November 8, 2011 Jill

Do we really need funding? Is finding financing really the way to start a project?

Old media producers start projects by looking for money. In most cases, the only people who do work before the financing falls into place are the writer/creator who puts together the pitch document or original proposal and the producer, who likely sketches up a development budget and a financing plan. Some producers might even find some dough at this stage to option the writer’s work or to pay for it if it’s an assignment. Then the two of them trip off to find the money to move the project forward.

This is the pattern that’s ingrained in me from a career in the TV industry and when I had my first transmedia idea that I wanted to try out, I followed the pattern I knew. I went a-knocking — looking for a producer, a broadcaster, funding agency partners.

I was met with… confusion.

People didn’t understand what I was on about and more importantly, the parameters of their jobs didn’t allow for what I wanted to do. But it took me many months of rejection to give up looking for money and try a new strategy.

I figured they would understand better if I could show them how it work, rather than telling them about it. If the money guys had a demo, I figured, they’d pony up.

Right then, time to really write it. The concept of boymeetsgrrl — which was revolutionary at least to me in 2007 — was to tell a story by letting the characters bring it to life through their blogs, vlogs, Facebook activity, Tweets, social bookmarking and more. I wrote the scripts for the vlogs, built the websites and filled the blogs with posts. I wrote the tweets, set up character Facebook profiles and so on. Then I created a program that let you step through the elements in order so that you could follow the story. Where the video portions belonged, the scripts popped up so you could read them. Missing was the big element of the audience interaction with the project.

I schlepped around with that for quite a while but guess what? The money did not flow. Time was a-wasting and I was feeling frustrated.

Instead of giving up, I did something ridiculous. I took $5000 out of my pocket and decided to make it myself. It was still old skool thinking, really. I was still imagining this as a demo that would pry the money loose. Proof of concept.

I found a few friends willing to help with production and went for it. For cast, we put up flyers at drama schools (like Academy Art Acting Schools), went to improv shows and even put ads on Craig’s List.   We shot three videos in a day. An old friend on maternity leave did the cutting. The videos became the tent poles in a week’s worth of narrative and interactivity (before the days of Conducttr mind you) .

I had a lot of fun. Learned an incredible amount. Built an audience that stretched around the world. It was probably one of the coolest experiences of my whole career.

And then I spent months trying to parlay that into funding without any success.

What I eventually learned from all this is that it is sometimes better to just make something. Looking for funding wastes a lot of time and effort. It can be exhausting and demoralizing. If you’re an indie without an infrastructure behind you, it is nearly impossible to access the various funds.

On the other hand, if you just get out there and make something, it’s exhilarating. You learn an incredible amount. You begin to build an audience and a reputation. You gain experience.

I made three or four little projects before I was able to access funding. My experience and little reputation were key in landing it, plus an idea that the jury judged as strong.

Believe me, I’m not rolling in dough yet. The funds to do what I want to do are flowing like molasses or maybe something even more viscous like tar.

And still, when I spend months chasing after money, I wonder if I’m not wasting valuable time. Maybe I should be out there making something and building an audience. Because in the end, the audience is what is valuable. If you can draw them to your project, then the money people will turn up too.

Plus making something is a whole lot more fun than writing another funding proposal.

Comments (3)

  1. Great post, Jill – and, as always, very clear and insightful.

    As a 30 year veteran of the television and film industry I’m well aware of the money quest being at the core of a producer’s function. That was one of the key reasons I walked away from my production company 10 years ago – I was fed up with the neverending, soul destroying, search for financing when all I really wanted to do was make good works. 90% of my time was locked up with the bullshit of the business. Screw that.

    The changes in the landscape of this business we call Show are still evolving, expanding and having a profoundly disruptive effect on the standard industry methods of conducting business. The democratization of tools and access to audiences now allow creators to more directly control the fate of their ideas.

    While I miss the big fat pay cheques I could sometimes make as a writer, director and performer – (my producer fees were invariably always re-invested in my projects) – I do NOT miss the bullshit of the business or the bullshit artists within it.

    Your journey is going to be replicated by many others – and a lot of them will benefit from having you blazing this trail and leaving a path of hard won experience for them to follow. For younger creators who have never had to wear the brown lipstick of producers seeking cash this new way of making works and reaching an audience will seem wholly natural and inevitable.

    I don’t know how many others like us, similarly entrenched in experience of the old industry, will be able to make the change necessary within themselves to overcome the “business as usual” approach which needs to be discarded in order to make the best use of the opportunities now afforded us all. The confused looks on gatekeepers faces will continue to amuse and frustrate us for years yet to come. Regardless, the old ways are dead and dying and the new ways we are currently discovering, inventing and sharing will become the foundation of a new business called Show.

    Great post. Keep sending these messages from the front lines. It serves us all.


  2. admin

    I wished I’d talked to you before I took on the financing challenge and I wish I could learn from my own mistakes and stop chasing money. And I wish, that when someone offers YOU money or services, that you would stop being bullheaded and just take it.

Comments are closed.