When you’re a filmmaker looking to become the next Sundance darling, you need a few things: talent, luck, and experience. The latter you can’t get without a few films under your belt, and for that you’re going to need money. Raising money is often easier said than done, of course, especially without emptying personal savings accounts or maxing out your credit cards. Here are some the best options for generating the finances to fund your next passion project.
1. Apply for Grants
One of the most common means of financing film projects is through grants. Organizations generous enough to offer them have long enabled filmmakers to realize their cinematic dreams, and what’s more, the vast range of grants — covering everything from shorts to documentaries to feature films — means there’s probably money out there for you, no matter what your movie is about. But be forewarned: the rewards may be great, but earning them can be a challenge. The application process is notoriously competitive and time consuming, without any guarantee of success. However, there are small ways you can help increase your chances: seek out directories for niche grants tailored to your project; do your homework and read any books or articles you can find about good grant writing; and talk to past winners to see what tips they can impart. It may be an uphill battle, but however big the challenge is, if you get the grant you want, it can be genuinely life-changing.
2. Turn to Crowdfunding
Sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo have become the 21st Century patron saints of creatives. They have helped finance everything from board games to comics to, of course, films. For filmmakers — especially those with modest budgets — it can be an invaluable way to circumvent the competitive grant process with better (and easier) results. What’s more, the impact of a successful campaign can be a tremendous boost to a filmmaker’s confidence. Of course, crowdsourcing does require some rolling up the sleeves. You have to put in the time to sell your potential investors on the project. You need to create a strong campaign page, put together a convincing pitch video, offer appealing rewards, and actively publicize and promote your campaign (having an army of dedicated family, friends, and social-media followers helps). You may even want to put some work into your project before launching a campaign in order to have footage to better pitch your vision. If you do go this route, also be sure to look beyond just Kickstarter and Indiegogo — especially at sites like Indie Film Funding and Seed & Spark which are specifically for film projects.
3. Seek Out (Small) Investors
Before you get visions of millionaires swooping in to fund your modest small-town coming-of-age story, here’s some hard truth: if you’re doing an ultra-low-budget movie, it’s unlikely big time investors with deep pockets will care. They’ll have their eyes on bigger cinematic fish. However, where you can look for investors is your extended network — family, friends, and acquaintances. You may be surprised by the generosity of others and their willingness to help finance your dreams. But be sure not to take that generosity for granted. Nor should you treat it as a given. Try to approach them with the same professionalism you would any other investor. Pitch your goals and ambitions for the film. Explain how their money will be used. If you have hopes of distribution, discuss any possible backend percentage they may want. It can also go a long way to thank your investors by whatever means you can – whether it’s a fresh batch of cookies, a home-cooked meal, or a screening party when the film is done. Treating an investor right — even if it’s your dad — is not just the right thing to do, but could also mean they’ll gladly support you again with your next project.
4. Consider Tax Breaks
Local tax incentives are often used by big-budget Hollywood movies looking to keep their costs down, but that’s not to say they can’t work for you, too. Yes, strictly speaking, taxes have to do with saving, not raising, money for a project; however, keeping costs low on one project will not just help you avoid becoming a starving artist, but it can also help create more financial room for your next film. Find yourself an accountant (ideally someone who specializes in working with film professionals) who can help you navigate not just possible tax incentives, but expenses, as well. If becoming a full-time filmmaker is your goal, then shooting a film may come with potential write-off opportunities that you can use to further keep financial impact on the low side. It’s a great way of using one film project to help finance another.
Don’t Forget Passive Income
If you’ve been shooting for a while, chances are you’ve accumulated your fair share of footage that’s just sitting on a hard drive doing nothing. Why not let it generate some passive income for you? Post your best clips on Pond5 as stock footage, and you can set your own prices and take home 50% of every sale. If you don’t have a lot of B-roll footage, go out and shoot some in your spare time. You may not suddenly generate $100,000 dollars overnight, but over time, your clips can accumulate a good amount of money for you, and end up becoming a useful revenue stream you can dip into for any of your projects. Plus, the licenses are non-exclusive, so you’ll always retain the copyright to your work.
What other ways have you discovered for raising funds to complete a project? Tell us in the comments!