“Independent filmmaking isn’t a business, it’s a hobby,” Crystal Moselle, an award-winning director and documentary filmmaker told Broadly. Although Moselle’s Skate Kitchen has been screened at Toronto International Film Festival and Sundance, she admits that the industry can be —generally— relying on investors or production companies to finance them, and aren’t self-sufficient.
Women are outnumbered by men 22 to 1 in the director’s chair, according to a study from USC Annenberg’s Inclusion Initiative; and only four of the top-grossing films (1,100 films in total) between 2007 and 2017 were directed by women. When it comes to filmmaking, the financial decision-makers are crucial for the project’s success but for many women who don't have access to these executive suite individuals —76 percent who are men— their projects never come to fruition.
Broadly heard from five female directors and producers at the Female Filmmakers Festival (FFFEST) about how they got their projects financed and the challenges they’ve faced.
So Yong Kim, director
Kim is an award-winning independent filmmaker with two feature films under her belt, Treeless Mountain and In Between Days. Kim works creatively with her husband, Bradley Rust Gray, and the two founded a filmmaking company called soandbrad, inc. For her second feature, Treeless Mountain, Kim initially sought funding from international production companies since the movie was filmed in South Korea.
“Sundance Institute recommended [Treeless Mountain] to participate at [a Cannes] forum where you can meet international and foreign production companies and directors,” Kim said. “We participated in that at 2007, so we were able to start to raise some foreign funds. But when we came back to New York, our New York producers were able to find financiers who were private equity people. Instead of foreign funds we started to raise, we went with American equity financing out of New York City.”
Kim attributed some of her early success to the grant funding she received. She has been a recipient of four grants and participated in two fellowships over the course of her career.
“Grant money is really valuable. It doesn't matter if it's post-production or development funds, or even a little office space. I think every little bit helps just in the beginning to get you going, to boost you to the next level. All those things add up to so much more in the long run.”
Mimi Packer, co-founder of FFFEST
Packer is a New York-based producer, who has worked in documentaries, short films and television shows like VICE's Gaycation and Hamilton's Pharmacopeia. Packer acknowledged how producers face a unique challenge in helping the creative team stay grounded in reality, and she encouraged young filmmakers to seek independent production companies who will support their work.
“I think that it’s really important for producers to find independent companies that will get behind them to create the budget, work on the pitch and the deck to make sure it's realistic in the early stages. That's been really helpful for me in all my projects — to have a company that believes in the project in the beginning, and will work with me to bring it to fruition.”
Cara Stricker, director and producer
Stricker is a director, producer, and musician working in Los Angeles and New York. Her filmography largely consists of short films and music videos, and has directed videos in collaboration with artists such as St. Vincent, A$AP Rocky, and Cara Delevingne. Stricker sought funding for her short films across a variety of forms, from reaching out to traditional investors to hosting Kickstarter-like events and exhibitions.
“The smallest stepping stone [to creating a feature] is the short film, and working with teams of people who believe in you for the future. I also founded a female collective [where] we basically did events … that inspired people with incentives to put forward $1,000, $5,000, or $10,000. Or, we sold artwork for the events and tickets for shows to collect donations. Through these methods, we hit our goal.”
Crystal Moselle, director
Moselle is a filmmaker who has ventured in documentary films and narrative features through The Wolfpack and Skate Kitchen. “With a documentary, it's a lot easier to go and shoot stuff on your own for not a lot of money, and you can show people what you're going for. That's a really different thing when you're trying to put a narrative feature together," Moselle said.
"I was very lucky for my scripted feature [Skate Kitchen]. I did a short film first, and a brand paid for it, so I had a really great example of what I wanted to do. I think if you need to go out and shoot a moot piece to show investors [that works]. You want to make something where you can show people with money what it's going to be, a taste to give them the confidence to invest in it.”
Ry Russo-Young, director
Russo-Young is an independent director, who has directed scripted television series and feature films. Russo-Young believes the difficulty to secure funding as a female filmmaker is largely systemic. She boiled it down to gaining limited access to the industry because film investors and production companies are mostly spearheaded by men.
“In my opinion, there are female directors everywhere waiting to get hired or waiting to get their films financed. I think that often where I see it is you have a female director and male director who both go to Sundance, and they make a great, promising first film. After that, the person who gets the bigger job is the male director, and the woman often has to make an independent film.”
Adding, “Television is starting to change, but I made three features and I didn't get an episodic directing job. It wasn't until I made my fourth feature that I got a directing job. And that was always what I heard from my agents, ‘You just have to get the first one [to get in the door].’”