My friend and writing partner, Nathan Ives, recently wrote and directed a feature film, It’s Not You It’s Me. I asked him if he would be willing to write up a short post about how the film got made, and he has graciously agreed. I’m a big proponent of taking control of your destiny and making things happen for yourself. That’s exactly what Nathan did. Good things can happen if you take action. Hopefully this post will demystify the whole process a bit and inspire you to take action and get your screenplay turned into a movie.
I recently wrote, directed and produced a film called “It’s Not You, It’s Me” starring Vivica A. Fox, Joelle Carter, Ross McCall, Beth Littleford, Erick Avari, and Maggie Wheeler. The question I get asked most about the process is “how did you raise the money?” I thought I would give the nuts and bolts of how I did it in hopes that it will help other indy filmmakers. I had a producing partner on the project, I highly recommend this as you can’t do it all (really).
Whether you wrote the script or a producer optioned your script, make damn sure you’ve re-written it a dozen times, gotten notes from a reputable script coach (I can recommend a few), and really done the work making the script the best it can be. I’m not saying “It’s Not You, It’s Me” is the greatest script ever, but it was absolutely as good as I could make it, I did probably twenty or so re-writes.
Once the script is done, you need a budget. There are a lot of competent UPM’s (Unit Production Managers) out there who will draw up a basic budget for you for a few hundred dollars. You’ll need to have a budget in mind, how much you think you can raise, and the UPM will tell you pretty quickly if it’s doable. If not, they’ll be able to tell you why and where to cut or what script changes to make. I knew my UPM from a previous project, but you can easily find one on IMDB PRO by looking through the credits of other low budget independent films.
Once we had a budget, we went looking for a casting director. After approaching a few, we found one who genuinely seemed to like the script and was willing to come on board for our modest budget. We sat down and developed a strategy with them. The script had a role that was relatively prominent yet could be shot in four days. Our strategy was to fill this role with a ‘star’ and then surround that star with known television actors in the other major roles. Get ready, a lot of actors will pass on the roles, particularly on an ‘unknown’ project, don’t take it personally. Luckily, Vivica really liked the role and agreed to do it for a fee that was within the budget (sorry, contractually obligated not to say how much). Once we had Vivica “attached” we got a few other lesser known ‘names’ attached as well, four in all. It’s worth noting that Vivica was the only one of those that actually did the movie, more on that in a bit. Again, IMDB Pro is a great resource here. Nearly every casting director is listed on IMDB Pro so it’s not hard to find a good one. Keep in mind though, casting is how they make their living, so you will need to be prepared to pay them fairly for their services. Fees vary so ask up front about the costs. You should be able to find a reputable casting director for a few thousand dollars to do some, if not all, of the casting for your film.
Once these pieces were in place we wrote a business plan. We had no experience with this so went online to get information. There are companies that will write business plans for you, but they are very expensive. The bulk of our business plan was written around a book called ‘Bankroll’ by Tom Malloy. We spent a lot of time on the business plan, really trying to make it look professional. When it was done it was about twenty five pages and included graphs, pictures, a bar code that could be scanned and would send you to the film’s website. I can’t stress enough how important it is for your business plan to look professional and something you’re really proud to show people. I had ours printed up at the FedEx store on thick paper, spiral bound, with a clear cover on the front and a black one on back. Each business plan cost about $22 to be printed.
And now comes the hard part, getting the first money in. I can’t remember where I read it, it may have been in Bankroll, but anyway it was something like ‘when you’re raising money for a film, you have to pretend you have a small child with a terminal illness and you have to have the money to save their life.’ These are words to live by when raising money for a film, you have to have the desperation (don’t show it to potential investors) and believe whole heartily in the project.
You have to approach everyone you know. Even if they don’t have money to invest, they may know someone. Have your pitch ready, make it quick start with something like “I’ve got this great film project I’m working on, I’d love to tell you about it.” You have to be genuinely excited about it or you’ll never get anywhere, it has to be an absolute passion, people will respond to that. And, most importantly, get ready for a lot of rejection, and I mean A LOT. But don’t give up, remember you’re saving your child’s life.
One quick note, I only sent business plans to people I thought were seriously considering an investment, and I probably sent out sixty. The first money in is the hardest and once you’ve got fifty percent of your budget, it gets a little easier, but not much. I own a very small business (we repair power boats) and I frequently would ask my customers if they’d be interested or if they knew anyone. Eventually one of my customers showed some interest and we had lunch about a week later, a couple of weeks after that he wrote me a check for about 15% of my budget. It was a really good start but I had a long way to go. After that I continued approaching people, anyone, and fought hard for every investor who slowly made up my shooting budget.
Once you have your first money in, it’s important to start an LLC (limited liability corporation), it protects you and your investors. It can be set up relatively inexpensively on legalzoom.com. You can name it the name of the film, mine is “It’s Not You, It’s Me Film, LLC.” Investors, with good reason, are more comfortable writing checks to an LLC than to you personally.
One quick story. I had a potential investor who is a very wealthy financial advisor. A week before I met with him he wrote a check for a $230,000 Bentley convertible. I wouldn’t say this guy was a friend, but was a business associate from my former life in the pension industry. We had a great lunch and he looked me right in the eye and said he was in for 25K, he just had to clear the investment through the firm, ‘won’t be a problem’ he said. We talked a number of times over the next couple of weeks, he sent me emails corresponding with the home office about him getting approval, I gave him casting updates. In my mind I was twenty five grand closer to my goal. Well, I wasn’t. I heard from him less and less and then not at all. We have a couple of mutual friends so I know he didn’t get run over by a bus. I have no idea what happened, even to this day. Until the check clears, you don’t have the money.
A week before shooting I was still about ten grand short and I was at the dentist. I had been to this dentist one other time for a cleaning and this was my second cleaning. I started chatting with him about the film while his fingers were in my mouth. The next day we had lunch and he gave me a check for the final ten thousand I needed to shoot. Pitch EVERYONE about your film, you never know.
So I got the film shot in March, things luckily went relatively smoothly. I figured once I had the film shot, the post money would be easy to raise. Yeah, right. It was as hard or harder than the money to shoot! That said, I immediately cut a trailer once the film was done and that was a big help in getting people’s attention.
I just got an investor last week to round out the majority of the post budget and am doing a IndieGoGo campaign to get the last bit. It was about nine months since I got my first money in. It’s been the longest most grueling year of my life. Unfortunately the stress of raising the money took a good bit of the pleasure out of the filmmaking process, but I think it’s probably how most indy films get made. That said, there were moments on set with the actors, with the editor, with the composer, and with many others that were pure unadulterated joy, and for those I am forever grateful.
Regardless of your budget, it’s your film, represent it in the best possible light you can. Get a solid script, a professional business plan, and get ready to wear out a few pair of shoes beating the street.
As mentioned, I am in the final stages of raising the last bit of money for post production so if you would like to become a part of this film, please check out our IndieGoGo page here: http://www.indiegogo.com/itsnotyouitsmefilm
Also, if you would like to learn more about the film and follow along with our progress, please friend us, follow us, and check out our website.