoping to lure filmmakers who have a library of content for which they already own the rights. More details on what Newman vows will be a “transparent” deal structure is available on the website. Reframe is covering the digitizing costs for work available in video format and providing a master to the filmmaker, while work originating on film can be digitized at a discounted cost.

Written by Lena McCauley, Wellesley College student