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The Very Real Complication of Independent Filmmaking

February 17, 2012 | By | Add a Comment

Laura Zinger

Funding. That’s it. That’s what I’ve narrowed down as the very real complication of being an independent filmmaker. Don’t agree? Then please tell me how you are able to hold down a job to pay your bills as well as make enough cash overflow to fund your next feature? Grants? Trust Fund? Parents? Friends? Bank loan? If you say yes to the last one, please tell me which bank is lending you any money for a film in this economy.

I’m not the only one with funding on the mind. Edward Jay Epstein the brilliant mind behind the book, Hollywood Economist: The Hidden Financial Reality Behind Movies wrote a sobering article in early 2011 titled, Why Indie Movies Are an Endangered Species. His blog post lays the groundwork for the dissolution of pre-sales funding for indie films by back-end distributors, because hold the phone, the decline of DVD sales in major retail box stores. Of course, the death of the DVD is inevitable and unstoppable, but did anyone else realize how important DVD sales were in the funding of indie films? I had no idea DVD sales played such a large role in giving cash on hand to distributors so they could help invest in future indie film productions. But forget my duh moment here, my main point is to illustrate that the traditional concepts of funding indie films are dying along with those DVD sales, and again we, indie filmmakers, are being faced with the very real complication of independent filmmaking: finding funding.

So in light of this apocalyptic, post  pre-sales funding world that we live in, what other options are there for indie filmmakers to raise money to make their films? I realize that the most obvious one is a filmmaker’s own pocket, but if your pockets are that deep, you are not reading DIY FILM CHICAGO’s online magazine.

The other options as far as I can tell right now are the following:

1) Kickstarter

2) Your family

3) Shut up and Shoot on your cell phone

4) Just record Audio

Let’s start with Kickstarter, I have to start out by saying that, based purely on their publicly available 2011 Stats is amazing. The success rate for 27,086 launched projects was 46%. That means only 11,836 of those launched projects got funded. When you break down the funding on Kickstarter by category, and look specifically at Film & Video, the stats are astounding. Over $32 million dollars were raised for Film & Video ALONE.

Granted this staggering amount of funding was spread out over 3,284 projects, but still what other major or indie film studio or production company is handing out this kind of cash?  I do believe in this power of crowdsourcing and feel at this point, that this is probably the best way to get your first indie documentary or film feature off the ground and running.

On a sidenote: You can also use Kickstarter to help fund your other film related needs like DVD reprints. HA! You say, DVDs? Yes, especially if the audience to your film is from an older generation like my first doc. Here’s my Kickstarter Campaign for reprinting another 1,000 DVDs. I was an idiot when I did this campaign though and spent way more money on reprinting the DVDs than I actually earned on Kickstarter.

But let’s say you aren’t good at social media networking and marketing your Kickstarter campaign. (You must be good at both or get help if you are not in order to significantly improve your chances of Kickstarter success. Check out a failed Kickstarter campaign I did with a past boss. We were both idiots in this case and didn’t market the campaign enough. We also asked for waaaay too much money.)

O let’s say your idea is too weird or crazy or people just don’t get it? Wim Wenders recently said that his most beloved film, Wings of Desire, never would have found funding today. If you are a Wim Wenders throwback-like filmmaker, you may have to go for funding option number two: your family.

My father and an aunt and uncle were the major loaning officers for my first documentary feature, Proceed and Be Bold! But before you say, “Hey Rich Girl, my family doesn’t have that kind of money! Screw you!” let me share with you major American indie filmmaker icon, Darren Aronofsky’s start.

According to his Wikipedia entry: “Aronofsky’s debut feature, Pi (also known as π), was shot in November 1997. The film was financed entirely from $100 donations from friends and family. In return, he promised to pay each back $150 if the film made money, and they would at least get screen credit if the film lost money. Producing the film with an initial budget of $60,000, Aronofsky premiered Pi at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival, where he won the Best Director award. The film itself was nominated for a special Jury Award. Artisan Entertainment bought distribution rights for $1 million. The film was released to the public later that year to critical acclaim and grossed $3,221,152.”

It is ok to ask your family for money if they have it. In the case of Chicago-based production company, Beverly Ridge Pictures several former Columbia College film students gathered together and pooled money from their families to the tune of $2 million dollars* in order to make Chicago Overcoat, a feature length dramatic action film that recently got distribution on the Showtime network.

But what if you are an indie filmmaker with broke-ass parents and your film is not a good candidate for a Kickstarter fundraising campaign? This is America! The land of opportunities! There must be a way for me to get my film made! Help me!

I hear your cry. In fact, it is the same cry I have had every day for the last two years. I may have gotten my first film funded mostly by my family (I did put a significant amount of money into the doc myself as well), but I cannot keep asking them for money especially since my father is of retirement age, and I feel like a giant jerk asking him to gamble his hard earned life’s savings. I am currently a broke ass filmmaker working freelance part-time so that I can dedicate most of my time to trying to get two more feature length documentaries off of the ground, and I currently have no fundraising ideas for either of my projects. One is about Sickle Cell Disease, a serious fatal disease that affects 80,000 Americans a year, but I will not, on principle, ask this afflicted group of people to fund this documentary, because it is for them, and I want to make it free to anyone with this disease or a family member with this disease.

Filmmaker Laura Zinger

The other project I am working on is a hybrid between documentary and narrative featuring a prominent cartoonist in Chicago. We may try the Kickstarter route to get the film off of the ground, but initially we have zero funding.

It is my current state of affairs that has led me to come up with funding option #3 and #4: Shut up and Shoot on your Cell Phone and just record audio.

Come back next week to read about these next two funding options which are sincerely and totally for the true and almighty DIY Filmmaker.


*unverified amount

Read more from Laura Zinger on her Tumblr blog.


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