BRIGSBY BEAR (2017). Jennifer Dana’s Production Company, 3311, produced the film.

Four Ways to Prep for Your Movie Pitch to Potential Investors

Finding the funds to produce, distribute and market a feature film is a massive challenge. In order to do so, you will need to be ready for the often nerve-wracking task of pitching your project to potential financiers. In a three-hour Collab Master Class on Funding Your Fiction Film, Caroline von Kuhn, Director of Industry and Catalyst at Sundance Institute, leads a conversation with Producers Ryan Zacarias (The Mountain, Give Me Liberty) and Jennifer Dana (It Follows, The Assistant) on the process of funding fiction films in the U.S. film industry. Read on for tips on how to present your film and yourself as a creative to persuade investors to come on board and bring your movie to life.

1. Do Your Homework

The first thing you need to do as a filmmaker approaching investors is to make sure you’re ready to do so. Producing, filming, editing, distributing and marketing a film is a huge amount of work that often comes with a fairly hefty price tag, so it’s important to look at your project and consider how safe a potential financier will feel investing in your film. The best way to get this ball rolling is to already be doing the work by the time you even consider bringing a financial partner on board. “The more financiers can see you’re ready to go, you’ve done your homework, you’re in development, you know the location, you’ve got the team, you’ve got a DP [Director of Photography], the more confident they’re going to be in putting money into your movie,” Zacarias explains.

Finding an investor also means establishing a sustainable partnership with the right people. You will need to pitch your film in a way that clearly communicates what your project will be and what you need in order to get it there, but the financier also needs to be the right fit for you as a filmmaker. Researching the investors beforehand is critical to determine whether these are the people you will want to work with for the rest of the life of your film. Spend some time getting to know the films they have supported in the past, the budget range they are able to work with and how interested they will potentially be in bringing your film to life.

2. Know Your Team Dynamic

Investors are looking at several crucial components in your pitch, including the quality of the script, the experience of those involved and the traction the project is already finding in the industry. One aspect you might not guess is that they’re also looking at the production team itself. “Investors are investing in the filmmaking teams,” says von Kuhn. “What is that dynamic when conflict comes up? It happens because filmmaking is messy and nonlinear. How is the team going to navigate that?” Again, consider it from a financier’s point of view: being asked to invest large amounts of money in a team with high turnover, poor communication skills or opposing views of what the project should be will feel like a risky move. As with any aspect of filmmaking, trusting those you hire to bring your story to life is the most important foundation for healthy working relationships and a successful outcome.

“When I see the personality and I see the dynamic of the team, and I see them together and the [sense of] collaboration the team has, that gives me confidence,” Zacarias adds. “When I see there’s a common language about the creative, that gives me confidence. One person talking about the creative, one person talking about business, that gives me confidence. A lot of it is just trust that I see in the team and the respect that I see within that dynamic.”

It’s important to know who you’re making the film for.

Jennifer Dana

3. Clearly Establish The Voice and Tone of Your Project

Having a great script and story you want to tell is just the first step in creating a film. Movies are visual and highly collaborative projects that use music, sound, production design, wardrobe and many more elements to communicate a very specific feeling to the audience, and all of these elements must be considered before conversations about funding can begin in order to help give the financier the clearest possible picture of what they’re getting involved with.

Dana describes the experience of her production company, 3311, coming on board with the film Brigsby Bear (2017). She read the script early on in the development process, and although she liked the story and felt it had potential, the team just wasn’t ready to present the project. “They had a hard time articulating what the movie would feel and sound and look like visually. I was sad to pass because I really thought there was something there,” she explains. “And they went off and did more work on the script [and] they put together a tone reel, a visual piece that did not have the bear in it, because they hadn't created the bear, but that had the sort of real essence of what the movie was and it gave you this incredible heartfelt feeling. They came back a few months later, and at that point they had partnered with [production company] Lonely Island, who I think really were helpful in helping to create the narrative of the tone.”

The extra work put into the visual materials is what led Dana to choose the project and ultimately get it the green light. “They had something that we could point to and I was able to share that with our investors and say ‘This is what we're going for,” says Dana. The film went on to premiere at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival and was theatrically released by Sony Pictures Classics later that year.

4. Know Your Intended Audience

In addition to being able to articulate the style, tone, feeling and scope of your project and knowing both your film team and the investors you intend to bring on board, you will also need to understand your intended audience. Communicating to investors in your pitch about who you want to see your film is one of the best things you can do to make a financier comfortable. It often helps to find other completed films, known as comparables (or “comps”) that might have a similar style, budget and intended reach to yours.

“It’s important to know who you’re making the film for,” says Dana. “You’re not making it for everybody, you’re making a movie for a niche group. That niche group can be super powerful and it can grow beyond the niche and cross over, but knowing who that niche is, is really key. Have comparables that may not be the same story but that may be similar in size and scope for the audience you want to reach.” Dana adds, “Doing that homework and starting at the end and working backwards to the moment of development and inception and knowing how to build toward that audience is really informative in how you put your movie together.”

In the full Master Class on Funding Your Fiction Film, Dana and Zacarias continue to explain the inner workings of funding projects in the United States, including how they find submissions to review and networking in the independent film space. The video also includes conversations with manager/producer Giancarlo Nasi on funding international projects and with distributor Jessica Lacy and attorney Sophia K. Yen on working with agents and lawyers. If you’re making a documentary, we’ve got you covered, too, in another Master Class on Funding Your Documentary.

Watch the full Master Class Here: Funding Your Fiction Film

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