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The NYU Cinema Research Institute brings together innovators in film and media finance, production, marketing, and distribution to imagine and realize a new future for artist-entrepreneurs. 


The Limits of Transparency

Michael Gottwald, Carl Kriss & Josh Penn

In his article on Indiewire, "Why Are People Frustrated with Film Financing? Maybe They Aren't Going After the Right Investors," Colin Brown, whose commentary we've posted about before, contends that a solution to the fractured economic state of independent film world may be the existence of investors who don't strictly have the bottom line in mind. However, the problem he raises, is that these higher-minded investors trade in their interest in the fiscal for their desire to be involved early in the process. This would not be a problem at all, in Brown's mind, except for the precious personal stakes that director, star, and producer have in keeping the process behind closed doors. It is largely perceived that it is better to conceal the making of the sausage. Transparency, as we've mentioned before, was a key hallmark of the Obama campaigns in 2008 and 2012. Campaign representatives were upfront and direct about specific goals and where money would go -- amongst field operations, in working with volunteers, and in video messages to the huge body of supporters. This was contrary to prior logic at the time as well.

Despite Colin Brown's concerns, transparency may be something that independent filmmakers could use to their advantage, as many of them transition to using a non-profit, donation-based, sometimes crowdfunded model of financing. Donors tend to have different expectations than investors anyway, and if communicated with properly and honestly, with respect, their growing enthusiasm can be mobilized down the road in many forms: to spread their support to their friends and family, to show up in large numbers as an audience, to volunteer to bring in more audience, and/or, of course, for further donations.

Also, the barriers to transparency that Brown names are largely oriented around the "big personalities" and motivations of a select few working on the film. This is akin to paralysis in operational finesse in a traditional political campaign, because everyone is worried about upsetting the big players. Independent films often have loftier, or higher minded ambitions than studio fare, and so the motivation for most people getting involved is bigger than strictly fiscal. If a grassroots mentality is instilled such that everyone understands that the particular concerns of a director, producer, or star are secondary to the Larger Cause of getting the film made, then transparency with the donor/audience base should not be an issue.

(Also, it's worth mentioning that most independent filmmakers aren't working with stars! And directors and producers, at a grassroots level of independent filmmaking, are just happy to get their film made!)