Film Financing 101: What You Need & How To Do It

 

If you’ve been reading this blog, then chances are that you’ve come across my earlier posts on film distribution (for short films, feature films & web series), why it’s important to budget for unit publicity and cool & creative marketing campaigns for films.

But then I started thinking, what are some of the other struggles that indie film makers I chat with and work with have? It became apparent that film financing was a big concern. Typically, film makers would try and apply for competitions to receive grants, or they run campaigns on platforms like Indiegogo and Kickstarter, getting burnt out on using some of the fundraising to create fan perks and try their hand at getting angel investors.

Bear in mind, I’m not slandering Indiegogo & Kickstarter, considering the awesome projects they’ve helped fund, I just think you should proceed with caution (*More on that, later.)

So, what can film makers do to make financing their projects a little easier? That’s what this blog post aims to do-I’ll cover some great resources that will help with film financing AND some tips on how to better position yourself and your projects to make it easier.

 

Setting Yourself Up to Maximize Financing Potential

If you’re a first time or even a novice film maker, it can be like fighting an uphill battle to get the funding that you need-when no one knows your name/brand and you don’t have notable projects under your belt.

So, first step is establish your credibility by attaching industry veterans to your projects in key roles. Start going networking mixers & workshops in your indie film community and I bet you can connect with veteran directors, editors, cinematographers, producers and screenwriters who’d be happy to act as a mentor/advisor for your project.  Enlisting a seasoned veteran to lend their name & reputation to your project is a great way to get more experience on your crew, which will raise your chances of fundraising success.

Second thing, don’t forget to engage your community!  Attend the mixers & workshops, spread the news of your film/TV/web project at these events with people you’ve built relationships with & take the news online as well! Grow your core audience via social media & invite them into the process of making your project by keeping them informed, whether in person or online. Make people feel like a part of your community and they’ll be your team-and do the promotion work for you. (*KEY NOTE: ENGAGE them about your project but don’t make ALL your content about your project, people want to have conversations with you about film & share cool things, NOT always being asked to help fundraise or share news*)

Lastly, don’t feel like you have to confine yourself to ONE film financing platform or method. Each method has its pros and cons (which I’ll cover in a bit) and by signing up for and using a variety of platforms & methods (especially to fund different elements of a project such as props, locations, set design etc.), you’ll maximize your opportunities to meet & exceed funding goals.

Too often, I see great projects that I support and that I’m providing unit publicity/social media for, concentrate on ONE financing platform and end up losing out receiving more funding due to a strict unmoveable campaign deadline or having to use revenue of their own to pay out for fan perks. It’s TOTALLY OK, I’m even ENCOURAGING you to use more of a varied film financing strategy on more than ONE platform. You’ll increase your chances that way AND not have to freak out about a fundraising campaign deadline looming.

So now that we’ve established some of what you need to do to start fundraising for film financing, let’s talk about film financing methods.

 

Method 1: Government Funding

Governments all over the world have grants/funding incentives to help indie film makers. In the UK, the government distributes funding for British film through the BFI for various film making initiatives and Europe has the MEDIA program which helps to bring projects to production. British Columbia has several project funds such as helping production companies support the development of two or more eligible film/TV/web series projects through a slate development fund   and funding to help film makers with travel costs when they are looking to open to different domestic & international markets.

Here’s the caveat: whichever fund you try and apply for through your respective government, keep in mind that there are strict deadlines and criteria (down to the amount of experience your team has), competition is extremely fierce and you may have restrictions on what/who/when/how/where you can complete your project, which can compromise creative integrity.

 

Method 2: Tax Credits

Government related, though not strictly a fund, tax credits can be great at helping you reduce overall labor costs on production services and act as an incentive for refundable tax opportunities to production companies. Just like government funding however, there are parameters that must be met in order for your project to qualify for tax credits (ie. The project being Canadian controlled for a labor based tax credit or running a Canadian or international film/TV Production Corporation to qualify for a labor based tax incentive).

Check out some info on tax credits here & here.

 

Method 3: Product Placement

This one is a little tougher for indie film makers as it’s essentially teaming up with brand managers of a certain brand to do an in-kind sponsorship whereby they give your project some cash funding and their products are included on camera/in the production of your film, web series or TV series. In theory, in sounds awesome because it’s cheaper for said product company to place their products in the film rather than do straight advertising but few indie projects have the pulling power of a huge block buster. However, if you have a hook up for a couple different product sponsors who are part of small/medium brands who could use the exposure, it could work.

Check out some examples of great indie films who made product placement work.

 

Method 4: Incorporating Music

Similar to the product placement, this one can also be a little tough for indie film makers, but doable if you have the connections in your network. As film & music are closely associated with one another, having a great soundtrack can enhance your story & entice audiences. Moreover, if a musician that you know who has their own following signs on to do the original score, you can leverage their name in promoting your project, find new followers in their audiences AND the musicians themselves can earn additional revenue from your film. Of course, this method, just like the product placement, is entirely dependent on who you’re connected to and if their audience following is large enough to be an effective marketing tactic,

The musical romance Once is a great example of how incorporating music into your indie film can work.

 

Method 5: Production Grants

This is where the fun happens  :). There’s literally hundreds of production grants you can apply for through all different organizations, contests that will award production funding and film initiatives in every city. Not only that, but there are production grants available for literally everything having to do with film making (from specific genres like documentaries and fiction narratives to areas such as screenwriting and even to support emerging teen film makers).

