You finally have the perfect film idea, the one that’s going to launch you out of obscurity and into the twinkling lights of Hollywood. Or, at the very least, help you gain entry into a few dozen film festivals. Now all you have to do is make it.
And there’s where the first roadblock pops out of the ground like a booby trap in Temple Run. No matter how you decide to shoot your film, you’re going to need some cash to make it happen.
This is just as real for blockbuster directors as it is for student filmmakers. Film financing is one of the most challenging steps in filmmaking and is a process full of many roadblocks and pitfalls.
You can listen to how others have approached this, and also keep reading. We’ve compiled some of the most common ways that filmmakers find and secure financing for their projects so they can get their ideas onto the big or small screen and showcase their talent to the world.
Ten ways to get financing for your film
For indie filmmakers, this is usually the first place they turn when they need to raise capital for a new film, through platforms such as Kickstarter. It allows you to pitch your idea straight to the people you know and love, as well as a wider audience, to gain the support you need through many smaller donations.
Some notable films that were crowdfunded include:
- The “Veronica Mars” movie
- Super Troopers 2
- Wish I Was Here
- Lazer Team
All of these films were able to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars (in some cases, even millions of dollars) to fund the film's creation.
Now, with these projects, most benefited from an already loyal cult following of either the source material or directors, which gave them a significant boost in their success. But that doesn’t mean smaller projects don’t have a shot. It’s just that the road is slightly more uphill.
Type of film this is best for: Independent feature films (especially with smaller budgets), documentaries, and shorts.
- Available to everyone
- Allows you to give custom incentives and gifts to your supporters
- It only requires you to create a single “pitch” to reach a wide audience
- Raising large sums can be difficult without a pre-existing large online following
- Most crowdfunding platforms take a cut of your box office earnings
- If you decide to offer physical gifts to encourage support, it can raise your overall costs
#2: Artistic grants
Another great way to raise money for independent films is to apply for artistic grants through government programs and nonprofits. This is especially useful for films that include or are directed by underrepresented minorities (LGBTQ+, women-led, POC’s, and Indigenous peoples, as a few examples).
Some notable films that were funded by grants include:
- The Queen of Versailles (Funded by the Sundance Institute documentary fund)
- Beasts of the Southern Wild (Funded by Independent Filmmaker Project)
- Short Term 12 (Funded by Independent Filmmaker Project)
Type of film this is best for: Independent feature films (notably featuring timely stories or underrepresented people), documentaries, and short films.
- A single grant can fund a significant portion (if not all) of your filming costs
- Becoming a grant recipient allows you more avenues to promote your film (many grants include promotion of the grant recipients)
- Grants do not have to be paid back at the end of filming
- To receive a grant, you must be able to write a compelling grant proposal
- You need to do a lot of research to find grants that your film may qualify for
- Even if you pitch to multiple grants, there’s no guarantee you will receive one
#3: Private investors
This is one of the most elusive routes to getting your film financed, but it’s also one of the most lucrative. Private financiers will help you fund your film, usually in exchange for a cut of future profits (though this is not always the case).
Finding private equity investors can be incredibly challenging, and you need to be able to assemble a compelling pitch deck for your film that not only presents your film as a high-quality piece of entertainment but also as a sound business investment
This is the type of film this is best for: Independent feature films with a high chance of drawing large audiences.
- Investors can help you fund films with larger budgets
- Working with an investor sometimes allows you to negotiate for more money if costs rise
- Investors can not only help with the costs of making a film but also the costs of distributing it and making media contacts
- If you are a relatively unknown filmmaker, getting investor backing can be a huge challenge
- Many investors will want a say in the creative and business decisions during the process of making the film
- Most investors will take a cut of any profits you make on the film
#4: Studio contracts
Ah, the holy grail of filmmaking, the studio contract. These elusive beasts will fund your film with the backing of a major studio budget. Securing a studio contract is a near million-to-one chance. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t try.
If you can make contacts in the writing and producing community, you may be able to pitch your idea or script to a studio, which may decide to buy the idea or script from you.
Type of film this is best for: Feature films and documentaries.
