So you want to make a movie, but don’t know how you’re going to pay for it. Welcome to the club! It’s an issue all filmmakers wrestle with, but that doesn’t mean you can’t pull it off – even as a first time filmmaker with no industry connections.
In this article, I want to share some strategies for raising funds for your next (and possibly first) micro-budget feature film.
I’ve always defined “micro-budget” to mean under $100,000 – and for the purpose of this post, that’s the range we’ll be working with. Above $100,000 the strategy starts to change dramatically, and the process of fundraising slows down significantly.
So for those of you looking to bootstrap your next feature film in the $10,000 – $100,000 range, this post is for you.
Let’s start by breaking down the three tiers of micro-budget features, as identifying which tier your project falls into is key.
Tier 1: $0K – $10K (No-Budget)
Every film costs something, even those that aim to shoot without any budget at all.
There are always hard costs; food, gas, parking, props, expendables, etc. throughout production and post, and this continues on into distribution. Festival fees alone might run you several thousand dollars, depending on where you submit.
So every film, including the most modest of productions, will require some degree of fundraising.
Even if your goal is to shoot a movie with your friends for free, raising $5K – $10K is going to be critical. It may be the difference between finishing the project or abandoning it. Between finding an audience or failing to do so.
Most filmmakers seeking this level of capital look to crowdfunding as a solution, since private investors are rarely interested in films with such a small scope.
But even crowdfunding (which can appear to the best solution), is not necessarily the right option for everyone.
If you have a built-in audience already, or relationships with press outlets and popular publications, crowdfunding might be a great path. This is yet another reason why audience building is so crucial for filmmakers (and why I made an entire course dedicated to it).
But if you don’t have a pre-existing audience, crowdfunding may be more work than it’s worth for this budget tier.
As much as we all love to hear about feature films that raised $250K on Kickstarter in a week, those are always the exception, not the rule.
In reality, most filmmakers struggle to raise funds via crowdfunding, often because they aren’t prepared for the sheer amount of work that it takes to have a successful run.
Outside of running your actual campaign (a full time job essentially), you also need to spend weeks or months beforehand preparing, and loads of time afterwards fulfilling perks. So really, your one month campaign may end up being 4 – 6 months of work.
That might be well worth it if you’re raising a big sum of money, but what if you’re just trying to pull together $5000 as a contingency for your DIY movie? Could there be an easier way?
There might be. Especially if you have some sort of autonomy over your income. If you’re willing to scale up your efforts (take on a few more hours at work, spend more time on your side hustle, etc.), you may be able to generate and save that $5000 with less time and effort than with a crowdfunding campaign.
I don’t care if you need to sell off some old gear, cut back on some expenses, or work through a few weekends… However you do it, raising funds under the $10,000 mark is often best accomplished within your personal means.
And if you have a partner on the project (let’s say a co-writer or producer) that is willing to pitch in, that can cut the workload in half and speed up the process immensely.
Tier 2: $10K – $50K (Micro-Budget)
In my opinion, this is the sweet spot for crowdfunding for two main reasons:
- Even at $50K, the budget is still too low for most private investors to be interested in.
- Crowdfunding efforts are more easily justified based on a larger payout.
As for #1, I should add a caveat. I know some friends and colleagues who have teamed up with investors to raise $20K or $45K, so it can happen. But in 99% of those cases, the money is coming from a family friend, relative, or personal acquaintance.
If you have people in your network who might have $50K to gamble on a micro-budget feature, by all means hit them up! But just don’t expect much success on this level when pursuing new/cold relationships with prospective financiers. They are usually looking for bigger investment opportunities.
With regards to crowdfunding, it starts to look pretty enticing in this range.
Let’s say you want to raise $45,000 for your movie in the next 6 months. That’s a substantial chunk, and certainly more than most would be able to save through their own efforts or side businesses in that time period.
And with most private investment off the table, that really only leaves crowdfunding as a viable solution.
It’s never an easy path, but with the right approach, a strong team, and a strategy that you can commit to, you’ll have a fighting chance of getting there.
Your success in crowdfunding will come down to a few key variables:
- Your ability to build an engaged audience online
- Your ability to form relationships with influential people and press outlets
- A strong concept that resonates with a clearly defined audience
- A team that is willing to dedicate 4 – 6 months of time to the process
- Highly engaging/shareable content produced on a regular basis
- Patience and persistence
It is well beyond the scope of this post to get into more detail on crowdfunding, but for now know that it can be your best bet on the $10,000 – $50,000 level.
And also know that you don’t have to do it all at once.
Maybe you choose to run 3 smaller campaigns instead of one. They could each run during a different stage: pre-production, production, and post. Now you just need to raise $15K initially, and with each subsequent campaign you can leverage existing backers to build on your momentum.
Tier 3: $75K – $100K (Ultra-Low Budget)
At this level, both personal financing and crowdfunding become less viable options, while private investment becomes a bit more realistic.
Even still, most traditional investors, financiers, or funds aren’t going to be interested in this level of project. They want to put $1MM into a feature with star talent, and hopefully turn that investment into $2MM or $3MM if they are lucky.
They don’t care as much to put in $80,000 into a movie in hopes of maybe breaking even, or turning a modest profit.
But that’s only one type of investor…
There’s another type of investor, and they aren’t exclusively motivated by the financial return. Instead, they want to buy into an experience.
We’ve all heard about the proverbial dentist who likes to fund indie features, or the director whose breakout hit was funded by a wealthy family friend. These type of investors are coming from a very different place. Maybe they’ve always wanted to work in a creative field, but haven’t been able to. Or maybe they are just huge movie buffs.
To them, it doesn’t always matter if the movie is even profitable. They just want to be a part of something exciting. To have their name on it, show up on set, attend the premiere, and keep the DVD at home as a memory.
These are the people you want to find if you’re trying to raise funds upwards of $100,000.
If you don’t know anyone in your personal network who fits this description, you can actively look for these type of investors through IMDbPro.
Just run a search for micro-budget features in your genre. Do some homework and figure out who the financiers were, and then research them. How many movies have they funded? Do they still appear to be active? Are you able to get in contact with them directly?
From there, make a spreadsheet and send off some cold emails. Most will never respond, but you just need one or two to bite and you could have your project funded.
What I’ve outlined here is by no means an exhaustive list of fundraising options. There are so many paths you can take, and many may deviate from what I’ve outlined here.
There are also alternate solutions like filmmaking grants and equity crowdfunding, which I haven’t touched on in this post.
But if you take one thing away from this post, it should be to define your budget very clearly, and know which tier you fall into.
Too many filmmakers neglect to do this, and ultimately get burned by the lack of specificity and clarity in their goals.
Not every film needs $100K, so don’t feel like you need to raise as much money as possible just because. By the same token, not every story should be made on a “no-budget” level just because it’s the simplest path.
The best thing you can do is be honest about your story/script and it’s budgetary needs. Once you know where it falls on the spectrum, you can start to develop a strategy that meets the needs of your unique project.
What are some of your best tips for fundraising? Leave a comment below!