Funding the Revolution

By Teresa Rochester
Published on: November 16, 1999

In the early and mid 1990s, journalist, attorney and consultant Peter Broderick wrote a series of articles on ultra-low budget movies. What followed was a revolution in the way independent ultra-low budget films were made.

Sun: What was the impetus for Next Wave Films?

PB: When I wrote a series of articles in the early to mid-nineties about independent production, I focused on a number of the ultra-low budget independent features, including "El Mariachi," "Clerks" and "Loss of Gravity." Those were all made for under $100,000.

The articles, because I not only did case studies of the productions but also printed the budgets, had this incredible catalytic effect because filmmakers around the country read the articles.

They appeared in Filmmaker magazine and not only did filmmakers around the country, but filmmakers from many other countries, read the articles. This became a new model of production for themóan alternative path instead of trying to raise $3 million to make a feature. People were trying to assess what their resources were ahead of time, writing a script and making a film within the framework of those resources. They didnít need permission from third parties, they just needed to be careful to work with what they had.

One day I was thinking, well, how else can I support this movement which these articles helped stimulate? Everybodyís running out of money in post-production. So if I could create a revolving finishing fund where people could come when they ran out of money and get the rest of the resources they needed to finish their movie, that could be helpful to a number of filmmakers.

So I went and had a meeting with a man named Steve Bannon who runs an investment bank in Beverly Hills.

Steveís a serious money guy and a passionate supporter of independent film. When he heard about this idea of a revolving finishing fund for independent features, he got very excited and said, "Itís a great idea, and weíll help you and support you. And weíll create a plan."

So we did that. And then I went out to raise the money. And I could regale you with stories of that. But eventually the Independent Film Channel came along and said they wanted to fully finance this plan. In March of 1997, Next Wave was launched.

Sun: I read in an article that you receive an incredible amount of unsolicited films.

PB: Theyíre not unsolicited in the sense that weíre an agent or weíre a production company and thereís certain material that we requestóeverything else that we donít request is defined as unsolicited. Many of those [film companies] have a policy about not reading unsolicited material.

In the world of alternative production, the alternative universe that weíre in, we encourage people from around the world to send us their movies. So nobody needs to know anybody or have a prior relationship with somebody that can recommend their movie or have an agency or a lawyeróany of that stuff. They can just send us their movie and weíll be happy to watch it. And then we watch them all.

Sun: How many do you receive?

PB: I think the most weíve received in a day was eleven. But if you multiply by eleven the number of business days in a year, itís a scary number. I canít count that high. These days itís very common weíre getting four to six films a day.

Sun: And you watch all of them?

PB: Two people watch all of them. Every film that comes in at least two people see, so sometimes it takes us awhile to get back to filmmakers. The way some companies operate is they donít get back to anybody except to the movies that they are really excited about. We get back to everybody. It takes a long time sometimes because weíre trying to be fair and objective and to have two people look at everything. But we do watch everything.

Sun: How many of these films do you actually decide to fund?

PB: So far we have done three films in terms of giving finishing funds. We have done another film that we represented but didnít give finishing funds to. And then we have a new film that weíre about to do. So that would be four or five films depending on how you count.

This year weíll give finishing funds to at least two, and possibly four, films. And those are mostly by first- or second-time filmmakers. So thatís the Next Wave kind of classic finishing funds approach that we do. But you should understand that we called Next Wave a finishing fund for about a minute. And I donít call it that any more because, in addition to the support that we give financially, we also provide technical support.

When it comes into post-production, we help them get a better lab deal or advise them how to unsnarl music rights, or how to do the blowup, or all of those things.

Weíll help them develop and implement a film festival strategy because the movies that weíre going to be involved with are pretty much going to be seen first in the world film festivals and in many cases sold there.

Weíll help them frame the movie in the press, figure out how to tell the story of the filmmakers and the movie. Weíll act as the sales agent, selling the movie both domestically and overseas. Weíll support the movie when it comes out theatrically on the Independent Film Channel in terms of promotion. And weíll help the filmmakers find funding for their next movies.

Itís a spectrum of support designed to help people launch their careers. There are finishing funds that give people money. But the other things we do are at least as important, if not more important, than giving money. So itís reallyóI havenít any simple term to describe it because nobody else is doing exactly what weíre doingóbut itís really about how people launch their careers. So thatís classic Next Wave.

