You may be a great believer in the myth of the kindly benefactor, but if so, you should save it for your script. There’s always room in Hollywood for another Orphan Annie or My Fair Lady. Back here in the real world, however, there’s nobody waiting in the wings to hand you a big pile of cash out of the goodness of their heart.
Your investor is not your sugar daddy, and the faster you figure that out, the more likely you are to get the funding you need as a budding filmmaker. That starts with bastardizing John F. Kennedy’s famous quote and asking not how much your investors will give you, but what you can offer to them. Pitching a project isn’t an ask – its an offer.
Before you boot up your computer and start looking for likely prospects, you need to be fully prepared for what’s to come. Auditioning for the lead role in a Spielberg blockbuster feels like a gentle probing compared to what you’re about to experience.
Start by picturing the ideal investor for your project. Based on anything other than money, who would be the perfect “fit”? If it’s someone who’s looking to be involved in the project, pitch to the availability of a supporting role. If it’s someone with a particular relationship to your subject matter, appeal to their interest. Whatever qualities that imaginary person possesses should guide the preparation of your proposal.
Polish your business plan. If you don’t have one, you won’t have any investors either. A good business plan is much more than just a budget. It is, in the initial stages, the primary vehicle for communicating your project’s purpose, vision and goals. It should include a synopsis of your story, with a thorough analysis of why you are convinced it will sell to audiences. You need a section on how you plan to manage day-to-day operations, and another on marketing strategy. Only then are you ready to lay-out your financial projections.
Your entire business plan should be reduceable to a one-page executive summary. At a glance, potential investors need to be able to see the benefits and opportunities inherent in your project. For them, not you.
The financial section of your plan needs to demonstrate that you understand the industry and know the rules. That means staying realistic and making your projections as accurate and detailed as possible. Investors want assurances that you know how to manage a large budget and know what you’re doing. If you don’t think you’ll have all the answers, partner with someone who will.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, engage with your investors when you finally do get the opportunity to make your pitch. The meeting should be a dialogue, not a presentation. Ask questions, and don’t forget to engage in some basic active listening. If you’re using up all the oxygen in the room, there won’t be any left for your investors to say “yes”.
The motives of investors in the film and entertainment industry are as varied as those of the filmmakers who woo them. Identify what you’re offering, listen for the response, and don’t ask for money the minute you walk in the door. See, that wasn’t too hard after all.