Film Financing lessons from famous producers such as Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Lee Daniels, Kevin Smith, Richard Linklater and more. One of the biggest take-aways here is that film financing is a never-ending process...no matter how famous these producers and directors are, successful filmmakers see film financing as an innate part of film production throughout their careers.
We get thousands of emails per year from filmmakers just asking for money. Usually, they have no filmmaking experience, no connections, no industry experience and have not bothered to read one of our 1200+ articles on this site about film financing. The main theme you will notice below is that every filmmaker here worked HARD to secure funding for their movies. They were resourceful, creative, inventive, detailed and diligent, using their talent not just to make their films, but also to finance them. Please take the time to learn from the best as they offer some of most valuable filmmaker lessons you can learn. They demonstrate that the time to learn about film financing is NOW, because it's not a part of the filmmaking process that gets less difficult over time.
Many of the world's most famous film makers did not use traditional film financing methods or film investors, nor did they make their most famous films at the beginning of their careers. Here are some famous film maker interviews and stories to inspire you and let you know even the most famous film makers have and continue to face film financing challenges.
Scorsese Financing The Irishman
'Nobody would give us the money' - It took Martin Scorsese over 10 years to get financing for The Irishman - and that was with him, Pacino and De Niro attached. If this doesn't tell you how important financing will ALWAYS be as part of your filmmaking career, nothing will.
“People just weren’t interested in financing it—and that was before the CGI,” Scorsese says. “Nobody would give us the money. But I really felt that De Niro and I had one more picture to make...”
Richard Linklater Film Financing Lessons
Time Magazine asked, "Was it hard making the business case for financing the film [Boyhood]?"
"I talked to some producers and they're like, ‘Huh? What? We're gonna pay and not ...' It just made no sense. But then IFC came aboard. I had done two films with them, Tape and Waking Life. They took the long term view. And it wasn't that much money, about $200,000 a year. We're shooting on film. It was very low budget. And they just took the leap. I fully expected halfway through to be abandoned and have to seek other financing. I never had to, though. It's a minor miracle."
Producer Celine Rattray (The Kids Are All Right)
The 2010 lesbian family drama, made for less than $5 million, grossed seven times its budget and more than doubled its investors' money. Producer Celine Rattray explains how she did it — and offers other tips on how to raise cash to fund movies. She discusses new financing sources, like Netflix and Amazon, how she's raised funds for over 40 movies, the importance of tax incentives, timing of investor ROI, and how to be "investor-friendly," as there's nothing more satisfying than repeat business from investors.
Read more: How to Find "Savvy" Money for Your Movie.
Kevin Smith Film Financing Lessons
At the Independent Feature Film Market in 1994, an audience member asked Kevin Smith how he raised the money for Clerks? - The short answer, Credit Cards.
"Over the previous few years a friend of mine, Brian, and myself had this running competition to get as many credit cards as possible; it's one of those things you do when you are bored... I figured we can make this movie for $25,000 and I have enough room on my credit cards to do that. So let's just shoot and start cutting it, and when we hit $25,000, we start worrying. Clerks initial film financing was $27,000, before the soundtrack was added."
Lee Daniels Film Financing Lessons
Think you have it rough? Lee Daniels is known for producing incredibly controversial films, such as The Woodsman, starring Kevin Bacon as a convicted sex offender, and Monster’s Ball, a melodrama about bigotry and interracial love in the South. When figuring out the film financing for Precious, Daniels had to face that Shadowboxer hadn’t done so well. Read all about Lee Daniels' Film Financing Lessons and how he overcame these setbacks.
George Lucas made five, mostly unheard of, short films, before he made a 15 minute science fiction short, Electronic Labyrinth THX 1138 4EB. He won a prize, along with a scholarship to work with Francis Ford Coppola at Warner Brothers, when they formed their own company and made the feature length version of THX 1138. This helped him get film financing for American Graffiti. The success of American Graffiti helped finance Star Wars. Today, George Lucas is the most financially successful independent filmmaker in the world.
Steven Spielberg produced 3 films (I Wanna Hold Your Hand, Used Cars, Continental Divide) before he produced E.T. The Extra Terrestrial. He also directed over 10 movies, along with many television shows, before he directed Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Ralph Fiennes on Directing "The White Crow"
"It’s Been a Very, Very Long Road"
“It’s been a very, very long road. We were mad. We were mad to take on this subject of Rudolf Nureyev. Mad. Completely mad,” Fiennes said. “But we did it … many of you here, who know the film business or are close to the film business, you know how hard it is to put a film together, to raise the finance, to get the resources, especially when the independent film world is so challenged at the moment.” (Source: variety.com)
Matthew McConaughey on "Dallas Buyers Club"
"We didn't have any money to make it"
"Getting "Dallas Buyers Club" on the screen was no easy task and Matthew told Howard about some of the early struggles he encountered while trying to get his passion project made. "We willed that picture into happening," Matthew said of he and director Jean-Marc Vallée. "We didn't have any money to make it. We were talking out of our asses, we were bullshitting, but the thing is, we didn't flinch."
