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Marlett & Me: Film Finance II—Finding the Honey Holes

Marlett & Me: Film Finance II—Finding the Honey Holes

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So, the next question in the film financing search (here being analogized as a fishing expedition) is: Where to find the lil’ buggers? What’s required is good street sense, extraordinary persistence and god-like patience. But you can do it.

To start, as in fishing: Go where they live. But, before that, let’s back up a sec. Before we go looking for them, we first have to know what or who we are seeking. And in the previous blog entry we decided that for the purposes of this blog series, we’re seeking wealthy individuals or—even better—venture capital groups (i.e. collectives of individuals whom expect their money to be pooled and well-invested). These groups can range from an informal gathering that you put together one Thursday evening to a very formal capital financing group led by some overpaid investment bankers.

So we are at the million-dollar question (quite literally): How do you find them? How to structure your deal, present your plan, tie or no tie… Those things can be learned fairly easily. But finding the investors to approach was, is and will always be the toughie. Nowadays, as in fishing, hi-tech gadgets come in handy. On a boat, there are sonar and GPS devices that can help (so I am told). And for you moviemakers, there is the Internet and subscriptions to things such as Production Weekly and The Hollywood Creative Directory. Google is the best. Use terms such as venture, capital, finance, film, executive producers, angel, etc. Actually, you’ve probably already done this. And you saw the hundreds of thousands of possibilities. It takes work. It’s a numbers game. Think of it like this: You will need to approach 1,000 to get one. So, that means an f-ing lotta work.

I think it is much more useful to start by limiting your search to your geographic area. And by that I mean the area you can get to by driving within a day, without having to stay the night. The key is face time. You will need to be able to go and meet these people if they show the slightest interest. But they will most likely turn you down (better get used to it), so do whatever you can not to waste travel money. (See some of my other entries for some of my mistakes in this department.) And in addition, there is a cultural familiarity staying local. You readers in Seattle, New York, Minneapolis, Atlanta and London all know what I mean. What about L.A.? Well, sure, but I am just assuming you are already busting your butt in L.A. County, so, I won’t even go there in this entry.

We will talk in future entries about how to approach them and what materials to deliver, etc. But for now, we’re just talking about finding them.

So, you’ve searched your area and you’ve found a bevy of venture capital, angel investors, investment bankers, etc. You now must take the time to do the research. Click on their sites. Get to know them. What kind of investments are they interested in? What are some sample investments they have made? Usually they’re proud to list their successes. Here is where you throw up your hands, saying, “Dammit, none of these finance films! Marlett, you’re a two-bit charlatan and a three-bit whore!” (Well, okay, not sure why you had to go that far, and why you’re talking like you’re in a Western… but I do understand some of it.) Hey, they do finance businesses, yes? And you have a business that needs capital, yes? The key is that very distinction. So long as you are pitching a business, not a piece of art, then you are in the game.

Now, they may say they are only interested in health care enterprises, telecoms or real estate. Okay, sure. But I find that even those are worth a quick e-mail. The person reading it may have a son or daughter who is looking to get into the film business. Or there is something about your film that touches a common chord with them. You just never know. But this is a judgment call. Problem is that most of you will think they are not worth the effort. But that is what separates the “bes” from the “wannabes.”

If you’ve been following “Marlett & Me” here in MovieMaker, you know that I too am trying to raise money for two films right now. Your film is your film. Your situation is unique. Sure. But the quandary of film-finance migraines also extremely common. So don’t get exasperated. You aren’t alone. But you do have to find what is particularly unique in your project and exploit it; bring it to the surface. If you are doing a film that deals with someone dying of cancer, make the tie-in to health care. Show that your film is a product that will sell and make money, and preferably make a difference.

Now, a quick note about fishing guides: Guys who will lead you, for a fee, to the “honey holes.” In fishing, a honey hole (while sounding a bit like a Ron Jeremy flick) is a secret location along the edge of a lake or river where the odds of catching a fish are exponentially higher than average. It’s the experienced fishing guides who know those spots and they sell that knowledge for a fee. This is true in the financing arena as well. Also, in the fishing world, there are two types: Ones who take you literally to the honey hole, and those who sell you a map. In the financing world there are the same two sorts. Let’s start with the latter, the “map salesmen.” Those guys and gals sell you a book of lists, a collection of e-mail address or phone numbers or some other “guide” to finding people to invest. They are, in my experience, not much help. You can get the same information for free on the Internet. And going the Web route will get you a list that is more specific to your area and needs and is more current than whatever the guides will give you. Besides, just as in fishing, everyone else buys the same honey hole map. Trust me, when you get there, the fish are long gone.

So how about hiring a guide? Well, that is what I have done for years for a fee. A good financing guide stays with you, takes you to the investors, introduces you and, if no connection is made, takes you to another. But they are expensive and, just as with anything else, the better they are, the more expensive. And no, they won’t just accept your deal/film for a percentage. There is usually an up-front cost involved. They want to know you’re serious and not a waste of their or their connections’ time. Plus, they want to check your deal out, make sure you and your deal are something they want to bring to their investment friends (lest they not stay “investment friends” much longer).

The more protective they are of their connections, the more expensive they are, the more up in your shit they are… the better they are; it means their connections are probably that much more real. And the good ones will help you get ready for the pitch, etc. They make most of their money on the transaction, and thus it is in their interest that you succeed. But caveat emptor, buyer beware: Ask for a list of successful financings they have orchestrated. Don’t believe them when they say it must stay confidential, but boy-howdy they have financed tens of millions! The bullshit flows warm and quick in this field. Tread carefully.

Wrapping up: Start locally. Do a ton of research. Try to do what you can for free or at least cheap. Don’t get exasperated. It is a numbers game. And consider, if you can afford it, hiring a financing guide… but be careful.

Okay. Next time we dive into lures and how to present them to the fish.

Ride on,

David Marlett is a writer and director currently producing and directing the feature film, Of Kings & Cowboys. Marlett’s desire to direct and control his own work led him to create BlueRun Productions in 2007. He’s been acting for most of his life, and is also a non-practicing (“recovering”) attorney and CPA, with 20-plus years experience consulting and managing a wide assortment of companies in industries spanning from healthcare to entertainment. The upcoming Spring 2009 issue features his latest installment of his print column, Marlett & Me, with this sister blog on MovieMaker.com.

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