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Alternative Funding

Opportunities for Filmmakers on Alternative/Challenger Platforms

alt platforms

It’s hard to get an idea commissioned as a large indie; it’s even harder if you are working solo. However, the changing media landscape means that there are an ever increasing range of outlets and platforms in need of content. At Sheffield Doc/Fest 2014 a panel of commissioners from emerging/alternative platforms outlined opportunities for more independently-minded filmmakers.

For anyone frustrated by the glacial decision-making and risk averseness of traditional broadcasters (and indies), new digital platforms offer filmmakers an number of advantages:

  1. Short form content –  means the emerging director can cut their teeth – and hone their voice –  on a number of varied projects over a short space of time.
  2. Fast decisions – small digital platforms have a flatter decision-making structure and are able to commit or reject more or less on the spot.
  3. Seed money to develop longer projects – although budgets are invariably tiny for digital platforms, they may be amenable to allowing you to use your short piece as a form of pitch tape to raise funding  for a longer project based on the same subject.
  4. Fast turnaround results – pitch this week, and you could be filming next week, and your film be online a couple of weeks after that.
  5. Indulge your  passions – if you have a particular interest or area of expertise there’s probably an online channel that wants your content; you just have to identify your niche and then find the appropriate platforms.
  6. Talent showcase – build a strong reputation on a respected online platform and you’ll build the foundations for moving mainstream (if that’s want you want to do). You’ll also be likely to have a closer relationship with the commissioner on a smaller platform, and they are in a great position to champion you to the wider industry if they want to help you build your reputation. Commissioners regularly move around to different channel – and take their favoured talent with them.

Here’s what they are looking for in (almost) their own words:

Lina Prestwood, Executive Producer – Vice

Vice is an online platform aimed at Millennials (18-35 year olds) – a young demographic who own good smart phones. Vice see themselves as the ‘voice of a generation’ and focus on global news, culture and entertainment.

Shows include Americana, Behind the Seams, and Correspondent Confidential They tend to prefer films of 15 mins+ but they also pay attention to what works best for the story

Commissioning: Almost all content originates in-house, but Vice is looking for directors to work with them on in-house productions and filmmakers can bring ideas to them (3-minutes to feature-length). Niche ideas are great for them as all their channels are niche and serve specific audiences. Narrative-driven, presenter-led and current affairs ideas are especially welcome.

To pitch: Send a full 3-minute film or some sequences to showcase your storytelling skills. If you are pitching a character they would rather see some footage shot on a phone earlier, than fully edited and polished footage later. They aim to make fast decisions on ideas (within days or weeks) and pay directors industry rates for people working on in-house productions.

Ravi Amaratunga, Head of Dazed Vision

Daze Vision has an independent and creative focus and sees itself as a place for experimentation. The audience is 65% female, aged 16-25 years.  Strands include:

Most films are than 10 minutes in length,  but they also commission 23-minute films for Music Nation and longer projects for TV and feature films.

Commissioning: Content is 60% commissioned and 40% acquired. They are looking to establish relationships with new directors.  Turnaround on production is led by the filmmaker, but can be up to three months for a 3-minute film; it can also be super-quick. Dazed take co-ownership with the filmmaker with an exclusivity period of one week to one month and 10-20% of the budget goes tot he producer/director. They often co-produce with independents, and co-produced a series of 5-minute shorts with Channel 4.  They are happy to see their investment as seed funding to develop short piece that can act as pilot for a longer project.

To pitch: Don’t send 100 page bible: send a one paragraph synopsis, a couple of photos/examples of work, and if they think your idea is a good fit they will organise a meeting. They aim for a quick decision and will suggest other outlets if it’s not right for them.

 Jordan McGarry, Lead Curator – Vimeo

Vimeo is an open platform where anyone can upload their videos. A Staff Picks channel curates and showcases the best films. Five-minutes is an ideal length; longer films tend to be scheduled at the end of the day or during the weekend. Make sure the film’s thumbnail is attractive to attract the viewer’s attention.

A new Vimeo on Demand channel allows filmmakers to sell their films direct to their audience. Filmmakers set their own price and can choose whether to allow downloading or streaming. Vimeo takes 10% of revenues plus a payment processing fee of approximately 5%. The most successful films have made 6-figures in their first year on the site, such as the Oscar winning Lady in Number 6

Commissioning: Vimeo curates and commissions work on behalf of brands. They work with brand on the brief and then put it out to filmmakers; they often source directors from Staff Picks videos, so it’s vital that any content you upload is your very best work. The brief/pitch process lasts 6-8 weeks. Once the brand has signed off on the concept, they are hands-off and the filmmaker deals directly with Vimeo during the production process.

Raven Smith, Commissioning Director – Nowness

Nowness is a global digital storytelling platform. An exclusive film is transmitted every day, with a focus on  music, art, fashion and design, and each film runs for 24 hours. Films are mostly 3-minutes long, but they schedule 5-20-minute shorts on Sundays. They look for a visual aesthetic that heightens the story being told. Most people watch on mobile devices during their commute; approximately 40% of the audience is in the USA and 40% in the UK.

Examples of films:

Commissioning: They aim to be super responsive: submit an idea on Wednesday and you could be shooting by the weekend. They claim exclusivity over the content for 15 days before it reverts back to the director. They try to offer industry rates and offer some in-house production support.

To pitch: Send in a very brief pitch and a good showreel. They like to commission directors to work outside of their normal area e.g. a music video director making a film on fashion.





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