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Gotta an Idea?: This Is How You Get it Made

Chara Campanella talks with independent animation producers about how they found funding so that you can turn your big idea into a reality.

When Preston Stutzman and Blue Yonder pitched Hoodwinked! (right) to an investor, a Wobots clip turned a lackluster meeting around. © 2005, The Weinstein Co. All rights reserved (right) and © Live Bait Prods.

You have this phenomenal idea. An idea the likes of which Hollywood, or anyone else for that matter, has never seen, never even considered how life could be changed by this bit of animation that's churning around in your brain.

There's only one problem. Hollywood has already said "no." Or, more likely, "It's a good idea. We have one just like it in development." Or maybe the stars aligned and you managed a meeting that resulted in a "Yes! Yes, that's a wonderful idea. Of course we'll have to turn the main character of the Wise Snail into a Spike Dragon of Death, but otherwise it's fine."

But you like your Wise Snail and this is a story that must be told. Does that mean you have to cash out your 401k, mortgage your house, max out your credit cards and eat beans for the next 18 months?

The answer: maybe.

But before you go that route, you might want to consider finding an outside investor.

Preston Stutzman notes that Blue Yonder became independent by default, not by choice. The company produced the live-action short, Chillicothe, after trying to make it a feature film. Credit: Dale Berman (left) & Bill Welch Photography (right)

A Fairytale Come True

Preston Stutzman, producer at Blue Yonder Films of Hoodwinked! fame says, "We often said that we were independent by default, not by choice." The company, which was formed in Tulsa Oklahoma in 1995, wasn't exactly unproven talent, either. Their live-action film, Chillicothe, made it to Sundance in 1999. Even so, Preston says, "Everyone always seemed to have the same response which was, yeah that's great. Let us know how it goes."

Blue Yonder started with a simple goal, "We were writers, directors and producers coming together to create our own original project." Soon after forming, they showed up in Los Angeles with a completed trailer for the film they hoped to make. While the trailer got them their first agent, they weren't able to take it any further. "We realized that we were trying to make too big of a movie so we stopped trying to push that big ball up the hill and made Chillicothe, a much smaller indie film.

The financing for Chillicothe took 10 months and was the classic combination of contributions from friends and family coupled with a tight budget. "We started filming without all the funding and then raised some more money during filming. And then once we got into Sundance we had to raise an additional $50,000. So we were raising money as we went on that project."

Sundance did reward them with an investor to fund their next film... until the investor pulled out three days before production. "We spent the next two years just in development."

Development and day jobs, until they got the opportunity to make the straight to video animated project called Wobots, which was funded by a friend of theirs. After Wobots, they partnered with another producer to pitch a live action project to an investor in San Francisco. During the pitch, they showed him a clip from Wobots, which was the ingredient that turned a lackluster meeting into a tremendous opportunity. As it turned out, that investor was a gigantic fan of animation. He sent the team back to L.A. to come up with an animated feature. They returned one month later and pitched Hoodwinked!. "He loved it and we got started."

Got started and got started quickly. Within two weeks, the deal was made and they were writing the screenplay.

In many ways, their investor was an ideal partner. "He was great, creatively. He said many times that he was going to let us do what we do best." However, they did learn some lessons along the way. Preston"s advice: "If you get an investor who just wants to do things on a handshake, that may not be the best idea. It might be better to take the time to put together a more official deal. On that project we did not involve our lawyer or our manager up front, and we should have."

"It's funny, because it could be argued that that project might never have gotten off the ground if we had instituted the restrictions right off the bat of, No, Mr. Investor, you're not going to be allowed to call us because you're going to have to speak with our manager or you're going to have to speak with our lawyer. Hoodwinked! launched us and maybe that's the reason we did the project."

Treating It Like A Business

The great lesson from Blue Yonder Films is that it can be done. But that leads to the next question: How can you do it?

According to Christine Comaford-Lynch, leader of Mighty Ventures, "None of us are that smart. Whatever idea one of us has, probably a few dozen of us have, at least, worldwide. It's all about the execution."

As a five-time ceo/entrepreneur, Christine is an execution guru. And she has some very specific advice for artistic people entering the uncharted minefield of financing. "You need to explain the project in terms that are compelling to the financier. What are the dollars and cents? How much do you need, what do you need it for, what's the payout going to be, how soon will that be, and let's talk about the risk."

An attorney, a business advisor and an advisory board can help you wade through the language and create a pitch that speaks to investors. "It's so easy to be immediately dismissed and then never be considered. You have to do that friendly fire pitch testing to make sure that you're coming across like a business person."

Five-time ceo/entrepreneur, Christine Comaford-Lynch advises those seeking independent financing to explain the project in terms that are compelling to the financier. Be specific about what you need and why.

Once you pull your pitch together, there are three elements that must be addressed when meeting with investors:

Your pitch must be concise. It needs to be specific about exactly what you're doing.

Your pitch must be compelling. Don't be shy about touting the amazing people you have involved in the project, the market demand, any intellectual property or any other edge you might have.

Your pitch must be complete. Any financier is going to need to know how much the project will cost, where the money will be allocated, when it will be needed and when they can expect to see a return on their investment. The financier will need to feel confident that the project will be executed.

"If it's not concise, they immediately dismiss you because you can not define what your particular project is. If you're not compelling they're like, I know what the project is, but why do I care? And then if it's not complete they go, they've got this sexy idea, they've got some interesting people, but I don't think they've got what it takes to execute."

And while it might be tempting to jump at the first investor who shows interest, there are a few precautions that are worth considering. "They really have to understand your space and the project that you're doing because if they don't, they're going to be second guessing you all the time." That means working with people who understand what you're doing and trust your credibility, people who aren't going to micromanage you, and people who are in it for the duration. "They have to understand how long your project's going to take. They have to be in line with you on the return of investments, in line on the risks, and in line with operationally, what's going to be involved so they're not hassling you."

So do your homework. The better prepared you are, the more options you'll have and then you can go back to the reason you got involved with this business mumbo-jumbo in the first place.

You have a movie to make.

For free start-up business planning tools and to read more about the business of financing, visit Christine Comaford-Lynch's site

Chara Campanella is a writer/producer with a background in both animation and reality TV. Currently, she is working on the independent animated feature, Time Piglets.