Last Saturday I was back in San Francisco for a one-day workshop. This workshop was taught by veteran venture capitalist (VC) Frank Green, Ph.D, and sponsored by the Institute for International Film Financing (IIFF). IIFF is the same organization that put on the workshop that I attended last month featuring IFP founder Sandra Schulberg. It’s a forward-thinking organization that offers good opportunities for education, networking, and financing for filmmakers. I’ve been attending so many of their meetings lately that I decided to go ahead and become a member.
After getting a producer’s take on film financing last month, it was nice to get a venture capitalist’s viewpoint this time. The workshop was called the One-Day MBA Leadership Workshop for Film Entrepreneurs. A great deal of the day was spent on leadership skills where we learned the VRE Leadership Execution Strategy. I’m not going to go into detail about this but, basically, we learned how a leader must have a vision (V) for their project, cultivate relationships (R) to be able to work as a team, and be able to execute (E) a plan to get the desired results. One of the things that really impressed me was his emphasis on working with people of different personality types and temperments. This is not the kind of information I was expecting in this workshop but, as you will read later, it makes perfect sense why this would be important to a VC.
Interestingly, he didn’t cover subjects such as what a VC looks for in a business plan or how to find VC money. I guess he figures that you should know how to get that information. However, he did offer a couple of valuable tips:
- When pitching to a VC you better know what your vision and strategic goals are. He said that 90% of the people looking for capital don’t have a vision or any strategic goals and many don’t have a clue as to what those are. So you better do your homework.
- One of his favorite tactics is to interrupt a presentation early on and ask a question about something that is covered later on in your presentation. He does this to see how you’ll react. Will you accomodate his request right away and be professional about it? Or will you get all huffy and insist that he wait until you get to that part of the presentation? If it’s the latter, you can forget about getting any funding from him. You just failed his test. See (and this goes back to his emphasis on working with people), he wants to find out how easy it will be to work with you. He also wants to know if you crumble easily under pressure. If you can’t handle this simple request, how can he have confidence that you will be able to handle the pressures of producing a film? Okay, this I understand perfectly, because I admit that I sometimes do it myself. Without being rude, I’ll throw something unexpected at someone and see how they react. This is a great way to judge if I’m going to be able to have a working relationship with that person.
Later that afternoon, the entire class split up into teams of four. There were five teams total. Our assignment was to develop a project strategy for one of several films: a big-budget action packed thriller, a medium-sized-budget documentary, or a small-budget comedy. We then had to give a 10-minute presentation in front of the class with each team member giving part of the presentation. The other teams acted as judges and venture investors and had to decide how much of a $100 bill (for each project) they wanted to invest. My team chose to do a small-budget comedy. Everyone else chose documentaries.
I’m a bit biased, but I think my team totally rocked. We had a producer, an entertainment attorney, a venture capitalist, and myself on my team. I came up with a fun storyline that we tweaked. By the time we had all the pieces put together, we had what would actually be a great little project if it were real. Oh, by the way, we won the contest.
Thursday, I got a call from the chairman of IIFF who also runs a sister organization called Film Angels. They are just what their name implies…a group of world-class Silicon Valley VCs who invest in films. He congratulated me on my team’s win and, even though he knows my project is still in the early stages, he invited me to pitch at one of their meetings when the project is ready. I’m encouraged that he thinks enough of my project, even at this early stage, to extend the invitation. Major Hollywood players pitch to this group, so I better have a strong project to present to them if I hope to compete. It’s not a guarantee of funding, of course, but it is a wonderful opportunity.