How to fund your indie film

“Gimme the Loot”

Adam Leon, a first-time filmmaker whose movie, “Gimme the Loot”  is out in theaters and on VOD now, recently told Kim Masters on KCRW’s The Business that raising money is the one part of the filmmaker’s job that “really stinks.” Nonetheless, it’s crucial. In his interview he gave a veritable how-to on how to put together financing for an indie film by an unknown director.

“Gimme the Loot” stars two teenage African-American actors playing budding graffiti artists. There’s no star power and no spectacular visual effects. It’s gritty and sweet. Leon produced the movie for $85,000 shooting guerrilla-style all across New York City. (The total budget with post-production was $165,000). It was funded by friends, family and a small campaign they ran on the crowd-funding site Last year, “Gimme The Loot” won the Narrative Grand Jury Prize at the 2012 SXSW Film Festival and then it was invited to screen at Cannes.

Below are the key steps Adam Leon took to fund “Gimme the Loot.”

1. Be Determined: Ask yourself two questions every day: “What can we do to make this movie? And what can we do to make this movie better? “

2. Assemble a Committed and Knowledgable Team: Leon’s main producers were people who’d worked at film festivals, in development at production companies, and with grant organizations.

Vintage 35mm movie camera. Photo credit: Taki Steve/ Flickr
Vintage 35mm movie camera. Photo credit: Taki Steve/ Flickr (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

They were invested emotionally in the film as were others on the creative team. And this, Leon says, expanded the circle of friends and family who could eventually contribute to funding the movie.

3. Network: Leon and his producers took other indie filmmakers out for drinks to pick their brains. He was very specific on the fact the they DID NOT ask for these filmmakers’ financier lists. They wanted advice. And what got was even more valuable– the filmmakers’ business plans.

4. Write a Business Plan that Works: Leon and his producers wrote and rewrote their business plan, all the while calling in favors to friends of lawyers and others to ensure their numbers were right.

5. Be Dogged in Your Pursuit: Leon and his colleagues ran around the country chasing a rich kid who they heard wanted to be in a movie and would possibly give money to the film. The guy never returned their calls. BUT their diligence proved to other friends that they were serious about getting their movie made. One of those friends invested half of the money they needed to make the movie. Then more friends and family followed.

6. Be Smart on Kickstarter: Leon was quick to say that “Gimme the Loot” was no “Veronica Mars,” which raised over $5.7 million on kickstarter (the goal was $2 million which they reached in record time). Unlike Leon’s movie, that film was based on a known property– a defunct cult TV show– which fueled fan donations. Leon’s movie had NO fan base. So they waited until they had a story to tell. That story was: their film got into the SXSW Film Festival and they needed finishing funds. Also, wisely Leon did not appear in his movie’s Kickstarter video. He says he’s a fairly boring 30-something white guy so he got more dynamic people to make the pitch– one of the witty producers and an actor who has tattoos all over his face.

7. Go to Kickstarter’s offices: Put a face on your project and they may just make your film a project of the day. That happened to “Gimme the Loot.”

8. Have a Party: “Gimme the Loot” enhanced their Kickstarter campaign with a fundraising party with drinks and music. They set up a bank of computers running their Kickstarter page so people could donate right there that night. Their goal was $22,500 they made over $24,000.

9. Don’t Worry about the “Veronica Mars” Project: Just because the Veronica Mars Kickstarter campaign was wildly successful doesn’t mean your project is screwed. Leon’s message to fellow low-budget indie filmmakers is: Focus on your own film–  worrying about people donating to the “Veronica Mars” film is like worrying about who else is getting into the college you’re applying to. It’s a waste of time.

To hear the full interview with Adam Leon and so see the Kickstarter video they posted for “Gimme the Loot” go to KCRW’s The Business.