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How to fund a film funding book

Nic Wistreich, editor Film Finance KitI started listing film funds online at the end of 1999 because as young film student I was struggling to understand the vastly complex and secretive world of film finance. The web let me publish this to anyone and soon - with the help of Shooting People - I turned down a big publisher to self-publish a book. Over three editions, and with more than 11,000 copies I've tried to hold true to some core ideas:

1 - No glass ceiling of knowledge: all information for everyone
There are many levels of filmmaking - from no-budget shorts, to bootstrapped micro-documentaries through to big-budget international co-porducitons. A filmmaker in their career may move between any of these places. Someone just starting could learn as much about high-end packaging, as someone at a big budget level can learn about micro-budgets. Many people suggested we should create two books - a 'high-end' and 'low-end' but I felt this two-tier film industry was become less relevent: we all make moving image, whatever the level.

2 - Keep it affordable: ideally free
It was also suggested we should just make a £150 book for 'serious producers' and while we might be richer, the motivation has never been to run this is a big business. It's to make enough money to create something great, while leaving me enough spare time to make the odd film myself. It's a key aim of the book that it should be affordable to people at all wealth - anywhere in the world. The goal of making it free is a long way off - we can't make it unpaid - but as we start to move back online, more and more of it should be available to anyone.

3 - Get the best writers and proven case studies
I can't pretend to be a successful producer - I'm an editor and aspiring filmmaker trying to answer the question about funding films in the digital age. So instead the focus is on working with the best people - and this book has been lucky to get input from some of the world's top film finance advisers and some brilliant writers. On the last edition, as well as seasoned financier and lawyer Adam P Davies, we had local guides written by dozens of finance experts and lawyers around the world, backed up with case studies and interviews spanning from Jeremy Thomas, Roy Disney & Nik Powell to Lance Weiller, Jim Gilliam & Jan Dunn. In getting such a breadth of insight and inspiration into a book we hopefully get the best in thinking across the film world, free from idealogical bias or inertia. This can throw up interesting things: in the 2007 edition we profiled - before Kickstarter & Indiegogo - a feature that had crowdfunded over email; and another that went on to be YouTube's first feature film streamed, that made back its budget through adverts.

Nic Wistreich, editor, Film Finance Handbook/Kit

What's the plan?

The 2007/08 Book

small-0955014328Over 40 experts from six continents contributed to the 480-page, 250,000 word how-to, theory text & reference guide.

Learn more

As well as hundreds of new funds, tax breaks, platforms and models since our 2007/08 edition, there's a big need for solid case studies and numbers around online sales. Crowdfunding also brings more marketing and audience engagement issues into the finance process, while crowd/micro-investment is still in its infancy and needs careful guidance.

Furthermore, after a detailed survey to former buyers earlier this year - it became clear we needed a better digital strategy.

Tim O'Reilly said 'A reference book is a user interface to a body of information', and this idea has informed a lot of our plans. Some of our materials - such as funds - probably work best in a searchable database, while theory of film finance for many will still be best on paper so they can highlight bits and write notes. Our plan is to offer three 'interfaces' into the funding book:

  1. The website. New updates will appear here first - wand where subscribers can comment, perform detailed filters and searches, and access direct links to guidelines, and embeds of maps, videos and related resources.
  2. Ebooks (Kindle & ePub). As we work through the book updating sections we would aim to release chapters digitally as shorter eBooks every 2 or 3 months. This has a few advantages - they can be sold as stand-alone much cheaper titles for those just interested in that topic; and are more managable to read than a 3,500 page ebook. We can also quickly release updates if there's errors.
  3. Printed completed book. If all goes well with the fundraising and updating, after about a year we should have a finished book ready to be compiled, proofed, typeset and printed. A PDF version - and compiled ebooks - will be made, and will be DRM-free so readers are free to print them out as needs be.

At this stage we'll stop and decide if there's demand and inclination to continue the process with ongoing updates - right now the plan is to get as far as a printed book with kick-ass website, and then agree the next step.

How to fund your funding book

We're as independent as it comes. The book is technically published by Netribution Ltd, but  the money it's made has just been shared out between the core authors - there's no shareholders or middlemen sitting on the skim. While some online film resources have hundreds of thousands in public grants, we've just sold the occasional advert - and like the autonomy and freedom that gives us. Crowdfunding or micro-pre-selling the new book and digital access seems to fit perfectly as our funders will be our readers, not the bank.

However, even based on everyone taking a paycut, I've budgetted getting the cost of updating and printing the book and digital versions at £30,000 - which is quite a bit of money for a book (the first advance we turned down from Focal Press was £1500).

So we're going to try a slightly different kind of crowdfunding - one that adapts to the amount of money we raise. All-or-nothing crowdfunding would mean we aimed for £30k or get nothing, while flexible crowdfunding could leave us with half what we need.

We're going to try and fund this over stages - with the fundraising happening through the process while we write the book. We'll start with the most painfully out of date sections, releasing updates as we go. And as much money as we raise will equal as much content as we create. The idea is it should be soon be clear if we're creating good work that deserves backing - so we don't have to shout endlessly begging for money: our work will do that. Someone needs to give this a name - perhaps staged, agile or adaptive crowdfunding.

The main backers will get access to everything we create, and if we hit our £30,000 target, all these backers will get a printed new book as well.

Stage 1Current

Get the directory online.
Target: £1,500

Stage 2

Update around 1000 funds, incentives & 50+ countries.
Target: £11,000

Stage 3

Update & expand main text.
Target: £7,500

Stage 4

Case studies and interviews.
Target: £4,000

Stage 5

Prepare and print the book.
Target: £6000

Check the perks, get the book or back the campaign.

 Film is a tyranny, and the tyrant is money. The great thing is that, in spite of that, impossibly, some people keep on smuggling out messages of hope from the other side, past the tyrant. I mean, there shouldn't be one good movie made given the way it's structured, and yet there are many good movies made. That seems to be implausible and marvellous at the same time. 

Richard Flanagan

The art & practice of funding, marketing & distributing films has arguably faced more disruption and change in the last decade than any point in its history. The future is still unwritten and contains at least as many challenges for independent filmmakers as opportunities.

The doomsayers envisage a world where features are lengthy advertisements funded by product placement, where social media, video games, file-sharing and short viral video has demoted cinema to a niche art form funded only thru public grants and philanthropists, where the power wielded by the seven studio giants is now in the hands of just one or two even more powerful tech gatekeepers and where the longtail is much thinner than anyone could ever have imagined.

The evangelists speak of a world where we’re all free to be makers and creators, where technology and multinational giants serve us rather than rule, where collaboration and lifelong learning helps a growing global family of artists and film-lovers to continue to find new ways to communicate and share our experiences with each other, a meritocracy where the best work rises to the top and finds its audience, supporting further work.

No-one can predict the future, all small and indepndent creatives & businesses need to chart their own course across a challenging and unknown sea. And although no book can plot the best route for you in that, we think - and hope - it's a useful guidebook for the journey.