How Dentists Funded the Careers of These Great Directors
The entertainment industry is a hard one to break in. There are a lot of factors that make it so difficult, including the few working opportunities for someone who doesn’t have a lot of experience. However, the lack of funds to produce stories which can put the filmmakers’ names in the right rooms is probably one of the main reasons why. Because of that, the search for unconventional ways of getting funds is something quite normal for young and upcoming filmmakers to do to have money and make their stories, proving themselves and exposing their creative views. Long before the advent of Kickstarter and online campaigns, there has been one unusual source that has been very important for three great directors: dentists.
At first, this particular medical profession doesn’t appear to be an obvious choice. However, it is actually a practice in Hollywood that has grown in the last couple of years. Various dentists and dental offices have had success stories of getting profits from movies they invested in. Now, there are various investors from more ‘traditional’ professions, especially people who had profits in the stock market and are interested in investing in new filmmakers and movies. This list still includes a high number of dentists.
Here is how and why these financiers have changed the way Hollywood works, and a quick view at the individual cases of George Miller, Sam Raimi, and James Cameron, all of whom had their career jump started by dentists’ funding.
Back in the old days, when crowdfunding and other ways of getting money to produce films didn’t exist or simply weren’t popular, asking friends and family for help was the norm. Then, various successful careers began due to funding from dentists, and since it is Hollywood, where news travels fast, everyone began to try to get funding from their dental office.
This seemingly odd phenomenon actually changed the way movies were produced, generating a lot more independent filmmaking. Sure, there have never been more independent films produced every year than there are now, but independent financing was much rarer in the past. Indies like Clerks and Sex, Lies, and Videotape are famous, but that’s only because it really wasn’t until the late ’80s when the technology was good and cheap enough for amateurs to make a decent-looking movie without a large crew. It was much more expensive and difficult to make a film outside the studio system in decades prior. Fortunately, some directors were able to find financing from a cabal of dentists.
George Miller has had an unusual career, to say the least (he has made films as disparate as Babe: Pig in the Big City and Mad Max: Fury Road). He was a doctor before he got involved in filmmaking. When he decided he wanted to make a film about a post-apocalyptic action movie in the desert, Miller did a lot of emergency medical calls to raise money for his first feature film.
That film was none other than Mad Max, which created a cult following and numerous sequels. The film had a $400,000 budget that came from the personal money of Miller and his partner, Byron Kennedy, co-owners of their production company Kennedy Miller Productions, and a group of dentists who served as investors. Mad Max became one of the biggest dystopian movies of all time, reaching $100 million at the box office ($410 million when adjusted for inflation), a huge feat for an independent film.
The Evil Dead is a horror cult classic, one of the biggest breakout movies from any director, and was only made because of funding that comes from rich Hollywood dentists. This practice, going out and searching for investors, was particularly common in horror movies, which are usually cheaper and with a guaranteed audience. Raimi and the groovy Bruce Campbell, the actor who plays the protagonist and was also a producer of the movie, shot a preview of The Evil Dead in a Super 8 camera. They took the preview to dentists’ dinner parties in Hollywood to try and find investors for the gory horror movie.
This was one of the most successful stories of dentists investing in a movie (with Raimi going on to direct two more films in this franchise, along with films like the original Spider-Man trilogy and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness), which inspired a lot of young filmmakers to do the same thing. This list also includes Joel and Ethan Coen, who shot a five-minute preview of their feature debut Blood Simple, which similarly features Bruce Campbell (albeit in a much smaller role), and did the same thing Raimi had done. It took them one year to raise the budget of $1.5 million they needed to make the film.
James Cameron has had an extensive career with incredibly successful movies, such as Titanic and Avatar, that are considered classics by many, and are objectively some of the most successful films ever made. Back when he was 24 years old, he wanted to make a short film called Xenogenesis. To do so, Cameron borrowed a small sum of money from a bunch of dentists and was able to produce his short movie that then landed his first job in the industry: devising practical effects for Roger Corman. This would be the beginning of a series of collaborations between them, a list that includes Terminator 2.
It is interesting to see how such different directors had similar ways of putting their foot in the door, and how young and upcoming artists have found ways to have their creative voices heard in such a gruesome business. There is no proof that this particular way of getting funds will continue to work as well as it did in the past, especially because of the great number of independent movies produced today. Nevertheless, it is remarkable how dentists, of all people, have been partly responsible for the careers of some of the greatest directors, and best films, of all time.