A Nonprofit Model for Independent Films?

Nick Toti has an interesting article over at Indiewire.com suggesting that independent filmmakers should start using a nonprofit model to raise money for their projects. When I first transitioned from experimental dance-theater to filmmaking, I was struck how films had developed a different funding model from the other arts. Whereas most arts groups fund themselves as Nonprofit Organizations (501(c)(3) status under the IRS code), films have historically been funded as for-profit ventures.

This has a lot to do with the expense of making films, of course. It takes millions of dollars to fund and market even a low budget production, whereas a few thousand dollars may go a long way toward funding a performance of a small dance company. So films have developed a system where studios fund their massive budgets from investors looking for a return on their investments and where the massive hit film can help fund the market misses.

Also, of course, the immense payback potential for a hit movie has made films an attractive prospect for many investors. And the historical predominance of films as America’s premier popular entertainment medium has also contributed to relegating most films to commercial, for-profit ventures, thought of as commerce first, and art second.

But as film production costs and marketing costs have soared, the big studios have become less and less interested in funding small, risky films that don’t have the chance of a big payoff. They’re more interested in tent pole pictures and franchises that have a bigger likelihood of being a financial success.

And having a for-profit model for filmmaking has meant that individual filmmkakers generally can’t sustain a career if they don’t consistently make a profit in the market place with their films, a burden that nonprofit arts groups don’t necessarily face. Very few Performance Arts groups could survive if they had to rely on ticket sales for income (including such mainstream civic bulwarks as world-class symphonies, ballet, and opera companies in major cities). Tax-exempt donations have been crucial to the survival of arts in the U.S.

What will it take to allow filmmakers to successfully move to non-profit model? Even with the inexpensiveness of digital production, it can still take a couple of hundred thousand dollars to produce even a micro-budget feature film, still a daunting amount of money to raise.

I’ve long been an advocate of re-thinking our aesthetics to move away from the mainstream Hollywood aesthetics of films, to produce movies that are both less expensive to make and more personal. For those growing up now with an iPhone in their pocket, this is happening quite naturally. This is a very exciting time to be a filmmaker, but we must rise to the challenge of seeing art and the world in new ways, and not simply repeating tired (and expensive) styles, genres and working models.

If we can do that, the time might be right for some filmmakers, like most other artists in our culture, to turn to Nonprofit Organizations for funding. This could mean an individual forming a Nonprofit for his or her own work, but more likely a production company setting itself up as a Nonprofit. Alternatively, films productions could raise money through another Nonprofit that acts as an umbrella agency, (called Fiscal Sponsorship). Currently, Fractured Atlas offers that service for filmmakers.

Of course, this doesn’t eliminate the need for hard work, dedication, and perseverance. That will always be necessary.

Why Nonprofits are the Future of Indie Film

Film As Cheap As a Pencil and Paper

How One of the Best Films at Sundance was Shot Using and iPhone 5s

The Feature Film That Blew Everyone Away at Sundance Was Shot on an iPhone 5s

Fractured Atlas



New Visual Art Section for Website

I’ve just added a new section to my website, highlighting some of my visual art. You’ll find it in the dropdown menu at the top of every page.

Here, for example is an eight-page graphic story I did a few years ago:

“I Was Born in the Center of a Star”

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