Stage I: Pre-Financing

Setting your business approach to get the money from investors.

The pre-financing stage of film marketing involves everything you do in order to attract investors. It’s very unlikely someone will fund your movie if you don’t have a business approach that can reassure them they’ll get their money back, plus some hefty profits. Even when you’re self-financing –or gathering money from family and friends- it’s in your best interest that you’re aware of the market, and the true potential of your film. In plain words: how much money can you realistically make with this movie? In order to successfully cover this stage, you’ll need to work on 4 key elements: your movie, your brand, your pitch, and your investors.

YOUR MOVIE – HOW BIG IS YOUR IDEA?

If you already have a script, or even a produced movie, this step will help you validate it. Maybe you’re still in time to tweak it, in case you need to increase its appeal to a larger audience. Ideally though, you’d want to make sure from the beginning that your idea for a film or TV show has potential to be sold. This process requires two main steps:

  1. Identify your target market – What’s the audience for this film?
  2. Assess your film’s potential – Find similar films and use them as a guideline to compare.

Identifying as clearly as possible the audience for your film will help you determine not only how big your market is, but also to better focus your promotional efforts and avoid wasting time trying to reach people that won’t be interested in your movie topic or genre. Try to be as specific as you can, including segmentations based in country, language, sex, age, and interests (ex. US moviegoers, English-speaking, women, 18-29 years old, interested in outdoor lifestyle.) Research similar films that can serve as a guide for how profitable your movie might be. How much did they cost? What were the box-office proceeds? Was it sold to cable or streaming services? How much did it make in foreign markets? All this data will help you understand the realities you’ll face when trying to monetize your film.

YOUR BRAND – MAKE A NAME FOR YOURSELF

Your movie is your product. And across your filmmaking career, you’ll be producing more and more films, therefore establishing yourself as a valued brand. Through your work, you’ll grow your audience, creating a legion of fans. Fans that know your name. Fans that trust your brand. If a product (movie) comes from you (brand), then it’s something they might be willing to watch. These are the two pillars that serve as foundation to build your brand (a.k.a. make a name for yourself):

  1. Your work – In order to demonstrate your ability to lead a major project, you’ll need to prove you’ve acquired the necessary skills by successfully shooting similar films. For beginners, short films have traditionally been the perfect material to build your demo reel, but you can also use commercials or any other type of spec work that shows your aptitude. In essence, your previous work will serve as a guarantee for any investor, providing the confidence they’ll need to fund your next film.
  2. Your audience – Having a fanbase is the ultimate proof that your brand is known, that people know who you are. This is the most evident example that your work has followers, and that you can manage an effective marketing campaign. At the same time, an active audience will send a signal to any investor that your next project will have better chances of being well received.

YOUR PITCH – SELL IT!

Once you have a great idea for a movie, and you’ve been able to build your brand to position yourself as a professional filmmaker, it’s time to go out and sell it to potential investors and get the money. The pitching process is exhausting, since it takes time and hard work to convince anyone that your project is worth it. Your most valuable asset is your script, not only its story, but also how it is presented. Mistakes in formatting, typos, or poor language, can certainly be a quick turn off. Let’s also face the harsh reality of screenwriting: most people don’t like to read a script. They might read the first few pages, but you need to make sure your script is part of a bigger package that includes other equally important materials:  

  1. A poster – First impressions matter, and a nicely done poster goes a long way to show the essence of the film.
  2. A market analysis – Is your audience ready for a film like this? How big of an audience could you potentially have? These are determining factors when it comes to convincing investors about the potential of your film.
  3. Itemized Budget – How much money are you asking for and how are you planning on spending it? This is by far the most delicate subject. A poorly presented budget will quickly send the signal that you’re inexperienced in production matters, and the immediate risk will be running over-budget. Another important thing that most amateur filmmakers ignore in their estimates is a budget for P&A (prints and advertising). Traditionally, P&A expenses used to be covered by distribution companies, but with the shift in distribution methods and channels, any producer should allocate some money towards it. Your best case-scenario is that you’ll find a good distribution company that will take care of this, but in the most common event where you need to find alternatives to traditional distribution, you’ll be covered to launch a successful campaign.
  4. Production team – A document that states what’s the team that will be developing the work. Past experience is a must, especially when you’re asking for large sums of money.
  5. Director’s reel – This is the proof that you have enough experience to handle a project of this magnitude. Theory and education are nice, but show your investors that you know what you’re doing.
  6. Distribution plan – Once you’ve given enough proof that you have a good product and a reliable team, you need to get into the commercialization part of the business, which involves distribution. You might have a very detailed plan, or simply an overall idea of what you would do, but you have to have something. A lack of a plan is a clear representation that you don’t see the business side of filmmaking, and remember you’re asking for money that is expected to be returned with profits in a set period of time.
  7. ROI estimates – After all this, it’s now time to explain how you’re getting everyone’s money back, plus some profits. ROI (Return On Investment) estimates are the guidelines that will help potential investors determine whether your project is worth it from a business perspective.

One thing worth mentioning is that there are different types of pitches. Some might require a quick run-through in very limited time, while others could expect an in-depth business plan. There is not a fixed structure for a successful pitch. You need to know your audience in advance, learn what they’re expecting, and pitch accordingly.

I’ve seen production companies present incredibly long decks to an audience who was clearly uninterested after the first 20 slides. If you lose them, you’re lost. But in order to pitch, you need to know who you’re pitching to. And that’s why it’s key to find (and understand) your investors.

YOUR INVESTORS – KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE

A basic fundamental of marketing relies in understanding your audience. It’s the ability to have empathy and put yourself in the shoes of the person you’re talking to. The proposal, which is part of the pitch, isn’t a one-size-fits-all. A customized approach will yield better results.

To properly identify the right one, you first need to understand the different types of investors, and what their motivations are.

  1. Casual investor – Inexperienced in production matters. It could be a friend or family member that want to support you, but don’t quite understand the basics of filmmaking or film marketing. Funds are very limited, since they come from their personal finances, but in some cases you could gather enough donations to make your project a reality. These types of investors typically don’t need much, other than the reassurance that their money isn’t thrown down the drain. Being part of a project like this is motivation enough to invest, and you should tap into their excitement. However, you still need to take them through your plan about when and how you’ll be giving their money back. A successful project always serves as your best guarantee to get people excited to reinvest in other future projects.
  2. Non-filmmaker investor – These people understand the basics of investing their money and focus on returns. They might find the idea of filmmaking attractive, but the bottom line is always to make money. In such instances, you need to convince them their money is better off invested in a project like yours.
  3. Film investor – This audience clearly understands the ins and outs of filmmaking and distribution, since they’ve done it before. They’re your best choice, but also the most difficult one. They’ll smell inexperienced teams a mile away, therefore your pitch needs to be tight. All the elements we described when referring to your pitch need to be clearly defined.

There’s another segment that’s worth considering when trying to gather funds to finance your movie. The corporate world can be a powerful ally through co-creation, branded entertainment, or simply product placement or traditional sponsorships.

We usually divide them in three categories:

  1. Small businesses – local shops or stores that could help finance your film in exchange for advertising.
  2. Medium-sized businesses – larger retail stores or businesses with bigger presence in your city or state.
  3. Big brands – national or multinational brands with marketing budgets that you could tap into to produce your film in exchange for brand awareness.

The steps to engage with big or small businesses are radically different though, and require an understanding about how companies or brands can finance a film and collaborate with filmmakers.

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