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The Future Of Feature Film Funding?

My Dad got a letter from Carnaby International Films Plc recently. Given that my Dad is a retired jewellery maker, this was more than a little surprising since he knows absolute zilch about filmmaking, though I suppose he must have ended up on some sort of mailing list from something or other. Since they’re sending out letters to random people like my Dad whom they’ve never contacted before, I can only suppose they won’t mind me reproducing the letter here:

Dear Lucy’s Dad (arf),

Carnaby, named by Screen Finance magazine as one of the UK’s most prolific film production companies and the producers of last year’s cinema release Rise of the Foot Soldier, is pleased to present you with an investment offer. This is your chance of getting involved in the British Film Industry.

Our next feature film, The Long Weekend, is the original brainchild of BAFTA-nominated writer and winner of the famous Raindance Festival’s Best UK Feature Film director Julian Gilbey. After the success of Julian’s previous films, Rise of the Foot Soldier and Rolling With The Nines, Carnaby has kep together many of the same excellent UK-based production team, including Julian’s brother William Gilbey as Editor.

Drawing on such successful classics in the same genre as Deliverance, Wolf Creek and The Descent, The Long Weekend follows the fortunes of young couple Imogen and Tyler as they head to the Rocky Mountains for a weekend fishing trip in a final attempt to salvage their relationship. Everything is going well until they bump into a group of friendly deer hunters, who invite them to join them around a campfire for a drink. As dawn breaks the next morning, the terrible consequences of the previous night’s excesses sink in. Imogen flees into the mountains and the hunters soon feel they have no choice but to follow.

Investors will have the opportunity to visit the set and even participate as supporting cast on one or more of the filming days, as well as being invited to the various social events surrounding the production. These may include a Grand Ball and a Gala Screening in the West End of London with the stars of The Long Weekend and other film and television celebrities.

To find out more about this opportunity, please fill out the request card and we will send you a prospectus. We look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

Carnaby International Films Plc.
My Dad had put the request card somewhere inaccessible, but I wouldn’t have minded filling it in to see what these guys have planned – and also how much you need to invest to be included as they outline in the letter. Thousands? Hundreds? Could you put in as little as £25 maybe? I’ve heard of sites that promote and make indie films like this before – but that makes more sense to me, since presumably those people who will find them will be interested in indie film: they’ll follow links and banners from other sites, or Google word combos to do with the subject matter of making indie film in the first place. This approach by letter seems a much more “hit and miss” affair to me, since presumably many letters will reach people like my Dad who simply aren’t interested, no matter how good the prospect is.

What about you lot out in anyway? Is the above letter enough to make you want to invest? If you were going to invest in a film, what would swing it for you: story? Business Model? The fact it has distribution? Do you think this sort of thing is the future of indie filmmaking? Over to you…

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13 thoughts on “The Future Of Feature Film Funding?”

  1. This isn’t really that new but seems a little more of an untargeted direct marketing approach. Way back in the mists of the mid 90s, there was a proposed British sci-fi film called Legionnaires that was trying to get funded by asking people to sign up for 100 quid or so (can’t remember how much). They went to sci-fi conventions and publicized in magazines but the marketing was quite targeted. I think they even offered bit parts for subscribers or something. It was a long time ago.

    Anyway, the project collapsed and folded and I believe that nobody got their money back so there were a lot of pissed off people who had paid up front and got nothing for it and a probably a lot of producer types who were never going to work in the industry again.

    I’d like to find more details for you but Google doesn’t seem to be vomiting up any relevant results at the moment.

  2. I think Nick Love did something similar with his 2007 film OUTLAW.

    If I remember correctly, you had to go to the website, sign up and send your cash (can’t remember how much?). For doing that you got to be an EXTRA in the movie and even received some ‘goodies’ from the merchandise…..Hoodies, T-shirts, etc…….

    …….I THINK!!!!???

    I would be happy to invest in a movie in this way, provided the Producers/Directors had a ‘proven’ track record, and it was a film I’d actually want to see – So the new(?) Hugh Grant Rom-Com wouldn’t be seeing the inside of MY wallet!!

    Obviously, the investment would have to be affordable too – £50 seems reasonable. Even better if you’re going to get to be involved in the shoot or receive some memorabilia for your efforts!!

    It may seem like a GAMBLE. Sending some of your hard earned cash to a complete stranger. And maybe it is. Afterall, how much do we spend/waste on buying Lottery tickets each year??

    It’s like everything in life. There are NO guarantees. It’s an INVESTMENT. Something we BELIEVE is worthwhile. If you don’t believe in it….don’t do it. Simple as that!!

    (I’d ALWAYS be a bit wary of a ‘random’ letter through my door, like!).

    Take care.

  3. Funnily enough Lucy, I was listening yesterday to that bloke on Radio 4 (American) who does articles on investment (he’s done one on Art) and he was talking about film investment as a possible earner.

    The conclusion was that no-one should invest in a film unless they are prepared to lose their money. I seem to remember that ‘Gone Fishing’ got a lot of funding from small amounts from interested parties.

    At a workshop I attended by Rebecca Knapp who is herself a producer, she was saying what bliss it was to have a ‘business angel’ investor on board, rather than applying for funding through regional bodies etc so the indie approach has its advantages, I guess.

  4. I heard about the website route Nick Love did with Outlaw too. Not sure how successful it was but I guess the film got made and seemed to have good production values.

    I think it’s a shame after Rollin with the 9s and Rise of the Footsoldier that the Gilbey brothers are still at this level. I can’t say I was a huge fan of either film, mainly due to the subject matter, but they are clearly very talented film-makers and I think they represent the kind of talent we should be promoting and, ideally, funding in this country. The fact is, whatever people think of it Rise of the Footsoldier was a very professional effort and had a fantastic visual style – I wouldn’t be surprised if we lose the Gilbeys to Hollywood at some point soon.

