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Drama funding: Part two

Following last week's feature on drama funding, in this second part we look at some more ways to raise finance for your production.  

Product placement

Product placement and branded content aren’t new, but there does seem to be a much more direct channel of communication these days between TV producers/broadcasters and ad/media agencies. As the Guardian recently observed, “Netflix's House of Cards is littered with cameos from BlackBerry, Dell, Samsung, Coca-Cola, Chevrolet, and numerous other brands. In one scene, Kevin Spacey picks up Sony's latest gaming device and remarks, ‘Is that a PS Vita? … I ought to get one of these for the car.’”

House of Cards

Clearly, there is limited scope for product placement in period dramas, but pretty much anything else is open to such an arrangement. Even Breaking Bad, which wouldn’t seem like an obvious place for big brands, managed to secure deals with the likes of Chrysler, Denny’s restaurants and video game Rage.

One trend in this area is towards digital insertion, a technology that allows producers to substitute one brand for another during post-production (or add a brand where one previously didn’t exist). One possible application of this is to switch brands on a territory-by-territory basis. For example, in Sony’s Hannibal, a Bentley featured in some scenes was changed to a Mitsubishi in Brazil, to coincide with a launch campaign there.

Drama as promotion/branded content

It is possible to create a more deep-rooted relationship than the product placement scenarios outlined above. For example, the recent Vince Vaughn movie The Internship was, essentially, a 119-minute ad for Google – while Simon Pegg’s Run Fatboy Run was a nice boost for Nike. ITV drama Mr Selfridge is a great piece of profile for the Oxford Street department store. Microsoft funded a web series based on its game franchise Halo to coincide with the launch of a new edition of the game. And then there’s hilariously funny blockbuster The Lego Movie.

Mr Selfridge

Mr Selfridge

The financial dynamics of such projects are hard to quantify, but there’s clearly value to be had in such partnerships. In Halo Forward Unto Dawn, Microsoft used drama as a promotional tool to drive a different business line. In The Internship, Vaughn was able to draw on marketing support from one of the world’s biggest brands. The message for other producers is that brand integration is one way to make your project a reality.

Halor Forward Unto Dawn

Halo Forward Unto Dawn

Non-traditional funding sources

Financial firms like Providence, Apax, Permira, Ingenious and Bridgepoint, post-production houses and studios are all potential partners. True, the former group tends to back companies rather than individual projects, but they can provide valuable investment for companies with film and drama slates. Post-houses and studios tend to back productions in order to secure any related servicing work. Pinewood, for example, runs Pinewood Productions, a scheme that offers equity finance to productions using Pinewood UK facilities (examples being A Fantastic Fear Of Everything, Robot Overlords and Belle).

It also manages a financing set-up entitled Pinewood Pictures. This was launched after Pinewood was given management control of the £25 million Isle Of Man Media Development Fund. It then expanded further after Pinewood took over the Welsh government’s £30m media investment budget (which can be used in conjunction with the IOM’s £25 million fund).

One other option worth exploring is companies that are looking to introduce the capabilities of new pieces of kit. Last year, for example, Sony Pictures Television announced plans to shoot between three and five drama pilots in 4K. This fits in with parent group Sony’s medium ambition to drive the rollout of its 4K camera technology.


Crowdfunding tends to be used more by filmmakers than TV producers. Actor James Franco, for example, went in search of $500,000 via Indiegogo for his Palo Alto movie trilogy. However there have been a few examples of TV projects that have done well via crowd-funding. In the US, filmmakers Phelim McAleer and Ann McElhinney raised $2.1m from 23000 people on Indiegogo for a film about the crimes of abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell. The message from this project seems to be that crowd-funding works if the subject of your story taps into a lobby or interest group, in this case the US pro-life movement.

Another project, Drifter, managed to raise the money needed to make a TV pilot from crowd-funding site Mobcaster.



Shortform drama/drama hybrids

Shortform drama, created for the internet, has an important role to play in the ecology of drama. On the one hand, it can generate large audiences online at fairly low cost. On the other it can act as a kind of pilot for more ambitious TV drama projects. Studios like Vuguru have been pioneers in this area. Founded on the premise that amazing stories can thrive on emerging digital platforms, Vuguru has a short-form library of more than 25 scripted titles that have appeared on the likes of Hulu, AOL, Yahoo!, Amazon and YouTube. Recent short-form projects include We Need Help and The Fuzz, on Yahoo! Screen.

With the high unit cost of drama, broadcasters have also started looking for ways to introduce the jeopardy of drama into lower-cost programming. This has given rise to scripted reality and character-driven factual shows such as Made In Chelsea, Jersey Shore, Duck Dynasty and The Only Way Is Essex.