When it comes to crowdfunding, one size does not fit all. A certain structure may be put in place for a smart luggage brand or perhaps a pop-up pub but what about other important industries? Peter Storey (MBA – Strategic Management, 2004) recognised that film is not a commodity and actually requires specialised support from the ground up. This is how his recently launched business was created.
Greenlit is a new British-based crowdfunding platform dedicated to film, which supports creative filmmakers at any stage of their film’s lifecycle. Here you can read about Peter’s time at Cass Business School and his innovative approach to crowdfunding.
Can you tell me about your time at Cass?
I did the full-time MBA. Prior to that, I’d been working as a “gaffer” or senior technician in media production, managing lighting on film sets. The MBA was a terrific experience, coming from an interesting, but fairly narrow, field of engineering and suddenly being bombarded with fresh ideas from all disciplines of business. It was challenging, of course, but the opportunity to take a step back and think about things, in an academic environment was invaluable. My dissertation was on the effectiveness of public support for the film industry, and this research enabled me to build relationships with a lot of senior people in the industry, some of whom I continue to work with today.
What happened after you graduated?
I started work immediately in film finance, structuring and dealing with compliance on large international coproductions, tens of millions of euros’ worth at a time. This was interesting work, but there was something that always troubled me. The money in the market for film at that time was invariably sheltered in some way – it was more about the tax breaks than it was about the quality of the films. This is something the Americans have always done better than us, recognising film as a proper investment class, not just somewhere for celebrities to park their cash.
Shortly after that, the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, shut down a lot of these schemes; this meant that a lot of companies, and a lot of film productions, were left high and dry. I ended up gaining experience in a number of different industries, particularly technology and property. But the belief never left me, that there should be a better way to think about the process and culture of investing in film.
How did Greenlit become a reality?
I was approached at the tail end of 2017 by a financial services company that had some success operating joint crowdfunding ventures in other sectors, as they were curious if the model could work for film finance. I spent a period of several months researching and drafting a business plan; the more I discovered, the more excited I became about the potential. I spoke to dozens of people involved in crowdfunding, for the film sector and other industries, as well as drilling into the business models of the other platforms.
It was clear that the one-size-fits-all approach of commodity crowdfunding was not appropriate for the film business. We set out to do things differently; to support producers throughout their campaigns and in building their audiences, to work closely with the broader film industry, and to manage costs very closely. It took a little over a year to go from first conversation to public launch, but the response so far has been terrific.
What have been the biggest challenges?
The biggest challenge has been that, particularly among the film community, crowdfunding is seen as a lesser form of finance – it’s what you do when you can’t raise the money elsewhere. My response is that reflects their short-sightedness, rather than any fundamental flaw with crowdfunding. In other industries, companies like BrewDog or Monzo have shown the immense power of crowdfunding for raising awareness of their products, and I think the film industry is missing the huge marketing potential of the process.
Our long-term goal is to completely reinvent crowdfunding as something desirable, and to attract bigger and more prestigious films. So to try and persuade producers of this vision, I spend a huge amount of time just talking to filmmakers one-on-one – at events and festivals, in seminars and lecturing at film schools and universities. There’s no substitute for shoe leather, but this approach seems to be working – we’ve got some really exciting and substantial projects cued up to launch over the next couple of months.
What has been the most rewarding experience?
It’s difficult to pin down a single experience. When you’re in the middle of it, it can seem like very slow going – it’s great to tick off a completed task, but then you look at the to-do list and there are still a hundred things outstanding. It’s only when you take a step back and take a macro view of what you’ve built that you can say, yes, that’s actually quite impressive.
And also when we successfully closed funding on the first two film projects. Until you’ve actually put some clients through the process successfully, then it’s a concept rather than a real business. So finding those producers, taking them through the cycle, watching them hit their targets and delivering the money has been very satisfying.
Do you have any advice for anyone looking to follow in your footsteps?
The key thing is persistence, and the ability to not take things personally. When I teach classes to filmmakers on how to conduct their campaigns, I always stress the importance of persistence – if there’s someone you want to meet, follow up, follow up and follow up again. Don’t feel self-conscious, or as if you’re being a nuisance, it’s always better to ask forgiveness than for permission. And don’t take things personally – a lot of creative people identify so closely with their business, that setbacks or rejections can feel like it’s a reflection on you. This is natural, but it’s the ability to shrug off the knockbacks that makes an entrepreneur.
Thank you to Peter for sharing his impressive story! If you would like to find out more about Greenlit, submit a project or support one, please click here.