Financing for Lee Daniels’ The Butler didn’t come from a Kickstarter campaign — but it did require some deep-pocketed crowd-funding to get the $30 million independent film into production.
As The Hollywood Reporter first explained, gathering the right mix of financial backers resulted in a whopping 41 listed producers and executive producers—the Oscar-winning The King’s Speech, the article helpfully notes, had 16.
Having a large and diverse group of individuals contribute financially to the making of a Civil Rights-era period piece had no impact on the artistic components of the movie, but it does make for an interesting backstory.
At the top of the list is Sheila Johnson, the one-time BET network builder and the first African-American female to have ownership in three pro sports teams—the franchises are all Washington, D.C.-based teams and she serves as the president and general manager of the WNBA’s Washington Mystics. As Johnson told The Hollywood Reporter, after reading, re-reading and simply falling in love with The Butlers’ script, she eagerly started a recruiting campaign to raise cash. And that proved rather difficult.
While it took a few years and many convincing conversations, Johnson was able to start landing the who’s-who of the African-American business community to support the project, even if she slogged away and struggled to get all she needed. Johnson, though, ended up getting support from leading businessmen Earl W. Stafford and Harry I. Martin Jr., former NBA player Michael Finley, New Orleans attorney and film backer Buddy Patrick and Ukrainian billionaire Len Blavatnik.
Overall, the group pieced together a mix of private cash, presale agreements and other financing to expand the original $25 million budget into $30 million and have the likes of Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey take leading roles.
The first names you’ll see when the producer lines start bombarding you are Johnson and original producer Pam Williams (her partner, producer Laura Ziskin passed away during the process). But after those two, there’s an entire list of folks who cobbled together the assets to pull off The Butler, a crowdsourcing of a different caliber.