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The Money Web

Could there be new access to money for films through the web? Here's a few resources to get you started on your quest.

By Francine Latil

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Next Waves Films supplies finishing funds to low-budget indies.

For better or worse, the financial environment of independent cinema is changing. New technologies have altered the filmmaking process, and traditional ways of raising funds and securing distribution are quickly outdated. Yet new funding opportunities for independent filmmakers are emerging just as fast. Whether or not the "digital revolution" changes the way films are made and distributed in the coming years, it will undoubtedly expand opportunities for independent filmmakers seeking funds for their movies.

Several companies have formed to help filmmakers finance their films by cutting out the middleman and matching filmmakers with investors, finishing funds, or distributors. Whatever stage you’re at in the filmmaking process, there is now a company that can help financially. These new companies offer a variety of very sensible services, yet such methods of eliciting funds are largely untried, and the jury is still out on whether they will work. Many big city filmmakers in New York City or Los Angeles probably won’t want to use a service to connect to investors if they can seek out cash propositions in person or from known sources. But these new opportunities may greatly benefit smaller filmmakers in other cities -- the very same filmmakers who have seen their funding options diminish as filmmaking becomes more centered on those two urban hubs.

If the services offered in these sites work, then they may be a genuine boon to independent filmmakers seeking funding. Give it a try -- it can’t be any worse than asking your family for a loan, and you may meet people who can really help get your film made and finished.

New companies launch frequently, so what follows is an incomplete list of present options. And remember: in all questions of finance, you should get some genuine legal advice, above and beyond what these companies may suggest. Also remember: always maintain some level of skepticism with web companies claiming to raise money for your film. Ask companies for references and do some research before you give them all your ideas.

The Efilmfund at www.filmdeveloper.com/Efilmfund bills itself as "an online marketplace for financing film projects." Efilmfund was developed to help aspiring filmmakers find potential investors to finance and market their films. Efilmfund provides a venue for filmmakers and investors to meet, and the rest is up to the individuals using the site. Filmmakers submit a description of a project for consideration by investors, while investors register themselves on the site to access a list of projects seeking funding. Efilmfund is one of the simplest and most straightforward options.

idealive at www.reelmind.com/idealive/ is "an online marketplace designed to link artists and investors." Filmmakers can present their project to investors interested in funding film, music, and multi-media projects. idealive promises to match artists to investors and even audiences. As a filmmaker with a project, you can post information on the investing website where potential investors submit bids and you sell shares in your future work. If your project isn’t fully developed, you can provide information about yourself and your project to idealive, which will then create an artist page on their website. This page generates attention and an audience in order to attract investors later. idealive encourages artists to seek offerings between $50,000 and $1 million. They emphasize projects with a "defined target audience" in development by "artists with [a] professional track record." It’s not clear if they mean to discourage emerging filmmakers by this remark, as otherwise they sound enthusiastically inclusive.

Hollywood Investors at www.Hollywoodinvestors.com offers more structured help from development through distribution. The website provides an impressive listing of their services, but their database of filmmakers and investors isn’t fully functioning yet. They declare their commitment to "giving filmmakers the creative and financial freedom to produce films with high artistic and commercial potential," and they claim they can raise as much as $50 million (although there are no confirmed reports of financing to date). They encourage filmmakers to send information about their project although they will evaluate it and seek investors before taking anything on. They offer help with development and then will raise money for your project "using traditional and non-traditional financing methods," by seeking investors on- and off- line. When your project is completed, they’ll help with distribution and marketing, promising artistic freedom all the way through. Hollywood Investors offers far more than a link between filmmakers and investors, practically reaching into production. This level of participation might not be to everyone’s taste, but those seeking greater support might benefit. Take a cue from the ‘Hollywood’ in their title; this company sounds like they have big-time aspirations.

Next Wave Films at www.nextwavefilms.com, a company of The Independent Film Channel, offers two main services for emerging and established filmmakers. First, they express dedication to helping young filmmakers launch their careers. They supply finishing funds to low budget features by new filmmakers, including assistance through post-production, then aid with festival and press strategies and distribution. New Wave Films suggests filmmakers contact them at any stage in the process, then submit a rough cut for consideration of up to $100,000 in finishing funds for feature-length projects. Secondly, Next Wave Films has developed "Agenda 2000," offering production and financing to established filmmakers working with digital video. They hope thereby to encourage filmmakers to make films less expensively and with more creative control. Their rhetoric sounds very generous, and the connection to the IFC may help increase the profile of filmmakers who benefit from Next Wave Films.

Webcinema at www.webcinema.org offers an interesting option. This non-profit organization focuses on helping independent filmmakers in new media technologies find funds to finance and distribute films. They don’t fund projects themselves, but offer fiscal sponsorship to filmmakers. Sponsorship allows filmmakers "without nonprofit status to receive funding from sources that limit their funding to nonprofit organizations." This nonprofit angle sounds enticing, but you should be sure to check out all the legal ramifications. New media is definitely Webcinema’s focus, which isn’t for everyone.

Surfview at www.surfview.com comes at financing from another angle. Their site links independent producers and interested investors. They encourage fundraising by allowing producers to post web ads and information about projects for perusal by investors. Surfview also offers video streaming for posting trailers once a project has been completed, in order to attract potential distributors. Essentially Surfview offers free exposure to investors, though their emphasis seems to weigh more on the side of the investor, and barely mentions the filmmaker at all.