While making films is indeed great fun, certain hardships come with the process. Arguably, the hardest aspect of making a film is finding ways to fund it; especially if you are a first-time filmmaker.
The film industry has become a financial enterprise with the potential to generate multi-million dollar profits. Successful filmmakers, find ways to exercise their creative freedom as well as monetize their films.
Making movies is not cheap though. This process needs financing for development, labor, equipment, production, food, marketing, distribution, and much more.
But don’t be discouraged. If you are smart about funding your film and know how to do it properly, it is totally worth it in the end. In this article, we have prepared for you a straightforward guide on how to finance a movie. There are primarily 5 ways to fund your first film as an independent filmmaker, these are:
- Personal saving
- Family & friends
We will cover each way in more detail below, but generally, most filmmakers use a combination of some or all of the funding methods above.
Preparation for Financing
First and foremost, you need to prepare yourself for the funding process. It is not a random venture and needs to be planned thoroughly in advance. So get ready for long hours of research and meticulous planning.
The two vital parts of your preparation for financing are knowing your why and drafting a strong business plan.
Know your WHY
If you want to get people interested in your project to an extent that they are willing to invest in it, know what is your why. In other words, what is the general purpose for making your film in the first place? Why do you want to make it? What is your artistic intent?
The truth is that knowing your WHY is useful in all stages of film production; From writing a screenplay, creating a marketing strategy to working with your actors.
Here are some questions that you can deliberate on to better understand your creative purpose:
- Why is the story important to you? What makes you so passionate about it? Remember, people are more likely to trust in you, and finance your project if they see that you are passionate about it.
- What are you willing to accomplish once you tell this story? Are you trying to change the world or shed light on a particular issue? Are you trying to make good money from the sales agreement? Or is it something you are simply passionate about? Be open and transparent with yourself. Knowing this will ease your life through all the stages of production.
- Why should you be the one to tell this story? What are the ethical implications of you telling it at this particular time, and in this particular format? To think more about ethical aspects of filmmaking you can check out our Intro to Writing for Social Justice & Ethical Screenwriting.
Take your time to answer these questions. Make sure you are honest and transparent with yourself. There is nothing worse than feeding others and yourself with the illusions.
Another important stage in planning your funding is to draft up a concise and practical business plan. A business plan is a formal written document, containing the objectives of your business, the methods of attaining those objectives, and a time frame for the achievement of those goals.
If you are looking for any form of investment, you will need a business plan you can provide to your investors. Remember, that in most cases you’ll only be able to fund your first feature film if you prove to your investors of the potential success of your movie and your abilities.
Furthermore, a business plan can act as a road map for your entire project, that will help you to navigate all stages of production. Thus, it is a good idea to draft up a business plan anyways even if you are planning to finance your feature with personal funds.
5 Ways to Fund Your First Feature
1. Crowdfunding Campaign
Crowdfunding is essentially an online campaign that filmmakers launch to finance their film through the contribution of friends, fans, and the public. With the expanse of social media and its use in our day-to-day life, crowdfunding campaigns have become a popular way to raise capital.
There are a couple of online platforms that you can utilize to start your crowdfunding campaign. Some of the most popular ones are Kickstarter, Indiegogo, Patreon, and Seed&Spark. Although before embarking and setting up a campaign on any of these platforms we highly recommend you to read terms & conditions, understand how each platform works, and which one is going to work best for your project.
One of the biggest disadvantages of crowdfunding campaigns is the huge competition in the digital realm. Thousands of filmmakers launch crowdfunding campaigns annually, thus you can imagine that it is incredibly difficult to stand out. Your creativity and the uniqueness of your vision are your biggest assets in these campaigns.
Make it your own, experiment, and try to engage as many people as possible!
Crowdfunding requires a particular budget and marketing plan of its own. It’s through engaging content, precise marketing strategy, and a strong sizzle reel that help those campaigns to stand out.
The key to a successful marketing strategy is understanding your target audience. Comprehending the fundamentals of consumer engagement and human psychology can help you out with building a marketing strategy.
Ask yourself the following questions, to lay out a foundation for a Crowdfunding Marketing Strategy:
- Who are the people that are the most interested in donating to your film? What’s their age, race, gender, ethnicity, socio-economic status? If you are making a genre film, research the people who are the most interested in this genre. If you are trying to cover a particular social issue, understanding who are the people that might also be interested in it is important.
- What social media platforms or online outlets would these people use? Are they more likely to skim through their Instagram feed or TikTok? How can you distribute and advertise your crowdfunding campaign using those social media outlets?
Remember that there is no right or wrong way about building the marketing strategy for your crowd-funding campaign (and your film in general). Sometimes these campaigns work, other times they don’t.
The success of your marketing campaign largely depends on how creatively it is executed as well as the market itself (that constantly fluctuates and is affected by a variety of factors).
Sizzle Reel is a short pitching video for your project, that enables investor’s interest in your film.
