Back in 2005, Paul Graham and Trevor Blackwell, two tech pioneers who’d made fortunes in Silicon Valley, founded a company called Y Combinator. The business model was based on publicly funded business incubators, where the government gives research and development grants to private companies in order to facilitate research and innovation in a given field (usually biotech or medicine). In order to make the private incubator model viable, though, Y Combinator made two modifications. Rather than investing in biotech firms, they would invest in tech start-ups. And rather than giving away money (they would raise capital from private investors, not taxpayers), in exchange for providing seed capital to help start-ups formulate their business plans, Y Combinator would take an ownership share in each company they helped launch.
Since Graham and Blackwell’s innovation in 2005, a slew of these “seed accelerators” have sprouted up, mostly in that temperate valley near San Jose. But no one had applied the seed investment model to film development until Dogfish Accelerator launched their site during Sundance.
This summer, the team behind Dogfish Pictures (one of the companies that helped produce last year’s Compliance, and this year’s Prince Avalanche) is fielding the first class of producers for its inaugural accelerator program. As they explain on their website:
“Dogfish provides all the support of a typical accelerator program to teams of producers looking to develop their business model prior to the investment phase of a film. We aim to make the creative process easier by taking care of the business early on.
“Teams will receive seed funding, mentorship, perks and resources, training and events over a short period of time (three months) in exchange for eight percent of each project’s revenue. Our mission focuses on community, collaboration, transparency, and education to achieve successful ventures.”
Michelle Soffen, Co-Founder of Dogfish Accelerator, confirmed that production teams of any size—but headed by a producer—will be provided with three months of office space in New York, and seed funding of $18,000. During the three-month incubation program, producers will interface with an astounding variety of mentors. Amongst a host of others, the list of Dogfish experts includes Craig Zobel (director of Compliance), Angel An (Director of Development, Samuel Goldwyn Films), Adam Leipzig (former President of National Geographic Films), Sophia Lin (Producer on Take Shelter), and Adam Kersh (Partner, Brigade Marketing).
Unlike other film development programs, Dogfish focuses primarily on business. “We’re less interested in the script,” says CEO James Belfer, “and much more interested in the team that’s going to produce that script.” In this day and age of ubiquitous crowdfunding and decreasingly expensive production, continues Belfer, “a producer is way more likely to get a film made than he is to know how to recoup investment. That’s why we’re pretty much exclusively focused on the business plan. If a production team has a comprehensive strategy for marketing and distributing their film, we’re going to see truly independent film as a business rather than a money-losing hobby.” With 85 percent of independent films failing to recoup their investments, let’s just say there’s room for improvement.
But Dogfish isn’t simply a mentorship program. Since they own eight percent of every film they incubate, they have a (literally) vested interest in attracting investors. Accordingly, after the initial three-month accelerator, every production team will have the opportunity to pitch investors at a special summit of financiers, organized by Dogfish. Additionally, Dogfish Pictures will be investing, at their discretion, another $1 Million into the projects they incubate. This means they may divvy up that capital equally among the films, or they may choose to put the full $1 Million into a single project (though it will probably be some compromise between those two extremes).
Along with Seed&Spark and Nice Dissolve, Dogfish is touring the festival circuit promoting the concept of truly independent film (and throwing really awesome Innovator’s Brunches in every city they visit). To find out more about the tour schedule, visit www.stayindiefilm.com. And to learn more about applying for the Dogfish Accelerator mentorship program (applications are due at the end of next week) visit www.DogfishAccelerator.com.
To quote MovieMaker‘s Manifesto, these companies are standing up for the “oppressed majority” that is the independent film community. If we’re going to create a viable alternative to the studio system, this is how we’re going to do it!