Who’s the Boss?
Written by Marvin Maximus | Posted by: Anonymous
Film aficionado, LeTicia Lee who has recently released ‘The Filmmaker’s Guide to Film Financing (There’s An Angel In Your Corner) ‘through independent publisher Lulu Press is rather humble yet passionate about sharing the book. She says she published her notebook and rolodex in a way after seeing so many of her peers standing in one lane of what seemed like a 100-lane highway. Perhaps that lane known as Hollywood is lit brightest and paved with gold dust. But is it the best road to take? LeTicia believes you can be your own studio boss.
The film finance book seems to be an excellent resource for filmmakers and entrepreneurs to facilitate their search for available financing. Lee says she did not want filmmakers to be at the mercy of movie studios any longer. She wanted filmmakers new and old to realize they had choices. They could in fact be their own boss. She entered into filmmaking because of the freedom to express her herself.
Lee has done locations work for major studios such as Paramount, editorials such as GQ and television shows such as Sesame Workshop. She has also been a Production Manager on numerous music videos. All the while she was writing and developing her own screenplays with the intention to direct them one day herself.
When Lee started shopping her screenplays, she soon realized screenwriters like herself were at the mercy of producers and studios with short attention spans and bottom lines that were prioritized with A-list talent and blockbuster returns in the hundreds of millions. What happened to the auteur filmmakers of yesteryear like Buster Keaston and Charlie Chaplin? How about the pioneers that once waved in movies like "Easy Rider," "American Graffiti," and "sex, lies, and videotape"?
For one thing, some of the best independent studios are now becoming subsidiaries (aka mini-majors) which is really just a major studio by another name. Miramax ("sex, lies and videotape" distributor) is now owned by Disney. Good Machine ("Wedding Banquet" and"Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon") is now owned by Focus Films which is a subsidiary of Universal. Paramount spawned Paramount Classics. Twentieth Century Fox has Fox Searchlight. What does it mean to be really independent?
Perhaps it’s a movie like "Hollywood Shuffle" by Robert Townsend or "She’s Gotta Have It" by Spike Lee which were financed through the respective filmmakers’ credit cards. "I had screwed my credit so it really became about my product," says LeTicia. "My definition of independent is realizing your dream on your own terms. Hopefully you have something useful to say in a creative, original way, because it really is a lot of work. Investors obviously want a return on their investment (ROI)," says Lee.
"You mean movies like ‘sex lies & videotape’ which was made on a $1.1 million budget return over $25 million at the box office. ‘The Blair Witch Project’ with its miniscule $35,000 budget that returned over $200 million. And who can forget the myopic return the $5 million dollar romantic comedy ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ that hit the jackpot with over $300 million at the box office." "Exactly. I don’t know of any bank giving returns like that. Do you?" quips Lee.
She makes a point. So I wonder how easy it is to obtain this ubiquitous financing. "Not easy, but not impossible," says Lee. "In my personal opinion, it’s better than dealing with fickle studios. If you really want to make your film, you can. You just have to be a good business-person. They (investors) have to believe in you and your business plan. ‘Rate of return’ is not something that’s taught in film school. It’s taught in business school which is where would be film producers may want to visit if they’re going to knock on Joe or Jane Everyday investor’s door searching for financing."
Hollywood studios are mostly Wall Street ticker symbols. Wall Street wants the mechanical blockbuster bull. Private investors may be a little more adventurous. Private investors let the independent filmmakers make their film the way it was intended to be made. "You mean like Woody Allen."
"Right. Getting the film in the can is half the battle. Assuming the filmmaker has budgeted festivals, distributors can preview and bid on the final print.
"One day, I just got it. It’s a business. Studios want to make money. Filmmakers with a completed script no matter how great are risky business for major studios. Look at all their overhead expenses. However, a film in the can is worth a look. There’s no risk in looking. The filmmaker has taken on part of the risk. They’ve already proven they can deliver. I wanted to help talented independents get their foot in the door. There are still some real independent distributors out there like Emerge Pictures, Redeemable, and Overseas Group. These are experienced producers with track records and worldwide contacts. They can help get you to the shoreline."
Lee says she started meeting investors when she included a new novelty product in one of her screenplays that warranted a patent. Rather than letting executives market it, she decided to make it herself. She needed financing to get the product sample to potential licensees. Eventually she started getting leads into a whole new world. These people saw her as an entrepreneur first. That changed everything. There were a lot more contacts than she ever realized… worldwide. Ironically, many of these resources had also been utilized by A-list studio producers as well. Lee felt like she had cracked the code and felt a sense of obligation to share it with her fellow filmmakers.
Who are these investors? Where does one find them?
"It’s bit more obvious than you might think, says Lee. However, they’re not exactly wearing a ‘I’m a billionaire — call me’ sign either. Rest assured; they’re looking for you too.
"The key is having a polished script, a budget, and a completed business plan. Your Executive Summary is to an investor what your synopsis is to a studio. The business plan is like the treatment. Your Executive Summary is your calling card. Make it shine. Unlike the pressure of working with a studio, there’s no competition," says Lee, "Investors either like you and your business plan or they don’t. It’s about you and your management team (producers) than your product (film). It’s kind of like the film business. Sometimes there’s just no rhyme or reason. Some just like you and your passion. God willing, someone will actually like the script too. But they mostly invest in you."
Lee has since formed a new company called Lip Scents, Inc. currently in its second round of funding. The product originated from her romantic comedy screenplay, "Ubi Amor" which is currently in development at her film production company Nera Madonna Productions. Lee says some of the investors listed in the book have found all the projects they need or are fully invested until the project(s) completion. Therefore, readers will just have to move on to the next one.
She says several new opportunities open up every day. Lee includes a classic book she says helps readers get into the mindset to attract the funds they need.
"It’s like a metaphysical approach to film financing," says Lee. "I just hope really talented filmmakers get a chance to share their works with us. I like great movies. Hopefully, a few of them will be mine."
Is there more to come from Lee?
"Yes, definitely. There’s more… so much more. I meet new contacts all the time. I have to revise and update the current book real soon. I just have to find the time."
You can find The Filmmaker’s Guide to Film Financing (There’s An Angel In Your Corner) which includes names and contact information at Amazon.com or