Nuts, bolts, hot tips, and road-tested information from Holly Million for indie filmmakers raising money

Tag Archives: feature film

Web 2.0 Tools for Film Fundraising Class Rocked!

I taught a three-hour class called “Web 2.0 Tools for Film Fundraising” last night through the San Francisco Film Society. That’s a picture of me with most of the class attendees. Thanks to Vance Snyder for taking the picture!

This class focused on what Web 2.0 is all about, what specific tools are out there, and how to put them to work in support of your indie film fundraising. We covered everything from blogs to wikis to social networking to folksonomies and explored the inner workings of popular sites and tools such as Blogger, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Vertical Response.

I created a class document that I emailed to all the students after the class that contained hotlinks to all of the dozens and dozens of sites I shared during the class. What a deal!

I’ll be offering the class again in coming months, so either stay tuned on this blog, or sign up using the form on the right-hand side of the blog to receive email announcements.

For two hot examples of how indie films are doing exciting, bold, and brilliant things with Web 2.0, check out the website of low-budget fright phenomenon Paranormal Activity and the site of polar opposite The Yes Men Fix Everything. You will be amazed at what Web 2.0 can do for your film.

If you are interested in learning more about connecting your film to the Internet, consider signing up for A Helluva Camp on Film Production from Idea to Internet, taking place on April 24, 2010. For more information or to register, visit Golden Poppy Productions, LLC.

Put the Web to work for you!

In fundraising solidarity,
Holly Million

Film Fundraising Client Feature — New Media International

I’ve just agreed to consult with Sean Ramsay of New Media International, the producer of Victory Day. Victory Day is a feature narrative that tells the story of photojournalist Sam Cassels, who finds himself involved embroiled in a tangled web in Russia that involves sex-traffickers, criminals, and oligarchs. Shot in Russia, the Czech Republic, and Australia, Victory Day won the “Best Political Film” award at the 2009 Action on Film Festival.

I’ll be working with Sean to write a fundraising plan to raise up to $100,000 for a 5-city theatrical premiere for the film.

Drawing from his experience as a Reuters photojournalist and war correspondent with over a decade based in the former Soviet Union, Sean wrote the story for Victory Day. It is an expression of the emotional truth of a journalist who wants to change the world. In finding that his proffession is incapable of doing of it, the character is driven to do it by direct war. Sean plays the lead role as firebrand journalist Sam Cassels.

As part of its 5-city premiere, Victory Day will be screening in San Francisco in the late fall of 2009.

The Doctor Is In! One-on-One Consulting

I often get asked if I am available to produce independent films. Right now, my hands are full directly producing three documentaries and one feature narrative. But that doesn’t mean I can’t help you. I’ve been consulting one-on-one with independent filmmakers for many years, and I’ve found a way to support projects that is cost effective and really useful for filmmakers, too.

Currently, I provide four main services: 1) writing a fundraising plan for your film that outlines where the money is coming from and how you will raise it; 2) writing a treatment, proposal, or business plan that can be used to secure grants or present to individual donors or investors; 3) teaching you how to pitch your film in a face-to-face meeting with investors or donors; and 4) providing ongoing coaching and support throughout the making of the film at an affordable cost.

If you think these services would help you launch your film fundraising effort today, send me an email at holly@hollymillion.com. You can visit my fundraising consulting website at HollyMillion.com.

Hope to see you soon!

Howdy, filmmakers! How’d you get those funds?

I’m blogging from the SXSW Film Festival in Austin Texas, where It Came From Kuchar, directed by Jennifer M. Kroot, is premiering tonight at 5 PM. Jennifer called me back in October 2005 to ask me if I would be interested in producing her film. Being familiar with Jennifer’s work on her narrative feature, Sirens of the 23rd Century, I said yes. Sirens of the 23rd Century screened at Frameline, Sci-Fi London and Anthology Film Archives. It won Best Narrative Feature at The New Orleans LGBT festival. Jennifer takes on ambitious projects and sees them through to successful completion. I knew her documentary would finish just as strong.

It Came From Kuchar is a hilarious and touching documentary about the legendary, underground filmmaking twins, the Kuchar brothers. As kids in the 1950s, George and Mike Kuchar began making no-budget epics in their Bronx neighborhood starring friends and family with their 8mm camera. In the 1960s the Kuchars became part of Warhol’s New York, underground film scene. The Kuchar brother’s films have inspired many prominent filmmakers, including John Waters, Buck Henry, Atom Egoyan, Guy Maddin and Wayne Wang (all interviewed in this film). It Came From Kuchar interweaves the brother’s lives, their admirers, a history of underground film and a ‘greatest hits’ of Kuchar clips into a hilarious and touching stream-of-consciousness tale.

