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Indie Filmmakers Think Like Entrepreneurs

How to make a documentary about post credit-crisis Iceland with zero cash

By  Sian Morley-Smith

Wed Mar 3 2010

There aren’t many people who would look back fondly on eight months of living in a van, bartering for food and shelter among Icelandic volcanoes.

However, this is exactly how British filmmakers Heather Millard and Henry Bateman have been living, following the financial collapse of Iceland last year.

They aim to show that there’s plenty yet to play for in the bankrupt Arctic nation, by documenting fledgling companies that are springing up around the country.

In their battle to get their film made they’ve shown the same raw entrepreneurial spirit in making the film as the subjects they follow in “Future of Hope”.

We caught up with Millard, 25 , via email: she’s still camped out in Iceland living the dream. This kind of filmmaking doesn’t have much to do with the glitz and glamour of the Cannes Film Festival.

How did you get interested in Iceland?

For Henry and me, Iceland was a country up North that was cold, expensive and had lots of fish: we barely knew anything else.

When we began reading about the financial collapse and ICESAVE, we thought long and hard about the information that we were being exposed to as British individuals and that most press had taken just one angle on the subject matter.

We decided to explore Iceland further. We quickly arranged a five-day research trip to Reykjavik in March last year and arranged as many meetings and interviews as possible with a wide selection of individuals: ex-bankers, activists, business people.

We filmed scenery and interviews and shortly after cut together the very first trailer for ‘Future of Hope’.

Foreign media were portraying Iceland as a country of fishermen-turned-bankers, a nation that believes strongly in the hidden people and a fantastic tourist destination to see Geysir, Gulfoss and the Blue Lagoon.  

Despite having only stayed in Reykjavik for five days we knew that there was more to this country than first meets the eye.

Why did you move there?

After much deliberation we decided that if we were going to produce this documentary then we simply could not visit for five days at a time. We really had to immerse ourselves in Iceland and Icelandic culture.

After eight months in Iceland we have filmed 70 hours of footage, met over 300 people and driven around the country at least eight times and we can now definitely see a future of hope for Iceland.

What do you think went wrong there?

Iceland’s unique in that, with a population of just over 300,000, it's far easier to get caught up in any trend, especially one that involves money.  It can happen very quickly, news spreads fast.

This is exaggerated by the fact that it is a remote island and a relatively young country in terms of business.  Probably best to ask an economist this one!

Do you think there are lessons in Iceland for the rest of the world?

The people and business' that will help the economy most are the ones that are brave enough to poke their head above the parapet, take a chance and be bold.  

If you have a good idea that you are passionate about there is no reason why a recession should stop you starting a new business.  

We have been most impressed by the grassroots movement that is empowering individuals to come together, share, educate, inspire and create.

Iceland has more than its fair share of beautiful and creative people and they should get as much support as possible - it seems daft to cut funding for the arts at a time like this.

Entrepreneurs are developing methods to build new sustainable businesses in Iceland.  ‘Future of Hope’ explores a selection of these new companies.

One is the first farmer to grow barley as an alternative to rice. He has enabled Icelanders to buy locally grown produce instead of expensive imports and in doing so support their local economy.

FAFU toys is a start-up that sells ethically sourced and produced toys and clothing that promote “open play”: a way for children to play and develop their imaginations at the same time instead of being influenced by mass-produced branded toys.

How is the film funded?

We are now trying to raise $10,000 to finish the movie in time for the anticipated release date of spring 2010. 

We always knew fundraising for ‘Future of Hope’ would prove somewhat difficult. British filmmakers producing a film in Iceland, living in Iceland and spending all of their money in Iceland: we immediately sacrificed any opportunity to get funding from the UK by immersing ourselves in a foreign country.

We have self-financed the film to date, moving out of our homes and offices in London, selling what we could and because all of our crew believes in what we are making and they are working on a deferred payment basis, a true sign of dedication we feel.

What’s it like shooting on a shoestring?

We’ve saved money where we can: we lived in an old Ford Transit for the first six weeks and we’ve got deals on almost everything from food to camera equipment. People have been extraordinarily generous with their time and services throughout the project.  

If the crew hadn't work on deferred payment and our suppliers hadn't granted us additional credit when the cash flow ran short then we would have never been able to make this film happen.  

Documentaries are not about getting rich. They’re a labour of love and so a passion for the project is essential.

It’s a careful juggling act between making the films you believe in and making films that will make money.  For instance the Director had to leave Iceland for two weeks in November to go back to London to shoot a commercial to bring extra funds into the project.

How are you using the web to sell the film?

We’ve launched the film onto a crowd-funding website called Kickstarter

We launched with a target of raising $10,000 in just 40 days. If you do not reach the target you do not receive any of the money. If you exceed the target you can keep collecting the excess funds.  

A gamble we know, but we like a challenge and it’s really putting our marketing skills to the test!

We have managed to reach 30% of the funding, which is a slow start, but it is a start none the less.

Several Icelandic Societies in the USA are interviewing us about the film and we’ve also been in newspapers and on TV in Iceland.

We still don’t have a lead sponsor. We think it’s a great opportunity for any company to be associated with a “good-news” film about Iceland!

What about Facebook?

The whole approach from the start has been to tell as many people as possible; building awareness and a grassroots fan base that can follow progress and see the film blossom from an idea to a movie on the big screen.

Without promoting it we already have over 3,000 fans on our Facebook page and this is growing rapidly.  This grassroots approach is very useful when it comes to selling and marketing the film – we’ve had interest from all corners of the globe. A New Zealand broadcaster was actually the first to make us an offer.

What's next for the film?

We are now raising post-production and completion funding for the film and will release it in spring this year.  We’re planning the world premiere in Reykjavik. Join our Facebook group and we'll announce the details closer to the time on there.  

The film will be entered into numerous film festivals throughout the world, followed by screenings in and around London. We’ve already had interest from broadcasters in Canada, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, New Zealand, and Greece.  

We will launch 'Future of Hope' at MIPTV in Cannes (April 2010), a market for the documentary and film industry to buy and sell to broadcasters and distributors.

For a chance to attend the premiere, visit the Future of Hope kickstarter page