How A Film Student Raised $230,000 For A Short Film – Houston Howard

How A Film Student Raised $230,000 For A Short Film – Houston Howard

Sherrod Sloan, Filmmaker/LA Film School Student: How do we as independent filmmakers use
transmedia to elevate our production pitches or when we’re trying to take on
investments or get financing for our projects how do we use transmedia to
make that more easily accessible? Houston Howard, Transmedia Author and Instructor: So a question that I got after the first
round of Film Courage interviews we had was a lot of people asking me about how
this impacts the the the search for investment you know independent
filmmakers and event creators are always looking for money and that’s just part
and parcel you have to figure out it pay the crew you have to figure out how to
you know pay for the sets you have to buy insurance you have to do all these
things so so money is is is necessary and so a lot of people were out there
trying to find a private equity investment into their film and right now
that’s that’s very difficult when you talk to any independent filmmakers
they’re gonna say the search for financing is one of the most frustrating
difficult things that that you do as a film as a filmmaker and and that’s why a
lot of people pivot to things like a Kickstarter or IndieGoGo because they
want to crowdsource that and unfortunately most you know the vast
majority of things when Kickstarter the vast majority of films and Kickstarter
don’t get funded at all and on average films on Kickstarter get funded at about
twelve thousand dollars and and if and if you’re a swell thousand dollars on
Kickstarter to make a movie I am rooting for you and hope you make the greatest
12 thousand dollar movie you’ve ever made but if you want to filmmaking to be
your career and you don’t want to be you don’t want filmmaking to be your side
hustle then we have to figure out how to how to get beyond the 12 thousand dollar
movie and so a lot of my focus over the past year and a half has been working
with independent creators on how to better position their films for
investment private equity investment and so because a lot of people a lot of
filmmakers think trends medias for the back end stuff it’s it’s after you make
your movie and how to you know how to promote it or how to extend it or how to
expand it but but I think you need to one front load your transmedia plan
before you go out to get and one if you if while you’re while you’re
writing your script while you’re shopping your script while you’re
looking for financing for your script you could be extending your IP and
building audience the entire time mostly every writer that I know when they when
they write a script they’re hustling that thing for two three four sometimes
sometimes ten years looking for investment or trying to get it optioned
and so if during that time that you’re developing hustling shopping whatever
you’re doing if during that time the entire time you’re using the tools that
we have available podcast self-published novels IG TV short stories and what bad
whatever it is if you were just working the IP and building audience what
happens is when you finally get into the room with somebody whether it’s a
production company for that you’re pitching it to for you if you want an
option or to a private equity investor you can now have the data and the
analytics of market pre awareness 2.2 because when you walk in the room with
zero brand recognition and zero fans you’re having a different conversation
than somebody that can point say I have three hundred thousand people who who
love my IP that engage with me and cross for four or five different channels it’s
just a different conversation because you’ve you’ve switched the risk analysis
and that’s one thing we talked about one of the previous videos is is studios
they don’t necessarily love great content they love low risk and the way
the way to skew the risk is to build audience is just to have audience and
when you have audience all of a sudden people feel like you’re safer and so
being able to walk into a finance meeting and point to audience gives you
such a leg up because now you shift that risk analysis into your into your favor
if you watched Shark Tank the first thing that that the Sharks asked people
is how many units have you sold they don’t
ask how much money you’re looking for what so how much equity you trying to
give up they ask those questions at the end the very first question they say is
how many of you sold your one that you’ll me to invest in your toothbrush
how many toothbrushes have you sold why do they ask that they’re asking that to
gauge is this risky or is it not and so somebody says I’ve sold 400,000
toothbrushes in the past year independently is less risky than the
person that sold zero toothbrushes and in in the entertainment space it’s the
same exact thing you you want to be able to point to the data and the analytics
to be able to prove audience so I think there’s when we’re talking about
investment I lean into warren buffett warren buffett you don’t think of them
as somebody like from the film world or entertainment world but you have to
understand warren buffett’s a businessman who understands investments
and a lot of the people that you go for investments you target for investment
aren’t entertainment people they’re you’re rich orthodontist that’s in your
neighborhood that just has some money that you want to be able to go and pitch
this thing – they’re not entertainment people it’s the the it’s the the person
that made a bunch of money in natural gas and oil or tech stock they’re
business people so you have to understand what motivates a business
person to be able to to want to invest into into an opportunity and there’s