  5. fuThe trouble is the amount of money involved. Gone Fishing was a short with a limited budget of somewhere around 10-15k. Chris Jones was very up front about what people would get for their £50/£100 which, iirc, was a credit and a special screening. He was also clear about what the film was intended for and, being a short, making money was not actually a primary goal.

    If you’re making a feature film and asking for £50 to help with the budget then you’re going to need to get 1000-2000 people to donate for every £100k you want to raise. If you’re offering goodies in return at a cost of, let’s say, £10 per person (worst case?) then you get £40 each and need 2500 investors for every £100k required. £100k is enough to make a low budget film but what if you wanted a £1m* with 500k in private investment? You’re suddenly looking at needing 10000+ people to invest.

    Nick Love confessed that the idea of getting donations from fans was a bit of a gimmick and that he’d raise, at most, 250k from it (estimated budget he quotes is £1.5m and IMDB reckons it was £2.5m by the end). It was based on the fact that, apparently, 1.6 million people had signed up for updates on the website which seems a phenomenal amount seeing as how his films don’t seem to be that widely known. (If that was the case, why not just ask each of those 1.6 million for a quid and get all the funding that way!)

    Basically, I’m divided on this idea. With my producer hat on, any money raised is good money but I have considerable doubts about this approach to funding and all the implications. As a PR stunt, it’s got it’s effectiveness but as a viable funding method? Not so much.

    (*worth noting that Rise of the Foot Soldier had a budget of $4m – let’s say £2m plus change by todays rates)

  6. Plus, while I’m in rant mode (sorry!), let’s have a look at that email a little closer.

    If I were a potential investor, I’d want to know a) how much I’d be asked to invest and b) what I’d get in return. As Lucy points out, the required figure is vague but what they do hint at is what investors “may” get out of it. The money is funding a film but the email also mentions the possibility of set visits (how many people will be getting this chance? All investors or just “plantinum investors”* who pays costs of travel? Is there going to be special meet and greet and therefore more below-the-line crew to act as host and chaperone?) A Grand Ball? (Where’s the money going to come from to set this up? Is it going to be used as another funding opportunity in which case, would i be expected to shell out yet more money?) Gala Screenings also cost money but this is a little more expected.

    Alright, they’re not particularly bad ideas and could be good ways of attracting potential new contributers and funding but, producer-hat again, on a low budget film, every penny counts and the primary expense is making the film.

    *made up term for people who may contribute huge amounts to the cause.

  7. I’ve been toying around with doing something like this to raise funds for an indie film.

    But it runs into the problems I kept facing.

    1) If you are sending to people you don’t know personally, there is the risk of wasting your time and money sending these things out, setting up meetings, and get-togethers for potential buyers.

    Ultimately, that time would be better and more productively spent pursuing producers or writing. And–

    2) It reads like a scam. Even though, it could be totally legit.

    You really need a track record of making money, more than awards and off-the-cuff compliments.

    But I do think, if the wave of the future contains the 5 minute Youtube series that have been popping up in the past year or so — I wouldn’t be surprised to see this strategy become viable.

  8. Good thoughts there peeps, keep ’em coming.

    I think I could invest in a film – and I would be prepared to lose a small amount, no illusions there on it making money. But if I were going to invest even as little as £25, I think it would have to be the story that really does it for me. I don’t think I could invest in The Long Weekend because nothing about it really marks it out from all the other death-in-the-wilderness scripts I’ve seen, though admittedly I am biased on this because I read SO MANY of a similar subject matter. I need to be excited about the story before I even consider its marketing strategy or whatnot.

    I think. I keep wavering between it being a good AND bad idea… In fact I think I’ve changed my mind at least twice whilst writing this comment. Argh.

  9. I agree, Lucy. If it’s a great idea then that’s a goer. I think I would want to know a bit of a business track record from the producer and also that they were in it for the long haul.

  10. I dunno, I think I could go with a super shiny stellar idea providing a non-track record producer could convince me they know what they’re doing… Though that’s not an invite from anyone by the way!!! 😉

  11. Isn’t thinking about whether you’re going to make money or not a bit of a red herring? As I understand it certainly Hollywood, and presumably other industries too, are run as a massive tax dodge. People don’t invest in a film in the hope of making money, they invest in order to write off the money they are sure to lose against profits elsewhere.

    That’s the main reason why no films make a paper profit (and if they do something has gone seriously wrong) — it’s not specifically done in order to screw over writers and others whose payments are based on net rather than gross profits (that’s just a bonus).

    And it’s also why funding for films in Britain dried up as soon as the tax breaks changed a few years ago, and other scams become more attractive to the accountants.

    Invest in a film if you have so much money you need to get rid of some before Darling gets his hands on it, and not otherwise.

  12. I’ve had stuff from Carnaby before, and sent off for prospectuses – the minimum investment on a film they made 3 or 4 years ago was £2,000, and the prospectus had lots of info about tax breaks and allowances. It’s aimed at people with money, not necessarily people interested in film – or, the sort of people who have enough money to not mind losing some if its attached to a “glamour” investment like a movie. Carnaby are a bona fide film company, they had a big suite at the Carlton (I think) in Cannes two years ago.

    I did the “fifty quid in return for a credit and a screening party” thing to raise money for my short – only tapped family and friends though

  13. Yes, Carnaby is legit, but film investment is only for those who can take advantage of the tax benefits. In other words, those who can offset it against their tax bill. As someone else said, you should never invest in a film unless you are prepared to lose all. Few films make a profit for their investors, but you can bet the producers always get paid!

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