It can feel like one of the most significant hurdles in filmmaking is securing adequate financial backing for your projects. While it is possible for some folks to self-finance, apply for bank loans, locate individual investors, or borrow money from friends and family in order to fund their films, even those sources can run dry – and more often than not, they may not exist in the first place.
What’s a filmmaker to do? Well, instead of shelving your project and waiting for a magical influx of cash to appear at some nebulous point in the future, consider trying out one or more of the options below.
Crowdfunding is a concept that allows the general public (and, of course, your willing friends, family, and colleagues) the opportunity to become “investors” in your project. While it’s often associated with financing medical treatment or innovations (“If we get 1,000 backers, we’ll be able to launch an ultralight burrito carrying case for backpackers!”), it’s also a popular way to fund books, art projects, and films.
This method can allow you to secure funding before starting on a project (unless, of course, you don’t reach your goal), and develop a built-in starter audience to raise community support. Of course, the downside to crowdfunding is that you may not reach your goal (especially when fees are tacked on to donations), you might feel some stigma by asking for money (even though this is something most filmmakers have to do), and you now have extra responsibilities in communicating with donors and ensuring their expectations are met.
Before we dive into some tips for crowdfunding, let’s look at a few different kinds of crowdfunding tools:
Kickstarter: This creative-minded platform operates on an “all-or-nothing” model – you set the amount you’d like the raise and the time period for raising that amount; if you meet that goal, you receive the money (minus fees: 5% from the platform, plus a payment processing fee between 3-5%), but you receive nothing if you don’t reach the goal.
Seed&Spark: This film-specific site, which boasts a relatively high success rate for fundraisers, operates as a streaming service, a film distributor, gear registry, and a crowdfunding platform. You receive funds if you reach 80% of your goal, with a 5% platform fee (which backers can contribute toward with their donations) and additional credit card processing fees.
Patreon: This subscription-based donation service allows supporters to make a monthly pledge in exchange for regular content or other exclusives. Instead of specific funding project, this platform allows creators a continuing income stream.
Of course, a lot of other fundraising platforms exist, their numbers seemingly growing every day. Once you choose the one that’s right for your project, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- How much money do you hope to raise? Think about exactly how you’ll spend this money (having a specific budget proposal or outline will help), and be realistic about the amount you actually need – the more reasonable your goal, the more likely you’ll be funded.
- How long will you fundraise? Even if your platform doesn’t require it, it’s important to set an end date for reaching your fundraising goal. If you don’t, you risk running out of promotional steam and losing donor interest.
- What incentives will you offer? Most crowdfunding campaigns offer some sort of perk, whether that’s exclusive content, sneak peeks, or some kind of tangible good. Think carefully about what kind of incentives are most manageable and relevant to your project, then consider how and when you’ll fulfill them. Also be sure they’re cost efficient – factor in shipping, platform, and credit card fees, as well as the time needed to fulfill each perk.
- How will you frame your project? Have your (very, very convincing) elevator pitch ready. You need to be able to talk about your project in real, substantive terms before you begin asking for money. When you have your pitch ready, create a trailer or introductory video to get people interested. Make sure that you’re a part of this video – people want to back cool projects, but they also want to back the people behind them.
- How will you communicate with donors? Launching a campaign doesn’t mean sending out a one-time email or social media post – consistency in communication is key in getting the message out. It will probably take several reminders before even your closest friends and family members remember to donate! Be sure you have a plan for posting updates throughout the funding process, as well.
- What is your backup plan? What will you do if your funding level isn’t reached, or if you only receive partial funding for your project?
Want some free money? Apply for a grant! Okay, okay – it’s not quite that simple, but it is an excellent way to find funding for your film projects. Grants are typically conditions-based monetary gifts that often have a specific focus, whether that’s to fund films exploring a certain topic or genre, or to support emerging filmmakers, female-identifying persons, students, people from a certain geographic region, and so on.
While the grant application process can be lengthy and competition can be tough, there are a lot of worthy opportunities out there if you’re willing to put in the elbow grease. A great way to start is to point your browser to the search engine of your choice, then type in the magic words “filmmaking grants.” Behold – a world of wonder awaits! More specific methods include exploring opportunities presented by film festivals, universities, regional film societies, private corporations, and local film commissions.
Similar to using a crowdfunding platform, it’s important to understand your project (and your pitch) before you apply to ensure you’re making the most compelling argument for receiving funding. And of course – read, re-read, and double-triple-check the application to ensure all materials are enclosed before sending it off.
Outdoor brands are increasingly in the game of sharing content that looks nothing like the gear catalogues of old – many now have blogs where they post high quality articles, photos, and videos. While it used to be looked down on as “selling out,” the idea of partnering with a brand – while receiving funding, gear, logistical support, and a massive platform – is becoming more appealing to outdoor filmmakers. Depending on the brand’s needs and the partnership you build, there may be varying degrees of creative freedom involved, but quite often, brands just want to support amazing creators and stories that share an important point of view.