Film Financing – Can Film Graduates Take the Challenge?
Graduates from a Film Studies program have a new opportunity in film & video production. Of course, with every opportunity comes a challenge – and in this case, the challenge is to find financing for your, or your employer’s, projects.
With the advent of digital equipment the scope of film & video production has widened. The usual Hollywood styled film production is no longer the only route to a career for film graduates. There are a multitude of opportunities in audio and visual applications throughout business, government and the entertainment industry. That means OPPORTUNITY for the keenest graduates to produce their own film & video projects, or to land the most interesting positions with leading film & video production companies.
Financing has been a dirty word for years in the film industry. The ‘Blue Suits’ and the cold heart of the banker are synonymous with the enemy of the creative. However, in this new era of opportunity you need to be both the ‘Blue Suit’ and the creative.
How do you find a way to learn about film financing, film budgeting, etc.? First let’s look at Film Studies programs.
There are so many Film Study programs available now that I find it confusing, and I’ve worked in the film industry for over 20 years. The Universities are taking a Liberal Arts degree approach to their curriculums, and the Colleges/Schools are primarily taking a hands-on technical approach. In either case, it is unarguable that Film Studies is big business. The following excerpt from The New York Times Company, published
March 6, 2005©, made it clear to me how big a business Film Studies really is:
“Some 600 colleges and universities in the United States offer programs in film studies or related subjects, a number that has grown steadily over the years…. At the University of Southern California, whose School of Cinema-Television is the nation’s oldest film school (established in 1929), fully half of the university’s 16,500 undergraduate students take at least one cinema/ television class.”
Which College, School or University will best prepare the graduate for a career in film & video? If a student has invested 2 to 4 years of their lives in this degree, how can they turn it into a worthwhile career?
Let’s see what the Universities say about their own programs, and the kind of results they expect – that is, what the Graduate will be capable of when entering the work force. This promotional letter, posted on one University’s web site, says it all:
“A major in Film Studies is not an occupational or professional degree. A sound program of studies in this discipline, however, should qualify a student for a variety of vocational possibilities. Obviously an individual will need to employ his or her knowledge about film in either a creative or a practical capacity and, in either case, exercise the judgment and initiative that a rigorous pursuit of a major in Film Studies should develop.”
The use of ‘should’ twice in three sentences tells the story – it’s up to you, Bud!
Film Studies programs (at any level) either don’t address, or don’t address strongly enough, the major force behind all film and video production – the MONEY! If the word money is brought up at all, it’s only a handshake and a nod. Most undergraduate programs have very little mention of Film Budgeting, and such things as Cost Reports and Business Plans are treated as foreign topics entirely. The Masters programs are only slightly better.
The reason for the void of information on such things as Film Budgets, Cost Reports, etc. in the academic sector originates from the big Hollywood production machine. The perpetual negotiations with the three big guilds (SAG, DGA and WGA), as well as with the IATSE & Teamster crew unions has forced the producing studios to be extremely confidential.
That era of total confidentiality isn’t over, nevertheless there is a huge demand to know more about film financing, film budgeting, etc. The new crop of Independent Film & Video makers want to make their own projects, find their own financing and do their own film budgeting and reporting of production costs. It is even increasingly possible for producers to distribute their own projects over the internet.
Believe me, the film school graduate who has a thorough understanding of their Film Studies program, AND understands the basic processes of Film Budgeting, Cost Reporting and Business Plans, is light-years ahead of the pack. A film studies graduate who can help prepare a financing package (that is, help to prepare a Film Budget and a simple Business Plan) would absolutely blow away any Independent Film & Video Production company. Can you imagine an Independent Producer who wouldn’t LOVE to have help with preparing and presenting a financing package?
I used to assume that the film students had a lack of interest in Film Budgeting and Costs (of any kind). Not anymore. I recently did a survey of film students at a respected film school. Here are the results of the survey:
Over 80% of the students said they felt it was important to know more about budgeting and how it affected their careers as filmmakers.
Film & Video production is one of the biggest industries in THE WORLD (next to weapon manufacturing, of course). The wide spread use of digital medium has created a new opportunity. That opportunity, although less expensive than the Hollywood style film productions we’ve grown used to, is still costly and requires financing. How do you get that financing? Where do you start?
Answer: You start with the basics of Film Budgeting, Cost Reporting and very simple Business Plans. If you can calculate a focal point, or learn how to operate a video camera, a Film Budget is a piece of cake.
Based on my experience over the past 20 years in the film industry, I can confidently say:
1. Graduates from Film Study programs who know the basics of film & video production money (Budgeting, Cost Reporting and Business Plans) will find they can take on more responsibility in their film & video projects, and
2. as a result will have more successful careers than their peers who haven’t learned to prepare Film Budgets, who don’t understand any production’s Cost Report and who never saw a simple Business Plan.
So how does a film student get familiar with Budgets, Cost Reports and a simple Business Plan? I’ve been a Production Auditor for 20 years and I’ve NEVER shown a crewmember a Final Budget or a Weekly Cost Report (the universally standard financial report card issued to the Financiers and Producers every week) in that entire time. They are considered sacrosanct by Studio Executives, Producers and Financiers everywhere.
Well, I’m about to tease you with some relevant articles that will open the door enough to let you walk through. They’re written for the complete novice, so be patient if you’ve already been exposed to budgets and cost reports.