THE BLOG
31/03/2015 13:25 BST | Updated 30/05/2015 06:59 BST

Branded Entertainment Unlocks Funding for Independent Films

Even established, globally respected film directors can struggle to gain funding for their independent projects. Renegade Hollywood director Robert Altman repeatedly failed to secure backing for Julian Fellowes' cinematic debut, Gosford Park [2001]. It was only when Altman came to London, asked every established British thespian he found to join the potential project (to which they obliged,) that he subsequently gained Lottery funding for the Oscar and BAFTA award-winner.

Independent film funding is a long, uncertain battle. From gaining traction above the crowd-funding masses to chance meetings at film festivals with wealthy investors, it's certainly a game of chance.

Across the globe, marketing's growing emphasis on branded content is a reaction to new consumer psychologies. Audiences, continually bombarded with marketing messages, see higher value with serendipitous, search-related discovery of brands, products and services. Marketing spends remain with more traditional product placement and branded content, yet there is a clear shift to the softest of sells; through branded entertainment campaigns, with brands as diverse as Nissan to Malibu following suit. A fresh avenue for filmmakers in independent film financing's labyrinth of cul-de-sacs.

Five years ago audiences and filmmakers may have held their noses aloft to branded entertainment, but the tides are turning. Last year's British Academy Film Awards saw Bombay Sapphire commissioned, Room 8 [2013], win Best Short Film. Branded entertainment is also attracting award-winning creative talent, with Wes Anderson directing Castello Cavalcanti [2013] and Stephen Fry narrating Mahout [2014.] Each collaboration is different, but with the right creative team, if a story is valid and delivered with creative precision, in theory it shouldn't matter if the money comes from an independent investor, crowd-funded film lovers or a brand's marketing budget.

If after viewing Pawel Pawlikowski's superb Ida [2014] the audience discovered it had been funded by a major mobile phone network (purely fiction, it wasn't,) would the film be any less extraordinary? Pre-release Pawlikowski said he hoped that audiences would leave Ida, "Changed, but not having learned a lesson exactly." Concluding, "Whenever I smell a lesson I run a mile." If Ida had hypothetically been commissioned as branded entertainment, the associated brand may have pushed for a different message, or for it to be shot in colour and be riddled with cuts - rather than the monochrome, anti-cinematic masterpiece Pawlikowski built. Perhaps it wouldn't have won its BAFTA or Oscar as a brand collaboration either.

Independent filmmakers strive to retain creative control, to produce the film they passionately want to make. Arguably loss of this control will always be the result of money clashing with creativity, both pulling in their own directions. That said, every brand collaboration will be different. As a paper-concept - bringing fresh funds into independent filmmaking means branded entertainment is something to be welcomed. Those creatives wishing to take the opportunity can jump aboard, those who don't wish to, simply don't and stick to traditional funding methods.

Some film producers are embracing this marketing realignment, specialising in branded entertainment, from shorts through to feature films. Jack Wylson heads up London's award-winning branded entertainment agency, The Big Sky, and explains its appeal, "Whether we're working with multinationals like Microsoft and L'Oreal or small independent brands, what's always paramount is that we engage the audience with emotive, creative and entertaining content. As independent filmmakers, working with the world's best brands is an exciting funding option - they put their trust in our filmmaking expertise, and in exchange we produce creative, enticing films to captivate their target audiences," said Wylson.

As marketers continue to allocate budget to fund quality, independent film, in barter of brand association - for many independent filmmakers its capital can unlock doors to fresh creativity. Here's a quad of brilliant branded entertainment, from brands big and small, to help clarify the matter:

Short: Room 8 [2013]

[BAFTA Winner: Best Short]

Starring Tom Cullen | Associated with Bombay Sapphire

Documentary Feature: Mahout - The Great Elephant Walk [2014]

[London Independent Film Festival - Winner: Best UK Film]

Narrated by Stephen Fry | Associated with Tiger Tops

Short: Castello Cavalcanti [2013]

Starring Jason Schwartzman | Associated with Prada

Short: Desire [2013]

Starring Damian Lewis | Associated with Jaguar