Movie Money CONFIDENTIAL promises the hard details behind funding and producing independent films. It mostly delivers, and without sugarcoating some harsh realities of an industry that feeds on dreams. Writer-director Rick Pamplin has several credits to his name, including Hoover, a 2000 film with Ernest Borgnine. There aren’t many from the last 10 years, but that doesn’t mean he stopped working in or around the industry. Pamplin’s projects have simply not made it through the gauntlet of fundraising and production. Movie Money was, in part, inspired by his experiences in the industry. Although it has an upbeat tone, the film is as much a warning to aspiring filmmakers as an inspirational and motivational “You can do it, too!” film. Everyone seeks art, but film is a tough business and business is about money.
The film features interviews with numerous actors and directors, who discuss their experiences making independent films in different capacities. The marquee interview is the final on-screen conversation with the late Burt Reynolds, and it’s kind of fun to hear him wax poetic about an earlier era of cinema. The meat of the film, though, consists of panel discussions held at universities with Pamplin and producers Scott duPont (who has a number of smaller credits and an upbeat, aggressive attitude toward the business) and Louise Levison (a financial planner for small films who made her name on The Blair Witch Project). Pamplin, duPont, and Levison answer the usual questions from students aspiring to work in film. Each of them has a different perspective, although their ultimate advice is likely what you’d hear elsewhere: Work hard, be aggressive, find something you alone can say and remember that money is key.
The primacy of money, and the complexities of raising it, make for the most interesting parts of Movie Money. Unless a big studio or a big producer is backing a film (and even under those circumstances), producers must do a lot of legwork to raise cash to make their films. At a lower level, that can mean hitting up friends, family and acquaintances to invest in a project. Things can get messy if a financier drops out, a location is lost or a star leaves. Oftentimes, filmmakers must package details before they can even get funding. Product placement is sometimes necessary; there’s an extended bit in Movie Money where the movie itself turns into an advertisement for a healthcare powder product. Behind the scenes, Pamplin talks to duPont about whether it’s ethical to turn part of your film into a paid advertisement. At first, the moment is off-putting, but the way Pamplin uses it to further his point about the messiness of film financing is pretty effective.
Another point driven home is that most of the money for independent, microbudget filmmaking isn’t found from high-rollers or glamorous donors. In particular, duPont tells wild stories of raising money from strangers he meets at baseball games or other social events. His firm belief is that there’s nothing wrong with asking for money — something most people would have difficulty doing. It was uncomfortable for me to watch, frankly … but that’s why I’m not trying to fund microbudget films. What duPont can do offers a good example of a personality who can make it on that side of the business, and watching the actual nitty-gritty of his job is informative for those who may have a starry-eyed view of how the filmmaking business works.
At 110 minutes, Movie Money runs a bit long. It has the feel of a film made to be viewed by early film-studies classes, and including two Q&A panels that mostly repeat the same information is a bit redundant. There are also a lot of shots of Pamplin’s boat at the beginning that lend an air of glamour contradictory to the film’s message that you really have to get down in the dirt sometimes for your art. Still, it’s an enjoyable and educational watch that delivers on its premise.