Everything about the filmmaking process is hard. But fundraising is not only hard--it’s where things can get tricky.
Yes, there are endless hours of planning in pre-production, and hardly any sleep during production. Then there’s staring at a monitor in an edit suite until your eyeballs hurt. Every phase of making a film has its own version of “hard work."
However, fundraising is special. It’s the first really, truly hard thing you’ll do. Writing and editing the script is hard in its own right, but writing is fun for most of us even when it’s hard. Nothing is fun about asking people for money.
The good news is that you’re passionate about your project. And passion, along with a great plan, well, that’s a recipe for fundraising success.
If you’ve been following this series, you know that this is my first feature film. However, this isn’t my first time around the fundraising block. I’ve made presentations asking for millions of dollars over the years; many of them, I’ve made successfully. Some of them, not so much. The thing that’s separated the winners from the losers has always been that very same recipe of having passion for whatever it is I’m working on along with a plan to see it through.
Kevin Smith paid for his rookie effort using credit cards. Passion was there. Plan was not. If you’re going to make your film that way, I wish you the best of luck…you’re going to need it.
If you’ve got the passion (don’t even start this process without it), and all you need is a plan, perhaps I can help. I’ll lay out the fundraising plan for my movie and over the next few months as we execute it I’ll give you updates along the way. Deal?
First thing’s first: The prospectus. Assuming that you’ve already got an awesome script, the second most important document in your fundraising toolbox is a prospectus, otherwise known as a business plan.
The thing that makes a prospectus different is that it’s designed to give a potential investor all the information he or she needs to make an informed decision. I won’t go over the details of how to write a prospectus here. You can find countless books and articles online to tell you all about that. I will tell you, though, that one of the most important parts is a well-itemized budget. Not only will it give your investors an idea about how you’ll be spending their money, but it’ll also help you project how much profit your film could potentially make.
Legal Tip: Get an attorney to look over this document. This person will also help you avoid problems with the SEC. Yeah, the peeps who took down Bernie Madoff have some say in how you can and cannot raise money for your film.
Who To Approach: Then, we (I and the other producers.) had to agree that we’re not going to play the Hollywood Game, otherwise known as taking our script and prospectus to Hollywood-types to make our pitch. With nary a feature between us, it didn’t feel like the right plan for us. So, we elected to look for a group of non-Hollywood-type investors instead. Normal, everyday people that happen to have some expendable income and are willing to make a high-risk investment. (Newsflash: film is high-risk. You’ll want to keep that in mind when talking to people about investing in your project.)
Make-Your-Life-Easier Tip: Keep the number of investors as low as possible. If you can find one person to bankroll the entire thing, awesome. The fewer people investing in your film, the fewer people you have to give regular updates to, the few people you have to pay back, the fewer people taking a risk, etc.
How? We’re taking a multi-phase approach. Let’s not waste time…
The Initial Push For our film, this phase is going on right now. It’s the fundraising before the fundraising. See, it takes money to make money, and since we’re starting with virtually none, we’re hitting the indie film community up for their pocket change. The idea is to get people who love indie art to “prime the pump” and help us get things started. This step is vital to our fundraising plan, as it gives us momentum.
Using a variety of social media and online tools, we’re building a fan base and asking them to help in one or both of two ways: spread the word about our project, and consider making a micro donation of $5 - $10.
The Main Drive If the previous step gave us our fundraising skeleton, this is the meat. We’re looking for no more than 25 investors to fund from pre through post production. How will we find these people, you ask?
Each producer is planning an investors’ reception. We’ll provide some food, some wine, and we’ll make our plea. The trick is to find people who buy into the passion while understanding the risk. Remember what I said about film being a high-risk investment? It takes a special breed of investor to commit to such an endeavor. You should have respect for these people. They’ll be among the most generous and discerning you’ll ever meet.
The goal of this phase is to raise enough money to fund our project through the final print. We don’t even want to turn a camera on until we’ve got enough money to complete the film.
Subsequent phases will be brought into play once the film is shot, edited, and printed. We’ll need to raise funds for our festival tour, and costs of securing a distribution deal. Should we end up self-distributing, that will come with its own set of costs like P&A. We’ll need to raise funds for that.
The bottom line is this: Regardless of your methods for finding investors, you need to be honest with them about the inherent risks of investing in film, and then be committed to doing everything in your power to get their money back to them.
I know we are on our film.
Danial James is a media & marketing professional who is in development on his first-feature film. Contact him at