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How NOT To Raise Money for A Feature Film

By Brian O'Malley

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Raising money to produce a feature film isn't easy like it was in the 1980s.

Back then, a filmmaker could just walk into a dentist's office, slap 10 pages of a slasher script down on his secretary's desk, and walk out with a check for $25,000. Next thing you know: boom. Sundance.

Well, maybe not Sundance, but VHS for sure. (And probably with the dentist featured prominently as an actor in the movie somewhere.)

I'm oversimplifying by a lot, but the truth is that the process of raising money for feature films was a lot easier in the 1980s and the 1990s.  For all sorts of reasons:  indie producers were more willing to take risks, the market was less saturated with content, MBAs didn't run the major studios, home video rentals were booming, and so on.

But just because it's harder to raise money now doesn't mean you shouldn't do it.

It does mean, though, you gotta be smarter about it. 

Check your Facebook feed. I'll bet on an average week, you see at least one filmmaker friend begging for cash through Kickstarter or something similar.  Or "watch my movie!" or "Rate my movie on Amazon!" or "Follow my movie on Twitter!"

The takeaway:  a lot of people are making movies now. And that means a lot of people are looking for cash to make 'em.

But with the majority of the film industry turning its eyes to tentpole films and Marvel franchises and streaming series, the pool of available indie film funding isn't exactly expanding. So as a filmmaker looking to make her film, you need to compete harder for those indie-fundin' dollars. Harder than ever.

But I'm not here to tell you what you should be doing to get those dollars. No, I'm saving that for when I come down from the Filmmaking Mt. Sinai with a pair of stone tablets.  (That's scheduled to happen at precisely: never.)

No, I'm here to tell you what the heck you shouldn't be doing when raising money for film.  And why not. And this is all based on my 25-year grind in the indie film world, having written and directed 3 features, and produced a few others.  Take my word with zero grains of salt. If you want to stand out from the rest of the zombies looking for film cash, listen up:

Avoid Overly-Complex Crowdfunding Schemes

We've all been there: the Kickstarter page with the crappiest video ever, begging for cash. It's par for the course in the modern film funding space:  you get your stuff up on Kickstarter, promise free tickets for the premiere and a t-shirt, and off you go.

Show of hands:  How many folks reading this have actually felt your eyes glaze over when perusing one of these pages' countless "donation tiers" that line the margins?  That is, those "levels" you can buy into, to support the film.  e.g. "$5 gets you on our email list, $10 gets you a ticket to the premiere," etc.

As I thought. It's a lot of you.

Having donation tiers is what Kickstarter and its ilk are all about. That's fine. The problem is when you have 25 different tier options for people to buy into. 

I've said it before and I'll say it again.  Give your prospective film "investors" (read: "friends and family") fewer choices and they're more likely to take action on one of them. Overwhelm them with choices and they'll feel their eyes glaze up as they meander off your page.

Don't Start a Script Contest, Film Festival, or Film Club

Many filmmakers I've known over my illustrious career / grind have been under the impression that having more people around them automatically means more people available to give them money, cash, labor, or other resources, when it comes to making their film.  In theory, it sounds great.  But in practice, unless you're Jesus of Nazareth or Jim Jones, filmmakers aren't going to glom onto you unless there's something in it for them

Which means structure.  Which means organization. Something to help their film or their career.  Which usually translates to "Hey!  Let's start a script contest / film festival / filmclub!" (because, on paper, those things look awfully easy to get going.)

But groups, organizations, businesses like film festivals and contests — they suck the life out of filmmakers. If you're looking to start one because you think you'll generate your film's cash that way, think again. By the time you get your organization running and functioning and bringing in any sort of cash at all, the entirety of any momentum your film once had will be long gone.

Avoid Becoming the Gear Rental Guy

A similar pitfall awaits the filmmaker who thinks "Hey, I'll just buy all this gear and then rent it and then that'll pay for the gear and then the extra rental fees I collect will pay for my movie."


