You’ve worked hard to write the best script possible. You’ve got a story you’re ready to tell and now it’s time to put it out into the world.
But before any of that happens, you may need to find film investors.
Attracting film investors may seem like the biggest step. However, once you’re on their radar, how do you keep them interested?
This guide will get into different approaches for attracting investors, what you need to know before taking money from investors, and what you can do to crush pitch meetings.
We’ll focus mostly on how to get funding for an independent film, anywhere from five to seven figures.
Let’s get into it.
Pitch decks are great tools to help you prepare for your next investor meeting. But even if you end up not presenting in a formal or semi-formal way, each page of our template contains insight to help craft the appropriate talking points before you chat with anyone interested in funding your film.
Before we dive into how to find film investors, let's look at a few suggestions before approaching any sort of investors.
First things first, you’ll need to know what kind of deal you want.
Are you looking for a loan, an equity deal, a tax incentive, or an angel investment?
Each of these types of deals have different expectations.
I chatted with Tiffany Boyle of Ramo Law PC, an entertainment law firm about some of these differences.
“For equity investors, they typically expect a 20% return. A bank loan is more difficult as they are more risk averse. They usually want to see bankable sales, for example, that the project is pre-sold to France for $300K with a respected distributor.”
Like anything else, if you won’t get something for nothing. Decide what you want from them, but ensure you’re giving them what they need too.
“Unless you’re bringing in financing from angel investors, you’ll need a good script and typically a package with at least a director or credible actor for the budget.”
You’ll also need to put together a preliminary budget in mind that’s a somewhat close approximation of how much money you need to produce your film.
“If you’re going to approach investors, you have to get near what the actual budget will be.”
If you’re using a pitch deck, this will absolutely be part of it.
In a lower-budget indie film (under $1,000,000), an indie film investor may not want to exercise creative control. Still, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a possibility.
On many larger projects, film investors don’t want to end up with something like Battlefield Earth in their portfolio. Major changes to the screenplay may require the investor's approval and be explicitly stipulated in a production services agreement. A film funding company may even want to approve specific cast and crew members, whether it's the director or third lead.
Some film investors may also want to be credited as a producer and a larger back-end deal for equity. “I have known investors wanting 75% in the gross back end,” said Tiffany.
A production agreement between an investor and producer may also specify that the production company is liable for over-budget expenses or overruns that are not a result of withheld approvals or last-minute changes requested by the financier.
To incentivize staying within the budget, some agreements may stipulate the production company can keep part of (or even all) funds remaining after the final cut is locked. The financier may want to retain the right to take over the production if the project goes over budget or falls off schedule.
Get ready to take on accounting and payroll duties or find experts who can do that for you. This includes paying off taxes associated with your LLC and preparing a K1 form for your investor so they can pay their taxes on time.
When payroll is poorly managed or SAG members do not receive residuals, you can end up with surprise debts.
Get excited about your project so they can feel that excitement but don’t sugar coat it. Many indie film investors don’t make their money back. Including a warning in any investment agreement isn’t just an SEC requirement. You’ll need to make this crystal clear.
Even the major studios know there’s a risk as Matt Damon discusses on HotOnes.
Dan Marvish, filmmaker and author of The Cheerful Subversive's Guide to Independent Filmmaking urges,
“Don’t raise money from someone who would be upset if they lose that money.”
People invest in films for a variety of reasons. Passion for films and storytelling could be a driving factor, but for others, it could be more about access.
They may want to go to film festivals, be able to share with others that they go to film festivals, or any other fringe perks. Some want to fund a project because they want to gain knowledge and experience for their budding filmmaker child.
Whatever their motivation, find out this type of info so you can temper their expectations.
While there are a hundred different ways to find film investors, thematically here are the big picture (pun intended) strategies to attract investors.
For better or worse, one of the fastest ways to attract and close deals is to have cast and crew ready to work on your project, including:
You may be thinking: OK, get Peter Dinklage. Then film investors seeking projects will come beat down my door — eh, easier said than done. Though, don’t underestimate the power of a heartfelt ask. A letter can go a long way as producer Anna Elizabeth James found with her film Deadly Illusions. Read all about her journey to getting her movie on Netflix.
How to find film investors can even mean reaching out to brands. Contact brands to see if they’re interested in product placement within your project that can help fund your film.
In Tiffany's experience,
“I had a client call Dove and land a deal. Most brands don’t get those calls so you never know until you try.”
Consider also reaching out to product placement consultants through the Association of Entertainment Marketing Professionals.
One way to get a lot of people interested and involved in your film at ground level is through crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter. If you’re producing a feature length film, you shouldn’t expect to get the entire project funded. Still, the amount you raise can go towards hiring a lawyer, forming an LLC for your production company, and other upfront expenses.
And who knows — during the campaign, a friend of a friend (of a friend) may see your pitch video and want to invest.
Another way to raise money is to team up with a fiscal sponsor. In this arrangement, you work with a non-profit to arrange to receive grants through foundations, individuals, and public agencies. That way, any contributions to your film are tax-deductible donations. Depending on an individual investor’s tax situation, this may be an attractive alternative to a traditional film investment.
Dan Marvish found that,
"Giving people that option, they may still roll the dice as an equity investment, but they at least hear about that option and know there’s no expectation of getting their money back as an investor.”