- Your film gets made and distributed to theaters and/or streaming services by a major studio
- You often “sell” your film to the studio and relinquish creative control
- Studios may buy you out of your idea instead of giving you a share of the profits
- A studio may buy the rights to your film and then decide never to make it
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#5: Distribution contracts
Ok, so let’s say that you already made your film, but you don’t have the cash to get it in front of audiences. That’s where distribution contracts come in. You can make deals with major studios domestically and abroad to buy your completed film and distribute it, increasing the chances of commercial success.
Type of film this is best for: Independent feature films (especially with smaller budgets), documentaries, and shorts that you’ve already funded but need extra money to get into theaters, streaming services, etc.
- It can be secured through film festivals where your film premieres
- You can get multiple distribution deals for domestic and international distribution
- Distributors can take a large cut of screening profits
#6: Product placement
You’ll see product placements in everything from tiny indies to blockbuster hits. Product placement can be a great way to raise extra cash for your film and even get free props.
It’s as simple as reaching out to brands and seeing if they would be willing to offer either a free product or a paid sponsorship in exchange for showing their product on screen.
Type of film this is best for: Any fiction film (product placements are often frowned upon in documentaries/nonfiction).
- Can get free props from brands
- Brand sponsorships are a great way to raise cash with relatively few strings attached
- Brands will want to review your script and may reject you if they don’t like the content in the film
- It can take quite a bit of time to find appropriate brands
- If you use brands that don’t fit the theme of your movie, the placements can be distracting for your audience
A co-producer is someone who acts as part investor, part creative partner. These are sometimes called executive producers, and in exchange for helping you finance the film, they get co-producer credit and assist in key decision-making for the project.
Type of film this is best for: All films.
- You not only get financing, but you also get a creative partner
- Some co-producers will open doors to more investors and financing opportunities
- Co-producers will take a cut of profits
- You want to make sure you are aligned with your co-producer in both creative vision and business strategy to avoid conflict
#8: Private loans
Another way to raise funds for your films without having to get a ton of other people involved is to simply take out personal bank loans to cover the costs. Many independent filmmakers go this route to help fill in cost gaps in their film’s budget.
Type of film this is best for: All films.
- You won’t be surrendering any profit shares, copyrights, distribution rights, or creative control
- You’ll have access to your funds in one lump sum
- Depending on your creditworthiness, you may only qualify for gap financing with high-interest rates or not qualify at all
- You will have to pay back the loan to the lender whether or not the film is successful
#9: Screenwriting contests
If you’re someone who writes their own scripts, screenwriting contests can be excellent ways to get funding for your film. There are tons of contests for screenwriters, with cash prizes ranging from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands of dollars that can go towards your production budget.
Keep your eyes peeled on places like the WGA website and other screenwriters organizations for contests throughout the year.
Type of film this is best for: Independent feature films and shorts.
- Usually available to everyone
- Allows you to get funding with no strings attached
- Can include a publicity boost for your film
- Many contests have thousands of entrants, so winning odds can be low
- Most prize allotments will not be enough to cover the costs of making your film entirely
#10: Film festival prizes
While this may not be a great way to raise funds for your film ahead of time, it’s a great way to recoup some of your costs. Most film festivals will have several prize categories that festival-goers and judges will vote on to decide a winner.
These prizes can be a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands of dollars depending on the festival and prize you receive.
Type of film this is best for: All films.
- It helps you recoup some filmmaking costs and fees
- Increases visibility for your film
- Increases the odds of getting distribution deals and other contracts with major studios
- Competition for these prizes is often very stiff
- Only available for films that have already been created
Financing your film can feel like an impossible task, but the key to success is exploring as many avenues of financing as you can find and not giving up. Sometimes it takes a whole lot of “no’s” to get to a yes.
Once you have secured that funding and it’s time to get to work, check out Evercast. Evercast allows you to stream camera feeds and editing sessions in full HD while video chatting and exchanging notes with your team, all under one platform.
This means whether your producers are across the room or across the world, everyone can stay on the same page and make sure the movie gets made. Financing is just the beginning of a rewarding artistic journey.