there I think there’s two major components that you need to have
according to Warren Buffett you need market pre awareness and you need
scalability and so market free awareness is being able to show that there are
people that want your product is there pre awareness in the marketplace we’ve
seen this in Hollywood for the past 40 years when they say is it based off a
book you know if you if your if your screenplay is based off of a successful
book it will it will get option faster than one that’s not and and and
anybody’s out there shopping will attest to that that’s it that’s why the
optioning the the book optioning market comic book
markets super competitive because people want to be able to get that market pre
awareness and leverage that into a deal so you need that market pre awareness
but you also need scalability so what’s the market opportunity in the long term
how big is this not big and how long is this investment so is it a is it a two
year window of revenue is it a one-year window of revenue is it a ten-year
window of revenue or a 20 year window of revenue so how big can we make this
thing it’s just a one-off or how big can we go and so a lot of times we think
about transmedia in the scalability aspect of it how big can we make it it
can be toys and video games and and TV and film and all these big things right
that’s great because that shows market opportunity but we also need to use
transmedia on a smaller scale to be able to shift
the pre awareness game and so if you can show pre awareness and scalability and
just have a good idea all of a sudden you have armed yourself with everything
that you need to be able to go into to an investment meeting and point to to to
you know the the assets that you have as far as your pitch and so so
understanding how your pre awareness shifts the risk and how your scalability
increases market opportunity is a really valuable thing to have and unless you
use a multi-platform trans mediated model you’re not going to get either one
of those things so all that to say we have to we have to think in a broader
term of what the IP is I think this is the thing that that Warren Buffett
really Warren Buffett really in a commoditized market so I talk a lot
about the entertainment industry now being commoditized and so what I mean by
commoditized is there’s a lot of people making similar products right and if
competition in the marketplace is so crazy we have zillion things on Netflix
is zillion things on hulu amazon anything that comes out in the theater
network TV TV cable TV premium TV you know we have like every its
entertainment is commoditized because there’s so many options that everything
is a little less special and so Warren Buffett tells business people don’t make
investments into products that are currently in commoditized markets unless
they can shift pre awareness they have good scalability and they have brand
value if you have brand value all of a sudden you you can survive in a
commoditize market Warren Buffett also says that one of the things that help
you help you compete in a in a commoditized market is volume and
diversification so this is business principles so Warren Buffett says if
there’s if the if the market is oversaturated and there’s there’s
there’s like a hundred times more stuff out there then you actually need to
produce more things into the marketplace right to be able just just to be not
washed away right because we’ve gone from a pond to an ocean and if you wanna
make a splash in the ocean you need to have more of a presence in that ocean so
volume is a strategy within a commoditize market just general business
principle how does that now equate to entertainment which is now commoditized
that means now we have to have we have to have more things more stories into
the marketplace or houston it’s is it how can I make more movies like it takes
a long time to make a movies and I’m trying to make it like one movie let
alone ten movies exactly you can’t make ten movies simultaneously you put them
all out at the same time it’s too hard too expensive too difficult takes is
it’s just that’s impossible so now we have to then use the second component
which is diversification so now we have our movie that can be one touch point of
the brand maybe the tentpole of the brand but now we’re pushing volume
through diversification so now we’re thinking about what are my digital
assets what what are what’s my my social assets what are my immersive assets arv
are you know how can I have publishing involved you know what could like how
can I now push volume out on the front end and the back end to-end diversify
that across mediums and platforms that now
me to compete in the commoditize market why are we talking about this because
the businessman that you’re pitching to understands this stuff the biggest one
of the biggest failings of independent writers and producers and filmmakers is
when they go to pitch they think they’re pitching to themselves that the person
on the other side of the table thinks like them that if you’re filmmaker that
leans into if you’re DP and you may love your color palettes and your your
cinematography and you may have storyboards and you can talk about
lenses and all these things this is what you love this is part of your art and
you’re going to create the most the your most beautiful film ever that’s great
the odds are the orthodontist or the investment banker or the the rich lady
in the next seat doesn’t understand that stuff or even if she does she may not be
excited about it what they understand is business and what they understand is
investment and they understand rate of return and return on investment they
understand risk they understand volume they understand diversification they
