In around February of this year, my business partner and I at Telekinesis Entertainment set out to do the impossible: raise money to make movies.
Every day for the last 10 months, we failed. It’s a harsh reality. Raising money to make movies is a zero sum game; you either have raised money or you haven’t.
Until this week, that is. We’ve officially succeeded at raising money to make a movie. Here’s a few things I’ve learned along the way in hopes of helping anyone starting out on a similar journey.
LESSON 1: CREATE VALUE…
Every single meeting I’ve taken with investors has centered around this one topic, whether conscious or not. In simplified language, a pitch generally goes like this:
Me: I’ve created this thing which I think has this much value.
(Investor thinks on it, makes his own decision on it’s value)
Sometimes you can persuade the investor with big words or a flashy presentation, but when it comes down to it, your film has some intrinsic value, based on the team involved, the script, and the financial plan to make and distribute the movie.
What you must do is create a “golden ticket” scenario. Create something SO valuable that people are willing to give up everything they have, whether you’re the rich Mr. Salt, or the dirt poor Charlie Bucket. True value crosses demographics and compels every single person who comes in contact with it.
I hear you, though. “That’s great and all, but HOW do I do that?”
No one thinks up an idea for a movie and then goes straight into production, (no matter what you may read in the trades).
Typically, you’ll go from the smallest, cheapest possible version of the movie and grow it organically from there, validating each step of the way.
First, a compelling premise.
“Jaws…in space” (Alien)
“Space Western” (Star Wars)
or possibly just a title:
“Rebel Without A Cause”
Each of these examples has one thing in common: they’re compelling.
The moment you hear or read them, you instantly start thinking about the movie – the locations, the setting, the characters, the plot…
Take your premise, make it less than a sentence, ideally less than 10 words, and share it with all of your friends. Then gauge their feedback. If you start seeing a sting of positive reactions, you may be onto something. If not, then tweak, revise, or scrap the idea completely till you reach something that connects.
Then move to the logline. Rinse and repeat.
Same with the synopsis, treatment, script, revisions, etc. all the way into production.
Only then can you guarantee that you have something valuable, something that your target demographic WANTS.
First thing is make sure you have something valuable. You aren’t going to raise any money without it, so get out there and start pitching.
LESSON 2: GAIN THEIR TRUST…
While the conversation centers around the value you’ve created and the value, in dollars, that you’re seeking, my experience is that the
conversation tends to start with the investor deciding if they trust you or not.
Shark Tank is one of my favorite TV shows, mainly because you get to watch four pitches to a panel of five investors in an hour. Every week reveals or reinforces something essential: how investors think.
If you’ve ever watched the show, you’re familiar with the handful of questions that come up in every single segment:
What are your sales?
What’s your background?
How long have you been in business?
Where are you selling? (Online, retail, big box stores, etc?)
Have they reordered?
Every single question is masking the REAL question: why should we trust you?
It works in nearly every situation. Think about politics. How many of you ACTUALLY believe a word out of this guy’s mouth?
When it comes to business, the guy is a bestselling author, selling millions of books, creating (and at other times obliterating) value in real estate. However, no one is taking him seriously when it comes to politics.
Another, more applicable example:
How many people on the planet earth will watch a movie merely because Steven Spielberg is involved? We trust him implicitly.
But again, why?
…BY PROVIDING PROOF
Trump has provided no proof to any of his claims or ideas. However, even a cursory glance at Spielberg’s credits is enough to prove that he knows how to make a movie you want to watch. We TRUST that it will be worth the $10 price of admission.
You are having the same dynamic at play with each investor you meet with. They are asking questions as to why they should trust you. You’re giving them proof.
But, you ask, what if I have no proof? What if I haven’t made a movie before, or increased previous investor’s net worth after investing in a film?
Fear not. You can prove yourself other ways. That’s exactly what I’ve spent the last 10 months doing.
You can prove a business plan by emailing a bank in LA like Pacific Mercantile Bank.
You can prove an idea for a movie with a foreign sales agent like those you’d meet at the American Film Market.
Better yet, do all of those things. Then you’ll be able to show the value of your idea, your script, AND your business plan, putting you ahead of 99% of the other indie-first-time-filmmakers that are attempting to make a movie.
LESSON 3: FOCUS…
I’ve got a whole group of friends that are YouTubers, filmmakers attempting to make a living purely on YouTube. There’s a common thing that I’ve noticed with these guys – a severe, unhealthy amount of focus.
One day they’re blogging, the next day vlogging, then filming a short, then designing and selling a t-shirt, then attending an event, then… you know these people.
I was one of these people.
The problem is this: having such a spread focus means that nothing ever progresses to the level where it fulfills or sustains you.
That sounds miserable, right?
Instead, we need to look at a different approach, specifically, picking one big goal and then reverse engineering how to achieve it.
…ON THE LEAD DOMINO
There’s a concept I’ve come across in a number of books, but the best way to illustrate it is the Domino Effect. The domino effect stats that a domino is capable of knocking over a domino up to 1.5x it’s size.
So, a 2″ tall by 1″ wide domino can knock down a 4″ x 1.5″ domino, etc. etc.
Check out this video to see it in action:
(The dude’s reaction is the best…)
If you took a regular size domino and applied this same principle, the 31st domino would be taller than Mt. Everest, and the 57th would be tall enough to reach the moon…
So, when they say “dream big”, “reach for the stars”, etc, here’s a practical way to actually do that.
You set your 1 BIG GOAL – making a movie, for example. That’s way too large a “domino” to push over by yourself, so you figure out what the domino before it is, say: casting, and the one before that: financing, and the one before that: development money, and before that: script, and before that, treatment, and before that: logline, and lastly: an idea.
See how coming up with an idea is exponentially easier than making a movie? But by doing so, you’re one “domino” closer to actually making a movie.
What the domino effect does is not only focus you on one big goal, but also on what your next or “lead domino” is, meaning what you need to work on TODAY that will make it so that all of the other dominoes are easier to push over.
Now the last bit of advice: Making movies, raising money, starting a business… these things are hard. But, with the right focus on the right things, you CAN do it, and the reality is that by merely taking one or two steps toward reaching your goal, you’ll be ahead of 95% of everyone else because they aren’t willing to put in the effort.
What are your thoughts? Would love to keep the conversation going in the comments, so share whether or not you’ve had similar experiences, or feel free to ask any questions about the process. Thanks for reading!