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Industry Talk Series Highlights: Finding Funding: International Documentary Financing Landscape

Friday, 20 August 2021

Toni Bell is an Impact Strategist at Looky Looky Pictures and Zeynep Güzel is a Senior Consultant at Documentary Association of Europe. They talked about the different types of financing models, and sources of funding in the international market for documentary films.

The talk was led by Selin Murat, Senior Consultant at Documentary Association of Europe. This session was programmed by Documentary Association of Europe.

Question: I'm developing a non-fiction feature film project, I can do it all on my own. I don't really need a producer, right?

Having a producer is a very useful thing in terms of division of labour because as a director, writer, or creator, you need some space for yourself to work on your creative stuff. In the very beginning, you don’t have to have a producer attached to the project if you are not comfortable. However, by the time you get to late development or early production, you definitely should have a producer on board to help with the logistics. Filmmaking is a collaborative process. Particularly if this is your first film, it’s good to have someone to guide you and take some of the burden off you. If you don’t have a producer profile in your hand, try to write your story and your vision, and apply to some workshops where you can acquire some consultations and approach potential producers.

Question: What do you imagine to be a really healthy relationship with a producer? What kind of producer do you need?

It really depends on the project's needs and what type of a project it is. If it’s going to be an impact project, you need to find a producer that is very good at impact production, at reaching out to people, or good at contracts. However, if it is an “independent” film, then trust is something to consider first. Also, the filmmaker needs to be very aware of their strengths and weaknesses, what they can and cannot do, what they like and don’t like to do. As a director you may be incredibly strong on the creative and writing side, but you may not have a good business sense. So, you’ll bring someone who can complement you.

Question: I'm a local filmmaker, and I'm looking to expand my art and my career in general. Where can I go? What can I do?

Going to various international or local workshops and labs really helps to expand your vision, art, and maybe your career as you will meet colleagues who are doing the same thing with you. But, first, it’s important to do your research to have an idea of what your project is, and to see which labs might be a good fit for you based on your production stage. Consider also your location and your identities because some labs ask for people with particular locations or identities. When doing research on labs, workshops, and funds, it is good to create a chart or a Google Doc, or Airtable where you can type the information and give yourself alerts when the deadlines are due. You can also check on some websites such as DAE which provides deadlines for labs, film festivals, and film markets. IDA website also provides great charts where you can look for over 300 funds and labs. The great thing is you can also search based on different parameters, like your gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and find funds and labs that are a fit for you.

Question: How can we reach the European market? Who will I meet there?

There’s an application process to get into the markets. Before you apply, read and follow their guidelines because each market is different. Explore who you determine to meet because in some markets you can propose who to meet, but in some others you don’t get to decide. Do a certain amount of research to understand what kind of market they are and what kind of projects they are after. In the market you are meeting potential broadcasters and distributors, as well as potential producers. This isn’t a one-time thing. You are building relationships here.

Question: Where and how can I find a producer for my project?

The first step would be to actually watch films that have similar vein as yours and see who produced those. Some producers tend to produce similar projects because some producers have a niche. Also look at the festival circuit in your area, and try to reach out to the producers or associate producers because sometimes producers might have a backlog of projects, but an associate producer may want to take the step to become a producer. There are also a bunch of organisations that provide filmmaker databases, such as Brown Girls Doc Mafia, Asian American Documentary Network, Documentary Association of Europe, Documentary Producer Alliance, and Women Make Movies. Follow their social media and see if they have special hangouts during any kind of festivals. Checking your local partners is also a good step to start as your main producer or one of your co-producers.

Question: How is the international market for Indonesian film?

There's not enough Indonesian films in the international market. European pitching markets or pitching training are still very much concentrated in Europe. In the US and Canada, there are so many festivals focusing on Asian diaspora. So, there is a lot of potential for that. However, sometimes it could be intimidating to try to navigate a new market that you are not familiar with. So, in those cases, if you want to break into the US or Canadian markets,  or try to find producers who can work with you, who can help you negotiate.

Question: When pitching a film at a European market or any international market, do broadcasters and platforms require a local producer or co-producer? Can they deal directly with me?

Some broadcasters and platforms will work with you directly. However, they may give you a much smaller presale, like an acquisition. Public broadcasters usually have a mandate that they have to work with local producers from their country's production companies. With co-production, you can access a much bigger envelope of money for the film, and access to more territories. Thus, having someone local who understands how it works is essential.

Question: What's a very non-traditional, but effective way to finance your film, if you are a filmmaker based in Asia?

If you have a project that is aligned with a corporation’s mission, reach out to that corporation by maybe doing cold email or cold call. There are also foundations that might want to support your film. It’s a matter of doing a lot of research and reaching out to them persistently. In the US., working with investors has become a thing. If you do this, you can take a look at the Documentary Producers Alliance website to learn about guidelines to work with investors. Crowdfunding is a big thing too. A lot of people do crowdfunding to get seed money to make their trailer or sometimes to do their last bit of post production. Lastly, private donor is also an option if your film topic creates social engagement that may attract people to invest.

Question: What about workshops or funds for short films?

Global Short Docs is accepting applications from all around the world. There are, of course commissioning bodies like Field of Vision, Op-Docs, Guardian Shorts, and even the cosmetics brand Lush, plus Al Jazeera. It depends on how short it is, what type of film you're doing; journalistic or character-driven or artistic. In the US there are more streaming platforms looking for short content, such as Sundance, HBO Max. There’s clearly a demand out there.