understand branded ecosystems and all this sounds like a foreign language I
can imagine all the people watching the video now and I’m turning into the
Charlie Brown teacher wah wah wah wah because they say I don’t want to think
about that stuff because I’m a writer I’m a filmmaker
I just want to worry about making my movie I just wish that person would have
been born 30 years ago like if they were born not just born 30 years ago like
active in the industry 30 years ago if they were active in the industry 30
years ago it’s a different ballgame now it’s so competitive the world is so
different you have to think about these other things and so understanding it’s
it’s empathy it sympathy it’s it’s empathetic pitching so if you understand
what concerns that the other person has then you will be better at pitching your
project you’ll be better at positioning your your your art and your project for
an investment so what do investors care about what do
investors get excited about what do they look for and then how do I design my
project and my my proposition in such a way that alleviates those concerns or
those they hit the touch points that excite them and so the more you do that
the more successful you’ll be at in getting these investments so if you know
if you know that that investors are concerned about volume diversification
propre awareness the shifts risk scalability that increases market
opportunity why would you ever pitch anything that doesn’t have any of that
stuff there and so but the only way you’re going to be able to get that in
an entertainment perspective is using a multi-platform transmedia super story
approach because again you can’t make a hundred movies now you have to have a
plan to be able to use all these different assets one really interesting
story to tell you that I think is really inspirational and really cool and that
makes this whole thing real is there was a student that that approached me with a
short film idea they were shooting a great shoot a thesis film to graduate
film school and they needed to raise $12,000 to to shoot their short film and
he said Houston will you look at my business plan and I looked at his
business plan and his business plan was give me $12,000 and I’ll make my short
film I’m gonna put it into festivals and as I win the festivals I’ll give you the
prize money until your $12,000 is paid back that was the plan when I read that
I I applaud this guy for coming up with that but I’m thinking again like the
like a businessman no way I invest in that $12,000 into that into that
business plan why it’s because one it’s hard to get into festivals and it’s even
harder to win I mean that’s the thing that any filmmaker understands it’s very
super super competitive so me as an investor I’m gonna look at that and say
that’s risky like it’s very very low a rate of return
I’m probably gonna lose this money and so I encourage this student I said yeah
I don’t think this is gonna go you can try it I don’t think it’ll work I think
you would be better off potentially just asking people for like a go fund me
donation he didn’t want to do that he wanted to actually try to get the
investment and so he identified an investor in Florida that he wanted to
approach with this opportunity and this guy owns seven car Lots
and his mom was connected to this guy on on Facebook they were friends and so he
had just had it again this is not an entertainment guy it’s a guy that sells
cars and so so for three days we sort of repackaged his pitch so what we did was
we went and we did a transmedia plan for that and we went from a product century
eccentric view of the of the of the opportunity and made an IP centric view
of the opportunity so IP being the larger intellectual property right and
so we quickly what this what this kid had in spades was a really cool idea he
hid a cool creative idea and so we for two days we workshop the idea and we we
developed we developed a podcast we developed a self-published novel we
developed a concept for a digital comic book we developed a concept for a
musical EP he knew some people at the Music School that were that was that he
contacted they said they would create six songs that extended the story they
would do it will inspect for him and they had a rev share that they were
gonna do we we sketched out the self-published novel we sketched out a
feature film and a TV series and we figured and they all told different
stories within the same story world they were all connected together in this
really interesting way and they all worked for one whole big puzzle and so
then the pitch became I want you to invest in not into my short
I want you to invest into the IP itself right so now your financial you the
investor our financial partner into my in my intellectual property so what
we’re going to do first is we’re going to take the twelve thousand dollars and
we’re going to put it into the short film because that’s what I need to shoot
the short film for but listen we know that short films probably won’t make
money I’ll put it in the festivals and if I win then I’ll give you some give
you the prize money but the point of the short film no longer is driving revenue
primarily it’s building audience we’re gonna put it into festivals start to
build an audience with the school idea we’re gonna release the podcast that I
can produce myself for free that’s gonna build audience it’s going to get
eyeballs we’re gonna release the music which is gonna get a whole different
demographic of people and also build audience and get and build excitement
and if the music makes any money you participate in the profit of that I’m
gonna write it write my own novel self publish it that’s gonna be an Amazon
that’s gonna build the audience but if that like through the book sales if that
