Film Financing and Production with Ben Yennie

by Dominica Malcolm

The production-focused Ben Yennie will be teaching the second Bay Area Film Mixer Workshop, “The Lean Filmmaker,” at 12noon on April 30th, at Ninth St Independent Film Center. Tickets are available at Eventbrite. You can also pick up his book, The Guerrilla Rep: American Film Market Distribution Success on No Budget on Amazon and Barnes and Noble and check out his blog.

Ben kindly answered a few production related questions for me, explaining why it’s valuable to learn about these topics no matter what your role in the film industry is.

DM: What are some of the topics you’ll be covering for your Lean Filmmaker workshop?

BY: If you want a direct answer, take a look at the Eventbrite for the workshop, many of the direct benefits are outlined there. I am very much about practical application. But really, there’s a lot more to this workshop than immediate practical application.

We all know world of content creation and particularly of content distribution has been completely revolutionized over the past 10 to 15 years. This is especially true for filmmaking and video production, but the same can be said all across the entertainment industry. Tech giants such as Amazon, Google, and Apple have revolutionized how artists distribute and how consumers imbibe creative content.

What most do not realize is the underlying process for marketing content, selling content, and building a business in any industry that is primarily driven by content has remained largely unchanged during that time. Sure, there’s a new face on it. Platforms come and go, styles and genres come in and out of fashion, and the best suited distribution medium changes every few years. However the tried and true methods of developing a community that leads to building a larger audience hasn’t changed that much since the days of David Bowie, The Police, and Dirty Harry.

So this workshop is less about how to use Adwords, Facebook boosts, and mailing lists, but rather developing your personal brand, reputation, and creative voice can inform and enhance those decisions. Effectively using social media is more about building your brand and building a relationship with your fan base than it is knowing the current hot platform. The how is the platform you’ll use, the why is the methodology and brand you’ve built.

DM: Aside from producers, who can benefit from learning about film finance, marketing, and distribution?

BY: Everyone can benefit from learning about the business side of film. Like it or not, if you’re in the film industry, unless you’re working within the confines of the studio system (and sometimes even then) you’re building a business.

An actor needs to know how best to brand themselves in order to find work. They need to develop a network of people doing other jobs in order to be able to find work, and they need to develop their social media presence to be more attractive to producers. Along the way, they can learn to sell other merchandise once they have a big enough following. Why do you think the Olson Twins are in fashion now?

A DP or any below the line crew needs to know where their next gig is coming from. That generally requires a strong professional network. Sure, you may be part of a small production company, but somebody’s job had better be finding work and maintaining client relationships.

Regarding finance, every member of the team should have some idea as to what drives investors, and how films get funded. Understanding the process will give you a much deeper respect of it, and a much greater value on set. If you have a basic understanding of film financing and how it works, you can better negotiate with producers, or at least understand the ties that often bind their hands when working within the confines of a very limited budget.

For more information, I recommend this blog I wrote for Producer Foundry called Understanding money.

DM: What is one tip filmmakers can use to reduce costs on projects here?

BY: Well, this is going to seem self serving, but ProductionNext is one of the best ways I know. It makes everything easier to track, keeps all your projects in one place, and takes a lot of the pain out of production coordination. The closed beta is also free.

Apart from that, brand integration is incredibly useful here. It’s quite easy to get brands to give you things you need in order to keep your budget low. In fact, I wrote a blog on it so filmmakers can find out the basics of looking for product placement. Read it here!

DM: Where do you see film financing coming from in the future, particularly in the SF Bay Area?

BY: I see the best path forward for filmmakers as focusing more on generating revenue from projects than seeking financing for them.

While there is space for an interesting albeit existential discussion as to what the role of institutional (Venture Capital) financing would have on film finance, it’s a difficult market to attract VCs due to the low returns when compared to tech companies. In the interest of brevity, I suggest you read the blog I wrote called Why Film Needs Venture Capital. If you’d like to know more about this potential avenue for financing film.

Angels are difficult to court here in the Bay Area. There are a lot of very strong and likely more lucrative investments to be had here. So you’ll need to sell them on more than your potential revenue. You’ll need to be able to paint a picture of the film in their head, and make them feel like they just have to be involved. Passion is a prerequisite for this, but it’s far from the only thing you need. If you’d like an idea as to what it takes, it might not be a bad idea to check this out: The 12 Slides You Need in Your Indie Film Investment Deck.

No matter what sort of financing you’re seeking, you’re going to prove that you have the ability to go to market. This means having community and audience engagement. The Lean Filmmaker workshop will help you learn how to develop that base and build an engaged audience. I know every filmmaker hates to hear it, but getting some money in via crowdfunding proves your worth to investors. It proves people are willing to pay for your content.

Although, once you get a following, brand integration can be a good financing strategy, but you need a large following, and the money isn’t as good as you would think it is.

DM: Are there some mistakes you see first time filmmakers making that can and should be easily avoided?

BY: I could write a book on common filmmaking mistakes, but I’m pretty sure that’s been covered. I’ll try to stay away from the obvious standards like plan adequately, etc.

First, you’ve GOT to pay attention to all your rights, and keep them in one place you can turn over to a distributor. License a song for that “up and coming” band you know by buying them a case of Pabst and a handle of Jack Daniels? Guess what, you need a paper trail on that (put $45.99 in consumables on the compensation part of the form). You’ve got to keep track of every release, and make sure you don’t use anything you don’t have the rights to. It’s a bit tedious, but there are software solutions to help *COUGH* *High five for shameless plugs!*

Also, whenever possible only shoot your film in one language. It makes international dubbing and subbing much easier. English is still the best. I’ve had sales agents ask for an English dub just because it sells better to China than Spanish does. Additionally, when you enter post, MAKE SURE you follow proper procedures. Editing your dialogue, music, and effects on separate tracks that are easy to turn off and on make a world of difference. That, and separate video tracks for subtitles and any text that shows up on screen (with the possible exception of the opening credits) make international sales much easier. In fact, it may not be possible without it.

If Ben Yennie sounds like the kind of person you want to learn more from, get your tickets to his Lean Filmmaker workshop on Eventbrite.

Ben Yennie headshot

Ben founded, in 2014, an independent film producer’s representation company. The company was officially launched with the book The Guerrilla Rep: American Film Market Success on No Budget, which has been used as a textbook in ten film schools. Utilizing existing connections and a powerful knack for networking, he’s worked with sales agents to sell, in 2015, nine feature-length films to Starz and other national and international media outlets, scoring a 100% offer rate for his clients and 5 films selling at Cannes 2016. He’s also worked as a tech executive focusing on Sales and Business Development in two separate companies, one of which he cofounded. <ProductionNext>

Additionally, Ben is the founder of Producer Foundry, a business school for independent film, has hosted more than 75 events on Film Finance, Marketing, and distribution. Formerly, Ben founded Global Film Ventures, served as an advisor to the Film Angels, and ran the San Francisco, Vancouver, New York, and Los Angeles chapters of the institute for international film finance.

Keep up with Ben
Buy his book on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
Follow him on Twitter, like Ben and Producer Foundry on Facebook, and connect on LinkedIn.

One thought on “Film Financing and Production with Ben Yennie

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s