Financing films is always a challenge, whether you're an independent filmmaker or a Hollywood studio attempting to budget the next James Cameron movie. Fortunately, small and micro-budget filmmakers have a clear leg up on larger productions when it comes to securing financing on a smaller scale. Here are a few tips that I found while financing and budgeting a micro-budget film with my creative partner Andrew Dalton.
Tip #1: Keep it Small
When planning a micro-budget movie, it is important to bear in mind your budget when planning out a production. Although it is fun to have the latest and greatest equipment, remember that there's an entire film to prepare for. Factors such as locations, costumes, food and post-production costs shouldn't be forgotten in your planning. You'll quickly realize that the camera taking 80% of your budget is not worth nearly as much as having professional costumes or well-fed actors. Make sure to split up your budget accordingly, and look realistically at what is most important to your shoot. In some cases, the technology may very well be necessary, while in others, having period appropriate costumes or locations could be the deciding factor for your film's professionalism.
Tip #2: Crowdfund!
One of the great things about micro-budget shoots is that raising a 'micro' budget is much easier than building the budget needed for a large film! If your film falls into the $1,000 to $3,000 budget range, you'll most likely have a simpler task of raising money than films with budgets even just a few thousand dollars higher. Crowdfunding, a favored tactic for raising film funds, becomes infinitely easier when looking to finance a small budget. I would recommend using GoFundMe in place of Kickstarter, as most micro and low-budget productions will struggle with funding the rewards that Kickstarter requires. For The Horsemen, we set out a small fundraising goal of $500, a little under half of the total budget. We found that we were able to quickly fulfill this goal because our budget was so modest in comparison to other crowdfunding projects. An additional benefit of this is it makes even small backers feel like they're making a large impact on your production, which motivates small donors to give - and even just a few dollars from each person can be the key to a successful campaign. Make sure to have a professional fundraising video and well-formulated text-based fundraising materials.
Tip #3: Grants
Grants can be a great way to raise additional money that goes beyond your initial crowdfunding and independent financing goals. When laying out your expected finances, don't rely on grants for the entirety of the budget; an ideal goal is for 35-50% of the total budget to come from grants. Instead of trying to focus on large national and international grants that attract the attention of many filmmakers, concentrate on local grants that you have a higher chance of receiving. Many local art organizations, non-profits or individuals may have lesser known grants that give out smaller amounts of money. Applying for these grants can result in a higher chance of success with funding your film. Ask around in your local art community; you'll be surprised what you can find that others may miss!
Tip #4: Non-financial support
The most important factor for making your micro or low budget film a reality is relying on non-financial support as the backbone of your film. Frankly, this is the most important factor to the success of a small-scale film. By working your connections and tapping your relationships both within and outside of the film industry, you can amass many of the tools of a much larger scale production. Two places where this can be most effective is with equipment and locations. Talk to your crew and see if they have production equipment that they wouldn't mind the film using - either for free or for a reduced rental fee. Often when people are already involved in the film and invested in the story, they won't mind pitching in technical or logistical support so that the project as a whole can succeed. Locations also are a major category where your personal and business relationships can be crucial. Low budget films often fall flat with their locations, as they have to settle for less than the script requires. In the case of The Horsemen, we were able to work with family, friend and business connections to get a variety of truly incredible locations for the film: a television studio, a mansion, an apartment where our main characters live, and a place where we could build our military encampment set. These sites were essential to the success of the film and we were able to get them all for free thanks to the generosity of our connections! Most importantly, make sure to thank the people and organizations that help you out - both in person and via a thoughtful handwritten card or letter - and make sure to let them know not to hesitate to get in touch with you if there's anything you can do to repay the favor. Kindness and thanks are crucial in this process and by utilizing both of those traits, you'll maintain strong relationships that will be necessary for the next time you need help turning your idea into reality.
Check out the slideshow below that shows some of the incredible locations my team and I got to use for The Horsemen, all of which we secured for free!
Also if you liked this article, make sure to check out part one of this series - which covers writing and planning a microbudget production - and also take a look at this article on crafting better client relations for film professionals.