Monday, March 19, 2007

Fund Your Feature, Part 1

Spring is in the air, and a lot of renewed energy and focus seems to have emerged from the winter doldrums, thanks mainly to some inspiring and informative courses that people have been attending. Potdoll recently shared her notes on Thrillers, while seemingly half of the entire UK scribosphere were at Adrian Mead’s Insider Guide to Writing TV (say hello to Lucy, Good Dog, Dom, Lianne et al).

In a similar fashion, Sam Morrison, animator extraordinaire and my occasional co-writer, went along to the ‘Fund Your Feature’ event at the Watershed in Bristol. He had a good day getting insider tips and advice on how to get your first feature off the ground. He crammed his notebook with lots of useful info so this is only part one of a trilogy of Sam’s findings. Thanks, Sam!


I attended a ‘Fund Your Feature’ day in Bristol on Friday, organised by South West Screen, and thought it might interest some writers to hear what the speakers had to say about getting your feature from page to screen.

What was interesting to me was that the day, and the speakers, were mostly geared towards producers and therefore it was interesting to hear writers and directors referred to as potential obstacles as well as creative colleagues! I guess a good producer has to be pretty hard-nosed…

This is assembled from hastily scribbled notes so apologies for the slight staccato nature:

The day started with one of the best sessions, a talk from Alan Harris, a producer with Atlantic Film Group. He spoke at length about the avenues of pursuit for funding – funding from banks, private investors, and government.

Banks sometimes put up funds but they are aggressive investors and expect large returns.

Private investors are usually better to deal with but are hard to find and some will behave like a bank as well. Sometimes you will get ‘dinner party’ investors who are less aggressive about returns (often because they have invested a small amount)

Funding bodies like the Film Council also provide investment that doesn’t have the strings-attached approach of the banks but competition is obviously fierce.

Post facilities will sometimes offer to work ‘for free’ in return for a slice of the back end.

In each case the filmmaker needs to approach the potential investor with their motivations in mind rather than simply stating the excellence of the script/director/talent et cetera. Sounds obvious but apparently it’s amazing how many producers try and sell the project from the wrong angle – investors are ultimately investing for returns, not to make art.

Another topic covered was pre-sales: sales agents can give you a sales estimate of how the film will perform in different regions based on similar films’ previous box office performances and if relevant, the popularity of the cast. Though these figures are essentially ‘made up’ the importance of sales agents was covered later in the day. Feature finance was described as a lot more elusive than TV finance, where deadlines are met and agreed sums adhered to.

There was also the problem of the ‘table analogy’ – if you’re given money to build a table, and the table you build is crap, then it can at least be broken down and the respective parts used again. With film there’s no such ‘out’ and therefore it’s harder to get someone to invest in the first place precisely because of that risk.

As an opening session it was a good dose of realism for the rest of the day. Alan finished by saying one thing he hated and had a good sense for was bullshit, and it was much better to play a straight bat and be completely honest about your knowledge. He also said he didn’t welcome unsolicited scripts, especially this morning!


The second session included Alan as well as Paul Brett of Prescience Film, Sally Caplan of the Film Council, producer Gavrik Losey (son of Joseph, film buffs) and host Nick Roddick. Paul reiterated a lot of Alan’s points and said your main point of focus, immediately, must be “who is the film for?” He also recommended producers produce for television too otherwise they will ‘die early’ from the stress. After a question from the audience he said never label your film ‘arthouse’ as that will put investors off.

Sally Caplan is leader of a five-person team at the Film Council who decide what gets funding after reading submissions (though she stressed everything they consider gets shown to ‘outside readers’ as well – not sure exactly what she meant by that but was too busy writing to ask). This team have to convince the council’s funding committee that whatever they choose will make money so they’re in the same boat as the rest of us… she spoke at length about the funding the film council supplies which is loosely broken down like this:

£4m per year for the Development Fund, £2.5m of which is allocated to slate deals. To qualify for this you need a producer, sales agent and UK distributor.

£5m per year for the New Cinema Fund. This is still a development fund but in the sense that it helps develop talent – and in doing so funds films. Cinema Extreme comes from this funding and it recently contributed to the feature Red Road.

£8m per year for the Premier Fund. Less nurturing here, more like standard business practice.

Sally finished by saying that the council stay involved in productions they fund to different levels, depending on what the director wants, but they will be involved to some degree and can “step in” in exceptional circumstances.

Gavrik Losey spoke too but his points were similar to to Alan and Paul’s comments so I won’t retread them here.


Coming soon: part two of Sam’s notes…


Lucy V said...

Diamond! I wanted to go to this, but had to go to London the night of the 16th to be in time for Adrian's course on the saturday since Sheepland aka Devon doesn't run a train that gets in in time for 10 am! Thanks Sam. Very interesting...

Lucy V said...

PS. How remiss of me - hello to you too, Danny!!

Dan said...

Interesting post Danny (& Sam). Look forward to part deux.