Writer and director Chloé Zao won a grant for the film Songs My Brother Taught Me. With the grant in hand, she had an easier time raising the rest of the financing for the film. “That grant validated the project for financiers,” said Tiffany.
Bottom line: Don’t underestimate what grants can bring to the table.
For most filmmakers, this is likely a long-shot. Reason being, unless you’re intentionally creating branded content, in what world does your content align with a brand? Sure, product placement can find its way into your story, but the subject or core content of your film may not be at all relevant to that brand.
Filmmakers David Alvarado and Jason Sussberg of Structure Films thought about things a little differently when they were looking for film investors.
The subject of their documentary We Are As Gods was Stewart Brand--- an iconic figure in the tech community. So, they used that. Reaching out to Stripe and their subsidiary Stripe Press was a perfect fit for both the Silicon Valley-based company and the filmmakers.
IMDb Pro offers a free 30-day trial so this next tip requires no upfront costs.
Look at the last 3 year slate of films that generated buzz at film festivals. Then hop onto IMDb Pro and review the associate producers, co-producers, and executive producers for each title.
As you go through each film’s credits, look for people who you see repeatedly involved in these projects.
Even though festivals like SXSW, Cannes, and Toronto Film Festival had to go virtual during the pandemic, these festivals can be a great way to build relationships.
Beyond your existing network, one message might be the bridge to getting a film investment.
Just ask filmmaker Sam Jordan Dudeck.
Sam ran a quick search on LinkedIn based on the job titles “Executive Producer,” “Investor,” and “Financier.”
After messaging 50+ people, he had a 25% response rate. The first few meetings Sam ended up talking with executive producers who were interested, but not willing to put up any money.
“I definitely learned the importance of being clear about what it is you're seeking in your initial message.”
Then one fateful meeting set up by a LinkedIn message took place. Sam laid out in this meeting potential returns, why the investor should trust a seemingly random writer, and when they could make the film.
“The biggest difference [from previous tries] was showing I had a plan in place and that I was putting in the work behind the project. Once you have the passion, you have to use that as fuel to put together the pitch deck.”
With that investment, Sam produced his film A Walk in the Park.
Now that you hopefully have a better sense of how to find film investors, let’s look at what you’ll need to prepare for the meeting.
You got the meeting. Now, like a professional swimmer, you need to nail the dismount.
Here are a few tips to help you as you prepare.
Think of your film pitch deck like the final round of the Great British Bake Off. Your pitch deck is where you need to instill confidence in the judges (in this case the film investors) you are the winner.
A film pitch deck should include:
Tiffany suggests easy but critical prep...
“Be prepared to answer questions like why this project now and who in the market is going to buy this? Netflix? An independent production company? That way, they know how they might recoup their investment.”
Don’t forget to download our film pitch deck template to help you get started.
Work with a seasoned producer to ensure your budget makes sense. You may find an investment can actually stretch further on certain items you’ve estimated in your budget.
Inevitably “when will I get my money back?” will come up.
The answer to that question begins with the waterfall schedule put in place.
For the uninitiated, a waterfall schedule defines the order in which different parties will receive money once a movie generates revenue. This schedule is outlined in a financing agreement.
In an independent film, the first money may go out to pay union residuals, sales agent fees, collections account manager fees, (a 3rd party who gets the money that comes in from your project and distributes it to everyone else).
From there, an investor may get first dibs on the remaining pool of funds up to 120% of their investment. Then the remaining amount may be split 50/50 between the investor and creatives (writer, director, and talent). Or, in some cases after residual, agent fees, and CAM fees are paid, a financing agreement may specify a 65/35 split between film investors and the creative talent for all the remaining funds.
On larger-budget projects (1 million+), a bank may demand in the waterfall schedule that they get paid before any other profit participants or salary deferments.
Then there are also potential bonuses you need to be aware of and will need to communicate with an investor on why you’re including them. For example, a high-profile actor may want a bonus or a small percentage of the revenue.
This year we saw Scarlett Johansson fighting Disney over Black Widow’s streaming profits. The revenue from streaming channels that talent is eligible to earn will be a new requirement moving forward.
Remember, beyond the specific terms of your investment agreement, who you’ll receive money from will vary based on your specific project. For example, an independent film with a budget of $1-10 million may need to work with a foreign sales agent to get a bank loan.
Be honest with any prospective film investors if you can’t meet their expectations whether it’s a return or a Netflix top 10 film. They may not like the news, but you’ll still be able to share why targeting an up-and-coming or more niche streaming channel makes sense.
As you get more credits under your belt, entertainment lawyers and other seasoned producers can be a great resource for navigating how to get funding for a movie project.
It can take a team to get your movie financed. Your lawyer, sales agent, and talent manager are not only a great resource for running by budgets and specific agreement terms, they can also be a fresh set of eyes before you send out your deck to film investors. Be sure to download our pitch deck template to better prep before your next meeting.
At Wrapbook, we're all about providing the very best free resources to producers and their crews. However, this post is not a substitute for professional legal advice. Answers do not create a company-client relationship, nor is it a solicitation to offer legal advice. Seek the advice of a licensed attorney in the appropriate jurisdiction before taking any action that may affect your decisions or rights.
Sign up for the Wrapbook monthly newsletter where we share industry news along with must-know guides for producers.