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Financing a student short or an independent feature film is not as hard as some filmmakers make it out to be. Resources do exist, for making short films as well as shooting features, for finishing funds or completion funds you can count on when you find out what post-production really, really costs. Stay positive and driven.
This page is here to help you learn what you need to know about film financing for independent filmmakers–creative ways you can raise financing for an independent feature film, apply for grant money from various grant sources and foundations specifically allocated for the arts, find private film financiers and venture capital to fund your movie, and basically, do whatever you need to do to get your movie made! Most grants will have sample applications on their website if you get overwhelmed. For example Austin Film Society’s Texas Filmmaker Production Fund has a great collection of sample budgets and proposals, click here. Below is a list of grants, funds, and scholarships.
GRANT WRITING ADVICE
A good proposal is clear, brief, and free of too much hip jargon. It should explain:
(1) the needs, issues, and learning objectives involved
(2) how your approach will address them
(3) why the overall theme is important
Effective proposals have been those that contain clear and brief writing that expresses your ideas (often in less than 3 pages) and those that are formatted to highlight key objectives and goals.
However, the most important component of our chosen proposals is that they meet the mission and goals of the sought foundation.
Here are somethings to keep in mind:
Grantors want compelling films.
The first two paragraphs must be dynamite, knock me off my seat!
Be impeccable with the truth.
Do not commit to things you cannot do. Sponsors can tell when you are overstating.
Sponsors know if your budget is unreasonable.
A guaranteed audience, such as a commitment from PBS, puts you on top.
Demonstrate solid marketing, distribution plans, and outreach distribution.
Have you secured a distributor or another grant?
Bringing a scholar or expert on board as a mentor will shift the scales to your advantage.
Show how your film relates to the goals of your potential sponsor or distributor.
Is your project one of a kind? If so Explain and include information to back it up.
If there are projects in the market place with a similar message or subject matter to yours, make sure you demonstrate how yours is unique.
Give specific information about your audience and include the full demographic.
Please, don’t put hand-written information on the proposal or the cover pages.
Attach letters from donors to your application as a form of support
Music and picture rights must go int the budget; they are expensive and donors look for this.
Put your name and the name of your film on submitted tapes and on the outside of the DVD case. When donors are reviewing scores of tapes they often get interrupted and it’s easy to confuse DVDs.
Financing Your Film
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 not the best form of financing for certain filmmakers, and that is that these monies are usually not available to traditional narrative filmmakers. Those of you making documentaries, experimental films, regional films, or educational films have a better chance with this financing track. However don’t lose faith, if your film touches on subject that has a cause behind it, then you are not disqualified. Below is a list of grants, funds, and scholarships. This method of financing is highly recommended for students and independent filmmakers who have something to say about something worthy.
Seriously do your best and DO NOT SPEND YOUR OWN MONEY TO MAKE YOUR FILM. Is this film worth going bankrupt over? There are stories (Kevin Smith) where a filmmaker maxed out his credit, made a movie, had nothing, got into Sundance, got a studio picture deal, eventually paid off his credit cards and then some, and he lived happily ever after. COME ON. That doesn’t happen as much as we’d all like to think. Be smart with your money. Remember credit cards usually have high interest rates and whatever you borrow you have to pay back, so be careful if this is a method you choose. Even if you are sure that your film is the best and well be very marketable and make lots of money, consider what would happen if it isn’t and didn’t . You already have a personal and emotional investment in this film, don’t make it worse by adding an element of your own financial survival to it. You could be paying off this film for the rest of your life.
Brainstorm if you know anyone that is money-comfortable enough to “be a producer” of your film. Consider asking everyone in your family for $50 to invest in your future. Hell, if they have more, get $100 per person or $1000. Your dentist that you’ve had since you were 4 years old has money, see if he or she wants to become a producer. Make sure you are clear with people if their money is a donation (not to be paid back), a loan (to be paid back in full) or an investment (paid depending on how much the film makes). Mike Akel, director of local independent favorite Chalk, financed his feature by letting friends buy shares of the film at $1000 a share. It’s hard but asking for money is part of the business. Make sure you let everyone know that you will put their name in the credits for helping you.
Event Financing, Donations, and Alternative Fund Raising
Consider alternative forms of funding. Throw a party and charge at the door of per plate. If your friends don’t have money, figure out what they do have that they are willing to donate in kind. A nice house for location? Building supplies? Food? Make sure you hit up local businesses and see if they want to donate supplies and food too. People want to give you stuff! Movies are cool and people will do what they can to be involved just for the bragging rights and credit. Do you have anything that you don’t really need that you could sell? Kevin Smith sold his comic book collection to help finance indie classic Clerks. Maybe you and your friends can have a garage sale. Think outside the box.
