February 28, 2017

'You Have to Start Before You Can Stop': Spike Lee, Zoe Cassavetes and More Filmmakers on Film Financing

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This video features 28 filmmakers on the many routes to financing a film (and, more important, getting it finished.)

At the beginning of this video from Film Courage, producers John Schneider and Alicia Allain reveal their philosophy of filmmaking: "You have to start before you can stop....It's hard to stop something that's in motion. It's hard to start, but once you have, it's hard to stop." 

While that advice might seem obvious, it's a crucial element of any creative endeavor. Think of all the films that could have been made had their would-be creators simply put the ball in motion. This video is worth watching for all of the stories and advice (including some from our very own Ryan Koo), but some of our favorite tips are below:

Spike Lee: "Money can fall out of the sky sometimes" 

Lee's 1983 short, Joe's Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Headswon a Student Academy Award and led to his debut feature, She's Gotta Have It. In the video, Lee offers a quote from famed Brooklyn Dodgers owner Branch Rickey, who signed the legendary Jackie Robinson: "Luck is a residue of design." Lee elaborates: "If you're working and busting your ass, you have a better chance of luck smiling down upon you." 

"Luck is a residue of design."

Rickey's advice (via Lee) hits at an important truth: Once you pursue a particular path, be it positive or negative, various synchronicities will most likely pop up, but when opportunity does come knocking, you'd better be dressed for company.

Judy Chaikin: "It's not one phone call"

Twice Emmy Award-nominated producer Judy Chaikin (The Girls in the Band) reminds us about the power of persistence. When you make those initial phone calls (of what will be many), she advises that "It's a matter of making people comfortable with you, getting them on your side. So instead of going out there thinking that you're raise money, you have to think you're going out to woo people." She keeps a positive attitude throughout these outreach efforts, even if they don't yield the results she hopes for right away. After all, "If the money isn't forthcoming immediately, it doesn't mean it's not going to come in the long run."

Zack Ward and James Cullen Bressack: "Don't let perfect be the enemy of good"

Ward, producer and writer of the upcoming horror flick Bethany says, "I had seen a film that I was not impressed with, and it inspired me to do...anything. It was the idea like, 'don't let perfect be the enemy of good." The film's director, indie horror auteur James Cullen Bressack, elaborates on their strategy for financing Bethany. Since he had had a film (Pernicious) that screened in festivals before getting a distribution deal, the director decided to approach distributors who hadn't acquired the film, making use of past relationships in the industry and asking them: "If I made a film in the same genre, would you buy it?" The answer, of course, was yes. 

Dan Mirvish: "If you liked it then, you'll like it now"

Mirvish, co-founder of the Slamdance Festival, recalls how, when the financial crisis of 2008 put the brakes on 2 to 3 million dollars in potential financing for his film Between Us (the film eventually came out in 2012), he focused on a different project. When he returned to the film a few years later, it was with roughly $40,000. He revisited agents and casting directors, telling them that the script hadn't changed, and, "If you liked it then, you'll like it now." In the same vein, he warned potential crew members that if they wanted to work on the movie, they "shouldn't expect to get paid," which didn't stop him from getting top-notch crew on board like DP Nancy Schreiber, award-winning cinematographer (and one of the first female members of the ASC.)

"If you want to work on this movie, don't expect to get paid." 

The stories from these filmmakers run the gamut from inspirational to practical, though all drive home one point: In filmmaking, which is one of the most contingent and unpredictable art forms, the ability to roll with the punches and capitalize on misfortune (turning lemons into movies, as it were) is one of the most the most valuable skills of all.      

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