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From a Producer’s Perspective: How to Choose a Project that Attracts Early Financing

It’s tough to mix art and commerce, but it’s called show business for a reason. As a producer, I live at the nexus of creative and financial realities that must blend seamlessly for a project to work. It’s a balancing act, like spinning plates.

I’m a right brain/left brain person. I’ve spent most of my adult life frantically switching back and forth between business and creative pursuits. I’d jump from a screenplay to a spreadsheet to a deal memo all the while contemplating what my role should be. Like much of life, it made no sense…until it did. I became a producer.  Now I have a singular goal: find an idea and make it real. 

David Kaufmann goes even deeper in his book, The Producer’s Brain. Get it on Amazon now.

Much of the advice that you’ll find on Screencraft is about nailing plot and character. If you want your project green lit, those aspects have to be great, but writing a well-crafted script is no guarantee that you’ll be hearing “action” anytime soon. Think of how many screenplays have gotten Blacklist accolades but haven’t come close to being made. Once a script is completed, there’s a completely new journey that writers should be aware of when they are choosing ideas worthy of their time.

So what does a script need to be produced? 

Bluntly…money! And talent, of course. One typically attracts the other, a classic chicken or egg situation. So how do we crack this riddle? I like to start by putting myself in someone else’s shoes and asking the question: 

Why on earth would you invest money in a movie? 

Investors can do many things with their capital that make more sense, like buying Apple stock or real estate, so why put money into a high-risk venture with little chance of exponential growth? Well, for the same reason you choose to put your primary asset (your time) into writing the script…PASSION. 

You need to choose a story that HAS to be told, something that the world can’t live without. It needs to shed light on an important issue, remind us what it means to be human, or highlight a topic that makes people stand up and say, “This affected me. This changed me. People don’t know this story and they need to.” 

Hundreds of billions of dollars are given to philanthropy every year with no expected financial return (aside from tax incentives which exist in film too). I find it helpful to think about stories through this lens. By investing in a film about an issue that they care about, an investor can further raise awareness for that issue in a really meaningful way. Guess what? They might even make money on the deal! This makes sense in a way that projecting your film as a financial opportunity equivalent to the next Paranormal Activity doesn’t and is the strongest path that I’ve found to move things forward with an early investment or letter of intent. 

Where do you find this type of investor? 

It takes strategy, research, and a lot of hustle. That’s where a good producer comes in. 

There are, of course, other paths to the finish line, but having an initial hook that will instill passion for investors, cast, distributors, and an eventual audience is an important factor that I use to evaluate the merits of a project. Think about what that hook will be for you before you start writing. It doesn’t have to be something completely on the nose either; it could be in the subtext, like how The Shape of Water is really about how we treat people that are different than ourselves. That’s an idea a lot of people can get behind. 

A good friend of mine once said that if you want your project produced, your script and your package need to be undeniable. I think about this often. Creating an undeniable project starts with passion, so find yours but be sure to think about what might attract others too. If you start thinking about your ideas like this early on, you’ll be in a much better position after you knock your creative out of the park. 

Next time we’ll look at how to find and acquire pre-existing intellectual property to adapt, so stay tuned…

David Kaufmann is an independent film and television producer living in Los Angeles. He began his career as an NBC Page at Saturday Night Live. He spent over nine years handling film and television licensing and development at Major League Baseball where he helped create critically acclaimed films like Moneyball and 42. He has an undergraduate degree in Journalism from the University of Richmond and holds an MBA from NYU Stern with a focus on the media business and creative producing. He is an active member of the Producers Guild of America. For more on David, please visit his IMDB or LinkedIn.

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