Imagine we all have times in our lives when we look back and wonder where we got the courage to do something out of our comfort zones. Raising the money for The Last Lullaby is one of those moments for me.
Chalk it up to adrenaline. Or 10 years of waiting for the right opportunity. Whatever it was that drove me there taught me that when we take a leap and put our necks on the line, we’re all a lot more capable than we may have thought.
I never wanted to raise the money for my first feature. In fact, I waited years for someone else to do it for me. But after a while, the choice was either a) work a bad day job and continue to wait or b) see if I could do it myself.
So at 8:55 a.m. each morning, I would climb the stairs to my office in a little room above my parents’ garage in Shreveport, LA. It was May 2005 and I was 31. (There’s nothing weird about living with your parents at age 31, right?)
I had decided I was going to try to raise all the money for my first feature myself. The rub: I was trying to raise $2 million—all in $50,000 increments, and all from the local private sector.
You’re right, that is a lot of people (40 to be exact). Which meant I was going to have to do some serious talking to make this thing happen. The one thing I did know was that I wanted to make the film in my hometown of Shreveport.
Beginning in mid-2002, Louisiana sprouted a pretty impressive film industry. Taking a page from Canada’s book, the state government began offering Hollywood-tempting tax breaks to entice moviemakers to shoot there. In less than three years, the state grew a $350 million annual industry. I only wanted less than one percent of that.
That’s possible, I thought. But how do you convince people to give you money for something you’ve never done before? I’d made six short films over the course of the previous 10 years, but never a feature. But I had done sales: Four years in a furniture store in the middle of Hollywood and a seven-month stint as a home security salesman for Brink’s Home Security. I had moved my fair share of keypads and armoires and decided it was time to put that skill set toward something I really cared about: Making movies.
For the next nine months, my mornings all started with the same questions: Did I have meetings set up? Who hadn’t I called yet? Who had asked me to follow up with him or her? Then I would grit my teeth and jump on the phone.
A wise friend once told me that he’d been fishing all his life, but only once in all of those years did he ever see a fish jump out of the water and land in his boat. In other words, people weren’t going to be lining up at my door to hand me $50,000 checks. I was going to have to get out there and do some serious convincing.
I’ve often been asked how I found the names of the people I called. Before trying to sell the idea to anyone, I spent a month just taking meetings for this exact purpose: To find out who in the area was a candidate for a $50,000 investment. These people were doctors, dentists, attorneys, real estate moguls, gas and oil industry executives and other successful business people. But, as I mentioned, it all started on the phone.
My parents have lived in Shreveport most of their lives and have built nice reputations for themselves. So my opening to any phone call—most of the time not knowing if the person on the other end even knew my parents—was always, ‘Hi, I’m Jeffrey Goodman, Carl and Sylvia Goodman’s son. I’m putting a movie deal together and was wondering if you would be willing to let me come by and tell you about it?’
When it comes to sales, I’m a huge believer in trial and error. The more you sell something, the better you get at fielding people’s objections. That’s really all sales is in its simplest form—overcoming objections.
Many of these calls ended with, “I’m not interested.” Some opened the door just enough for me to start selling them. Others were curious enough to let me come and see them. Once I got a meeting, it was like game day in the NFL. To each meeting I brought a packet containing my business plan and copies of some of the local press I’d started generating.
The key to my business plan was twofold: First, I was using some federal and state tax legislation to offset some of my investors’ risk. As far as I know, I was the first person in the state to offer investors 100 percent of the Louisiana tax credits the film would earn.
The other thing I quickly learned was to make the whole approach an objective rather than a subjective sell. If I were raising money for a movie in Los Angeles or New York, the first questions a potential investor would ask would be, “Do you have an example of something you’ve directed?” and “Can I read the script?” But I was talking to people who had little to no experience in the film industry and had probably never even watched a short, let alone read a script. So I decided to eliminate those elements from the initial approach, leaving just a business plan, a couple of news articles and a few years of sales experience.
At the start of each meeting, I would hand over the packet saying, “You will find a business plan inside. But I have a short pitch that should answer most of your questions. Please feel free to interject at any time.” Then I’d begin.
If I hadn’t done that seven-month stint at Brink’s, I might not have been so comfortable with this part of the meeting. But that’s exactly how we sold alarm systems: I’d go into someone’s house, give them a 20-minute pitch (my pitch for the movie only lasted about five minutes) and then start trying to overcome their objections. Usually there’d be about 30 minutes of answering questions before the meeting would end.
Never once at the end of a first meeting did I get someone’s commitment, so there were several crucial things to remember. Before I left, I always determined how we were going to follow up. Then I’d make sure to send each person a hand-written note, thanking him or her for taking the time to meet with me (another Brink’s technique). Lastly, once I started raising money and had some well-respected people in town on board, I asked if I could use their names as I moved forward. I really think being able to do this was key.
I can’t promise that everyone can raise as much money as I did, but I do believe it’s important for moviemakers to stop waiting for someone else to give them permission to make their movies and just go out and do it themselves. If you take the time to do it right, anyone can raise money for a movie. MM
For more information on The Last Lullaby or Jeffrey Goodman’s sales techniques, become part of The Last Lullaby family by sending an e-mail to with “Register Me” in the subject line. To find out the latest news on Goodman’s self-distribution efforts, visit his weekly blog, “Adventures in Self-Releasing,” on MovieMaker.com.