I grew up on the farm back in Ontario – an hour or so outside of Toronto and a million miles away from the world of film investors. My mother was horrified when she found out that I was working in the movie business. She was convinced that the devil lived in the movie theatre, and here I am all this time later carrying out the devil’s work.
My mother would have thought you were absolutely bonkers if you wanted to invest in a film.
That’s pretty cynical, isn’t it? If you want a really sobering thought, have a chat with my bank manager:
Still, you have to get investors, and here are 13 really tough questions that investors ask:
1. What’s in it for me, the film investor?
You better be damn sure you know exactly what the ‘deal’ is for the investors. By that I mean what slice of the cake are they going to receive for the cash they put into the film.
Remember, there are several different ways to carve up the spoils. Choose the one that’s the best for your project. It will mean speaking to your accountant and lawyer plus any financial adviser you might have on board.
My advice would be to keep it really simple. Nearly ten years ago I was raising money for a project and chose to do it under a plc structure, which was painfully time consuming and expensive to organize. And you know what? It was really a simple vanity project that has cost me dearly. And all because I couldn’t answer the simple question: “What’s in it for me?”
2. How much am I going to make from my film investment?
Beware of this question, and remember that it is far better to over-promise and under deliver.
Rather than answering this with regards to profit, why not turn this question on its head and ask a question straight back:
3. How much is this project de-risked?
There are 3 different ways you can de-risk your project.
a. If your investor is a British taxpayer, you can offer extremely attractive tax incentives under the Enterprise Investment Scheme. We run a great course on this called Movie Money.
b. The power of genre. Low budget films need to be genre specific.
c. The power of talent. Names sell movies.
All of these strategies can be combined. They are easy and quick to explain, and also go a long way to determining your budget.
4. How are you spending my money?
I hope you have a detailed business plan and schedule worked out. This is often the first piece of paper an investor will ask for. Of course, the first sheet is the one sheet or top sheet (summary) with all the supporting figures behind.
Use industry standard budgets – don’t start inventing your own. Even if your investor has never seen a film budget, the rest of your crew hopefully will have. And you don’t want to start confusing your crew, do you?
5. What is your film really about?
If you have got an investor to call you, they aren’t going to be asking you what your film is about, are they? They will call you when they already know what your film is about, and then will want to jump on the bandwagon. Here is when you really need to be able to hone your pitching skills, and know how to get the real message of your film across.
6. Is this film going to play in movie theatres?
It’s far better to be realistic here and admit that the chances of theatrical distribution are really slim unless you have an incredible movie with tons of marketing and PR behind it. Relate to your investors how film festivals (like Raindance) are the new theatrical platforms, and how a series of festival screenings can really help stoke the fires of PR and enhance the other distribution windows.
7. What is the sales and marketing strategy?
This is a tricky one, because the answer you give is going to depend on the basic film knowledge your investor has. It’s probably good to prepare a basic tutorial explaining the different windows, as well as the likely sales territories for your film. If you are lucky enough to get a sales agent on board, they likely will give you a sales estimate of the value of your film before you start filming. This is another way to de-risk your film to your investor.
8. What are the perks you are offering a film investor?
Investor perks are the non-finance related perks: set visits, small acting roles, and tickets to the premiers are typical investor perks.
Be very aware that every time you let an investor on set or near the production office, it’s going to cost you heaps of time. On the other hand, your investors will bring skills to the project that perhaps you don’t have, making you both better off.
9. How can I be sure you will give me my share of the proceeds?
This is quite a common concern. If you don’t have the right answer, you won’t be able to close a deal.
It’s not that the film investor mistrusts you – it’s just that they don’t want to have to chase you for their money. The sensible thing to do is to hire a film collection agent – a specialist accountancy firm that collects the money on the film’s behalf, and then distributes it according to the terms of the investor’s agreements.
A subset of this is paranoia that another investor is getting a better deal. It’s best to keep all these deals the same, or else you will go crazy trying to keep everything straight.
10. What is your social media profile?
The cool thing about social media is that you can keep in touch with your investors. They can also follow the production through your various blogs, tweets, Facebook messages, and video updates. Far from being the proverbial pain in the backside, it’s a great way to build your social media. Investors are likely to be telling their mates about their investment, and now you will get lots of new followers.
11. Can we get product placement?
One of the first things a brand considers for product placement is: “what is the marketing budget for the film?” If you have no marketing budget or hot new marketing strategy, then there is virtually no chance of getting cash money from a brand.
You will, however, have more luck getting product.
I once secured Kettle Chips and was quite pleased with myself. The delivery lorry showed up with 7,000 sample bags, which filled nearly half the office. I had badly underestimated the amount of room they would take up.
12. Can my daughter direct?
Lots of parents try to help their kids by buying their way in. Other variations are: “Can my girlfriend act in your film?”
Unfortunately, it rarely works. When this happens to you, remember that no amount of cash investment in your film will compensate you for loss of creative control. The trick is to firmly say ‘no’ without blowing them off, and also letting them know that there are other more appropriate learning experiences for their off-spring.
13. What else have you done?
Hopefully you can point to a series of theatre work, shorts, web series, or other related award-winning work that your investor will be satisfied with.
What if you haven’t done any previous work? Investors in films want to make sure that first and foremost, they won’t look like an idiot in backing a total loser. Hopefully your personality is so strong and enthusiastic that your investor will overlook your lack of pedigree and be swept away with your vision.
Have you been meeting with investors? What questions have they been asking you? Please share these questions as well as your thoughts and opinions in the comments box below.