10 Tips that Unravel the Mystery of Movie Financing for Indie Films | Filmmaking Resources
Updated: Aug 9
Behind every intriguing plot and enchanting scene of an independent film is an equally fascinating funding journey.
The enigma of indie movie financing can often appear as an impenetrable fortress, creating an invisible barrier between you and your vision.
So, if you've ever wondered what it takes to make your indie filmmaking dreams real but feel overwhelmed by the financial unknowns, you're in the right place.
Let's pull back the curtain on movie financing with these ten brief insider tips that can begin to piece together the film-funding puzzle for the new indie filmmaker.
I’ve broken the list of 10 tips into two groups of 5 tips, one list for Film Investors and the other for Film Distributors.
Of Interest to Film Investors:
#1 Consider Profitability
Let’s not fool ourselves into thinking filmmaking is only about making good art. It’s a business too. It always has been.
Film investors are interested in creating a return on their investment. And I don’t blame them. Who wouldn’t want to see their money returned to them with a profit?
Investors want to know that your film has the potential to be successful financially, either through box office revenues, streaming deals, or other distribution channels.
But if you’re asking yourself, “How do I know what’s profitable?” No worries, keep reading.
#2 Genre and Audience Appeal
Filmmaking is a fiercely competitive landscape. Aside from your concept or story resonating with originality, it must also target a specific genre and audience. And it should never deviate from that target.
Develop your film idea within a genre that attracts larger audiences, like action, drama, or comedy. (By the way, these are some of the top genres of profitability as listed by film financier JJFILMworks)
Investors look for compelling concepts in profitable genres that have the potential to stand out in the crowded marketplace of films. Your film’s genre and target audience play a huge role in determining its possible profitability - and ability to attract investors.
Lastly, there is one not-so-obvious genre contender for profitability to consider: the documentary. So, choose a genre, stick to it, and get closer to funding.
#3 Experienced Filmmakers
Investors are more likely to fund projects led by experienced filmmakers with a track record of successful projects or some critical acclaim. To the investor, this minimizes their risk and increases their confidence in your project’s potential.
But what if you're new to indie filmmaking, aren’t experienced, or don't have critical acclaim?
It's like being in that paradoxical situation of not being able to get a credit card because you have no credit. And so - what did we all do when we were young, had no credit, and couldn't get a credit card? We worked, saved, and paid for things out of pocket until the planets aligned. It's sort of like that.
You'll have to get creative and figure out how to make your first films without big-time investors while gaining experience, networking with other filmmakers, and building a good crew – the awards will soon follow, trust me.
When investors see this timeline of cutting your teeth and shedding blood, sweat, and tears, they'll see your passion, and it's that passion that potential investors will factor into investing in your film.
#4 Budget and Cost Control
Like funding a startup, investors want to know you have a realistic budget that aligns with your film's scale. More importantly, the budget needs to reflect and forecast potential revenue.
Additionally, be prepared to assure potential investors that you and the producer team can manage your budget’s cost, stay within budget, and avoid overspending. Respect your investor's money as if it were your own.
I'd also be ready to include areas where you're willing to cut costs if asked to.
Do you need a car crash at the end of the car chase? Do you even need the car chase? A car chase scene can increase the cost of your shoot's insurance policy and affect your overall budget significantly.
Could you shoot a foot-chase scene instead? And end with a good fight scene? It's easier on your insurance and budget, and your investors might appreciate your offering to reduce costs and limit risks.
Ultimately, film financing is a negotiation, and having a sound budget can give you the negotiating power you need with your investors.
It also leverages your cost control with vendors, your crew, craft services, and anyone in that budget because it informs them to make better decisions for the costs they will incur.
For more on budgeting and costs for Indie Filmmakers, check out Entertainment Finance Today. Consider it an investment into your filmmaking goals.
#5 Market Research
More often than not, investors will require market research on the following:
Your project's genre – What are the current trends of your project's genre? Is your genre currently popular? Does it have a loyal fan base that supports the genre consistently?
Your film's target audience – Identify the demographics of your target audience by age, gender, location, income, film interests, and online interests. Provide data on your audience's size and potential movie ticket, streaming, and advertising purchasing power.
Competitor Analysis* – Present research and data on successful films in the not-so-distant past similar to yours. This provides the potential for your project. But be sure to tell them how your film is unique from that competition. What are your film's unique selling points?