As soon as you start renting gear, you might as well kiss your film fundraising efforts goodbye. 

Gear renting means insurance. It means L&D. It means dealing with productions who rent your camera and then need a new lens and you gotta drop everything to arrange for them to get it. It means bounced checks, charge-backed credit cards, storage units — it means keeping on top of the latest, greatest technology. Or, if you're just content to stay with some technology that's only a few years old, it means keeping on top of the ever-dwindling number of vendors who service that equipment, and their ever-increasing rates to do so.

No, gear rental, be it camera, grip, electric, or even art/props, weaponry — it ain't no way to live, son.  Start down that path with the mindset of raising money for your film and the only thing you'll be ending up with is raising the hair on the back of your neck as your customer base pisses you off continually.

Don't Shoot Viral Videos or Webseries Hoping to Generate $

Would there were more time in the day to relate to you the number of filmmaker friends I've had who thought they'd raise money for their movie by producing some "surefire" viral video.

Yep, there's such a thing as a viral video.  Nope, you're not gonna luck out.

And even if you do, nope. You're not gonna parlay that into film funding.

Similarly, don't count on a webseries or pilot being the thing that makes people with cash line up at your door to hand you cash.  People who are serious about investing in film want to see a track record, sure, but they don't wanna be told the sky is pink.  You showing them your webseries and telling them "The movie version will be better because we'll have X and Y and Z," is the telling them the sky is pink.

Just like the viral video, webseries are a valid, awesome art form, but if you're counting on them funding your film, you're rolling the dice. Not to mention, once you start chasing those YouTube views, it's all over. Might as well sit your ass down at a slot machine in Laughlin.  Odds might be a bit better.

Don't Count on Product Placement

Pepsi gives millions to the NFL for logos all over the Super Bowl.  Kellogg's might pay Universal a few bucks for featuring a shot of their cereal in a Spielberg film somewhere.

And Joe Blow Winery might be huge in your community.

But alas, the most Joe Blow Winery is gonna do is give you a case of wine.  Sorry.  Or if they do give you cash in any significant amount, they're gonna then make your life and your film a living hell.

Product placement is one of those ridiculous concepts newbie filmmakers think is a viable option when it comes to film funding. When a company gives you money, it wants something in return. It's that simple. It's as reliable as physics.

Can it help with craft services? Yep. Absolutely. On my film, Audie & The Wolf, we had a ton of rum, wine, and Phuket Beer, because the producer was friends with a beverage distributor. On a film I produced previously, we had an unending supply of Izzy soda.  All these things helped with crew morale, but did nothing for our bottom line.  We couldn't pay the camera house in Izzy. We couldn't slap wine on the desk of the SAG rep and say "Hey, look. We don't have our payroll this week, but can you please just enjoy this free wine from Joe Blow Winery?"

So What Should You Do to Raise Money for Your Film?

If there's one key point to this entire piece, it's that raising money for film requires you to not get distracted by other bullshit.  After that, you can focus on things that do help get money aboard your film, e.g.:

— hiring a casting director, even if just for one day, to secure some name talent

— reaching out to people who, even if they don't have money, may be able to "champion" your film to people they know who do have it

— helping on other people's films in order to build alliances and friendships that could lead to funding

— haunting festivals and markets and talking directly with producers and funders

The key thing to remember is to stay focused, and make sure that every action you take is going to end up putting the smallest distance possible between you and the production of the film.

Starting a film club, festival, blog, being the gear rental guy, wasting your time with product placement — all of that adds distance (as much as it feels like it doesn't) between where you are and what it takes to get your film funded.

Now if you'll pardon me, I have a dentist appointment.

About Brian O'Malley

Brian has written and directed several features, including the Fangoria favorite Bleak Future, and the werewolf comedy Audie & The Wolf. He started his film career working for legendary B-movie maverick Roger Corman (Little Shop of Horrors, Death Race 2000) and in 1999, founded the script coverage service, Screenplay Readers.

Screenwriting Article by Brian O'Malley

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