‘Accelerators’: another application – the Movies


A classic ‘Accelerator’ hopes to open up a new route to funding for independent film-makers. A US film-maker and entrepreneur launches an Accelerator at the Sundance film Festival, selects 8 out of 440 applicants; gives them three months of seed-funding and development, and then enables them to pitch their embryonic film to investors – all for 8% of their equity.

As an indie filmmaker, it can be exceptionally difficult to raise money for your project — to say nothing of finding the proper channels for distribution and the most effective means of marketing what is, for all intents and purposes, your baby. Dogfish Accelerator aims to change all this by connecting filmmakers and their films with investors in a new way, taking the tech startup model and applying it to indie film. In the first week of December (2013) they held their first Demo Day, where filmmakers got to showcase their films to investors: at the Microsoft Technology Center in New York, filmmakers and investors gathered for the inaugural Dogfish Accelerator Demo Day.

James Belfer, founder and managing director of Dogfish Accelerator, has an MBA from New York University, he has produced or invested in several films (Like Crazy, Compliance, Prince Avalanche) and, while working at Techstars (1), a leading startup accelerator, had the idea that the same model could be applied to indie films. Instead of doing things the old way, working within the festival-driven system and holding little leverage over distributors, he looked to the tech world for inspiration.

Dogfish would provide seed money to filmmakers and provide guidance to help them control their own destiny. The project launched at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, and eventually 440 submissions were pared down to eight finalists. These teams each received $18,000 in seed funding from Dogfish as well as a three month intensive programme – of speakers, masterclasses, occasional experts and regular mentors, with access to web-publishers – to develop a business plan and strategy either for a single film or slate of multiple films; at the conclusion of which they had the opportunity to pitch in front of investors, production companies, sales agents, and distributors. All for 8% of their equity.  (Springboard, a similar programme and in 2011 the first such programme in the UK, cost around £150k to put on.)

According to Belfer, in his introductory speech at demo day: The real issue isn’t that the times are tough, it’s that you can’t be disruptive without knocking down a few walls. Or without trying new investment and business models, testing new marketing and monetization strategies, or utilizing distribution opportunities across multiple platforms. In short, we need to think and act like startups.

The 8 finalist teams represented 13 films, 3 marketing and distribution platforms, 2 Multi Channel Networks, and ancillary streams of revenue including graphic novels, video games, and a fashion line.

Among those presenting was No Film School’s founder Ryan Koo, whose company with co-founder Zack Lieberman presented two projects (Ryan previously wrote about being in Dogfish). One project was MAX & CHARLIE, a family-oriented graphic novel – feature film and video game; the other was 3RD RAIL, an interactive film which uses a new video game engine to make an Agatha Christie-style mystery that encourages multiple viewings – a non-traditional film viewing experience that is utilises cutting-edge technology to tell a multi-tiered narrative. Ryan Koo’s EXIT STRATEGY presented last.

(1) See Springboard, a new UK Accelerator programme http://wp.me/p3beJt-2, modelled on Techstars and on YCombinator. See also Village Capital, a more top-down approach to creating new ventures (http://wp.me/p3beJt-6K).

A number of examples of Accelerators have shown that short, sharp development workshops can be valuable not just for developing new funding sources or new businesses, but also for developing SMEs, as well as for developing new products and new businesses for corporates. (See http://johnwhatmore.com)

 The Centre for Leadership in Creativity                                              December 2013