Box Office Performance – This usually applies to traditional theatrical releases and is a vital indicator of a film's financial success. But I still recommend it for your indie project, regardless of the size. You can use your *Competitor Analysis to predict and make assumptions about the performance of your film based on that analysis. NOTE: With today's media landscape, I recommend adding Streaming and On-demand success for films like yours, too. This gives your investors and distributors a look at other potential revenue sources for your film (Ancillary Revenue Streams). Your film's marketability across various platforms can impact potential profitability and improve chances for funding.
Speaking of Distributors. This brings us to the 5 tips to get distributor financing.
Of interest to Film Distributors:
Yes, marketability again. Distributors primarily look for films with strong market appeal and the potential to attract a broad audience. They, too, consider factors like genre and existing fan base (Target Audience) that contribute to your film's commercial success.
But with distributors, more than other initial seed financiers, distributors want to know the talent attached to the project. Not that other financiers don't, just not as much - generally speaking.
And if you've done step 5 previously mentioned, you've covered this tip already!
Showcase your movie's concept.
A proof-of-concept short film, trailer, or teaser for your project is a powerful tool indie filmmakers use. If it isn't a tool you use - make it a tool.
It serves many uses to help with financing, whether you're seeking feature film, short film, or documentary financing. It showcases the team's talent, from the producer to the director to the cinematographer to your art director.
Other things a proof-of-concept does:
It helps work out kinks in the visual storytelling of your project, and when you get funded, those mistakes are behind you.
It's a learning experience that will help you hone your craft. (see #3 about experienced filmmakers)
It captures the tone and visual style of the larger project you're aiming for; more importantly, it's an opportunity to demonstrate the artistic vision and how it will stand out from other productions financiers are fielding. Remember my point about passion and self-funding your early projects. The same goes for the proof-of-concept. Let them know how badly you want to make this film!
It introduces vital characters, especially your protagonist. It provides a glimpse into your story's personalities and character-driven motivations, not to mention that powerful character-driven stories can attract bigger-name talent, too. Having bigger-name actors interested or attached or your project is a massive plus towards distributor funding.
It puts your best foot forward. You can highlight critical scenes from your script; story beats that pop and makes a good first impression.
It demonstrates the professional quality you and your team can muster and ensures high production value. Imagine what your team can do with an investor’s money if you can do what you did with your self-funded low budget. Peace of mind for the investor is invaluable.
It also achieves #8 (below)
#8 Festival Recognition and Awards
Film distributors pay attention to films that have received awards on the circuit. Having won recognition at the more prestigious film festivals is priceless.
The buzz generated by your successful run on the film festival circuit increases the chances of 1) finding an audience (fan base), 2) garnishing interest from investors, and 3) getting street-cred.
Aside from the networking opportunities, increased media attention, publicity, and perhaps international exposure, these 3 reasons help position your project for success and funding in a competitive industry.
So, whether it is a proof of concept short film, trailer, or full-on feature-length indie film you want to get further distributor funding for, Festival Recognitions and Awards are more than something to pin on your office wall. Turn those awards into currency.
#9 Distribution Costs
Yes, back to business basics. After the glitz, glamor, and recognition of your film festival run, your mind should return to the business at hand.
Film Distributors assess the cost of distributing your movie and its potential for profitability—expense versus revenue. In addition to profitability, your movie's format, length, and the platforms you intend to release your film are vital considerations for distribution costs.
Film distributors would prefer that you have worked out all of these details before discussing funding with them. Have these elements be part of your producer package and your pitch deck.
#10 International Appeal
Going global. We touched on international appeal in tip #8, so let's discuss that.
Don't limit your project's potential to go global, especially when dealing with film distributors. Your movie's potential to resonate with an international audience is essential for worldwide distribution and funding consideration (remember Ancillary Revenue Streams?)
A film with a cross-cultural appeal will have a higher chance of securing international distribution deals and distribution, period.
Making a film is a success in itself. Don't ever forget that.
But as an Indie Filmmaker, mastering the business side of filmmaking is crucial for the further success of your movie beyond showing it to friends and a festival or two.
When you plan your next project, employ some or all of these tips, and you will undoubtedly gain the attention and funding your film deserves.
You will gain insight into your target audience, create buzz, brand your film’s uniqueness, create creditability, and have a business model to take your filmmaking to the next level.
It is a lot of homework and research; I won't say it isn't. But nothing worth anything comes easy.
Be patient, remain laser-focused, and chip away at the tips; over time, you will reap the rewards of all your efforts. It won't happen overnight. But it will happen.
We welcome comments that contribute positively to the Independent Filmmaking Community and accept blog ideas and suggestions.