The first question to fall off of every film student or self taught filmmakers’ lips when they reach the point of no return and decide to actually try to make a film is, “How the hell am I going to pay for this?” Over the years I’ve done a lot of research on this subject, I’ve been through the ringer with production companies, and now I’m going to do my best to breakdown what I think are the best ways to finance your DIY film. I’m also going to list a few helpful websites, resources, and books that can help new filmmakers find coin for their project.
I want to start off by saying that every filmmaker has to forge their own path and there is no ultimate solution to financing your film, nor is there an easy way (unless of course you happen to win the lottery). Basically the information below is just that, a list of different paths that filmmakers can take into consideration.
Grants and Foundations
These are forms of funding that filmmakers usually don’t have to pay back. That’s right, money to make your film that in most cases doesn’t have to be paid back. There is one undeniable truth that makes this the wrong form of financing for certain filmmakers, and that is that these monies are usually not available to traditional narrative filmmakers. So all you filmmakers out there gearing up to introduce the world to the next slasher killer probably want to bypass this kind of financing. But those of you making documentaries, experimental films, regional films, or educational films have a better chance with this financing track.
Most grants come from government sources such as the NEA and state art commissions, while foundations grants are extremely specific. In other words if a filmmaker is making a documentary on French Acadian grave houses, then finding a foundation that is dedicated to historical preservation would be the best place to look for funding. Almost every subject you can think of has some sort of foundation who’s job is to give money to parties that can help their cause. And the same can be said for government grants, there are plenty of sources out there, but filmmakers have to do the research, make phone calls, suit up and convince these sources that it is beneficial for them to give you their money.
For filmmakers that don’t like to write or don’t want to go through the trouble putting together grant applications and begging foundations for their money there are plenty of people available to do it for you, but this is about do-it-yourself filmmaking so I’m going to suggest putting the coin you’ll waste on this option into your film instead. Also, if a filmmaker does take this path and the film doesn’t happen, then said filmmaker should contact the government organization or foundation that provided the funding and get advised on what to do with the money since the film isn’t happening. Failure to do so could bring stiff legal penalties.
This type of financing is when an investor or in most cases investors will make a contribution or buy a share of your films equity. This is how most films get made, but it is also the most difficult and comes with the most risk. Before attempting to go this rout filmmakers should ALWAYS get themselves an entertainment lawyer that can help them form the right type of entity for their production (limited liability corporation, s-corp, limited partnership, etc.). Filmmakers that decide to go this route should do the research an find out who would be the best fit for their film.
There’s also the time tested doctor/lawyer/dentist route, in which filmmakers rummage through the phone book and hit up every doctor, lawyer, and dentist in search of the all mighty dollar. Some filmmakers swear by this method, but I’m a fan of contacting investors that have more in common with a filmmaker’s vision. Now of course if your making a flick about doctors, lawyers, or dentists then by all means hit them up for money, but do your research first because in most cases just showing up at their door and begging for coin wont get you very far.
Another type of investor filmmakers can seek out is the production company. It is very common for production companies to put money into a project in which they see potential. But don’t just send them your script because most production companies don’t accept unsolicited material. That means you need an agent or lawyer to send it in for you. Another drawback to this type of financing is that in some cases it’s not uncommon to loose some control over the direction of your film.
This is a type of financing that works really well for DIY filmmakers. If you’re making a documentary film about Blues musicians in New Orleans, then convince local musicians to volunteer their time and hold a fund raising concert. You can charge at the door, sell t-shirts, etc. in order to make some coin for your film. Be creative with this method and you’ll reap the rewards.
Another option filmmakers shouldn’t dismiss the world wide web. Set up a website asking for donations. Blogs work really well for this type of thing, and you’d be surprised at how many people actually click the donate button. There are also social financing sites out there that claim to be able to help you make your film.
Finally we come to the tried and true method of putting everything on a credit card and hoping for the best. Many filmmakers (Kevin Smith) have used this method with varying degrees of success, but the wonderful thing about this form of financing is that when it’s all said and done you own every piece of your film (even if you lost everything in the process). Leaving you free to shop it to whomever you’d like. But remember credit cards usually have high interest rates and whatever you borrow you have to pay back, so be careful if this is the method you choose.
No matter which method you select, you’re going to have to package your film in order to submit to prospective foundations, investors, promoters, production companies. This package should include:
- The Script
- Business Plan
- List of actors attached to the project.
- Sample of your past work, and if possible a small clip that demonstrates what the current project might look like.
- A synopsis of the script
- Press clippings
In the business plan make sure you consider what your market is. Are you considering a theatrical release, broadcast/cable, DVD, internet? Also include advertising outlets that you plan to utilize, including website, news papers, magazines, and television/radio.
The last piece of advice that I can give you in your quest for DIY financing is to expect rejections, but don’t let it get you down. If your script is good, and you have the desire and drive to keep at it no mater what the odds, then chances are your film will get made one way or another.