How To Raise Money for Your First Movie: Interview with Producer/Director Mark Freiburger, Part 2

Read Part 1: From Indie Producer to Super Bowl Director to Studio Films
Mark on the set of 'Transformers: Edge of Extinction'
Mark on the set of ‘Transformers: Edge of Extinction’

Mark Freiburger was only 22 when he directed his first feature film. Since then, he has produced five independently financed films (two of which he also directed), directed Fashionista Daddy,” winner of the 2013 Doritos “Crash the Super Bowl” contest, and even got to shadow Michael Bay for three months on the set of a major studio film (Transformers 4: Age of Extinction with Mark Wahlberg). Mark insists that these opportunities didn’t come to him because he was more talented than other young filmmakers. The key to his success (beyond having some very talented friends) is that he learned one very important skill they don’t teach you in film school… how to raise money for movies!

I caught up with Mark after reading his new book, How To Raise Money For Your First Movie, and caught some his passion for filmmaking and for helping young filmmakers get the money they need to make great films.

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Gary: So the films, the Super Bowl, and Transformers were just your warm up acts, what are you working on now?

Mark: I’m currently finishing up writing a movie for the producers at Original Film. It’s a sci-fi/action film set in a futuristic Brazil that I will be directing as well.  We’ve taken a lot of time and care with developing this script, and it’s just about ready (or may already be by the time this article is published).  This was the project I referred to earlier, and it has been taking up the majority of my time over the past year. Oh, and I just finished my book “How To Raise Money for Your First Movie“.

How to Raise Money for Your First Movie Mark Freiburger_filmcourage_1Gary: Okay, your working and your busy. So what motivated you to write a book right now? 

Mark: Raising money wasn’t a skill anyone taught me in film school. It came out of a driving passion to want to see my dreams come true, even if that meant I had to take a lot of beatings through trial and error in an effort to achieve those dreams.  And after going through the process once on my first film, it afforded me the opportunity to link up with others who had done the same on their own, and that’s when I started to learn even more.

I’ve been in the business for nearly a decade now, but the one thing I get asked about the most by other aspiring filmmakers is not about those more high profile experiences, but about how to go out and raise money to make their first features. So I decided the best way to help others was to just allocate some time to sit down and write everything I share with aspiring filmmakers.

Gary: What would reading “How to Raise Money for Your First Movie” offer a young filmmaker that goes beyond other books out there on filmmaking?

Mark: This book is purely about the one thing that all young filmmakers out there really want to know… which is “How do I get the money to make my first movie?”  There are a ton of great books out there on the fundamentals of filmmaking so I don’t need to write one of those, but there is a big need to help teach young filmmakers the practical steps of indie film financing. When I was in film school, even my professors never had good answers for me, because quite frankly they weren’t quite sure how to do it either.  It’s not rocket science, but with the right knowledge I’m thoroughly convinced that anybody can go out and do it.  You just need to plan accordingly and have the right tools to go out there and do it yourself.  And that’s exactly what this book does… it gives you the tools and teaches you how to set yourself up for success in raising funds.

Gary: When did you know that you had to write this book?

Mark: A couple years ago I was teaching a seminar at a university on film financing, and after about 30 minutes into the seminar, one of the students raised his hand and said “This is good information and all, but when are you going to start teaching us how to actually raise money?”  I looked to him and said, “But haven’t you been listening?  I started teaching you that very thing 30 minutes ago.

Raising money for movies is not just about finding investors and giving them a good pitch… but instead, it’s about everything leading up to those moments.
Raising money for movies is not just about finding investors and giving them a good pitch… but instead, it’s about everything leading up to those moments.

What the student failed to realize, and what most aspiring and first time filmmakers fail to realize, is that raising money for movies is not just about finding investors and giving them a good pitch… but instead, it’s about everything leading up to those moments. It’s about reverse engineering the process of making a film by beginning at the end… through discovering your marketplace first, connecting with distributors that have access into that marketplace, developing/crafting the script that fits what your distributor needs, creating the perfect business plan to support that script, and assembling the right team to help you execute your vision.  This is how you begin to raise money for movies, and once you go through all the groundwork necessary to make this happen, you’ll be fully prepared to find and approach investors, which then becomes the easy part.

Gary: Any parting word of counsel to young filmmakers?

Mark: If you want to become a filmmaker or if you’re in the early stages of your filmmaking career, the main piece of advice that I’d like to try and pass on is to remember that a filmmaking career is more like a marathon, and not like a sprint. It takes a lot of time and energy to develop your craft and make the right connections.  Things won’t happen overnight, but if you pace yourself, make wise decisions and are willing to adapt to the constant changes, you will see results. Don’t burn yourself out too early, try to live a balanced lifestyle, because even though this career is much more demanding than your average career out there, it’s that much more rewarding too.

See also

CNN Interview with Nathan Scoggins, Co-creator of ‘Sling Baby’ and ‘Fashionista Daddy’ Doritos ‘Crash the Super Bowl’ Ads

From Indie Producer to Super Bowl Director to Studio Films: Interview with Producer/Director Mark Freiburger

Mark Freiberger with Mark Wahlberg
‘Big Mark’ and ‘Little Mark’ on the set of Age of Extinction

Mark Freiburger was only 22 when he directed his first feature film. Since then, he has produced five independently financed films (two of which he also directed), directed Fashionista Daddy,” winner of the 2013 Doritos “Crash the Super Bowl” contest, and even got to shadow Michael Bay for three months on the set of a major studio film (Transformers 4: Age of Extinction with Mark Wahlberg). Mark insists that these opportunities didn’t come to him because he was more talented than other young filmmakers. The key to his success (beyond having some very talented friends) is that he learned one very important skill they don’t teach you in film school… how to raise money for movies!

