Film producing beyond your first film

Snark, Producing, Animation

As digital cameras get cheaper and VOD distribution becomes more accessible, there are many more people making films and distributing on Amazon Prime themselves, which yields little financial return. We’ve all seen adverts from film makers looking for people to work for free on their film. This is fine for short films, student films and genuine collaborations, but what about feature films?  

Where short films are about honing your skills as a producer or director and getting exposure on the festival circuit, feature films are commercial ventures and should be approached as such. So what should you think of first when embarking on your feature film?

  1. What the endgame is. What do you want to do with your film? For a feature film, you should always aim for distribution. I can already hear the negative nellies out there saying that is impossible and throwing up barriers and excuses as to why they have not achieved it already. But is isn’t impossible.  You should ask yourself why should you even make a feature film if you are not planning to sell it. Features are a big expenditure, you’ll want to get your money back. 
  2. How to raise money for it. If you have a good plan for distribution, then raising money to pay for your feature becomes a little easier. Financiers like to see that they are going to get their money back. Gone are the days of grants and handouts, so don’t expect them. It is all repayable loans and investments now. Even BFI funding is repayable now. 

If you don’t have number 1 in place, it will be a lot harder to achieve number 2 and you’ll be asking people to work for free again.  A lot of film makers approach a feature film with big dreams of their film getting a theatrical release and being in all the shops, but neglect to formulate a business plan to show how this will be done before they go into production. And that means no money to make the film, and the working for free cycle continues. 

I had a conversation with someone today about film producing, and how difficult it is to get funding for feature films.  Their view is that there is no funding, and for directors and producers to build a portfolio and a track record cast and crew will need to work for free. The person I spoke to said that they had made six feature films, all without any funding. When probed, the person said that they haven’t been able to get distribution for any of the films they had made, and complained about how film funding is only for the elite.  A prime example of the consequences of not thinking about distribution before making a film, and also an example of low economic productivity. 

Distribution resources for producers:

Cinando – this is the online market resource for your features and shorts. This is where films are collated for the Berlin, Cannes, Sundance, Toronto, AFM, Stockholm, Warsaw, HongKongFilmMart, Karlovy Vary, and UniFrance film festivals and markets. You will get access to Cinando when you put your film in the Marché du Film in Cannes, the AFM or Berlinale markets to seek a sales agent. Paying for membership before you make a feature film will allow you to contact sales agents in advance, and give you a headstart in inviting interest in the film before it is made.  Once made, you can upload it securely for sales agents too view, but you will need to do a lot of leg work. Enter your film into competition at Cannes. It is free, and if it gets selected you will get your Marché fees refunded (and will no doubt secure distribution as a result!). 

VOD and DVD distribution – This isn’t just limited to putting it up onto Amazon yourself. Seek out distributors of films that have been made within your professional network. That film your mate worked on – find out who distributed it and get in touch. VOD is expanding and it isn’t just limited to getting onto Amazon Prime.  There are a number of commission-only distributors our there that specialise in VOD. One is From the 3rd Story Productions Ltd. A slideshow is here.  Get in touch with for more info. 

A number of funding resources for producers are:

Ffilm Cymru

iFeatures – Creative England

London Calling Short Film Funding

Microwave Feature Film Funding

Creative Scotland

Northern Ireland Screen


Creative Europe – Until 2020. Will be dependent upon Brexit outcome, and dependent on your track record as a production company. Be prepared to discuss the business end in your application. 

BBC Films

Film 4 Productions –  The beauty of this is that it comes with a distribution deal. 

Cinema and Television Benevolent Fund

Scottish Documentary Institute

The Wellcome Trust

We Are UK Film

Tax Credits and Investment Funding:

Accessing film tax relief

  • Film tax relief is available for British qualifying films. Films must either pass the Cultural Test or qualify as an official co-production;
  • Films must be intended for theatrical release;
  • Films, including those made under official co-production treaties, must have a minimum UK core spend requirement of 10%;
  • Tax relief is available on qualifying UK production expenditure on the lower of either: 80% of total core expenditure; or the actual UK core expenditure incurred.
  • There is no cap on the amount which can be claimed.
  • The film production company (FPC) responsible for the film needs to be within the UK corporation tax net.

Fusion Film – EIS investments and tax relief 

BFI Tax Relief Certification

Stephen Follows – The UK’s secret 20% tax relief for short films

Of course there are the usual Crowdfunding resources. A rule of thumb is that unless you’ve raised half of your goal within two weeks, you won’t achieve your target. Also, Crowdfunding is a good barometer for testing the market. A popular campaign will attract potential customers who will want to buy the film, which in turn is attractive to distributors.  A campaign where only your mum donated is an indicator that the project itself hasn’t got any legs, and is unlikely to make you your money back. We’ve ditched projects at this stage. A mistake as a producer is to go ahead and make the film anyway, knowing that you haven’t got the funding you need or built an audience for your film. Crowdfunding is not just about the money, it is a way to engage the crowd and build an audience.

A few off the wall ideas that have worked for me in the past:

  • Get in touch with the Job Centre. This worked very well on one of my features in the past. We worked with the Job Centre to get crew, and interviewed many long-term unemployed people who were keen to work on a film set! The Job Centre paid their wages, so all we paid for were their expenses – like you would do by asking people to work for free. Win-win! The down side is that you will need to skill people up – we had people helping out with prop making, production running, motion capture work on the computers and we taught them how to animate. 
  • Approach local businesses, or businesses that can add benefit to your film. For my animation, we needed a lot of props on set and found that if we scaled the puppets down to dolls house size, we could use dolls house props and furniture. We approached a major retailer and got everything we needed in return for free advertising on our website, Facebook and on the film.
  • More recently, I have developed a film franchise but in order to test the market and raise funds, I released a series of books. This is a lot of hard work in itself, but hard work pays off. We formed a collaboration to get the books written and with the money raised we made a short film, which will be a part of the feature film and be a part of the pitch package for funding a feature. There is also scope for a graphic novel series and a TV series – so watch this space!

Written by Saranne Bensusan on 17th February 2018.

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