. . . which brings me back to the Business Plan. It is this colorful document, positioned at the head of the Memorandum, which will go most of the way toward getting you the money necessary to produce your film. For some, particularly those with a proven track record, an elaborate investor presentation might not be necessary. But for first-timers, or for those who don't make films that often, like myself, it's a major consideration. I've been doing it for over twenty years.
On Burt's Bikers, a docudrama about mentally handicapped children in the Greenwich School System, our Business Plan presentation got us The Beatles' song "I Will" for free, because people at Apple Records saw it and responded to it; and it also got us Harry Chapin's commitment to write an original song (alas, he died before he could do that for us), and it got us Ennio Morricone's pledge to write an entire score for free (alas, we were afraid of the time and communication problems involved, and we backed out). Finally, we were equally fortunate to obtain the services of the gifted Frederic Hand, who had just done the score for Kramer vs. Kramer. Would they have gotten involved without a presentation full of color pictures and beautiful calligraphy by Al Kilgore (creator of the Bullwinkle comic strip)? I'm pretty sure the answer would have been no.
As I mentioned before, after researching what kind of people might want to invest in such a film as Street Trash—the bizarre black comedy about decomposing derelicts—we made the decision to approach middle-income bracketers, people who might risk a few grand at a time for fun, but not much more. With these people, I saw the colorful, seductive Business Plan work its charms over and over again. And this approach has been successful with The Sweet Life, too. Every investor has taken the time to compliment the Business Plan as practically a work of art. It's been as much a player in securing the money for these films as I was.
A Business Plan has to contain a certain amount of information: statement of risk (which appears in the Memorandum, too), the screen treatment, information about the filmmakers, a budget top sheet, a timetable indicating how long it will take to get from investment to release, an overview of the marketplace, a comparison with other films in its genre that have performed well, and information about anything unique to the production that enhances its salability. (The Memorandum repeats some of this in a dryer form, but mainly covers the legal and financial structure, an explanation of what the investor's money gets him/her, and the legal relationship of the corporation's partners.)
The "Risk" and "Timetable" pages are always painful to include in a memorandum. One imagines potential investors dropping out as soon as they read them. But, generally, investors understand that you will be held legally culpable if they haven't been adequately warned. Nonetheless, I've resorted to embroidering these with artful distractions in order to lessen the blow. Behold the "Timetable" page from the Street Trash Business Plan.
The film's story treatment, anywhere from three to five pages, is sufficient for the Business Plan. Investors without filmmaking knowledge will not be conversant with screenplay form, and to give them the screenplay to read will be a waste of time; or, worse, it will confuse them; or, worse yet, they will feel motivated to offer criticism of what they've read, which is the last thing you want. Don't even offer it to them. (I'm not including the treatment in the Business Plan you are about to see; I ordinarily do, but Roc already included it in chapter 3.)
The "Filmmakers" section would include professional bios (narrative format preferable to a cold list of credits) of the producer, director, screenwriter, actors, or anyone on board who has a track record . . . cin-ematographer, special-makeup designer, composer, et cetera. In the case of Street Trash, the director owned his own Steadicam rig, which gave the film a much more expensive look. I not only put a full page in the Business Plan about the Steadicam, but a picture of the director at work with the Steadicam harness on. This was an image that conveyed a mysterious sense of movie magic, or so it translated to the potential investor, who is partially considering his or her investment in your project because filmmaking has a romantic aura attached to it.
Also, with Street Trash we had a first-time director, so I approached a cinematographer with two hundred films to his credit and included his résumé, which enabled me to tell potential investors that no matter what the director did or didn't do, the film would probably look great, which is half the battle. So, the Business Plan is also a document in which potential negatives are balanced in the reader's eye, while I'm there, hovering over said reader, restating the positives. Rocco is a
first-time director as well, but as you will see, I stress his screenwriting accomplishments in the Business Plan, and no one has expressed any anxiety about his directorial gifts.
