A guide to film finance and funding – are you going to get funded or financed?

Alan Parker CartoonHave you made a ‘film’ or a ‘movie’? More importantly, are you seeking ‘funding’ or ‘financing’?

Some time ago I blogged about this cartoon by Alan Parker. I love it because it captures the essence of why I believe state funding for film is not always a good thing, how it fosters a sense that film making is an art and often not bound by commercial sensibilities.

We have been working on our film and the question always comes up… ‘where is the money going to come from?’ No surprise there.

And I know that whenever I speak with filmmakers at events, that same question always comes up too –  ‘where is the money?’

Actually, it often comes up as… ‘how can I get funding?’

BUT… I am rarely asked ‘how can I get financed?

Isn’t that the same thing?

No. I don’t believe so.

It’s a subtle difference, a bit like a ‘film’ and a ‘movie’.

The difference between funding and financing involves a huge shift in psychology for the film maker. (Interestingly, Americans often speak about ‘financing’ where Europeans often speak about ‘funding’).

For me the dangling carrot of ‘funding’ from some kind of body, be it a Quango, an institute or other ‘fund’ set aside for the arts, is really bad news for film makers.

I believe that if I want to have a career in film, I must sustain myself through great ideas, great execution and connection to audiences, I must produce stuff, sell it, and make a profit… and then repeat that process. And that’s why I need financing from key partners and not funding from a Quango.

OK so here are my pros and cons of funding versus financing.

Funding is better than financing because…

  • You may not need to pay any money back if you sell your film.
  • You may not need to prove your project has any commercial value.
  • You may get left alone to be as creative as you like (but probably wont).
  • You may be able to play a sex / disability / race card and get funding on those grounds (also known as positive discrimination).

Financing is better than funding because…

  • You don’t have to fill out endless forms.
  • You don’t need to make any excuses for your desire to make money, indeed it’s a requirement.
  • You will need to prove commercial viability, which will force you to refine your concept and script.
  • You are in much greater control as psychologically you are not asking for help, you are offering an opportunity.
  • Financing can often move quickly after a pitch and a handshake.
  • You don’t need to play a sex / disability / race card, your talent will speak for you instead.
  • If you fail to secure finance, it is probably because you or your proposition isn’t up to snuff, which is something that is fixable.
  • If someone else gets the money, it will act as a catalyst for you to work harder, unlike funding which often feels arbitrary and ‘unfair’ (I accept it may not be arbitrary or unfair, but if often looks and feels that way).
  • (addded by twitter @jazadal) Discouraging that they are gatekeepers whose support gives unfair credibility 2 filmmakers they deem worthy

(if you have any more pros or cons, do add them)

For me the great distinction is that when seeking financing, I am in control of my destiny. I can set up ten meetings a day, I can make any deal or offer I want to make, there are no predefined rules, only principles that have proven to work.

I believe that people involved in ‘funding’ organisations mean well. I really do. But I also believe that ‘funding’ skews the playing field, offers false hope and this has created a generation of film makers in the UK who have been slowed down in their growth because of it. Of course a handful of lucky ones have enjoyed huge acceleration (skewing the field yet further).

So the question for you and for me, the challenge even, is… are we going to ask, cap in hand, for help OR are we going to offer great opportunities that ACTIVELY attract investment?

Are we going to run a businesses where sales MUST outweigh costs, are we going to approach investors with killer proposals for commercially viable projects, or are we going to rely on a small (and getting smaller) group of well meaning people who will NEVER pay the price if our films do not perform?

It’s time break free of the ‘funding’ dangling carrot, to embrace freedom and commit to making a career in film that will last a lifetime, not the duration of a paltry handout.

I know for me at least, I am committed to breaking all my past barriers and I really hope that I see you my journey, ideally just ahead of me to remind me to keep up with YOUR pace…!

Onwards and upwards!

Chris Jones, Film Maker and Author


PS – If you have any Pros and Cons to add to this list, please add them.


6 Responses to A guide to film finance and funding – are you going to get funded or financed?

  1. Richard Purves January 1, 2011 at 11:36 pm #

    I am still staggered by how many filmmakers i’ve met have utterly no clue as to the basic financing concept as you’ve illustrated above. It’s precisely the direction I set myself on and thanks to a lot of hard work (with a good accountant), it will hopefully bear fruit for me and my company early this year.

    It’s not hard, it’s just different from what UK based filmmakers are seemingly conditioned into expecting.

  2. Richy January 2, 2011 at 12:13 am #

    Well said Chris, sadly there is a pervading mentality amongst film makers in this country that “commercial” is BAD, and that films should be “worthy” in that they discuss “issues” and “real people” as opposed to being what they are – Entertainment. Sad isn’t it?

  3. Mike Barnes January 3, 2011 at 2:43 pm #

    Great Blog Post.

    Best of luck for 2011.

  4. Geoff Gedroyc January 5, 2011 at 12:23 pm #

    Good point, well made Chris, although I think it’s important to add:

    Independent filmmaking for a living is a deeply problematic way of earning virtually any money at all. It takes many years of hard work (and a lot of luck) to get into a position where you’re actually making good money doing what you love.

    With this in mind I think it’s important to stress that the most important tool in your filmmaking arsenal is PERSEVERANCE (helped by street smarts, contacts and oodles of talent). You must always try to make the films you want to make, not the films people tell you to, because if you’re in this industry to make money it’s all too likely that you’ll be disappointed. There’s nothing wrong with wanting ‘funding’ (especially for shorts, which don’t by and large make their money back) as long as you fully understand the financial implications of the film you’re embarking on.

    For me, satisfaction comes from working doing what I want to do, and never ever making a film that I am not artistically satisfied with. Filmmakers should never lose sight of the fact that the quality of the work comes first. Everything else, even your own financial stability comes second to that. If that changes you might just start asking yourself why the hell you got involved with such a brutal, tough and frequently poverty inducing industry in the first place.

    There’s a lot to be said for the ‘a painter paints so a filmmaker makes films’ argument. Just take pride, create and try to do whatever it takes to make great films. This’ll help you remember why you’re doing what you’re doing.

    Happy new year everybody!

    This here is a film I recently made, designed to put you in the mood for 2011, it features zombies, hipsters and Sean Connery, I think you might like it!


  5. Hugh Hancock January 5, 2011 at 10:06 pm #

    Another pro for financing rather than funding: Financing is decided on more understandable and less subjective grounds.

    Given the choice between having to show that my proposed film project is likely to make a profit, and having to show that my film is “more artistic” than a dozen other projects, the first’s far, far easier.

    For starters, everyone involved in a financing round has the same understanding of what the word “profit” means, which is NOT the case with the word “artistic” on funding applications.

    It might be tricky to develop a convincing business plan for a movie, but at least you the criteria for success are actually well understood!

  6. Eliane Guimarães January 26, 2011 at 8:56 pm #

    I couldn’t agree more. Brazil faces the same issue as it depends mostly on government funding.

    I do believe that the first key is to make a film worth watching and worth making and never give up as the filmmaking industry is a challenge in and of itself.

    Passion for your craft regardless of the area within filmmaking and being creative and resourceful is also another key to find opportunities for financing your film.

    May 2011 be the year of great films!!!

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