The Most Helpful Types of Fundraising Systems
You are one of the preeminent names in nonfiction filmmaking Is fundraising easier now than when you began
It's terribly, terribly difficult. I think no matter who you are and what you do, fund-raising is always difficult, and it's harder and harder every year. When I first started there was the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities and other foundations, and it was terribly difficult, but at least it was out there. But those agencies have been cut back so much. Also, if you've done a couple of films they think you really don't need it, so they give it to someone else. So it gets more and more difficult to do the things that you want to do. It's very hard, but it's also great and wonderful to be asked to do a film and have somewhat of a decent budget, and be able to use everything you have in your soul and create and tell a story rather than divide yourself in half, and half of it's fund-raising and half of it's continuing and going into huge debt. I sort of like when people call up and say, Would you do this It's too hard, I think, the other way.
Film funding can be obtained in countless ways, from begging Mom and Dad to approaching gargantuan studios and corporations. In addition to foundations and grants, some popular tactics include hosting fundraising house parties, getting private investments through individuals and businesses, distribution presales (also known as gap financing), secured or unsecured loans, selling ancillary rights (such as the soundtrack), and product placement.
After making Mudpeoples, Shuli aggressively sought her next project, this time in the political arena. It was the election year of 1992 and Carol Moseley-Braun was the first African American running for the U.S. Senate. Taking initiative, Shuli wrote to Moseley Braun, introducing herself as a filmmaker and suggesting the creation of a fundraising video.
Surprisingly, I've always found it easier to raise development money than the actual budget of the film. So, there must be something compelling about this kind of investment. And indeed there is. Let me go through the development fund-raising pitch from the beginning, and you'll see how it gathers momentum and finally becomes an investment opportunity that is hard to resist.
On a political crisis Will it merely entertain Will it help in fund-raising Will it alarm the population to a hidden danger and shake them from their complacency, like The War Game does Will it instruct Is it meant to change certain habits and behaviors Is it meant to illuminate and track strange human behavior You may want the film to do all these things or none of them, but you must be sure of your central purpose from the beginning.
Now, although chronologically I'm only at the beginning of production in this book, I'm going to jump ahead several months (chapters) to let you in on how fundraising is going in the month of June 2002. And it's actually not going so well. In the past, this approach has worked just fine raising enough to get through filming, then going after more. Potential investors who were on the fence generally get shaken off and take the plunge when they can look at not only the revised Business Plan and Memorandum, but also a little demo reel of scenes from the film, as we did with The Sweet Life. Seeing footage is a very tangible persuader.
My very first job in the industry was as a production assistant on a celebrity fund-raising auction for a local PBS television station. One day, the woman in charge of lining up high-profile personalities for a promo event asked me to follow up on invitations that had been sent out. She wanted me to call a long list of celebrities who hadn't RSVP'd to the event to see if they'd be coming. My first reaction was sheer terror, followed by the words I can't do that She said, Of course you can, then handed me the list and walked away. Well, my dread quickly dissipated when I discovered that the people I was calling weren't answering their own phones, and some of the numbers weren't even theirs, but belonged to their people. I was greatly relieved to be getting secretaries, assistants, agents, managers and answering services on the line and was happy to be able to leave a message with each of them. About a week later, as I was returning back from lunch, a co-worker stuck her head over the...
Whether you make videotapes and DVDs to hand out to everyone you know, showcase your project through the Internet or at film festivals or host private screenings, they're an ideal way to sell your talent, your goals and your passion and to set your career in motion. Additionally, a short film or documentary could be an impressive fund-raising tool for a full-length feature, just as a short demo could be an effective method of selling a new TV show.
I wanted to be a filmmaker but I was majoring in something else and my school didn't have a film program. I spent the summer trying to land a film or television internship but nobody accepted me. So I wrote a treatment, which later became a screenplay and galvanized some other students to try to make the film happen. We also got together with some students at nearby Florida State University, developed a list of equipment that we'd need, and began raising money. We did a lot of fundraising and because we were at a state-funded school, we could get people to donate things as a tax deduction. We also got money from on-campus organizations and, as a result, we were able to do all of our casting and crew selections. Our director of photography, ACs, and script supervisors came from the Florida State film department but the rest were non-trained A&M students.
It's all very well to be a writer, but usually the serious writer-director must also get involved in fund-raising from the beginning, particularly when the writer is also the producer. So the writer's job often becomes threefold. First, he or she writes a proposal a document that presents the basic idea in an attempt to persuade some funding agency (sponsor, foundation, or television station) to back the film. Second, the writer writes the script. Finally, the writer often directs the film.
This book follows what I see as the natural progression of the documentary film. It starts with a discussion of ideas, research, and script structure proceeds through preproduction and production and then deals in depth with editing and commentary writing. By the time you have finished part 4, you should be familiar with the preparation and production of the standard documentary or industrial film. Part 5 covers a few distinct types of film and some special techniques. Thus, there is one chapter on the historical film and another on cinema verite. The final chapters, the wrap, offer advice on fund-raising and marketing, and a perspective on the entire process. My last observation concerns money. Only purists, angels, and millionaires make films without thinking about money. Films cost money, usually a hell of lot, and the sooner you start thinking about that fact, the better. Neither writing nor directing is done in a vacuum scriptwriter and director alike must be aware of budget...
On television in prime time, or at an obscure midnight hour If it is going to be shown on prime-time television, you might have to tone down your treatment. If it's going to be shown in the early hours, you may have a small audience however, you might get away with a much more revolutionary and radical approach to your subject. Is the film going to be used for fund-raising at a massive dinner, or is it going to be shown in a small village hall Is it intended for a specific audience in one country, or will it be shown around the world Is it going to be shown in a television series or in isolation
Here comes a useful chapter about fund-raising for independent productions. But first, I'm going to digress for two minutes (that is if my partner is correct in his minute-a-page belief), because I see that Rocco has acquainted you with our little problem involving two of the actors originally scheduled to appear in The Sweet Life. Allow me to approach it from another angle . . . as a glass half full. Roc certainly feels that we ended up better off securing the services of Joan Jett. But I take pleasure in telling it as a cautionary tale for all of you, and if you benefit from it, and never fall into the trap they set for us, I'll feel that the soul-curdling horror we endured was worthwhile.
The amount of research you do, and when you do it, varies from project to project and depends, to some degree, on your chosen topic, your approach, and your strategies for fund-raising. Some public funding sources, as well as some private foundations, require that your grant application include evidence that your film project is built on a solid and current academic foundation. Projects that are funded in house by public or commercial broadcasters directly may be less rigorous in their up-front requirements, but producers will still need to do at least some research in order to effectively pitch their ideas and make their programs.
Depending on the story you're telling, you may or may not need to explore what's available in terms of stills or motion picture footage in the archives, whether public (such as the National Archives in Washington, D.C.) or private (such as Corbis). Extensive visual research is most commonly done once a film is at least partially funded the visual research becomes part of the overall research and development leading to a shooting treatment, and often continues as needed (or begins again) as the story takes further shape in the editing room. Knowledge of at least some of what's available can add a note of veracity to your fundraising material, whether you're submitting a treatment or script. For example, Grainy black-and-white photos, a recent find in the collection of the McGooey Foundation, show the inventor as a child hammering together a contraption that he clearly meant as a flying machine.
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