How To Fund a Film

Your screenwriter has written and re-written those famous first and last screenplay words "Fade In" and "Fade Out"--and everything in between--enough times to finally hand you the perfect script. Your star is ready for her close-up. Your mom has told all her friends her child is now a bigtime movie mogul. It's time to make your movie and all that's missing is--the money. Funding a movie, even a small one, can be as challenging as the creative processes involved in bringing the film to the screen. Here are just a few of the many ways you can fund your film.

  1. Have a professional, honest pitch and budget. If you're going to be looking for people to hand you money for your film, they're going to want to know what they're getting into. Having a professional proposal--a pitch--is essential. What is a pitch? It is a convincing, persuasive description of your film. Let people know what you're doing, why you care about it, and why they should, too. And don't stop there--a professional budget makes you look like, well, a professional. People with money usually want to deal with professionals, not with creative flakey types who are all art and no commerce. Make sure, before you look to anyone for help, to arm yourself with specifics: how much you need, why you need it, when you need it, and what return your investors may be able to see on their contribution. If you don't expect to turn a profit, be honest about that.

    Beyond being able to "sell" your film with a professional budget and a sleek verbal pitch, you might also want to have some "leave behinds" such as a brief synopsis (1-2 pages) of your film story in case the would-be funder wants to go back and refresh his memory. If you are at the stage of your production when you have a copy of the completed script or have already shot some scenes, some would-be funders might want to take a gander. Many people may be sold on your idea just as presented. Many films, in fact, as you may know from reading the entertainment news, are funded without a finished script in the mix. Some are even filmed without a completed script! (Don't try this at home!)

  2. Find a benefactor. In fact, find several. Individuals can be a source of funding. People have all sorts of reasons for investing in a film: they like the film's idea, they like you, they want to be in the "movie business." Consider your sphere of influence, people connected to your cast, crew, your old job, your current job, your alma mater. Sure, chances are there's not one sugar daddy in the lot of them, but in there somewhere may be someone or some people who can and will pay for pieces of your film such as your first day of shooting, your actors' wages, or your costume budget. Of course, draw your own lines when it comes to doing business with friends or family and when it comes to accepting strings attached to contributions. But be professional and honest and see what happens.
  3. Find a corporate sponsor. NASCAR drivers do it. Tiger Woods does it. You can, too. Consider asking business to back your film. I'm not saying ask Coca-Cola for a check. Instead, consider local businesses, small business. Use some business savvy and explain not what the company can do for your film, but what your film can do for the company. You may find a business is interested in having some good old fashioned product placement in exchange for cash. Maybe they're looking to get into arts sponsorships to improve their image. If they can't give you money, maybe they can provide in-kind services--like catering or film stock, etc.--in exchange from some kind of p.r. or an acknowledgement in the credits. You never know unless you ask.
  4. Enter past work in a contest. A lot of contests offer their winning filmmakers money or equipment Obviously, you can't enter a film into a contest if you haven't made it yet. You can, however, use a film you've already made to try to get some money for your next film. If you've got an old short, a decent college project, or even a screenplay you think is good, don't leave it sitting on a shelf. You have nothing to lose (but sixty bucks) if you enter it in one of these film contests offering money or prizes that can help your current project. And wouldn't it feel good to know your work is funding...your work? A great site for screenplay contests is MovieBytes. Short film contests can be found at FilmMakers.Com.
  5. Hold a fundraiser. True, you can't make a movie on bake sale proceeds, unless you've got some very expensive cookies for sale. You can, though, hold some kind of (inexpensive) fundraiser to get together some cash for your film. Movies and moviemaking are exciting to people inside and outside the industry. A small film-related event, maybe with a little known actor, a film screening, or some kind of other movie-related main event, has the power to attract people from all different walks of life and income levels. Of course, not every independent filmmaker is an expert fundraisers, so talk to (inexpensive) professionals in the know. Or even consult those friends of yours who always throw the best parties. Many great struggling artists in the Harlem Renaissance got by holding "rent parties" where people came to an apartment for a party and left behind some cash for the host.
  6. Join the club. Struggling filmmakers are famous--or infamous--for possessing an independent vision and a strong desire to retain that vision without compromise. However, being out there on your own is highly overrated. There are many great filmmaker societies, associations and other assorted groups that help their members with networking. Networking can lead to cheap labor, grant connections, and even some cash. Saying you're part of a group can also lend you some credibility if you're looking for investors.


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