starts making money you participate the investor participate in the profit of
that the digital comic books will be up on the website his his brother was a
illustrator and said he would spec out one issue for him if when that’s a 99
cent download investor will participate in the profit of that that’s also gonna
build audience the plan is then to do that for two years we’re gonna work the
podcast work the novel work the music there was there was a release window of
like when they ever think it was gonna be released I’m we’re going to work that
for two years wild the kid writes the feature film
script right as this being developed as it’s being written that all this stuff
is going to be there with after that two years if everything works out the the
the plan will be will have enough audience and pre awareness to then start
approaching production companies to option the script but we’re not just
going to be some but an IP that no one’s ever heard of we can point to our brand
awareness and we can point to our audience that we can point to our
community fans and so now we have at least a
Hunter’s chance to be able to sell the feature if the feature sells you the
investor participate in the profit of that and then you know listen this is
pie in the sky long-term thinking if the film does well and we sort of have this
like cult success on our hands its indie success maybe then we can sell it as a
TV series and and if that goes you participate in the profit of that and so
now it’s a it’s a ten year plan rather than just a short full plan but you can
see immediately how that just became a whole other thing like that from an
investment perspective the investor looks at that completely differently it
seems it seems like a bigger opportunity it seems it seems reasonable and and
this guy sells car Lots so we went oh he has cars 7 car Lots he sells cars we
went and put the car lot in every story because what does the car lock guy care
about most discs selling cars cares about his car Lots so we made it a
location in the story world and we make sure it was in every story so we he
works that up into a pitch deck the whole plant is there you know it works
the he does the business the business the business plan runs the numbers for
all the stuff and then goes off to Florida a couple weeks later gives me a
call after he gets there he was been there a couple days gives me call and
says houston i got my investment i said you got your twelve thousand dollar
investment it’s amazing he said no I didn’t get a twelve thousand dollar
investment I got a two hundred and thirty thousand dollar investment I said
really like how did you get a two hundred thirty thousand dollar
investment he said well I just sat down with this guy and I laid all this stuff
out and this guy looked at me and said you know what this makes business sense
and he says I don’t know anything about entertainment but this makes business
sense and then the guy said he said do you know how much money I waste in
marketing across my car Lots every year and and he said I he said he wastes
about 40% of his marketing budget just on Billboard’s no one ever sees
commercials no one ever watches and he said because this makes business sense
and because you have the car lot in here I can take 10% of my marketing budget
across all seven of my Lots and out just invest it into the IP because if it
doesn’t work I was gonna waste the money anyway but if it does work all of a
sudden the business model seems interesting enough to where this could
be a good long-term investment for me and all of a sudden this could be huge
for me and my brand and in the fact that the car Lots in there may it will
probably do little market my car lots better than then my regular crappy
used-car lot commercials will is that people will
come to my car lot just because it’s like a movie location and it taps into
all of the thing and so all of a sudden repositioning that that project from a
product centric point of view to an IP point of view IP perspective that one
had a plan of how do you build pre awareness that shifts the risk but then
also how do you increase scalability on the back end that increases your market
opportunity and how do you make it make business sense for the person across the
table now if if that didn’t work and he was going to an orthodontist who has
money in the next bitch he will probably have to change that
take the car let out do something else right and so so you have to be you you
probably not just gonna have one pitch for for your IP you you need to design
it for the person to whom you’re pitching make it a tailored suit rather
than the suit they have to fit in and so all of a sudden this this from an
independent perspective this makes an independent private equity venture a
hundred times more interesting and more valuable than just the person that has
the one script or the one movie idea or the one short film or whatever it is so
again do you have to figure it out a little bit more of course right but but
I think a problem is there’s a lot of people that want to achieve what other
people have without doing the same amount of work that other people do and
so yeah like we just we live in a time that independent creators have to do
more work than ever before to be able to survive in a commodity
– oversaturated entertainment market but at the same time we’re blessed to live
in a time where we have so many tools that my parents my grandparents my
great-grandparents never had right so it’s so it swings both ways you just
have to get out of that that same mindset see the opportunities all of a
sudden went to be if you’re able to implement those opportunities your
investment pitch come it’s a completely different conversation you

