Female Indie Filmmakers Should Aim Higher in Their Budgets, Says Women's Financing Panel

Courtesy of Nick Sammons
From left: Rena Ronson, Alex Walton, Jennifer Dana, Jenna Santoianni, Ashok Amritraj and Cathy Schulman

Several financing myths were debunked at Monday night's Women, Money and Movies panel, hosted by the Sundance Institute and Women in Film.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, lower-budget films aren’t always easier to make.

That lesson was one of the key take-aways from the Women, Money and Movies panel on Monday night at the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood.

“Women like to get it done for less,” said panelist Jennifer Dana, president of 3311 Productions (Table 19, Brigsby Bear). “The biggest mistake with smaller movies is not giving yourself enough resources to do it properly.”

She advised the predominantly female audience, comprised mainly of independent producers and directors, to seek financing for 10 percent more than their estimated budget: “You’ll get half, and then you’ll be in the ballpark of what you need.”

Panelists Alex Walton, president and CEO of international sales, production and financing outfit Bloom (Rebel in the Rye, upcoming Suburbicon), and Ashok Amritraj, chairman and CEO of Hyde Park Entertainment (99 Homes, Blue Valentine), added that smaller-budget movies, with their larger equity component, often pose more risk to potential financiers.

The discussion was moderated by Women in Film president Cathy Schulman, who steered the conversation through the changing landscape of distribution models, noting that the expanded number of buyers (from over-the-top players like Netflix and Amazon to upstarts like Annapurna and A24) presents more opportunity for savvy content creators who can accurately identify their target viewers. “It’s best to start accessing the best outlets for your content, rather than make teeny movies that it’s hard to find an audience for,” she said.

Format is now determined by “whatever best serves the content,” added panelist Jenna Santoianni, Sonar Entertainment executive vp television.

Although the intention of the panel was to provide a primer on the current state of finance in general, not specifically limited to examining the issues from a gender perspective, it was part of Women in Film and the Sundance Institute’s Women’s Financing Intensive, which annually invites approximately 25 filmmaking teams to participate in a two-day workshop that culminates in pitch sessions with financiers and production companies. The intensive, now in its fifth year, is intended to address head-on the difficulties women often face in financing their projects, one of the most frequently cited barriers to success for female filmmakers.

Schulman — who frequently checked in with the audience to define terms and make sure everyone was on the same page — and the panelists also took questions, delivering honest, blunt feedback that left some audience members gratefully reconsidering their strategies.

But overall, there is reason for optimism. According to the MPAA’s latest Theatrical Market Statistics report, released last month, women represent a majority of moviegoers (52%), and the industry is starting to pay attention.

“Sales agents have said they’re looking for female-driven stories, because they’re working,” said panelist Rena Ronson, head of UTA’s Independent Film Group. “There’s definite awareness, and more and more in the international space as well. Our job is to make that greater.”

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