There’s also competitions you can enter that will help winners get professional development, mentorship and also production funding. The First Look Project from Script Pipeline is a great example of a competition as is the Pilot Launch TV Scripts Contest by Screencraft. The First Look Project accepts screenplays, teleplays and short films that are judges on originality, writing ability and commercial potential. Each winner in each category can receive a cut of the $14,000 in prizes, industry circulation and long-term personalized professional development assistance from Script Pipeline’s executive team. For the Pilot Launch TV Scripts Contest, they accept drama & comedy TV pilots for network, cable & online with 3 winners getting cash rewards and VIP invites to the ITVFest in October.

For production grants in different categories, The Bertha BRITDOC Documentary Journalism Fund offers between £ 10,000 to 50,000 to documentary film makers from any country from a mixture of grants & investments. Screen Australia also has a documentary development fund that allows applications to apply for any amount up to $30,000 and have at least 3 eligible credits in the role of either producer or director.

Screencraft’s Short Film Production Fund supports short film and online series projects with grants up to $20,000 twice/year. The amounts vary from $10,000 to $20,000 depending on the scale, originality and potential of the project. Each winner receives production guidance from Screencraft and resources from BondIt & Buffalo 8 Productions.

The Film Fund has a unique & challenging production grant opp: you get up to $10,000 to make your short film simply by crafting and submitting ONE sentence with a compelling premise that conveys why you need funding to achieve your vision.

So morale of the story: check often, apply often and don’t let rejection of one grant stop you. The more you have, the more varied your financing strategy, the better off you’ll be.

Check out this MASSIVE list of production grants every year to see which ones you qualify for.

 

Method 6: Crowdfunding

As I mentioned earlier, I’ll be elaborating on Kickstarter and Indiegogo. Both platforms have their merits in that their overall popularity means that you already have an audience base to engage with on your film. Fans understand how Kickstarter & Indiegogo work when it comes to their donations and both platforms make it really easy for them to share the campaign with their own networks. Given the amount of other films, TV series and creative projects like board games that get funded every day, it’s no wonder many indie film makers flock to both these platforms.

Here’s the problem though: Kickstarter & Indiegogo both have firm 30 day & 60 day deadlines to their crowdfunding campaigns, so once that’s over, you have to start again. There’s also the added stress of having to use some of the funds you’ve worked so hard to raise on creating/distributing the perks as thank yous to all the fans who donated which can be time consuming & overwhelming (time you can & should be spending on your film project, by the way). There’s nothing wrong with thanking fans, but not being in control of the way you want to do it can be a negative.

And the last negative, because of the hard & fast deadline, many indie film makers I support & work with end up literally spamming social media day in and day out to try and make their funding goals, rather than spending time engaging with their fan base. That’s the best way to piss off your audience, not make them part of the team.

So, am I telling you NOT to use Kickstarter & Indiegogo? OF COURSE NOT! These platforms can be great at reaching large audiences & projects do get funded on them every day, but just be careful with HOW you use them. Instead of using the one platform to fund your entire film, consider using either platform to fund a certain element (ie. Revenue to secure a location or to purchase gear) so it takes the pressure off.

There are other crowdfunding platforms, don’t forget. GoFundMe may not strictly be a creative industries or entertainment crowdfunding platform but it does have the benefit of not having a deadline, so you can keep the fundraising through production and post. You can even take some of the funds raised to enter the film into the festival circuit once editing’s completed.

I’ve previously mentioned Seed & Spark in my previous post on film distribution, but their main objective is helping great films raise capital. They even have classes and workshops on how to crowdfund properly along with a film maker’s gift box that has over $9,000 in products, services & festival waivers for projects with 500 followers. They even have a monthly Seed Fund where additional cash from their subscribers goes to the crowdfunding projects.

Slated is an online marketplace that connects investors with film makers and industry professionals to help find film financing. There are hundreds of film finance and distribution opportunities listed monthly and the Analytics Package score will allow potential investors to see each project’s true value based on the strength of the team, the quality of the script and the potential for financial returns.

Last crowd funding platform in this section is known as Seedrs based in the UK. Similar to GoFundMe, it’s not a fundraising platform that’s particularly geared towards entertainment and films, more so towards start-up companies but through their story-building pitch, you’ll be able to highlight what you want to do with your investment and submit it to Seedrs executive team for review.

I’m sure I may be missing a few more crowdfunding platforms, but I think this section is long enough, don’t you?

 

Last Method: Angel Investors

Just as you’d do research to see which production grants you qualify for, finding the right investors requires some prep work. To convince potential investors that your film is worth investing in, you must first believe that it’s worthy. Sound simple, right? You’d be surprised how many people have a crisis of confidence when it comes to finding investment opportunities.

You have to build your case with a fantastic script & a great pitch towards investors that needs a strong business plan.

In a nutshell, your business plan should contain an executive summary of the major points, a synopsis of you film, hypothetical investment return, timeline/production plan, bios/resumes of your team members, risk management details and contact info.

You must believe – and in your business plan, show – that to offer an investment opportunity is to give back more value than you’re requesting. Don’t go hunting for investors until you have a kick-ass script, pitch & business plan in place!

As far as where to find potential investors, this is where all your networking comes in. Going to different events, mixers, workshops, even events that have nothing to do with film such as large scale celebrations and chatting with vendors can be a great way to find referrals. If you have a particular great referral network, consider offering an Associate Producer credit & a possible finder’s fee to sweeten the deal.

 

Want more great tips for indie film makers? Check out my previous posts on film distribution and how unit publicity can help your film/TV/web projects!