Financing Your Film: Tips + Tribulations from Rebecca Hynes

In addition to being a badass commercial producer, Rebecca Hynes is a full-fledged independent filmmaker, recently taking a brief stint away from her day job to complete her first feature-length film. Quite literally pouring everything into this film, we chatted with Rebecca to reflect on the trials and errors of self-funding her film.

How do you approach funding a project, what are some of the challenges that come with it, and have you developed a process that you use to overcome these challenges?

Rebecca Hynes: Well, my bread and butter is working as a commercial producer, both on the agency and the line production side of things. So, typically, a lot of my daily work is in the budget spectrum, but it's in the commercial world, so I'm spending the client's money.

In the independent film world, I basically did a line item budget, estimating what I was going to need to invest in the film, and for me personally, I decided to take on the cost to finish it on my own -- at least through initial phases, principal photography -- because I just felt so committed that it was something I had to get done, and see it through. Just in our lives being so busy, it was something that I been wanting to do for years, and I kept pushing it off. I finally decided...I was going to invest in doing this film as my vacation, and I also took the time off work to totally just commit to it, like a full time job. It was only because of that that I was able to invest in it, to see it through.

I know that it's a really trying process, because one thing that is particularly challenging is that you have to be really clear about what you're committing to with people. You know, are they getting a screen credit, with their name in the credits or what not, and different levels of donors, different levels of acknowledgement in the materials, or on the film, in social media...I know that can get really tricky. I didn't go through that on my film.

So, with the self-funding approach, did you find that there were certain limitations in the overarching themes of your film? Or, how does that manifest itself in the final project?

Well, one of the really big budgetary surprises that I don't think I planned for at the onset was how much I was going to have to invest in the film during the film festival cycle of it in promoting the film, because that's when things really add up -- even if film festivals are willing to pay for your hotel, and you get a per diem.

That cost definitely sprung up and I did limit in the end how much promotional work I invested in with the film. It just came to a point where there's only so much you can do. You can go through and pick out festivals that you're interested in and really quickly you start spending three, four, five hundred dollars and most of those you get rejected, because the film festival process is really about who you know. It's hard, because you think, “Well, if I'm really going to commit to this, I should just spend the money.” Then you feel at times like you're just flicking 50 and 75 dollar bills into the trashcan because…unless you're connected in and someone introduced you, no one’s even going to watch your film. Just some interns are going to watch the first 30 seconds of it.

Though, at the same time, for my humble little first documentary feature film, I think it went further than I'd hoped. Especially because I got some really great council from Dawn Smallman, who's a great producer and a director of programming at the Hollywood Theatre. She was my guardian angel at the end. She really helped guide me towards thinking outside the box, away from just festivals and into more of the events and the museum world, which was actually the greatest experience of where my film was most warmly met.

That’s awesome. So, do you feel like, beyond the promotion and everything that you didn't have any limitations in what you were filming? You were able to do that, just by self-funding?

I mean, I did...I was able to cash in a lot of favors with a lot of vendors, that I had. I probably had 20 or 30 thousand dollars of camera rentals donated to me from Koerner Camera, because I knew Michael Koerner. He is really committed to supporting independent films and I've been renting cameras from him for many years. You know, so I had stuff like that where…I didn't have to settle for things like camera or lenses. 

Also, if I had more money, I definitely would have given more money. The first person I would have given more money to is my editor, because he invested countless hours of his life -- we finished the film over the Christmas to New Years of 2013 and 2014, and we literally edited side-by-side Christmas Eve, the day after Christmas, New Years…

Yeah, I think that one of the things I would say, is that the travel cost of any film is what can really skyrocket things quickly and that's what you have to be ready for, because as soon as you have airfare -- even if you go as budgeted as you can -- it just adds up quickly. In the case of the principal filming on Rodeo Dog, we were all camping. I didn't really have a choice. So, you know, I had to be in an RV with four men who I know, but I wouldn't normally be camping with in the same room, you know. I just saw friends two weeks ago who were in the same position, where the whole crew was in a very small RV and there's stuff like that, that physically, just really kind of expands your comfort zone.

I think one other thing that I've learned on my time on commercial sets that I've carried over into this is that one thing people need to plan for -- even if it's a really guerrilla job -- is that you just have to take care of people’s basic needs. You have to make sure people are warm, you have to make sure their gear can be safe.