By Faith Fuller, Desktop Documentaries
Documentary funding can be one of the most challenging aspects of making a film. I know, I've been there!
The whole process was so grueling during the making of my first documentary that I made it my mission to make sure NO OTHER filmmaker had to suffer the same way. I spent an entire year meticulously putting together a packet of awesome ideas and tools to help you find funding as quickly as possible so that you can focus on what you love most -- making films!
Desktop Documentaries has now partnered with Jilann Spitzmiller (aka Documentors) to offer an amazing collection of budget templates and tutorials in additional to all the other fundraising items. Jilann has won hundreds of thousands of dollars in grant funding and she shares her top strategies and 30 years of insider knowledge about the budgeting and funding process.
Savings, credit cards, personal loans and 401K's. Sometimes, there's just no other way when you've got your documentary idea and you're ready to go!
This documentary funding idea is a very real option for many first-time filmmakers. Helloooo Uncle Edmond!
Sending out a mass email to your personal network is a great way to spread the word about your project and get some quick donations. (Make sure you have a paypal account set up to accept online donations). Typically, you don't want to send just one mass e-mail asking for a one-time donation. It's a process. First you want to engage people in the project, keep them updated and then offer incentives and reasons to donate. There's a lot to this which is discussed in more detail in my Documentary Fundraising 101 Course.
There's something special about getting a physical letter in the mail. Creating a fundraising letter with a handwritten note and including a DVD with your trailer (or a URL to your website/trailer) can be a great way to raise some money. The downside is the expense of printing and postage.
It's not enough to find someone who has a lot of money and ask them to donate. The person must have some kind of pre-existing natural connection with either YOU or the subject matter of your film. Your rich uncle may not care a hoot about environmental protection of seagulls but he believes in YOU so he may donate. Or perhaps there's a wealthy philanthropist who supports the local Sierra Club. You know that person is already committed to the cause and now you just need that person to understand how your film will benefit the cause.
Foundations big and small will fund your project if it’s the
right fit. Be prepared to fill out paperwork and have a proposal and
ready (your pitch MUST be tight with an accurate budget and a compelling
proposal). Usually grants are reserved for a more experienced team or a
promising filmmaker who comes highly recommended from credible sources. But if
you’ve done your homework and your pitch is professional and thorough, you’ve
got an excellent shot. A great resource for filmmaking grants is The Foundation
Highly recommended for documentary filmmakers. This involves pulling together a “crowd” to fund your project or at least some aspect of it. Crowdfunding is a term that describes an online fundraising campaign to raise a set amount of money in a set amount of time from a large group of supporters. Two great options include KickStarter and IndieGoGo.
You can raise thousands of dollars through events such as
concerts and fundraising houseparties. Beware that events can be very time
consuming and you can potentially lose money if you overspend on food,
decorations, etc. So only do this if you can get a sponsor to cover the
majority of the expenses.
Getting donated goods is just as good as cash! So don't hesitate to approach businesses such as hotels, print shops, rental car agencies and restaurants to let them know about your project and ask for help. It not only helps you, it's great promotion for them!
Facebook, Twitter and blogs are phenomenal tools to communicate with your community of supporters about your project and to also ask for money when the time is appropriate. Social media should not be used primarily for fundraising. It's a way to stay in touch with people who are interested in your project so that when you do need funding, you've got a base of support engaged and ready. Social media plus crowdfunding is a powerful combo!
Money is everywhere and there are all kinds of ways to get it. In general, approaching individuals – people you have a relationship with and who have a natural connection to the project – will be your best source of funding. Picking up the phone and making a one-on-one ask for a donation is one of the most powerful and effective ways to get funding. Never underestimate a personal phone call!!!
Looking for more documentary funding ideas?
Check out our full collection of Documentary Fundraising Courses, Tutorials and Templates.