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Anatomy of an Independent Film Business Plan

Planning is key to the successful development, production, release, and profitability of independent films. As an indie filmmaker, you’re in the business of making and selling a product that just happens to involve entertainment. Like any entrepreneur, your business plan should be considered essential. You wouldn’t start making a movie without a shooting script. Probably not without storyboards or some other form of pre-visualization of your shots. Think of your film business plan the same way.

Why write a film business plan?

There are several important reasons to put serious time into this step in the filmmaking process. First, unless you’re paying to make your movie out of your own pocket (hint: you shouldn’t be), the business plan shows equity investors that their funds are being put into a trustworthy investment. As an asset class, independent film is on the extremely speculative side of the risk scale. If you’re not working with an experienced producer (one with industry credits), your plan becomes even more important as a basis for investor confidence.

The film business plan is also a guide for you, the indie producer, to every important business aspect of your movie. It’s your plan for how you’re going to successfully pull off your indie filmmaking venture. From financing to distribution, researching and writing a film business plan will put you at the center of the creative factory that any motion picture intended for a commercial audience represents. Knowing the business of your film thoroughly will inform your views on the marketability of the particular movie at its budget level, the most effective way to direct the story, and the smartest strategy for distributing it profitably.

Difference between a film business plan and a private placement memorandum

As important as understanding what a business plan is and why you need one is being fully clear on what a business plan is not. It is not a private placement memorandum (“PPM”) or investor subscription agreement, which are equally essential documents (if you’re financing your film through passive investors). But each document serves a different purpose.

A film business plan is useful as part of a PPM. It’s important to describe topics like the film, the production team, and the marketing and distribution strategy. That’s exactly what your plan should do. Without much more, however, it isn’t sufficient to present to passive investors (those not actively involved in making the film). Never use a film business plan alone to raise money. A PPM goes well beyond the business plan to present a detailed and accurate discussion of the risks of investing in the company behind the film. It also includes disclosures required by federal and state laws. Work with an entertainment attorney knowledgeable about such laws and financing independent films to create it.

Components of a film business plan

Your plan should include sections on:

  • Realistic financial projections
  • Obtainable financing strategies
  • Current description of industry and markets
  • Affordable marketing strategies
  • Achievable distribution plans
  • Company and production team experience
  • Story synopsis
You’ll notice this does not sound like a pitch deck. The focus is not the visual style you want to convey and the ideal cast you hope to attach. Do compare your film to existing motion pictures that are genuinely similar. But you’ll also need to gather data to develop and support your comparisons. Without this, your projections may be as illusory as if they were shown on a green screen. You’ll also need to break down your script and present a realistic budget. Either work with a professional line producer to do this, or prepare your film budget yourself (possibly using an application such as Movie Magic Budgeting or another professional film budgeting tool).

Film business plan resources

Writing a coherent and compelling plan is neither a quick nor particularly easy process. But there are plenty of filmmaker resources that may help. For example, consider Film Independent’s upcoming Toolkit: Indie Business Plan Primer (This is not an affiliate link. DeepFocus does not endorse anything except the idea of working to help indie filmmakers produce great movies and shows.) You might also consider signing up for our Producers Legal Program. This blog post is not legal advice, but you can get such advice and guidance every step of the way with your plan there. Whichever way you go with your indie project, start with a plan. Just like looking at a map before setting off to places unknown, it’s the best way to get where you’re going safely.

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