Documentary Filmmakers Face Entrepreneurial Challenges: Financing And Distribution
| Published on 05/24/2016

Producing and distributing a film is one of the greatest entrepreneurial challenges I’ve encountered over the years, especially for documentary filmmakers with a passion for a cause. Believe it or not, it doesn’t seem to get much easier when Tony Robbins, Ariana Huffington and the Dalai Lama are involved, according to the team behind the soon-to-be-released film RiseUP.


RiseUP is itself a social enterprise, with a mission to redefine success and prosperity in a more inclusive and socially responsible way. The focus of the film is on social entrepreneurs, business leaders who are defining their own success in terms of both social impact and financial return.


Abe Taylor, independent film producer, founder of Pictureworks Entertainment, describes the challenges of independent filmmaking: “There are so many challenges: financing, attaching talent, distribution, to name a few of the most daunting. I assume most independent filmmakers would answer that financing is the biggest challenge, but I think it’s developing a project that’s worthy of financing. Most projects aren’t, but the ones that are usually find their way to the finish line.”


Kate Maloney, RiseUP’s producer, says that the project is now 70 percent complete and it is scheduled for release this fall.



“We have done interviews with over 200 people that are exploring a new model of success for individuals, communities and the world.”


Maloney notes that the film has been funded by “generosity and participation of many people who are aligned with and inspired by the RiseUP message.” In order to finance the balance of the production costs, the team is planning a crowdfunding campaign on, the cause-oriented crowdfunding platform by Indiegogo.


Director, Michael Shaun Conaway, speaking of the challenges of producing an independent film, says, “Documentaries are value propositions that hopefully pay off in social impact and rarely pay off in financial terms. In order to make that work you have to surround yourself with people who live and breathe the mission of the project.”


Commenting on the progress of RiseUP, Conaway adds, “Like all documentaries we face the twin challenges of funding and distribution. No matter how you decide to raise funding, private investment or crowdfunding–or both in our case–you won’t go far without those key mission partners. Our mission is clear and the promise of our impact is enticing so we have had an easier time than most with funding.”


Having already raised $645,000, RiseUP is not a low-budget effort by documentary film standards.


“We have shot all around the world for the film including, Los Angles, New York, Singapore, Bangkok, Boulder/Denver, Mumbai and London.  We still have a handful of days left to shoot in San Diego, Houston and Salt Lake,” Conaway said.


Many filmmakers struggle to get the financing they need. Scott Christopherson, Director of the critically-acclaimed 2015 documentary Peace Officer and a professor of documentary film at Brigham Young University notes that countless films simply don’t get made for lack of financing. “I have three ready to be produced but financing is getting in the way,” he says.


Maloney told me that her fundraising can be assigned to three chunks. First, last year, she organized a Summit with the help of John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods. The idea was to assemble some of the great minds of the social enterprise community, including Blake MyCoskie, Tony Hsieh and Arianna Huffington. The Summit had several goals, including to provide them the opportunity to begin filming interviews for the project. The Summit was profitable, yielding $180,000 that served to get the project rolling.


The second bucket of funding came from corporate sponsors totaled $190,000 and included The Foundation, 15Five. Bhakti Chai, and Surveygizmo. Some of the sponsors supported either the Summit or the film; a few supported both. Maloney explains that they found this money in “the network of business who are mission-aligned and value-driven companies.”


The final bucket of money was primarily philanthropic, including a substantial piece of Maloney’s own money, totaling $275,000.


RiseUP’s preview has an expensive look, not the typical gritty, authentic feel of a documentary. Instead, it is shot to be visually appealing, evoking a feeling of optimism. Conaway explains the style choice,


“When approaching this film, it was clear that I had to find a way for the characters to tell their story directly to the audience, almost in a one on one transmission. Otherwise we might end up with a film that is about ‘those people’ who are doing Success 3.0 rather than a call to change one’s life and take action to be one of those people. So a lot of the look has been about creating intimacy and getting distractions off the screen and out of the way.”



In order to get the movie subjects to speak to the camera in the same way people naturally speak to a person, Conaway used a set of two-way mirrors to put his face on a screen in front of the lens. “The effect is that there is a connected quality to their presence in the film, like they are actually speaking to the audience. It completely changed the comfort level of everyone we filmed,” he says.


Conaway notes that the crowdfunding effort should help with the second big challenge, too. “Our distribution plan is linked to our audience size and engagement. We decided that a crowd funding campaign was an essential ingredient in building an engaged community around the film. So, preparing the launch of our crowd funding campaign, we see our work differently than your average film team who is focused on the fund raising. We see everything in the long term view of building relationships with people who share our mission.”


As with most social entrepreneurs, these filmmakers are focused more on mission than money.


Maloney and Conaway share a mission with the film to examine a model of capitalism that is focused on a harmony between doing well and doing good with the specific objective to encourage more people to adopt a “success 3.0″ approach to business and entrepreneurship. They hope to see that by engaging the power of entrepreneurship the world’s biggest problems can not only be addressed but ultimately solved.


In the trailer for the film Blake Mycoskie, CEO and Founder of Tom’s Shoes, famous for its buy one give one program, says “The most important part about the film is educating people specifically about how business can be used to improve lives and about how business can be a catalyst for good.”


This article was originally published in Forbes



Devin Thorpe

I'm an author and speaker who focuses on helping those doing good in the world. I call myself a "champion of social good." As a Forbes Contributor I cover social entrepreneurship and impact investing. My books on corporate social responsibility and crowdfunding draw on my entrepreneurial finance experience as an investment banker, CFO, treasurer, and mortgage broker in order to help people use financial resources to do good. Previously I worked on the U.S. Senate Banking committee staff and earned an MBA at Cornell.
Lisa Maloney 10/04/2018
We have been entrusted with this gem called "Planet Earth". I'm ashamed of what we've done to it. "They may say that I'm a dreamer", but I'm so happy that I'm not the only one. Peace
Allan Hill 01/09/2019
. . . . . I hope someday you'll join us And the world will live as one . . . Peace, Love n' Happyness, Allan Hill
Want to add a comment?