As a producer on the film, I raised a substantial portion of the budget from grants from foundations. The rest of the funds came from individual donors. Getting the grants was a little like going to the dentist for a root canal. I would not like to repeat the experience. Our first big opportunity to get a significant grant came just two weeks after Jennifer hired me, when the deadline for a letter of intent to the Creative Work Fund came due on November 3, 2005. The Creative Work Fund is a special arts fund made possible by a consortium of arts foundations in San Francisco. They fund a different field of art in rotating years. At that time, film was funded every three years. Now, it’s every FOUR years. The trick to getting this grant is to have a working relationship between an artist and a nonprofit organization. The problem for us was, we did not have that partnership and the letter was due in two weeks. After barking up the wrong tree, we retrained our focus on the Legion of Graduate Students at the San Francisco Art Institute, the art school where George Kuchar has taught for over 30 years. The students, who love George like their beloved crazy uncle, were all too willing to help! With their involvement, we were able to secure a $35,000 grant for the film. That early money is like yeast! Once we had that grant and the imprimatur of the Creative Work Fund, we entered a different realm of fundraising, where people sat up and listened when we spoke and didn’t immediately slam the door in our faces. It was not a picnic from there, but it sure beat the wandering in the wilderness where the grantless walk.

I’ll be posting more about our premiere and interviewing Jennifer Kroot, George Kuchar, and others from SXSW.

Brick by Brick, Raising $500,000

I’ve been writing about the feature narrative, “Nominated,” and my involvement as the producer. Director Dan Pavlik, of Southpaw Productions, has written a fantastic script. In fact, Dan is a script-writing machine. He came to my house for dinner last Friday and slammed another screenplay down on the dining room table. “What? Another one?” I asked. “I got a drawer-full of them!” Dan replied. Some people just can’t stop!

I had originally proposed to Dan that we try to hunt down some equity finance for his film. But that was long before the bubble burst. 2009 is not the year for us to hunt down equity finance, a rare bird in the Bay Area even in a good year. Instead, we are reverting to our hunter-gatherer roots. Dan and I have donned our animal skins and wooden clubs and are going out to hunt us some investors. One bonk on the head with the club, then we drag ’em off by their hair! I guess I’ve seen one too many caveman cartoon.

But seriously, we are going to take a grassroots approach to our fundraising needs. I proposed that we form a core team of 5 or 6 people who will sell shares in the film. Shares will be set at around $1,000, and there will be half shares, quarter shares, etc. The members of the team will be equipped with a sales package to help them promote the film. As they sell shares, they will be rewarded with either a cash cut or a fraction of a share, TBD. And of course, everyone on the team will also be graced with the title of producer in the credits. Sounds good to me!

By dividing the labor, we increase our chances of raising the half million needed to make the film. Together, our group has a bigger network than any one of us alone. Dan’s already created the LLC to provide the business structure for the film. Now we have to consult our attorney, Richard Lee, to see if the LLC can accommodate the large number of investors we would like to have. Dan’s recollection is that there are 35 members max for the LLC by law.

Stay tuned as we figure out the nuts and bolts of selling shares and getting “Nominated” filmed! In the meantime, check out our trailer.

Hello, Greg Kinnear? Are You Out There?

A while back, I posted a diary about the feature narrative “Nominated” that I have signed on to produce for director Dan Pavlik. “Nominated” tells the story of former child-star Mickey Monroe, who wakes up hung-over, in denial, and nominated for an Academy Award. The question is, can Mickey hold it together until Oscar night, or will he self-destruct in one spectacular grand finale? Dan has written a killer screenplay, one in fact that was a finalist for last year’s Nicholl Fellowship. This screenplay has box office potential written all over it. There are just two eensy, weensy things that are keeping us from laughing all the way to the bank.

Like first off, the economy. Last year when we concocted our first plan for raising the money for “Nominated,” we were looking at a $2 million budget on the top end, a $500K budget on the low end. We sipped our Eric Ross Pinot Noir and fantasized about equity finance. I started working my network for leads for investors interested in feature-length narrative films with potential commercial viability. And then the financial world melted down in a giant paroxysm not seen since Sodom and Gomorra bit it. With it, our dreams of big investment pretty much fizzled. Now we slug back Mad Dog and wrack our brains for new ways to scratch for cash.

Fortunately, we entered into the whole process with our eyes wide open. After all, the guys with the big, fat checkbooks aren’t exactly standing on every corner, even in a jamming economy. Plan A was equity finance. There’s also Plan B, which would require raising $500,000 in donations to the film through a fiscal sponsor or by selling shares in the film through an LLC structure. But wait, there is also a Plan C, which is our worst-case scenario. In that case, we would raise around $100,000 from friends, family, and our network to make an ultra-low-budget flick. Fortunately, Dan Pavlik is one of the most resourceful people on God’s green Earth. He wrote his script in such a way to mitigate the need for fancy locations, props, and other expensive resources. We could do it on a shoestring if we needed to. But we would rather not.

