BOOK REVIEW: Bankroll

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I’ve never worked in independent film. I like independent film. I have friends who work in independent film. I’ve written screenplays that could be independent films. But me, personally—I don’t think I could do it. For one main reason…

One of the main duties of an independent filmmaker is to round up money, the financing, and the thought of doing that—quite honestly—terrifies me. Not only because I’m terrible with math and numbers, but the idea of asking someone for money seems horribly awkward, confrontational, desperate, uncomfortable. Who do you ask? How do you ask them? What if they say no? If they say no, does it mean your idea sucks? What if they say yes? What if they say no and never talk to you again? What if they say yes and never get a return? What if they laugh at you?

These questions are so daunting to me I’ve never been able to fathom actually doing it… and I have near-total awe and respect for those that do.

But now comes a new book—Bankroll: A New Approach to Financing Feature Films, by Tom Malloy—that explains how to gather financing for your independent film from the perspective of a guy who’s done it. And most importantly, a guy who is—and I mean this in the BEST way possible—a COMPLETE NOBODY.

Bankroll walks newbies through the process of raising money for indie films with budgets of $300,000 - $8 million. Malloy talks about where to find HNI’s (High Net-Worth Individuals)... how to put together a business plan… and how to approach and pitch them. He also spends a lot of time coloring the lessons with stories and experiences from his own career. Normally, I’m not a big fan of books that claim to teach you the ropes and instead just spout their own stories, but Malloy strikes a nice balance; he tells a lot of stories, but he then uses each story to illustrate a lesson. And perhaps most importantly…

YOU’VE PROBABLY NEVER HEARD OF TOM MALLOY OR ANY OF HIS MOVIES. (Anyone seen—or heard of—The Attic?Gravesend?The Alphabet Killer?)

This, to me, is the book’s biggest selling point. We’ve all read books or articles about how Slumdog Millionaire got made, or Reservoir Dogs, or other “indie classics.” And while we’d all like to write the next Terminator or sex, lies, and videotape, the truth is… most of us won't. Most indie films come from small, but still talented, filmmakers just trying to raise enough money to make their movies and get them into contests, festivals, etc. If the movie goes on to become Star Wars or The Usual Suspects, great—but it’s nearly impossible to control or predict this. So while learning how George Lucas or Robert Rodriguez or Quentin Tarantino worked their magic is indeed inspirational, I usually find it unhelpful. Those men are anomalies, and it’s tough to learn to be an anomaly; this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t aim as high as possible, it just means it’s much easier to start learning at the ground floor.

(And just to be clear—I’m not saying you shouldn’t shoot to be the best you can be. I’m just saying that it’s tough to say, “I want to be the biggest, most legendary film producer of all time.” It’s much easier, and more realistic, to say, “I want to spend my life and career making good movies I love and care about.” If they go on to become the next The Matrix, great—but you can’t really engineer that to happen.)

This, to me, is Bankroll’s biggest selling point. When Malloy is telling stories about raising money for one of his films… or walking you through his sample business plan (which is great, by the way—like having a step-by-step template right in front of you)… or even just talking about how he psychs himself up for a pitch or investor meeting… you’re aware that the info is coming from a guy who, very recently, was in YOUR EXACT SHOES. Unlike George Lucas, who is light years ahead of the rest of us, career and money-wise, Tom Malloy is only one, two or three steps ahead of the rest of us… and he’s giving us the path to get where he is.

So if you’re struggling to figure out how raise money for your latest script… or you’re thinking of dabbling in the low-budget indie film world… take a look—it’s a great primer. And while I don’t think I’m quite ready to dive into the indie film world myself, I’m definitely a lot less scared.

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