I caught up with Mark after reading his new book, How To Raise Money For Your First Movie, and caught some his passion for filmmaking and for helping young filmmakers get the money they need to make great films.

______

Gary: Dude, you like you’re barely 31, right?  How have accomplished so much in your film career?  You’re not the secret love-child of Hollywood royalty, are you?

Mark: Haha, nope. Just a crazy kid from North Carolina whose childhood dream has been to make movies.

Gary: All kidding aside, you did this the hard way. You had a great education, but you had to start from scratch as an indie filmmaker. Why do you think you stuck it out where so many others have given up? 

Mark: It’s interesting you would bring that up because I’m coming up on 10 years in the business now, and just the other day a friend and I were talking about how there are so few of us that we began this journey with who are still left out there making movies.  Even with the successes I’ve had, I still have at least one come to Jesus moment every other year and ask myself if I should continue moving forward.  But I’m addicted. And it’s all I know now.

The truth is, in film school I didn’t even think I was as a good a director as many of my classmates. But at the end of the day, it’s the passion for this art form and this business that really keeps me going. I genuinely love what I do.  And no matter how hard things have been at times, I’ve always an inner peace knowing that Hollywood is exactly where I’m supposed to be.  I love this crazy industry… warts and all.

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A most miserable and incredible experience

Gary: Which of your early works are you most proud of?  

Mark: Probably Dog Days of Summer. It’s not a particularly great movie, but I stepped on set to direct that movie the summer that I turned 22 years old.  It was something I had been dreaming about and planning for through my last couple of years of college.  I put together a script with two talented writers (one who went on to write PACIFIC RIM, and the other to write on the series NCIS), raised money from private investors, and dragged 40 college students to rural North Carolina for the summer to go make my first movie.

It was the most miserable and incredible experience at the same time. I made so many mistakes and bit off way more than I could chew, but the movie got made and it was what began everything for me in this career.  It’s an experience I’ll never forget.  The movie itself is a fun little movie to watch, but it’s a flawed first work from a very, very green filmmaker. I’m most proud of it mainly because it was just a big dream that I managed to turn into a reality.

Gary: In my every interaction with you, I have always been struck by your remarkable combination of goal-intensity with character-integrity, how do you balance those things in such a challenging industry?

Mark: Thank you for the kind words… that’s an interesting question…  quite honestly I’ve never really thought about that balance. I think I just am who I am.  Integrity is a key element that we all need to strive to hold onto no matter what industry we’re in. Even though I’m intensely goal oriented, I’ve always valued integrity more.  There are some things that aren’t worth doing in this industry if it means you’re going to lose that integrity you’ve been building.  We all stumble in this arena at times, but it’s something worth fighting for, daily.

Mark with Bumblebee (pre-transformation)
Mark with Bumblebee (pre-transformation)

Gary: Not many people have directed one of the greatest Super Bowl commercials of all time. Has winning the Doritos Super Bowl competition changed things for you?  

Mark: There were a lot of positive things that came out of that.  Mostly, it was a springboard to begin to make the transition from directing indie movies to being considered for studio movies. It opened some doors, but it didn’t guarantee success. When the dust settled on the Doritos competition and the Transformers experience, I had 2 studio directing offers presented to me. I was the first Doritos competition winner to have already directed a couple of indie movies, so a few folks at the studio level took notice.

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve wanted to make my first studio movie so naturally I was thrilled when the offers came in. But I had to turn both projects down because at the end of the day I wouldn’t have been able to sleep well at night had I taken those jobs (for multiple reasons). This goes back to what we talked about in the last question.  I want my first studio movie to be the right movie for me, and it’s taken a couple of years to figure out what that project was and then to develop it, but once it gets made it will have been worth taking the extra time to develop the right project for my sensibilities and strengths.

Gary: What was it like being on the set with Michael Bay and Mark Wahlberg? 

Mark and Michael Bay
Mark with Michael Bay

Mark: It was incredible. Mark was great to be around and it was always enjoyable to watch him work on camera.  And Michael and his entire team taught me so much about making movies at the grandest level.  I didn’t know what to expect before I joined the team, but Michael folded me right into the group and always made sure I was taken care of, almost like he was a big brother watching out for me. He would even refer to me as “our young director” on set with the crew, whereas others just referred to me as “little Mark” since Wahlberg had the distinction of being “big Mark”.

All around, I learned so much more than I ever thought I would. And believe me, I soaked it in every day. The majority of my time was spent shadowing Michael and shadowing the VFX team from Industrial Light and Magic. Those guys are incredible and they helped me understand how to breakdown and shoot a VFX heavy movie. Before Transformers, I had zero knowledge of anything VFX related because I had only been making low budget Indies. But this experience changed that for me. The ILM team even invited me up to their headquarters in San Francisco during post-production so I could sit in and learn how they create the robots and all the VFX in post as well.  The whole experience on that movie was a priceless education.

Gary: So the films, the Super Bowl, and Transformers were just your warm up acts, what are you working on now…?

Next: How To Raise Money for Your First Movie