How do you finance your film? The three questions you must know how to answer

Oct 04, 2022

How do you get your film funded? The three questions you must know how to answer.

 Are you considering making a documentary? Do you already have a story in mind? When you’re deeply passionate about a topic or cause, documentary films are a fantastic way to share the story and have others discover or learn about it as well.  Once you’ve crafted your work and put it out into the world, documentaries have the power to shift hearts and minds.  I’m sure you can already imagine the buzz as the lights come up and you see your audience enthralled and inspired, clapping with admiration and a new passion for the content of your film.  It’s the end goal many, if not all, filmmakers strive for, including myself.

The thing is – filmmaking (and this trips a lot of film folk up) isn’t all about the creative pursuit of storytelling.  It’s much more than script writing, storyboards, camera gear and shoot days. Sure, all of this is critical – along with research, your interview line up and distribution plan – but there’s another really big piece of the filmmaking puzzle that you’re going to need to address.

And that’s the business side of the equation. Getting your documentary funded. If you’re a creative type, you’re probably cringing at the thought of this.  I know you’re not in it for the ‘business’, you’re in it for the craft. ? But it’s something almost every filmmaker has to figure out if they want to .. actually make a film.

And there are three key questions that funders almost always ask when you pitch. 

So, if you’re interested in making a documentary feature, you’re going to need to learn the artistic side and the business side of filmmaking. It doesn’t matter if your estimated budget is $3,000 or $300,000 – you will need to come up with a funding strategy in order to produce your film. And knowing how to answer these three questions that I’m going to share with you, is a great place to start.

Finding a way to finance your film can be just as hard – if not harder – than coming up with a concept.  The sad truth is that half the time I dedicate to making impact films goes into sourcing the right financial partners. But don’t let that scare you off! This process of securing finance can make your project stronger from a creative perspective as well. And I love documentary filmmaking so I do think it’s worth the effort.

In this post, I’m going to share some of the ways you might go about funding your documentary projects – such as crowdfunding or sponsorship– to keep your spirits up and show you what’s possible.

And I’m also going to cover the 3 key questions I get asked from potential funders when I approach them about supporting my work, so you know how to prepare ahead of any meetings with would-be funders.

A few ways to finance your film

Financing is arguably the most crucial aspect of your filmmaking journey – because you’re going to need funding for every step of the process. Unlike Hollywood blockbusters, – which are financed by big-time production studios (often with very large budgets) – as an independent filmmaker, you will have to figure out how to fund your project on your own. Here are a couple of ways you might go about it.

Crowdfunding

Many new (and established) documentary filmmakers create crowdfunding campaigns to finance their work. If you’ve not all that experienced with crowdfunding, these are a few best practice tips:

Choose a platform: There's more than one crowdfunding platform out there and they each serve different purposes. Some require you to meet your target amount by a certain date in order to receive the funds. Others will let you keep any donations received, even if you never meet your goal. Do your research to understand which platform will work best for your needs. Currently Indiegogo, Seed&Spark, and Slated are the popular platforms for film crowdfunding but Kickstarter, GoFundMe and Pozible may also be worthwhile to check out

Create a compelling pitch - Given you’re a filmmaker, create a short video and sell yourself and your project. Why should people donate to your project? What’s in it for them – and society more broadly? Passion and clear communication are key. But you’ll also want to find a way to connect with your audience emotionally. Show them why you care so much and why should they care too. Oh, and you’ll need to be super succinct.  Try to keep your video under 5 minutes.

Set a reasonable goal - Determine how much money you’ll need to make the film you want. Remember: the budget needs to cover your crew’s time, travel and talent fees (if any), not to mention your camera gear and other equipment. Use these calculations to establish your budget so you can understand exactly how much you need to raise to get to work. And you should also consider if crowdfunding will be your only way to fund your film, or will you also raise finance elsewhere?

Sponsorship

Inviting organisations or philanthropic groups is another avenue to get your documentary funded. And it’s the way I’m most familiar with.