Though not recommended for student shorts or projects, lender financing is one way for a filmmaker to secure funding for a picture without going through the studio system. Though lender financing is time-consuming and complicated, it is a great resource for independent producers. Lender financing is the process of obtaining a loan from a lending agency to finance the development, production, and/or distribution of your film. When you are looking for a loan, you must first find out what your state usury laws are. Basically, usury is an excessive and ‘illegal’ rate of interest on your loan. Unfortunately, the usury laws do not apply to studio loans. In other words, you might have to repay your loan with excessive interest.
The Art of Film Funding: Foundations and Grants
A foundation is a nonprofit organization that donates (or grants) money, equipment or other supplier to organizations and individuals. Foundations are also called charitable trusts, endowments and public charities.
Private foundations are usually funded from one source, typically an individual, a family, or a corporation. Public foundations are built from multiple sources, including grants from private foundations, government agencies and donations from private individuals. Foundations have a responsibility to uphold the principles of the foundation and make sure their funders’ donations are being used for the intended purpose.
If you’ve searched for funding in the past you already know that many foundations will not grant money to individuals. Will these foundations make an exception? Sometimes, but it’s rare. Donating funds to individuals is more complicated because the IRS requires nonprofits to obtain advanced approval before distributing funds to individuals.
So, what’s a starving artist to do? One option is to find fiscal sponsorship.
Fiscal Sponsors receive and administer funds and provide various levels of organizational support to individuals.
Another important step in the Art of Film Funding is to investigate the possibility of using a fiscal agent for your project. Fiscal sponsorship can give you access to funding opportunities and other resources available to 501 (c ) (3) nonprofit organizations. Private individuals will also be more likely to donate their hard-earned money if you have fiscal sponsorship because they can use the donation as a tax write-off.
A fiscal sponsorship is a relationship and like all relationships it is important to find a good match. Each fiscal sponsor has different guidelines and goals. Some fiscal agents charge a fee or commission; others are simply altruistic spirits who are dedicated to your cause. Just make sure you and your fiscal sponsor have a clear agreement regarding the management and disbursement of funds, what fees, if any, the fiscal agent will charge and who will retain legal identity and control over your project.
Read their website and hen talk to them with any unanswered questions. Don’t be afraid to ask how long it takes from the time you give them a donation until you get your check back in the mail. Schools, arts organizations, or other legal community groups often sponsor individual filmmakers.
FINDING THE GRANTOR TO MATCH YOUR FILM
The money to make your film is out there. Foundations have money and resources already set aside to give away to the right individual or organization. Your job is to make sure your project matches their criteria and guidelines.
When you find a funder that looks promising, dig in, and explore their website from top to bottom. Learn everything you can about this funding source. When was the foundation established? Who established it and why? Find out who funds the foundation. As you research, jot down questions that come to mind.
If you’ve gotten this far and the foundation still feels like a good match, dig a little deeper. What causes have they funded in the past? You’re probably not going to want to pitch your documentary about endangered marmots of San Juan Wilderness to an organization that is an ardent supporter of the Independent Taxidermists of America. Knowing what type of organizations or individuals a particular funding source has embraced in the past will give you additional insights into the types of projects they fund.
IRS 501 (c ) (3) defines nonprofit, charitable, tax-exempt organizations. IRS form 990 is used by tax-exempt organizations, nonexempt charitable trusts, and political organizations to provide the IRS with information required by section 6033. Why should you care? Because you can find out a lot about an organization by accessing their tax forms.
I know, it sounds positively sneaky, doesn’t it? Don’t worry, I’m not asking you to put on a cat suit and slip into their business office at night with a flashlight. These records are available to the public. If you’re into snooping (and what great filmmaker isn’t?) then you’ll want to stay awake for this next part.
Form 990 discloses all kinds of juicy tidbits about an organization’s finances, board members, and you guessed it, their philanthropic activities. Accessing this one form will tell you what kind of programs the organization supports and the names of all grant recipients for that fiscal year. It will also give you the name, address, and phone number of the operations officer (the person in charge of the grant you are applying for), and whether or not they accept unsolicited proposals.
You can access information on over 100,000 US private and community foundations for free through the Foundation Center’s Foundation Finder, locate at www.fdncenter.org. If you don’t have the name of the foundation, GrantSmart (www.grantsmart.org) offers a database of US grant makers and foundations you can search using keywords.
For more information please refer to Art of Film Funding: Alternative Financing Concepts by Carole Lee Dean