And that brings us to the second thing that is keeping us from laughing all the way to the bank. And his name is Greg Kinnear. When we were hatching those plans, we made a wish-list of potential actors for the main roles in the film. At this juncture, we brought stellar Bay Area casting agent Nina Henninger on board to help us navigate these shark-infested waters. For the part of Mickey, one stand-out was Greg Kinnear. Dan knows someone who knows Mr. Kinnear, and this Mr. X sent the screenplay to Mr. Kinnear’s office for his perusal. Well….we’re waiting. If Mr. Kinnear says yes, then equity finance may still be an option for us. If he says no, we have another local actor ready to step in. But Kinnear is a name that attracts money the way a navy-blue peacoat attracts white cat hair. Of course, there’s always that Catch-22 of narrative features — the financiers want to know what A-list actor is attached before they commit. The actor wants to know if you have financing before he commits. How do we play this back-and-forth game? With a helluva lot of finesse. Let’s start somewhere. How about Greg Kinnear? We know he has the screenplay in his hands. But has he read it? Is he going to read it? Today? Next week? Hello?

Mr. Kinnear, if you’re reading this, can you please get back to us? Our funding depends on you.

What You Have in Common with David Lynch

Sometimes you may feel alone as a filmmaker pursuing your dream, making your dark but brilliant narrative short or shooting your social-issue documentary or developing your comic-genius narrative feature. Then take some comfort in knowing you are not alone. You may especially feel alone when faced with your budget and the daunting task of raising the funds to make your sweetest vision come true. That computer screen looks like the frozen tundra when you sit down to write your grant proposal or donor appeal letter. And the only person calling on the phone is your mother, wondering if you are still pursuing that “film thing” or if you have found a real job yet. Sigh. It is lonely.

Don’t get down. All filmmakers feel this way, even the ones with the big names, the accolades, the credits. Even somebody like writer and director David Lynch, the creator of Mulholland Drive, Wild at Heart, and Blue Velvet. If you want to draw some inspiration and some comfort from a man whose films may be outre or chilling but who has a very real and warm heart, then check out his book, Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity. David Lynch is one of my film heroes and role models. His film, Eraserhead, touched my life in a remarkable, therapeutic way just when I needed that kind of life-preserver tossed my way. So I was surprised to read in his book his admission that “When I was making Eraserhead, which took five years to complete, I thought I was dead…I told myself, ‘Here I am, locked in this thing. I can’t finish it. The world is leaving me behind….At one time, I actually thought of building a small figure of the character Henry…and just stop-motioning him through and finishing it. That was the only way I could figure doing it, because I didn’t have any money.” Just think. David Lynch in despair about finishing his film because he had no money.

He continues, “Then, one night, my younger brother and my father sat me down in a kind of dark living room. My brother is very responsible, as is my father. They had a little chat with me. It almost broke my heart, because they said I should get a job and forget Eraserhead. I had a little girl, and I should be responsible and get a job.”

Thank God he didn’t do the responsible thing. Instead, he found a way to complete Eraserhead, and his career was launched. Thank God he finished that film, because Eraserhead saved my life.

Don’t ever forget that in the dark times when you’re not sure where the money is coming from. Just focus on the film and have faith that you will find a way.

Follow the Birth of “Nominated”

I recently signed up as the producer for a new indie feature called Nominated. Written and directed by Dan Pavlik, Nominated tells the story of washed-up former child star Mickey Monroe who’s been “on the outs” for one long, hard skid. Now Mickey finds himself nominated for an Oscar. It could be his shot at redemption. Or — more likely — another round of stupendous self-destruction. His agent, Blake, tries to fend off disaster by tricking Mickey into staying at Blake’s remote mountain cabin for a week so Blake can manage the press and keep Mickey out of trouble. Unfortunately, trouble has a way of finding Mickey, no matter where he goes.

Dan Pavlik and David Baptist co-wrote an excellent screenplay. So excellent that I agreed to come on board to help raise the funds to make the film. This one will definitely be a learning experience for me. Our budget is $2 million on the high end, or about $500,000 on the low end. We will be attempting to secure equity financing for the film, although such funding is hard to come by, and there are few equity investors in the Bay Area, where we and the film are based.

The good news is that we have signed on casting director Nina Henninger, an experienced hand at casting major commercial features in the Bay Area. We’ve also signed on Carl Lumbly, a veteran actor of television and film, to play the plum role of Ray, the blind, African-American neighbor of Blake’s cabin getaway. And, best of all, an A-list Hollywood actor is now reading the script. We are keeping our fingers crossed that the screenplay “sings” to him, because if he signs on, then we really do have a shot at getting some real money.

Stay tuned as I give periodic updates to our process of running down the dough for this indie feature. If you want to see behind the scenes on an indie feature’s fundraising process, this is the place to do it.