Why No One Talks About Film Business Plans Anymore

Avatar Cinema Summit | December 19, 2017

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Perhaps That's an Overstatement

Yes, okay, boo. Thumbs down. The title of this article is a bit fallacious. People DO still talk about business plans, all the time. There are hoards of producers roaming the streets with stacks of business plans holstered in their sling-back messenger bag. 

But why did we call the article this?

Because, there's a mental shift that has occurred within the last 10 years. And it's heightened exponentially within the last 5.

In the past, it was like moving a small mountain to get a film made. You needed to have dozens of crew members, huge camera & lighting packages, big trucks to carry all that gear, closed sets, and studio time.

Even when shooting 16mm or Super 16, you had to prepare for a battle because just purchasing enough film stock and having it developed to complete a feature film would cost more than the so-called "micro-budget features" of today.

It was a necessity to create a well thought out business plan and get it in front of investors to make your dream a reality.

That isn't really the case anymore.

There are numerous ways to skin a cat, as some creepy cat killers say. In the same way, there are several ways to finance your feature film in this current state of affairs.

Let's talk about some, shall we?


It's hard to believe, but 10 years ago no one knew what "crowdfunding" was. And, the thought of going online to ask complete strangers for money to finance your film $5 at a time seemed like a half-baked thought that your drunk Uncle Stew came up with when asking you why you aren't successful yet.

But crowdfunding is still an enigma.

No one can guarantee a successful crowdfunding campaign, and hundreds of films die in the fire every day.

What is one thing we know about crowdfunding?

You still need a plan.

Yes, that's right people. A plan for how you will be conducting business. A business plan of sorts.

If you have a current or upcoming crowdfunding campaign and your plan sounds something like - "we are going to launch the campaign and then post it on Facebook for all our friends and family to see" - you are not setting yourself up for success.

There are many things to consider:

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    How are you going to get the word out? Your current circle of friends is likely not going to cut it unless you are asking for a pretty minuscule amount. 
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    Can you partner with someone? Creative partnerships can help drive traffic to your campaign. For example, if your film is about a certain cause or topic that has an organization established around the same topic - reaching out to them and forming a creative partnership could be mutually beneficial.
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    Promotional outreach. You'd be foolish not to reach out to at least a handful of blogs and other related publications to get the word out. To do so effectively, you will need to have a clear understanding of your project and how it relates to the sites you reach out to. If there's something in it for them and their readers, they will likely want to share it.

Aside from this, there are several unspoken factors that go along with successful crowdfunding campaigns.

Taxes are a big one. No, you don't get to keep all of the money! You have to pay taxes on it. Be sure to set enough aside to make that happen or you'll be in a world of hurt.

Another surprise in store for you is fulfillment.

Creating rewards for your donations is fun and exciting, but keep in mind that you have to fulfill all of those rewards. That takes time, energy, and often times money! So you will also have to set some aside for that.

If you want to know more about what it takes to achieve crowdfunding success, be on the lookout for our interview with Michael Rousselet about Kickstarting the 5 Second Film feature Dude Bro Party Massacre 3 which will be released on January 3rd.

Friends, Family, and Debt - Oh My!

Sometimes the goal is to make a film for under $30,000 and utilize mostly what you have at hand.

We've done that, and you can see it ​HERE.

In these instances, a formal business plan is often not used unless it is asked for by one of your particularly business savvy uncles.

For these films, there is often a combination of asking for money from friends and family directly, combined with debt.

Now, we don't condone going into debt for your micro-budget feature, because there's a decent probability that you won't make it back. But, if you are willing to work off the debt the old-fashioned way in order to make your masterpiece, more power to you.

The money provided by your network of people is generally thought of as an informal donation rather than an investment. As such, there isn't much need for a business plan.

Despite this, one should still take the other non-investor related aspects of a business plan to heart while planning out your film.

Thinking about things like distribution before you even write the script will put you miles ahead of the competition.

But what does that mean?

Well, there are certain things that excited, budding filmmakers don't think about called deliverables. 

Deliverbles are the dreaded items that every international sales agent and distributor asks for. Things like

Tape Masters

Tape masters are something you are likely not going to be able to do yourself unless you happen to have an HDCam and some PAL Beta Decks lying around. This may end up costing you more than you think, so check it out beforehand and be prepared for it. But also know that you can work with your sales agent to bypass those masters until they are needed by a specific distributor.

Correctly Formatted Audio

Audio killed us on our second feature, because we couldn't afford a professional sound mix. One thing to note is you need several versions of the audio - a 5.1 mix, a stereo mix, a separate dialogue mix, and a separate music & effects mix. What killed us though was the "no dead space" rule. This means that the mix has to have some kind of audio at all times. There can't be any blank spots where there is no ambient SFX. Because of this, we didn't pass QC (quality control) when sent to distributors and we had to scramble to get it done right. We ended up doing this ourselves, but if you don't have the technical know-how to do it, it would have easily cost us another $10,000 for the rush job.

Textless Versions

Textless versions are simply exports of the film without any text over the screen. This means, no titles, no credits, no "Washington D.C. 1997" supers. Why? Because when you sell it to Spain, they'll want to put their own titles over it in Spanish. Seems simple, right? But if you aren't ready for it, you will be slammed with these things at the last minute as your agent is trying to sell the film. No one wants that.

Production Stills

Production stills need to be shot by a photographer on-set. Yes, most people just pull stills from the final cut of the film if they managed to skip this step. But that's really not ideal. Professional stills done in front of a white background are going to be the backbone of good key artwork, which will become the backbone of your film's financial success.

The list goes on, and we will have a whole other post specifically devoted to deliverables. But, notice that some of these things can be scraped together after the fact, and some things can't. 


Last on our list here is the out-of-pocket method. This is last because, well, it's pretty self-explanatory.

If you can save up a few thousand dollars and pool together your resources with a bunch of friends, you can successfully make a feature with a lot of determination, hard work and time spent.

To quote the "fast, cheap, good" rule, if you want your film to be cheap and good, it won't be fast.

It's going to take time, you'll have some hurdles, and find yourself learning new skills along the way that maybe you never planned on. But hey, good on you for getting out there and making something while others would just continue sitting on their butts.

Now, much like the previous examples, you should still have a plan. Even if it's not a formal business plan, having things like a budget and schedule will really help save you some headaches along the way and keep you on track to finish your project.

Making a movie is like putting together a puzzle. Sure, the puzzle didn't come with a guide or rule book inside. So technically, you can do it however you want. But sometimes having structure, like finding the corners and building the edges first, will move you along faster and get you across the finish line.

Communication is a fast and hard assassin when it comes to making movies. Sets are disorganized and key personnel are not getting the full story.

This is why having a plan, both an overall plan and a daily plan, will help you on your filmmaking journey.

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