Financing Your Independent Film In Today's Volatile Marketplace

02/09/2016 15:07 | Updated 02 September 2016

The global financial crisis led to deep cuts in public funding, leaving little money for creative endeavours. And now there's a new fear on the horizon with Britain's upcoming exit from the European Union. The British film industry could lose millions in funding from EU grant schemes such as Creative Europe. With a lack of available options from the public sector, producers will have to find new ways to get their ideas onto the big screen.

That said, the film industry has never been structured to build long-term sustainable businesses. As always, it will adapt to fit the economic climate. If you're thinking about starting your own film company, these ideas - based on my own personal experiences - may help you jump over the initial financing hurdles that all indie producers face.

Start Investing in Yourself

Many of the great filmmakers throughout history kickstarted their careers through self investment: Werner Herzog spent two years working as a welder in order to finance his first short; Christoper Nolan worked a day job and filmed on weekends to make The Following. Even on my level, as a small-time independent filmmaker, self-funding a short was one of the best career moves that I ever made.

I personally financed my first short film, No More Silence, by writing technical documentation for a pharmaceuticals company, more specifically, in-box pamphlets for a bandage manufacturer... not particularly glamorous, but it did the job. I managed to raise around £1,000, which was enough to hire lighting, sound equipment, a shoulder rig, and a graduate cinematographer who had his own camera gear. This not only shed the cost of hiring the camera body and tripod, but entitled me to a 50 percent student discount from the rental house. We also chose to shoot in an abandoned house, securing permission from the property owner in exchange for an executive producer credit, thus eliminating location fees. In addition, our local Red Cross charity shop let us borrow furniture and props for the set dressing. Other costs included food, transport and makeup.

When you're starting out you must invest in yourself. After all, why would anyone else trust you with their money if you don't trust yourself with your own? You need to prove your worth; and to prove your worth you need product.

Register Your Film Company

Unless you have a an established track record as a producer, you will struggle to attain finance as an individual. Therefore, you should register your film company with Companies House before you start applying for grants and/or equity finance. Remember, a production company is a business, and like any other business you will need a solid business plan and a budget breakdown for your upcoming project. The creative elements alone won't cut the mustard!

There are various legal structures to consider. Company Liquidation Services recommend forming a private limited company due to the volatility of the industry. This essentially means that the liability of the shareholders is limited to the company; therefore, all of your personal liabilities are protected. In short, the bailiffs won't come knocking on your door if your film doesn't recoup its budget or turn a profit. While the prospect of bankruptcy and liquidation may seem morbid, it's an outcome that you must consider from the start.

Search for Private Equity Investors

Equity investors do exist, but they are notoriously difficult to find. However, we are fortunate enough to have a huge cheap and attainable resource right at our fingertips. For a monthly fee you can sign up to the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) and find the contact information for virtually everybody in the business. Search for recent films that are a similar to your upcoming production in terms of scale, budget and genre. Scour the crew list for people who are credited on these films as an executive producer, or have a similar title. Executive producers are generally equity investors that have had little (if anything) to do with the creative process -- they are your target!

I am currently in the process of making my second short, Putrid, a documentary about the wacky myths and legends surrounding the Swedish delicacy, surströmming (rotten herring). This time, however, the investment came in the most unlikely of places: a bio-engineer with a passion for independent film and a sizable bank account. I met him in the pub, we got talking, and after a few coffee meetings, he literally offered to fund my film. My point... investment can come when/where you least expect it, so don't be afraid to look beyond the industry. Target investors who work in other volatile markets. They may be more willing to take a risk.

Producers often complain that there's not enough money available, when in fact, there's plenty -- even in periods of economic uncertainty. However, there is a major lack of decent scripts. If you're struggling to attain any form of finance, be it from government grants, tax finance, studios, private investors or even crowdfunding, go back to basics and start reviewing your idea and/or screenplay. While many will disagree, a script that truly makes the grade will make financiers and producers fight to become part of the project, rather than apprehensively sit on the sidelines.