BY PAMELA JO BOWMAN, ARIZONA, USA — There are many lessons I have learned and some I continue to learn from my experience working on the FilmZambia project. The number one lesson? Always use Other People’s Money (OPM), preferably a studio’s money or a distributor’s money. What I am still trying to learn is how to get that money.
Of course there are a few exceptions that encourage filmmakers to believe they will be a member of a rare and elite club. The successful self-financed film members include Morgan Spurlock (SUPERSIZE ME), Kevin Smith (CLERKS), and Robert Townsend (HOLLYWOOD SHUFFLE). These exceptions tease and titillate filmmakers. The truth is, is every filmmaker believes in “his or her story.”
Their story, their cinematography, their editing, their actors. They believe every element will help produce a successful piece of art. With that belief, they are bound and determined to get the money from whomever they talk to including their families, their friends and even … themselves! There are THOUSANDS of filmmakers who follow that film-financing path into a very dark tunnel. If a distributor or producer gets behind your film, chances are that they see an opportunity for financial success. The problem? First-time filmmakers can be quite naive. They are in it for the art. Yes, they want to make their movie, and they want to earn enough money to buy … more equipment to make another movie. Eventually they begin to understand that there is a business involved in the art of filmmaking and everyone has to eat food, sleep in a safe place, and buy and use TIDE.
It is hard to accept the experience and decision of the money people when they say “no” to your brilliant story. In our case, it was even more difficult. We were students. It’s impossible to get distributors to fund educational projects ahead of time. They want to see the finished product to know if the story hangs together because, well, let’s be honest, it’s students learning by doing. They’re cautious about giving money to that sort of thing. Especially if it is the very first of “that sort of thing.”
So, how did Cyndi end up in the rabbit hole that she did? Did she not preach and teach all of her students to avoid this very hole? This is what she said, “Surely I know the rule about OPM. If there’s anyone who knows this rule, it is me. When I told my filmmaking nephew that I was well over $80,000 on these two films and was probably going to go over $100,000 by the time they were done, I thought he was going to have a stroke. ‘Are you out of your mind?’ Jason gasped. ‘You used your money? Is that why you sold your house?’ he asked.” Didn’t really answer the question did it? To be honest, it was a bit complicated. Hey Cyn! This would make a great movie!
Well, there’s nothing like being called on the carpet by someone half your age. And, if Cyndi wasn’t feeling embarrassed before Jason started lecturing her, she surely got there after I put together this little piece.
Don’t shoot the messenger! She sat and watched this and started to laugh. She actually has gotten to the point of being amused by her exuberance for the film. I mean to shout, “What are her alternatives?!!” Believe me she has shed plenty of tears. She cries like a giraffe. There is no sound! How very odd. In the middle of the day, I will turn to her work station and find tears rolling down those cheeks! Her motto now is, “If you decide it’s a good idea to go to Africa to make two films (and encourage 18 faculty and students to come with you for the learning experience of a lifetime), make sure the OPM you get is waaaaay more than a small educational grant that only covers the flight for about a third of the crew. Unless you don’t care if anyone ever actually sees the films that you made..”
If there is anyone who wants to invest in two middle-aged women with bright ideas, tons of ambition and enough energy to get the job done, well get in line or get out of our way. We are comin’ through. Thought I might try a unique approach to funding. Is it working for you?