How to Finance More Lesbian Films

One of the themes of ClexaCon, repeated in every panel and throughout the convention floor, was the need to create more content for women who love women. If we want to see ourselves on screen or in print, we can’t wait for Hollywood or the publishing industry to do it for us out of the goodness of their hearts. We have to push, push, push content in every avenue (and support what’s already there.)

The problem is, high-quality production costs money, so in addition to more content across all media in general, our community needs the financing to put that content onto a larger, higher production value stage.

There are so many lesbian projects on YouTube that it’s impossible to even find them all. The point is, we have content. Oh do we have content. What’s missing is the money to turn all this written content into a visual medium, or to transform low budget or independently produced visual content into a high-quality, professional-grade product on a wider distribution platform.

In 2000, actress Reese Witherspoon decided she was tired of women being underrepresented in Hollywood, so she founded a production company in order to bring to production more female-driven films. In 2012, that company merged with another one to create a new production company called Pacific Standard. Pacific Standard then immediately produced “Gone Girl,” “Wild,” and the HBO series “Big Little Lies.”

In 2016, Witherspoon and Otter Media formed Hello Sunshine, a joint venture focused on telling female-driven stories in movies, TV, and digital platforms. As of this September, Witherspoon had about 23 projects in the pipeline, with female characters of diverse ages and races.

The lesbian community doesn’t need Reese Witherspoon. We need large amounts of money to enable the Witherspoons already in our community to bring their vision onto a bigger, better stage. So how can this happen? There are a variety of ways that movies are financed, many of which are very complex, but the ones that, frankly, our community needs most are the following two:

  • Slate financing: This involves an investment in a number of films by private equity (individuals acting directly or through a wealth management firm) or hedge funds. It is in essence a multi-film credit line. For investors, this is considered a low-risk investment because production costs can generally be recouped through federal and state tax incentives, and because the investment is “at risk,” investors can engage in § 181 IRC write-offs.
  • Rich individual investors.

If it sounds like both #1 and #2 are just fancy euphemisms for “sugar mamas,” that’s not altogether wrong. While crowdsourcing anywhere from $5-1,000 from regular, individual viewers is sufficient to make short, modest web series like “RED” or “Venice: The Series,” it is insufficient to finance bigger, more ambitious projects, the kinds of projects that are a logical next evolution for the type of content our community wants to see (Car chases and fake spaceships are expensive, for example, and who doesn’t want to see the lesbian version of “The Fast and the Furious”?).

Because lesbian-centric movies are unlikely to attract other debt financing such as pre-sales or negative pickup deals, that leaves a cabal of wealthy investors as the best case scenario for how to get more women loving women content pushed forward in a high-quality way.

Imagine a private equity group that is focused not on a large positive return on investment, but rather a more social justice/philanthropic approach to investment. Money doesn’t have to just chase more money and yachts in the south of France, it can do good as well. Consider the following example: Ellen DeGeneres’ net worth is estimated to be $360 million. If she invested $3.6 million, a mere 1% of her net worth, into a private equity group dedicated to financing these sorts of projects, she could finance:

  • 360 seasons of “RED” or
  • 60 seasons of “Venice: The Series” or
  • 5-7 seasons of “Carmilla” (as a webseries) or
  • The movie “The Kids are All Right”

At 5% of her net worth, or $18 million, she could have singlehandedly financed the making of both the movies “Carol” and “Monster.”

It’s not that Ellen, Suze Ormond, Holland Taylor, Rosie O’Donnell, Jane Lynch, Ellen Page, and Kate McKinnon should all form the Lesbian Sugarmamas For Better Representation private equity group just because they’re power lesbians (although if they want to…), but there’s clearly a gap for well to-do women around the world who love women and believe in representation and visibility to use their pink investment dollars in a targeted way. And if this hypothetical investment group of philanthropic cinephiles needs advice, who not reach out to producer Megan Ellison, an out lesbian whose Annapurna Pictures production company produced “Zero Dark Thiry,” “Her,” and “American Hustle”? Surely she’s got an eye for identifying a promising script or two. So come on, ladies of means.

If you believe in better representation, help make it happen!