Many cinematographers underestimate the importance of their role in the packaging,presentation and procurement of financing for a film. Since most cinematographers have little interest or experience in the development and financing phases of independent features, it’s quite understandable. But, understanding when, how and how much a D.P. factors into the equation can mean the difference between a project getting a green light or sitting on the shelf.
When a producer begins putting together a plan to get a film project financed, it starts with a few key elements. First, you need a completed screenplay. This seems obvious, but you don’t have to look too terribly long to find an example of a filmmaker who tried to make a film because he or she could get some money, and the script became an afterthought. Rest assured, you haven’t fallen into the Twilight Zone, that’s still the first step in how good movies get made – with a completed script!
The next step that filmmaker will take is to start attaching key elements to the project for the purpose of creating an appealing package to show to potential investors. It’s important to note here, too, that whether a filmmaker is taking the “traditional” route of bringing on investors or utilizing a crowdfunding approach, the basic process doesn’t change. Before you can attract investors, you have to create a package that is attractive. In other words, you need something that looks like you’re making a real movie, and you need to show investors something that looks like the movie you’re trying to make.
The next step, then is to attach some key people to the film: a director, a few key actors, and a cinematographer with a killer demo reel. The first two are probably obvious, but does a cinematographer’s demo reel really hold that much weight? Let me put it to you this way, if, as a director, I’m trying to convince investors that I know how to make a beautiful, period piece feature film, but all I’ve ever done is TV ads and a few rap music videos, how much more powerful would my pitch be if I could show them my D.P.’s demo reel, and they can see examples of exactly what I’m pitching? Suddenly, the gaps in my directing resume are filled in with my cinematographer’s experience. As a team, we are now more than qualified.
Imagine the pitch meeting. The investor has already read the script, and the producer has brought him to the theater. The director has done nothing that looks anything like what is being pitched, but the cinematographer has a demo reel with just the look they’re pitching. The producer introduces the D.P. as a professional cinematographer, gives the investor a glossy version of your resume, then tells him that the cinematographer just finished shooting a feature film with the same look and feel that this film will have. He concludes by giving the cue to dim the lights, and the D.P.’s demo reel runs for the next 7 minutes. When the lights come up, the producer closes the deal.
That wasn’t hard, was it? All your D.P. had to do was show up and look like a cinematographer, then let you run their highly-polished demo reel. You just closed the deal. Yes, it can be just that easy.
So, cinematographers, don’t forget to keep that demo reel up to date, and never underestimate the power of your visuals. They may just be what gets the film financed.