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About the Author: Oren Garnes


  1. MENTAL WORK… Creatives, artists, dreamweavers, pay attention…what this guy just rattled off without a script, off the top of his head, is the reason creatives NEED partners, associates, mentors like this to succeed. John, Paul, George and Ringo might not have been the Beatles without Brian Epstein and George Martin, guys with business, technical, and even artistic abilities beyond theirs. The creative is not king. It’s the project, the story, the song, the film that is key. And it takes a whole set of mental skills to make that project successful. Without those people, an artist is just a guy with a harmonica sleeping under a bridge. Thanks…now I gotta watch this again.

  2. Honestly one of the most informative interviews I've seen on this idea. So thankful he gave examples too! Have to rewatch this a few times and take notes. Thanks film courage!!

  3. when Roland Emmerich graduated from film school he didn't settle for the usual 20,000 DM budget for finals, but raised 1,000,000 DM for a sci-fi movie instead (pretty much $1,000,000)

  4. Very, very good information video ???????????????Very HELPFUL!!!! JUST TO LET YOU KNOW THAT PEOPLE ARE WATCHING THESE VIDEOS. KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK ???

  5. Houston is one of my favorite people in these interviews. After reading his book, I started implementing storyworlds into anything I create, so hearing him say this is just reaffirming everything in the book. Such a brilliant way to go about marketing your IP.

  6. Houston Howard is the man! Detailing how in today’s market a creative MUST become proficient at ALL ASPECTS of entrepreneurship is invaluable. It’s definitely hard work, but an enjoyable experience as part of the business building process! The way a creative imagines and organizes their IP into a dope story tapestry is the same energy that is needed to transform it into a profitable/marketable business endeavor. In this realm, Imagination and logic are allies not adversaries and once one recognizes this their IP will be unstoppable?. Again, major shoutout of appreciation and gratitude to Film Courage for continuing to educate and inspire us indie creators. You don’t know it yet, but you are literally raising the next generation of entertainment industry titans through your informative interviews. Thank you for properly arming us for the inevitable pitch wars. We salute and value you??.

  7. This interview was SO helpful. I just went through a month of stress trying to raise just 1,000$ on my movie. This man outlines a whole process of the specifics.

  8. This has completely changed the way I think about my stories. I don't think this approach will work with every story idea – at least not every story idea I have – but when it does, it really does elevate the whole idea to something completely different. Fantastic content Film Courage and long may it continue. Thank you!

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