When the financing goals came up millions of dollars short, Matthew explained how Vallée cut costs by scrapping the entire grip department, a.k.a. the lights. "The only light on the entire set was a headlight from the car that pulled me up." (Source: howardstern.com)
Charlize Theron on "Bombshell"
"I think I aged about five years on that day"
"Two weeks before shooting we had to basically find our financing all over again. When you go to a story like this you just have to put your flight jacket on and lean into it and I think for some people this kind of stuff scares them." "Our financier really stepped up within a day and Lionsgate were great, but I don't want to go through that again! I think I aged about five years on that day. We'll never know truly what that [problem] was, but I do think ultimately, everything happens for a reason. When you make a movie, it's the ultimate experience of letting the universe take over sometimes. " (Source: celebretainment.com)
Satyajit Ray on Making Pather Panchali
"The West Bengal government finally pulled Ray out of debt with the grant"
A classic case in point is the story of auteur Satyajit Ray’s struggle to make Pather Panchali. At a time when cinema was leaning towards extravagant productions in Mumbai, Ray, influenced deeply by the simplicity of post-war Italian cinema, opted instead for a small, human story like Pather Panchali. No one was interested in backing him. As legend goes, a loan against his insurance policy and borrowings from friends and family formed the initial investment on the film. It is said that Ray landed in significant debt trying to finish his passion project. The West Bengal government finally pulled Ray out of debt with the grant of a princely sum of Rs 2.1 lakh! Their investment paid off as the movie went on to earn them a handsome profit. (Source: moneycontrol.com)
Independent Filmmaker Jim Cummings on Thunder Road
"I sold my wedding rings to make a movie"
Jim Cummings worked really hard to secure funding for Thunder Road, which won the Short Film Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in 2016. In 2018, after additional fundraising, the movie was released as a full feature film. To make the feature, he and his team raised over $36,000 on Kickstarter, used their own savings (and sold some wedding rings) as well as secured additional donations for $64,000 to meet their budget goals of $200,000. The important lesson here is that Jim started with a short that was filmed using friends as talent and crew over a 6 hour period. After much post production, that short film won Sundance and was then made into a feature, winning even more awards. Not once during this process over several years did Jim ever sit back and relax - he was constantly shooting other single take short films, working contacts, posting to social media, redoing budgets, making spreadsheets of theaters and much more. He kept people on his Kickstarter page, while also showcasing their talent, by offering 30 or 40 minutes worth of quality content. There is so much to learn about how Jim Cummings made Thunder Road and how it can help you finance your film.
"I think a lot of filmmakers really don’t understand that there are people out there in the world that have a decent amount of money that just want to be able to support the arts and ensure that something would be very good." (Article Source: forbes.com)
How Wes Anderson Made The Royal Tenenbaums
What were Gene Hackman's hesitations in taking the role?
“Yeah: no money. He’s been doing movies for a long time, and he didn’t want to work sixty days on a movie. I don’t know the last time he had done a movie where he had to be there for the whole movie and the money was not good. There was no money. There were too many movie stars, and there was no way to pay. You can’t pay a million dollars to each actor if you’ve got nine movie stars or whatever it is — that’s half the budget of the movie. I mean, nobody’s going to fund it anymore, so that means it’s scale.” (Source: vulture.com)
More Film Financing Lessons
Check out our Film Financing Tips from other Filmmakers, where you will learn more film financing lessons from those those who have successfully financed their films. Tips include creative use of props and locations, rechargeable batteries, tax deductible donations, grants, Kickstarter campaigns, private investments and much more!
Want to showcase YOUR movie on FilmProposals? Tell us HOW YOU FINANCED YOUR FILM!
FilmProposals Film Finance Lessons
You can find additional First Film Financing stories, including The Coen Brothers, Blood Simple; Richard Linklater, Slacker; and Quentin Tarantino (My Best Friend's Birthday, prior to Reservoir Dogs) and more in our Independent Film Financing Manual.
10 Things You MUST Do To Attract Film Investors
We consider this THE MOST important article on this site. The 10 Things You MUST Do To Attract Film Investors have been cultivated over 16 years in the film industry and being able to work with 1000's of filmmakers. Our experience allowed us to analyze and learn from those who have achieved success and made their indie film vs. those we never hear from again. We lay out all the crucial steps to set you up to be the former - the successful indie filmmaker. Never contact a film investor until you've read this article.
Film Investing Article About "Precious"
Lee Daniels is known for producing controversial films, such as The Woodsman starring Kevin Bacon as a convicted sex offender and Monster’s Ball, a melodrama about bigotry and interracial love in the South. The first film he directed, Shadowboxer, which he also produced, has a loony premise: a hit man having an affair with his dying stepmother and raising a child together.
When figuring out the film financing, Daniels had to face that Shadowboxer hadn’t done so well. “It was very, very hard to get financing for Precious. All the studios said no. They didn’t want to make a film about a 350-pound black girl who is abused. Everybody kept saying no. My whole life was no. It was just a bunch of nos.”
Eventually, Daniels found independent financing. For Shadowboxer, he found a “ rich man in Philadelphia who paid for the movie, God bless him.” For Precious, Daniels raised the initial $8 million from Sarah Siegel-Magness and Gary Magness, who live in Denver.
Things to note in this article for yourself, the Film Maker, and your Business Plan:
- Daniels pursued some very "non-Politically Correct" type subjects, with some flops on under belt, but yet, has produced some of the decades' finest and highest grossing films
- Critics didn’t like ‘Shadowboxer,’ but a lot of African-Americans understood it. And Sapphire (the Author of "Push") saw it and trusted Daniels "with her baby.”
- "It was very, very hard to get financing for ‘Precious.’ All the studios said no. They didn’t want to make a film about a 350-pound black girl who is abused. Everybody kept saying no. My whole life was no. It was just a bunch of nos.”
- "He had read a script for one of his clients, a white actor named Wes Bentley, called “Monster’s Ball,” and he decided to raise the money and produce it. “Just like that,” Daniels recalled. “I had a 90-day option to raise the money for ‘Monster’s Ball,’ and on the 90th day, I had the money.”
- Lionsgate bought “Precious” for $5.5 million
Source and Full Article: The Audacity of ‘Precious’ New York Times, October 25, 2009 ©
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