With the independent film industry giving birth to thousands of new films every month it’s easier than ever to become an independent film producer, particularly an executive producer.
Traditionally, an executive producer arranges for a film’s financing (budget) and makes every effort to keep the film’s expenses under control. However, in independent filmmaking, an executive producer is even more hands on than with studio film productions. In low budget films the executive producer is often the one person who provides the largest share of financing for a film. That is, the executive producer has monetary resources that he/she taps into to fund a film.
With Hollywood film budgets in the millions of dollars it would be difficult for anyone, even a corporation, to come up with the budget. However, low budget films usually have budgets under $50,000 and this makes a perfect match for the wealthy who want to invest in a film as a patron of the art but not commit too many dollars. With some microbudget films boasting budgets under $10,000 it’s easier than ever to become an executive producer on a low budget film.
In low budget films the executive producer’s role changes. In Hollywood films the EP is the boss. However in microbudget films the EP is often a partner of the writer/director who has conceived the film project but doesn’t have the financing in place to actually make the film. An EP steps in, evaluates the project, and for his or her own reasons decides to partner with the writer/director by contributing funds.
This is a great way for new producers to get into the film business. With little to no experience a new executive producer often teams up with filmmakers who have experience under their belts. The EP then learns on the job. The EP gets the experience, film credit and begins establishing herself as a professional. The writer/director gets the money to make his or her film. Hopefully both have an opportunity to make money off sales of the short film on DVD, Video on Demand or rentals.
Why Become An Executive Producer
Being an executive producer gives a person an inside look at how films are developed, produced and distributed. If you’ve ever wondered about the mechanics of filmmaking, but don’t want to do the grunt work, being an EP is the perfect position. An EP basically green lights the short film by putting up the money or finding the money. Often an executive producer will have artistic friends, friends who are patrons of the arts, or curious friends who want to make films. When these friends have money the executive producer becomes a liaison between them and the directors with film projects that need funding.
Executive producers also travel to the film festivals where the film screens. This might include the Cannes festival (Cannes, FR), Sundance (Park City UT), South by Southwest (Austin, TX), Tribeca Film Festival (NYC), of the Miami Film Festival (Florida). Internationally this could be Berlin, Italy, the United Kingdom, or Hong Kong. It’s a great perk.
Executives also take a percentage of profits from the film if it sells. It used to be that short films rarely sold for a profit, but now with iTunes, mobile phones and online streaming, entertaining and well-made short films can easily make a profit. An executive producer may see a return on investment (ROI) of 10-50% within a year. Often the passive income continues for many years.
How To Get Started
The first thing anyone must do before deciding to become an executive producer is take stock of their financial assets. The amount of discretionary money a person has plays a role in the size of the film he or she can invest in. Under $25k in available funds often means sticking to microbudget shorts and films with budgets under $15k. For example, the horror film “Teeth” was made for $30,000 and sold for seven figures at Sundance. If an aspiring EP has more than $50k in funds available, he might consider looking at feature films with budgets over $100k.
Next thing an aspiring EP should do is follow the work of independent filmmakers. Look for stylistic matches to your own sensibilities. What genre does the filmmaker excel at making? Is the filmmaker someone you can have a sensible business discussion with? Are you entertained by their films?
Independent filmmakers can be found on Myspace Film, Twitter, Facebook and other social media forums. Just Google the words, “Independent filmmaker” or “indie filmmaker.” Subscribe to Filmmaker Magazine, point your RSS feeder to their blog and/or read the blogs of indies.
What to Do After You Connect With A Filmmaker
Filmmakers are always looking for people with money to help fund their films. The relationship between filmmaker and EP should be like dating. Don’t jump into bed on the first date! Don’t make the decision to be exclusive yet. See how your relationship grows before committing to anything.
When you are ready to take the next step ask for information about the film project. Ask for a logline, synopsis and a storyboard if available. Don’t ask for the script yet. If you like what you see get the script and commit to reading it twice. Then sit down once more with the filmmaker and let them pitch their ideas to you. This way you can see their passion and exuberance. If passion isn’t there, pass!
If you are ready to commit, strike up a general deal outlining exactly what you want in return for your financing dollars. Be specific about how much you want to be involved in the project. Be upfront about your experience or lack thereof. This way no one is worried when you ask questions.
One Stop Shopping
One final way to get involved in a film as an executive producer is to find a film you like and buy it. This happens much more often than one might think. Filmmakers struggle to make films and then when the film doesn’t land a distribution deal the film goes on the shelf. Asking around the filmmaking community and internet searches can show you where to find a finished film that is waiting to be sold for pennies on the dollar.
This is a painless one-stop-shopping way to become an executive producer. Buy the film and you own it. No writer or directors to negotiate with. No actors to hire. No crew members. No unions. Just you and your film.
For example, “Broken Hearts Club,” a film by yours truly was made in 2008. It has traveled to Canada, Italy, the UK and Beverly Hills in film festivals. The film has received astonishing reviews. I have it on DVD as part of my DIY distribution efforts. However, I don’t have time to properly promote it. That’s why the film is on sale right now on eBay (all rights, materials, songs, etc) for 1/10th what I paid to make it.
Crowdfunding is an aspect of crowdsourcing, where fans of a filmmaker donate money to support the filmmaker’s next project. Based on the filmmaker’s body of work, fans make the decision to invest (donate) to any new project the filmmaker starts. In exchange for the fan’s donation the filmmaker offers perks like, T-shirts, DVDs, film credit. Often for large percentages of the film’s budget fans will even get Executive Producer credit and are invited to the set.
“Legend of Black Lotus,” my epic fantasy martial arts short film project is another good example. The budget for the film is only $15k and I set up a crowdfunding page here: http://www.indiegogo.com/blacklotus. Fans of my previous work were able to join in on this production by donating as little as $1. Executive Producers were able to join in for as little as $1500 and be on their way to getting their first EP credits.
Becoming an Executive Producer for an independent low budget film isn’t difficult. However, it takes research, due diligence, and patience. In time you’ll find a partner with whom you can produce many films. Just look at the filmmaker’s body of work. If you enjoy their work you’ve overcome the first obstacle. People like Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Michael Mann have worked with the same executive producer over the course of many films. Imagine, those executive producers are very happy they took a chance on the brilliance of young undiscovered directors.