These reels usually include an introduction from the director/producer/cast members or anyone else who has an important part in your film. They quickly introduce your why share details of the plot, explain how much funding the project requires, and what are those finances going to be allocated towards.
As with everything else in the film world, there is no right or wrong way on how to do your sizzle reel. There are a lot of factors that might affect its format based on your target budget, genre, country, length, etc.
The best way to go about deciding what you should include in your sizzle reel is research. Go to various crowdfunding platforms to see what other filmmakers are doing, and chose what works for you and what does not.
For an independent filmmaker who is just starting out, investors might be one of the hardest ways to fund their first feature film, however, it is the most rewarding one as well.
The best thing about investors is that they have a lot of resources, and sometimes not only the monetary ones. They can provide you with great connections for the future.
The keys to securing funding from investors are:
- Do your homework: the more you are prepared for your pitch meeting with potential investors, the more likely you’ll be able to receive the funding that you want. Make sure you polish your business plan, prepare your marketing & distribution strategy, and run down basic ROI (return on investment). Most probably, the investors you will be approaching are businessmen who will want to know how much money they will receive in return. They will be asking a lot of tricky questions, so make sure you know how to respond to all that. Chance favors the prepared mind.
- Build your reputation: make sure your standing in the film world and your work ethic are reputable. Investors will be more willing to step into your project if they see that you have a solid experience, and they have heard positive things about you from others. Since this is your first feature film, you need to find ways to prove to the investors that you are competent enough to deal with their money.
- Clarify your expectations: just like with everything else in the film world clear communication and expectations are key. Make sure you know what you offer to the investors before approaching them. Are you offering a particular interest rate to an investment or are you giving sales dividends to your financiers? Outline your expectations and terms. Ideally, if you are dealing with bigger budgets productions and high-profile investors, hire a film attorney who will help you to mitigate all the risks.
Grants are money that is being awarded to a filmmaker without the expectation of them being returned. To receive one, a filmmaker needs to fill out an application, and submit various supplemental materials, such as sizzle-reel, treatments, pre-sales / distribution agreement, and sometimes even already shot footage of the film.
The hardest aspect of receiving grants is the application itself. The trick is to master the grant-writing, understand its structure, and know-how exactly these grants are awarded. The suggestion would be taking some grant-writing classes, or if your budget allows hiring a professional grant application writer.
While the competition for grants is colossal, it is still worth a shot to submit applications. There are thousands of grants available online. Some of them are tailored to allow underrepresented filmmakers to tell their stories (black, Asian, female, LGBTQ+, indigenous, etc.). Others are provided to those films, that are dealing with a particular social issue, film, or period.
If you conduct thorough research, there are pretty good chances that you will find a grant that your project can qualify for.
4. Personal Savings
This one is probably the easiest way to fund your debut film. The truth is that you do not need hundreds of thousands of dollars to fund your first feature film. A couple of thousands of dollars from your bank account could be enough.
The downside of this funding way is that not everyone can afford to spend their savings on their films. Perhaps there are things way more vital for one’s survival than making an indie film. However, it must be said that if you are serious about doing independent filmmaking as a full-time career, it is important to have savings that you are willing to invest into growing your career. Think about it as a business; to grow it and achieve desired results, you need to invest in it.
The best part of this funding option is that it is the most risk-free. The finances that you are using to produce your film are yours, and you do not owe anything to anyone. The worst part is that probably this funding method won’t be enough (although there are plenty of award-winning filmmakers who have produced their films entirely with their personal savings).
5. Family & Friends
Another fairly easy way to fund your first feature film. If there is anyone else who will want to support you, and help out to kickstart your career it would be your family and friends. These are the people who have the most trust in you and are passionate about you succeeding.
The biggest disadvantage is that money has been a large cause for disputes amongst friends and families. To avoid these sorts of conflicts, make sure you lay out expectations and agreements with your friends/family.
Treat these people the same way you would treat other investors. Present your business plan to them, share your marketing strategy, and forecast their return on investments. Do your best to instill faith and trust that your project will succeed.
Sometimes this sort of investment can cover the funding of your very small-budget feature film, however, do not expect to receive a lot, unless your relative has a multi-million dollar trust fund.
Combination of all-of-the-above
The smartest way about financing your film is to never rely solely on one source of funding. It is really useful for you to find a way to combine a bit of every funding way to finance your project.
Most likely, using only one source of financing for your film won’t be enough. If you can find a way to fund your first feature film using multiple streams of income, it is more probable you’ll meet your funding target.
While there is no single/ideal way to fund your first feature, as it ranges from one project to another, these 5 ways can provide you a clear insight into how you should expect to fund your film.
For many, film financing is one of the least exciting parts of filmmaking, but just know that it is also a great stage to exercise your creativity; out-of-the-box thinking can generate great results and attract more investments.
Don’t worry that your film is not at its best quality in terms of production value. It is way more impressive to create a compelling film with a low budget, rather than a mediocre high-budget movie. In the future, a well-established name, and a portfolio of well-made low-budget films can win the trust of potential investors. This will prove to them, that you can handle money well, and still generate great content.