The concept behind packaging and financing
When thinking about making a film, you have to think about how you’re going to finance. As producers, a huge part of this process is not to think as a producer but think as a distributor/streamer i.e the marketplace. How can you get your film to work in the marketplace and how you can attach value before going into production? Remember, trying to create value in your project is a vital part of understanding how you make your film and what size budget your film will be, especially so in the independent space.
Relationships are pivotal and essential in the film industry
A key a part of this is the relationships you have or are set to establish. Relationships with talent, often defined by relationships with agents, are vital to the packaging and financing process. It’s very important to be networking and try and create real and lasting relationships that are symbiotic, in other words they listen to you and you listen to them. Often relationships in the film industry is a matter of taste, you may not be able to offer talent/agent a lot of money to come on board a project but you can offer your sensibility and propose projects that are curated for the talent’s taste and are a no-brainer great proposition to showcase the talent. Remember, the degree of content that beings produced and the windows of availability for talent being so limited by tv series production, your ability to convince talent of a project is so important but it’s also very important to have honest two-conversations between you and agents. You can propose projects but also you have listen to what the talent is looking for and they’re future availability which is so important to strategise your project.
But how do you start those relationships?
Agent assistants are a great way to start building up relationships. Those assistant will likely progress their career and be the future gatekeepers to talent so create those relationships is very important. But really it’s all about being open to talking to people and findin materials or new talent. Reading scripts and spec scripts is a great to finding emerging writers and watching short films is a great way to finding new filmmakers. If you like something, get in touch with the filmmaker. It’s very important to get to talent early, being responsive to their needs and nurture an organic relationship. Make sure to not pester people! Find common ground and a project may not happen but in a few years, one project, one specific thing, might connect with the talent. Projects can come from talent directly but it can also come via agents, managers, fellow producers so open up your circle to meet other people.
Is there more to packaging than adding talent to your project?
Yes, there is. Packaging your project is not just attaching talent but there’s a lot more beyond packaging. Talent helps reduce a perceived risk for the project for financiers but there are other ways to reduce risk and add value. These methods can include a great crew surround the filmmaker talent (DOP, Production Designer, Editor etc.) or it can include the attachment of a brilliant post-production SFX house. But importantly, it can include a pitch book, a sizzle reel or a rip reel but what exactly are they?
What is a pitch book, sizzle reel and a rip reel?
A pitch book or a pitch deck is a short document that includes the logline, synopsis and visual material (moodboard) communicating the tone of the project, ideally incorporating attached talent into the documents as well. A sizzle reel is a video where something is purposefully created for the project itself to communicate tone and filmmaker intent – perhaps that’s an example scene or perhaps that’s talent in interview talking about their desire for the project. A rip reel is a video where you literally rip references from other films to create a mood and tone for your proposed film. One or all of these elements are important ways to convincing financiers of your project’s merit.
How to finance your project?
From the moment of your project’s conception, financing should be in the mind of all producers. Beyond the creative merits of the project, you have to think the business case – do you have the relationships and contacts to set the project up on a path to production. Understanding the market is very important – can you get it financed and what is the cost/benefit analysis of that?
In the short term and if a producer to engage with a project, the first question is how you can finance a project’s development. Maybe there will be an investor at this stage but maybe not and you might to ask the writer to write on spec which is not ideal. Development is hard because if the script turns out poorly the likelihood of the investor or the sweat equity investors getting their money back is slim to none. If you have relationships with studios (or have a partner company who does), there may be a path for a studio to finance the development. If path is independent, independent financiers or state bodies (if in Europe), may come on board. But who are those financiers in film development? Research, use google, look at credits on films to find out their path to production and try and replicate that. One tip to development is that up-front money for scriptwriters should be at the level whereby everyone has skin in the game, sweat equity. This is motivating and when going into production, everyone can get to see dividends of their work.
Partnering with other producers or production companies
Finding a partner or a co-producer with similar tastes and has real tenacity can really help during packaging and financing. Sharing projects can also mean that you can increase your bandwidth. Projects can take years and years of work and having another producer there to share the burden allows you to scale and do more. Remember, even when you think one project is going to green-lit it may fall apart, so you have a responsibility to yourself to have many irons in the fire. Here at Irish Film Services, we regularly establish new partnerships to allow producers come to Ireland and avail of Section 481, the Irish film tax incentive.
How to create a sense of excitement or urgency around your film project?
This is ultimately the crux of whether your film gets made or not. How do you convince financiers that this film should be made now? As a producer, you should be bullish and be super confident about your project. It is incumbent on you to go into meetings guns blazing about how great your project is, why it is unique and why is undeniable. You need to give extra effort talking about your filmmaker and also with your marketplace hat, you need to explain how this film can be carried in the market? If you are not able to excite yourself about your own project, how are you going to get anyone else to jump on board. Exhibiting passion and using classic sales tactics is vital – remember you are bringing them an opportunity that they should not pass!
Rejection is normal
Rejection is very important part of a producer’s career (unfortunately). Rejection comes in many forms. The industry is risk adverse and there are so many reasons why financiers say no to project. As a producer, you have to know when to push back and when to move on. If it’s a flat out no, perhaps there’s very little you can do but you can change project fundamentals and come back to people who rejected you. In a few years, perhaps the wider context has changed, a cultural moment has happened, perhaps attached talent changed or the finance plan is now different – all these elements let you come back to the person who rejected you in a meaningful way. If a financier offers you too low a number, don’t reject them, keep them on simmer and when closing that financing, that open means you can have a conversation with them as opposed to re-opening it.
A great story is a great story and if you believe that it needs to be told, why give up, just because someone else didn’t see it.
But what about first-time filmmakers?
First time filmmakers have it hard. How do you convince somebody to invest in someone who has never made anything? When you meet financiers with a project that has a first-time filmmaker attached, you need to be passionate and confident in them. This is an amazing new filmmaker with a great vision. If that person hasn’t done anything of the project’s scope and size – proof of concept in the form of a short film may be a good idea. But also an amazing director’s notes, marketing deck, look book, sizzle reel or rip reel. The first-time talent needs to scream that they have the ability to pull this project off.
The chicken and the egg of film financing
If no finance attached, how do you get talent attached? If no talent attached, how do you get finance attached?
Although many will tell you other-wise, talent will attach to project without finance but it will be hard. You need to convince them – this is why they should do it and you need to use your relationships or leverage other relationships to get it over the line. A producer’s track record of getting the financing done is important but if you don’t have that track record, you need to partner with someone that does. Sometimes you get lucky and a project finds a torch-bearer, someone who champions the project, maybe an actor, a filmmaker or an agent. Sometimes a project needs time, a project may not have the wider context to make it right now but it may do in the future so stick with the project.