We hear it all the time: one of the biggest barriers aspiring filmmakers face is funding. The truth is, movies cost a lot of money, and it’s really, really difficult to get around that. Sure, you can (and should) read up about micro budget filmmaking, you can write a script that’s within your means, but the truth of the matter is that eventually you’re going to want to make something bigger. Maybe it’s a feature, maybe it’s a short with cool special effects… but at the end of the day, you’re going to want to secure funding. Today I’ll break down some different options for independent film funding. This list is by no means comprehensive, not every idea will work for you, and you may need to mix and match some.
I know what you’re thinking… this option isn’t available to most people, especially at higher price points. I know I don’t have 20k lying around that I can put into a movie, and I don’t expect you to, either. But get honest with yourself… how much money could you put into a project? Could you spare a few hundred, or even a few thousand dollars? If not, is there a way you could earn that? I’m certainly not an advocate of hustle culture, but if you need to take on a part-time job, pick up some freelance film gigs, or even just do something like babysitting occasionally, you could put that money towards your film. Again, this isn’t an option for everyone, but if you’re serious about making this movie, it’s something to consider.
Forming an LLC for your movie
I’ve written a whole article about why you should consider forming an LLC for your movie, so I’ll keep this short and sweet: an LLC protects you from personal liability should something go wrong with your film. Does this solve the problem of actually funding the thing? Not directly, but it protects you in the long run, and makes the entire business of movie making a lot less risky. It also enables you to do some of the other things on this list, like finding investors (who can write their contributions off on their taxes) and applying for business, rather than personal, loans. Hot tip: if you earn money through your LLC, for example, by picking up freelance gigs, it will be easier for you to get loans.
We recently wrapped up our first crowdfunding campaign. We didn’t meet our goal–more on that later–but we were able to raise almost $25k. Our friend Drew Leatham and his creative partner raised $60k through crowdfunding. Our friend Rami Kahlon is, at the time of this article, on track to fund her entire short film through crowdfunding. What we’re saying is that it’s totally possible to fund a movie this way, and even if you don’t meet your goal, you’ll have made progress towards getting your movie paid for. Hot tip: when setting your crowdfunding goal, think of different budget tiers. What’s the minimum amount you need to start pre-production? What would you need to make those amazing special effects you want possible? What would you need to get that special (but expensive) location or big-name actor? Remember, when making a low-budget film you’re going to need to be clear on your priorities, so think about what items are must-haves and what are things you simply want, and then base your crowdfunding goals around that.
One of the biggest questions we get is how we managed to connect with our primary investor. The answer is a combination of luck and really, really hard work. Long before she had a single dollar to her name, Raven, our CEO, worked incredibly hard to make micro budget films while working a day job, learned a huge range of skills, and connected with creative partners who helped her realize her vision. I’m not exaggerating when I say she put in over a decade of work and hundreds of hours of time learning everything she could before she found an investor who was willing to take a risk on her. There are many ways to connect with investors, including networking events and online resources, but the main thing that’s in your control is making sure you and your work are a good investment. That means putting in the work, growing your skills, creating solid projects, connecting with your community, cultivating a strong work ethic, and overall setting yourself up for success before you approach investors. Think about it: would you put your hard-earned money towards someone you don’t have a personal connection with who has absolutely no track record? This can be hard to hear, because of course finding an investor makes life a lot easier when you’re working towards independent film funding, but if you’re just starting out, think of this as a long-term goal. If you’ve been at it for a long time, consider going to networking events, reaching out to folks online, and setting up meetings with other production companies who may want to partner with you.
Raven’s best advice: build your portfolio and visibility in whatever way you can. This can mean self-funding microbudget films, creating Youtube videos about your work, sending your movies (and yourself) to film festivals, growing your social media presence, investing in a high-quality website, writing scripts you can’t afford to produce (yet)… the list goes on. Basically, if someone is interested in you and your work, it should be easy for them to learn more about you, what you’re capable of, and what you could create if you had the opportunity.
This is a lot simpler than finding an investor, and is a great place to start. There are tons of filmmaking grants available, and all it takes to find them is some strategic Google sources. Some grants are regional (think specific cities, states, countries) and some are based on the filmmaker’s identity (think women in film, queer filmmakers, and filmmakers of color.) Some are based on the type of film you’re making (there are lots of documentary-specific grants out there) or are for a particular part of the production process (I’ve seen grants specifically for post, or for getting equipment.) Apply to anything and everything you qualify for. Some grant applications are long and tedious, so make sure you do some research before you dive in.
Getting a loan
I’m leaving this one for last because, truthfully, I don’t want to encourage people to go into debt to make art. That being said, I understand that filmmaking is expensive, some folks might not have other options, and pursuing creative dreams requires some level of risk. There are two types of loans you could take out: business and personal loans. Either requires a lot of thought and careful calculations. Before you take out a loan, you should be aware of current interest rates, different lender options, and what you can personally afford to pay back. There are lots of shady online lenders who are happy to take advantage of you and will have sky-high interest rates, which you obviously want to avoid. My best advice if you’re going to go down this route–aside from carefully researching and vetting your options–is to figure out a monthly payment you can afford even if your movie makes zero dollars and to work out your budget from there.
There you have it, my top advice for folks who are looking for independent film funding. As always, when it comes to money (be it yours or your investors,) you need to be very thoughtful about what you can afford, what risks you can take, and what your movie is realistically going to cost. Remember to look at the many resources available that give you money-saving tips, as well as learning more about ethical filmmaking so that you can make sure you are using your money wisely to create acceptable on-set conditions for your cast and crew. Good luck, and please reach out if you have any questions about independent film funding; we are always happy to connect!