One last suggestion about first-time directors. If you prepare a list of other directors and their first films, it should diminish the risk factor in potential investors' minds. Orson Welles and Citizen Kane. Wes Craven and The Last House on the Left. The Coen Brothers and Blood Simple. The list is endless, since everyone started somewhere, and so many of them did exemplary work from the starting gate.
A budget top sheet is the one-or-two-page summary of all the categories of the budget. Again, this is all the potential investor is entitled to. Your actual budget is anywhere from fifteen to thirty pages long, and represents many weeks of work. You do not want to give it away. In my experience, 50 percent of potential investors who've been sent my way by other people are actually trying to learn about the business in the hopes of getting something off the ground themselves. They will wheedle everything they can from you, then drop out, using your info as their blueprint. The way to shortcut this dispiriting procedure is to give out only this compressed kind of information for free. If they continue to express interest in possibly investing, but request to see more, it's your opportunity to tell them that you're excited to show them more, but first you have to see their bank book, to make sure that the money they say they want to invest really exists. In other words, as you give more and more info away, they have to give something to you, as well, in terms of a commitment. Force the issue, but in a friendly way. If they stick with it, they may become investors after all.
A timetable is useful in allaying a potential investor's fears when nothing seems to be happening as the months following their investment drag by. This page should emphatically state that they will not be seeing any yield on their investment for at least a year, and possibly for two to three years. Think about it. Preproduction, production, postproduction. Then testing the film in festivals, arranging screenings for distributors. Then, after it's sold, the distributor has to first plan publicity, then book play-dates, or get it into video stores, or onto cable. We're talking a year at the very least, longer when you include overseas revenues. The potential investor must know this up front.
The marketplace is the world, and in each territory there's the potential of theatrical, TV, home video, armed forces, airlines, and media yet to be devised. Before each of the major marketing conventions— Cannes, MIFED (in Milan), the AFM in Santa Monica, the IFP in New
York City—your entertainment lawyer should be able to advise you as to what minimum bids you can expect from each of these markets based on recent market results for his other clients. This way you can keep on top of your foreign-sales agent, and write encouragingly to your investors, as well. Variety also reports after each of these conventions as to how films are selling for the various markets, and often divides the results into budgetary zones (e.g., films made for $500,000-1,000,000 went for a certain range, films made for $1,000,000-3,000,000 went for a different range, et cetera.)
A nice way to make a potential investor feel safer about his potential investment is to reduce pages from Variety's Top 50 chart, which is published every week, and highlight films that are similar in genre or budget to yours. If they're even on the chart, that's a good sign. With Street Trash, I used Repo Man and Blood Simple in the Business Plan as successful models of what we were going after—low-budget black comedies that performed well. With The Sweet Life, as you'll notice, I actually left that category out. Why? Because the digital indie genre is in its infancy and I didn't trust the rather random performances at my disposal. Would you, if you were a potential investor, believe that The Blair Witch Project was typical of the new indie marketplace? I wouldn't. But by the time you've read this and are organizing your own Memorandum and Business Plan, the comparisons will be far more available and believable.
The financial/legal entity is generally boilerplate, and there's no way to gussy that up. So it comes last, in the Memorandum, along with the relationship of the partners. By this time, the potential investor isn't reading quite as thoroughly. All the fun-to-read stuff was up front.
What follows is the "fun-to-read stuff" from the Sweet Life Business Plan. You'll see just how much I relied on my art director, Denise LaBelle, to bring my vision of this document to reality. With modern computer graphics, there is simply no excuse for a Business Plan that fails to dazzle the potential investor. I supplied Denise with categories, text, and pictures, and she supplied the concept, fashioning it all into a cohesive whole. She also created the effective title page. What you won't see is the color palette, a shame, because those soft yellows and greens looked so lovely.
The description of the corporate entity is saved for the Memorandum. As previously discussed, there are several types of corporate entities you can structure, depending on how you think your financing will be obtained. Most film productions in this country have used the more advantageous, tax-wise, Limited Partnership, S-Corp, or LLC, in which
SwcetLife Productions, LLC
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