While we’ve funded a portion of the projects produced at Moonshine Agency via crowdfunding platforms, the majority of our films are sponsored by relevant organisations. As a lot of our impact films centre on healthcare and health equity, many of these sponsors are in the med tech or diagnostics space. But we’ve worked with project partners from a broad group of industries – peak bodies, retail, hospitals, charities. The list goes on.

Assessing the right groups to target involves a stack of research and you’ll send out a lot of cold emails without getting a bite. Some groups will want to work with you. Some will say it’s not for them. And some will never return your phone or email. If you’ve been spending months contacting potential sponsors but aren’t getting any response – it could be a sign that you need to improve your pitch.

 The secret is to tailor your pitch specifically to the investor you're targeting. Let them know how you want to collaborate and why working with you will be good for their business and brand. And you also need to consider the fit.  Why would they be a good fit?  Are their company values aligned with your project goals?

The three questions funders always ask me

High five. You’ve managed to land a meeting with a potential investor. They obviously love your idea and want to get behind it. It’s all cushy lunches from here on out, right? Um … not quite.

The meeting is only the first step. Now you have to actually sell yourself and your documentary. Eeek! The good thing is that after 15 years of successfully financing my films, I’ve noticed a pattern. The funders I speak with always seem to ask the same three questions when we have that initial meeting. So there’s a strong chance the potential funders you speak with will ask you these questions too.

So what are they?

  1.  Who’s your target demographic?

This question always comes up for obvious reasons. Your potential funder wants to know exactly who you’re making this film for so they can determine if it aligns with their own business objectives.

The worst answer you could possibly give is this one: This documentary is for everyone. Why? Because the potential funder will assume you have no idea who you’re talking to.

 Which is a big, red flag.

Sure, your film might have broad audience appeal and it quite possibly should be seen by everyone. But that doesn’t mean it is for everyone, and, without an enormous marketing budget, how do you plan to reach the 7 billion people who make up everyone on the planet? Funders will not just be keen to hear who your film is for, but also to figure out if your audience is also the same as their audience. Is there a strong crossover? They will have a very good idea of who their target audience is and you should know that too. 

So consider that your film is for a specific target group whose shared values, interests or life stage match up with your film’s message.  Who are they and where will you find them?

If you’ve not spent much time getting familiar with your audience, I suggest you do this before you meet with your potential funder. My online course Define Your Ideal Audience can help too if you’re feeling a little stuck.

 You’ll learn:

• Simple research techniques that you can easily use to define an audience for your film

• What to research in order to identify your audience's values, worldview and interests

• The right questions to ask when you’re researching and what data is useful to collect

 

2. What’s your timeline

This can be another difficult question to answer on the fly – so it’s good to be prepared. And realistic!

How long do you need to produce your film? Six weeks? Six months? Maybe it’s two years.
In all honestly, a longer lead time will probably work in your favour. Potential funders need sufficient time in order to fit any film-related commitments into their own schedules.

It’s also important to discuss with your potential funders how you will consult with them throughout the process – from production right through to the day you release your film. Be open about how involved you’d like them to be and how frequently you’ll be in contact with project updates.

3. How will your film get seen and how will you measure its impact?

It’s time to give some thought to how you’ll get your film out into the world once it’s produced. Will you go down the theatrical route, publish it straight to DVD, publish it on a VOD platform like Vimeo or encourage people to host their own events (perhaps it’s a mix)?

It’s good to consider this, even when you’re in the pre-production phase because any potential funder is bound to ask how your film will get seen.

If you’re not really sure which option is right for you, it might be wise to jump over to the post I published last week on distribution. You can check it out here, along with the Moonshine Moonshot episode and podcast.

It also might be helpful for you to list out all the potential platforms where your film might be seen or publicised – from cinemas, to hosted screenings, industry conferences, YouTube and social media – and think about how many people all those platforms might reach.

This will also give you a target to aim for, which is something you can measure, evaluate and report back on to your funders throughout your film’s release.

Before I fade out

Finding funding for your film is no easy feat. It will take a lot of hard work and effort – but if your film is worth making (which it is!), you will get there in the end.

If you’re still feeling a little stumped, I’d be happy to lend an ear. Send me an email at [email protected] and I’ll see how I can help.

 

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