So on this side is the new thing, which is our production arm called Agenda 2000. And the way Agenda 2000 works is people who want to make digital features come to us with a script and samples of previous work and say, "This is the movie we want to do, and weíd like you to finance it."

So then we finance from the beginning, not just the finishing costs. Now those movies are going to be shot digitally and then in most cases transferred to 35mm for theatrical distribution. The movies that Next Wave has brought in for finishing funds could be shot on film or shot digitally or shot on Scotch tape, it doesnít matter. But however good the movie, do we think thereís a theatrical audience for the movie?

Sun: What impact do you see digital filming will have on the movie-making business?

PB: Well, the impact is huge. It has already been really significant and itís going to be huge altogether. In the old days, so to speak, almost all films were made on film and distributed on film. Also, in the old days, independent filmmakers would write a film in a vacuum, then not think really about how much it was going to cost to make. Then they would go out and try to find third parties who were going to give them the money to make their movie and give them, essentially, permission to make the movie.

In the new modelóbecause you can make movies digitally for much less moneyóyou can actually cut third parties out of the process and essentially say, "Okay, well, if we donít have third parties that can give us money or we donít want to go through third parties, we can make this feature film for $900 and we donít need their money. We donít need their approval. Weíre just going to make the movie we want to make."

The way people are making movies for as little as $900 is they have essentially a home video camera thatís digital. They have a desktop computer. And they have software. And so they can essentially own the means of production and the means of post-production. And then they can make as many movies as they want to make. And they can finish them on video.

So the significance is that a higher and higher percentage of the movies that weíre getting submitted to us for finishing funds are being made digitally. We can see the shift.

Weíve only been going for a little over two-and-a-half years, and I can also see how the percentages are shiftingómajor filmmakers like George Lucas making the next Stars War film, which is going to all be made digitally, and made for over $100 million. So itís not about low-budget filmmaking.

So thatís where experienced filmmakers who have opportunities to keep making movies on film are opting in some cases. The possibility of making them digitally, it gives them certain kinds of creative possibilities that they wouldnít necessarily have if they were shooting on film.

Sun: It seems like filmmaking is becoming more and more accessible.

PB: Right. Filmmakers used to say to me, "How much do I need to make a feature?" These days my answer is, "Well, how much do you have? Because thatís probably enough." And I could never say that before.

To me, weíre taking the financing part of it almost out of the equation. So itís not about spending years trying to raise money and maybe succeeding and maybe failing. And then when three years have gone by and you havenít raised your money and youíre starting from scratch on another project, itís like spending three years and maybe you make three movies in those three years. That way, itís a creative process and youíre practicing a craft. Youíre taking risks. And youíre hopefully getting better as a filmmakeróand thatís what filmmakers should be doing.

Sun: When youíre screening films what do you look for?

PB: Well, the first thing I look for is that sort of exceptional talent that jumps off the screen. You canít define it, but you say, "Hey this is just a fabulous filmmaker. And he or she is going to be making terrific movies for years to come." You kind of know when you see it. So thatís one thing.

Secondly, Iím looking for films that I believe have the theatrical audience, which means that theatrical distributors will see their virtues and will want to pay advances on distribution for them. And, I think increasingly the independent films that have the best chance for success are the ones that are unique, original and innovative in some way.

Because there are so many independent films being made, and the number will certainly grow, the ones that are different have, to me, the best chance of standing out in the crowd.

So instead of trying to make your first film a genre film that weíve seen a million times before at a higher budget, try to make something we havenít seen before.

Sun: What advice do you have for young filmmakers?

PB: I have a couple of pieces of advice. The first one is that people need to start out by looking at their resources. Define that framework in terms of the cash and equipment and people to work with, maybe whether they can get a lab deal. And then make the movie within that framework. If they make the movie within that framework, then nothing can stop them.

I think that people should make movies about things that they know about and care about, so the movies have an authenticity and hopefully some kind of passionate belief in them. Because I think people will always be moved or open to and sympathetic to movies that somebody cared about making and somebody made for a reason rather than just, oh, this seemed like a cynical career move.

I guess the last thing is no more excuses. Thereís no reason why you canít make a movie now. And it may be scary because you may be afraid that you wonít make a good movie. But you can make a movie. If itís not good, you donít have to show it to anybody. And then you can go make another movie because the resources involved can be so low.

I think people should jump in, make more films, get better as filmmakers and not spend forever trying to raise money and waiting for the perfect actor to come along, and have all the moons properly aligned. Because that may never happen.

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