Okay. There are a couple schools of thought when it comes to making independent movies: First, there are those that eschew any path that remotely resembles the studio system. They will use their own hard earned money to produce the film and will work hard to distribute the film themselves. (This group could be thought of as those who are choosing to use an exclusively microbudget approach and have no interest in trading the freedom this approach affords them for a larger budget.) Secondly, there are those that wish to work with a larger budget and need to raise that money in order to produce their film. When you're raising money from financiers, your goal is to secure a distribution deal in order to, hopefully, make enough money to pay your investors back so you can make more movies. (This group most often covers filmmakers who are either already in or plan on moving into the Indiewood world, where there is less creative independence, but more money, more talent resouraces, and more capacity to gain a larger audience.)
Neither one of these approaches is wrong, but I bring these perspectives up to pinpoint who needs to check out Louise Levison's book. If you fall into that first category you will find little use for Filmmakers and Financing. If, however, you are one of the independent filmmakers that is wanting to make a movie with a budget that exceeds your own personal income then this book is a must read for you. Even if you plan on hiring someone who has done it before, it will benefit you to educate yourself on the whole fund raising process and have an understanding of what is going on with your film.
There is a lot of information to deal with in this book and much of it is rather technical, at least from the business and finance side of things (ie, dealing with numbers and some business jargon). That said, Levison presents it in such a way that makes it user-friendly for those of us that are coming into this fund-raising, business-plan-writing world for the first time. Don't misunderstand me now: Levison doesn't talk down to you, the reader, and she does expect you to learn as you read. At times that means doing a little homework/research. All of that is a positive in my book because making films from start to finish is not an easy thing that will simply be handed to you. It takes hard work and a lot of stepping up to the plate to reduce that darned learning curve. So, if you're hoping this book will provide a magic answer that will reduce the amount of work you'll have to put in, you'll be disappointed. But, Levison does present you with an easy to follow guide for getting your business plan put together and in the hands of investors.
Levison goes into depth with each piece to the business plan puzzle: from the Executive Summary to the Financial plan. There is so much useful information on understanding the business, the industry, the markets, and how they work. There is even a Q&A with several successful independent filmmakers that have navigated their way through the journey. They compliment everything Levison is saying and even offer extra insights into other areas of the business, such as: questions you may be asked by an investor, how to find investors, and many other topics.
Levison's entire point with this book is to help you, the aspiring filmmaker, to do it right the first time without the costly mistakes that many make. Take advantage of that experience and expertise.
Here's the tough part. Unless you are super geeked out and mentally stimulated by things of a business nature, a book like this can be boring and dry enough to make time on the elliptical (that's where I do a lot of my reading) go by even slower than it normally does. I had requested to read this book because I am in the beginning stages of creating a business plan and raising money for my first feature, so I had a level of interest going into the book, which I think is something of a prerequisite. Here's why: you're not going to be sitting at home one night, watching television, and think, "You know? I'd really like to read a book on business plans!" But, if you are thinking about making a movie with a bigger budget or are already rolling down that road it will be a book for you to read. If you're serious about getting your film financed then there should be an interest already within you to educate yourself as much as possible in order to give your film the best chance possible of achieving its potential and your goals for it.
Educating your self will not only give your film the best fighting chance possible, but it'll help you cover your butt. Dealing with large sums of money from investors can be tricky and has countless legal implications. The more educated you are, the less chance you have of making a mistake that could cost you up front or down the road when you want to make another movie. Finding investors is not an easy task so, the more knowledge you have on your side the less chance you have of damaging a relationship with an investor over matters of a business and legal nature.
Currently in its sixth edition in nine years, Filmmakers and Financing is a book that will constantly have to be updated to keep up with market trends and the changing times. Stats will change from year to year and Levison makes it very clear that the reader needs to be aware of this fact and construct their business plans accordingly. However, specific numbers and charts and things of that nature given in the book are purely for example and you should be doing the number research each time you put together a new business plan. The format and the approach to writing a business plan, on the other hand, is something that will remain fairly consistent in this business. Your business plan for each film will, of course, have to be adjusted and tweaked to accommodate the individual needs of that particular film.
All that said, there will always be updates on the types of media available to get your product out there and numbers will forever be changing. It is your responsibility to keep up with all that and you will not have to purchase every new edition of Filmmakers and Financing to keep up if you will do your homework. The core of Filmmakers and Financing is something that you will pull from your shelf each time you go to write a business plan for a new film and use it as a reference since the format seems to have stayed consistent over the years.
I'm a believer in the idea that you can't really put a price tag on knowledge. Especially when it comes to taking what you love doing to the next level. Filmmakers and Financing will run you between $20 and $30 depending on where you purchase it ($19.77 on Amazon), but if you're serious about making films, raising money from investors, and selling your film to distributors you'll find that the cost of the book is a small price to pay.
Think about what it would cost you if you tried to fly by the seat of your pants and tried to draw up a business plan on your own, or decided you didn't need one at all. How much money do you think you would actually raise from serious business people? If they did give you money, how much legal trouble could you get into because you didn't phrase things properly? A lot.
A book like this, in my opinion, is an investment in your future as a serious filmmaker. It will be a mainstay on my bookshelf and will be referenced over and over again with each film that I write a business plan for. Worth every penny.
What it all comes down to is this: How serious are you? How passionate are you? Even if you don't see yourself as a producer are you willing to learn the ropes in order to see your film get made?
I found the book very helpful and informative, especially since I fall into that latter group of filmmakers that I mentioned earlier. You remember? The ones that want to make a film with a budget that is beyond their own personal income. I would recommend it if you are, in fact, serious about treating your filmmaking like a business.
Is there a lot of information to process in this book? Yes. Is it a lot of work to implement the things in the book? Yes. Will it be worth it when you see your film on the big screen and/or in the hands of thousands (hopefully more) of people? Yes.
So, don't go it alone. Don't think that you don't need the help of a book or another experienced person because, "By, golly…I've got it all figured out and my idea is so brilliant it is sure to work!" Take advantage of those with the experience. Don't make the mistakes that they've made. Save yourself the headache in this department. Trust me, there will be plenty of headaches to worry about from other aspects of filmmaking. No sense in dealing with them in areas where there is help.