Raiders of the Lost Ark idol © Paramount

Film Finance: Where to Find Funds for Your Indie Movie

Finding film finance has always been a dark art. It’s a wild thought that the George Miller who made Mad Max: Fury Road for a reported $155-185M is the same George Miller who funded the original Mad Max by reaching out to local dentists. But while the funding landscape has always been difficult to navigate, new technology has introduced new ways to get your next project off the ground.

Don’t get me wrong—the gatekeepers are still very much in play. Whether they’re part of a big studio or a streaming service, there are still plenty of people who are ready to say “no” to funding your film. But at least one thing has become much easier, and that’s building your audience.

With social media and other content delivery networks, finding out who’s picking up what you’re putting down is no longer a matter of guesswork. Statistics can show you exactly what demographic is watching your content, where they live, and what their interests are. You don’t have to capture the attention of the world; now you just need a loyal niche of like-minded fans. And maybe some lateral thinking.

The Tunnel 

The kind of lateral thinking shown by Enzo Tedeschi, for example, who took a radically different approach to getting The Tunnel financed. He broke traditional molds by crowd-sourcing this film, pre-selling individual frames of the movie for $1 apiece. As he explains, “With 90 minutes at 25 frames per second, that gave us $135,000 to go and make our indie film.”

Keep in mind that this was in 2010, years before crowdfunding fully took off. This approach not only democratized the funding process but also intimately involved the audience in the film’s journey from conception to screen, pioneering an entirely new method of film production.

Crowdfunding

Today, we have a much greater range of options when it comes to funding our projects. crowdfunding platforms, investment solutions, or even the brave new world of web3 present viable movie financing alternatives. And that’s before you consider competitions and grants that might get you the cash you need, as long as you know where to look.

Film-specific crowdfunding 

Film-specific crowdfunding platforms such as Seed & Spark and Filmocracy have emerged as vital resources for filmmakers seeking to fund their projects. Unlike generic crowdfunding sites, these platforms cater specifically to the film industry. So instead of sifting through campaigns for personal or health matters, these platforms make it easier for creators to connect with an audience that’s passionate about film.

This targeted approach not only simplifies the fundraising process. It also ensures your backers are genuinely interested and more likely to support the project enthusiastically.

Filmocracy website
Filmocracy provides a streaming platform as well as fundraising options. Image © Filmocracy

Platforms like Filmocracy also offer additional value by providing a built-in streaming platform for distribution once the film is complete. This feature not only helps in raising funds but also makes sure the project reaches its audience directly.

Equity-based Funding

Other platforms, like Wefunder and StartEngine, allow filmmakers to give away equity in the film in exchange for up-front funding. This transformation changes the dynamic of crowdfunding, attracting investors rather than backers. Typically, investors contribute larger sums of money, motivated by the prospect of earning a significant return on their investment if the project succeeds.

Fan-fueled Legion M is one of StartEngine’s biggest success stories.

As a result, this equity-based model appeals to a different audience, one that is more financially motivated—and potentially more discerning—and who seeks out projects with a strong potential for success and profitability. Filmmakers entering this space may require a level of business acumen and accountability in the crowdfunding process. After all, funders are looking for a return on their investment, or at least, some type of proof-of-concept for future projects.

web3 

If you’re prepared to consider a more unconventional approach, then you might want to consider blockchain and non-fungible tokens (NFTs). It’s perhaps a little more controversial than your other options, but it’s there and it’s not unlike equity funding. By selling parts of your project as NFTs, you’re not just raising funds for your film, you’re also offering investors a stake in the film’s potential success.

Again, this approach is crypto-native, meaning artists will have to familiarize themselves with the mechanics of web3. But this approach could change the way your film gets funded.

Bigger players are also embracing this new tech. Companies like Decentralized Pictures and Paus are at the forefront of web3-based film funding, They provide a platform for filmmakers to connect with investors in the crypto space.

And it can work. An exemplary success story within this new funding paradigm is The Quiet Maid (formerly CALLADITA), a web3 film that not only achieved festival acclaim but also secured backing from notable figures like Steven Soderbergh. This instance demonstrated how web3 can act as a catalyst for more recognition and funding down the line.

But your mileage may vary. Gary Eck’s plan to use NFTs to fund his sci-fi film Amygdala, was clearly not so successful.

Application-based

Marketplaces

Back on more familiar ground, online marketplaces like Slated or FilmHedge offer a modern approach for filmmakers seeking financing, networking, and distribution opportunities. With these, you’re required to create a detailed project profile with information about the film’s budget, synopsis, key personnel, and any existing attachments or endorsements. This profile is then made accessible to a network of industry professionals who also use the platform.

These platforms often provide tools for evaluating the financial viability and potential market success of a film. And this helps investors make informed decisions. By ensuring you plan your finance before you seek funding, they can also help you get past the biggest hurdle. As FilmHedge founder Jon Gosier points out, “What funds films is strong finance plans.”

If you can successfully navigate these platforms, then you might get more than just the funding your project needs.

If you can successfully navigate these platforms, then you might get more than just the funding your project needs. There are also valuable connections to be made that can help with your film’s eventual sale and distribution. 

Competitions

Contests held by organizations like The Film Fund, The Black List, ScreenCraft, and The Sundance Institute offer competitive but rewarding avenues for filmmakers to secure funding and invaluable industry connections.

Although entering these competitions often requires an application fee, the potential rewards can far outweigh the initial investment. Why? Because these contests are structured to discover and nurture promising film projects and provide a platform for emerging talent. In short, they’re here to help.

You don’t necessarily need to win or even place to get the benefits. Even being shortlisted can open doors to funding opportunities. This can be with prize money, or through introductions to producers and financiers interested in backing film projects.

As you’d expect, rigorous selection processes ensure that only the most compelling and well-crafted submissions rise to the top. But for filmmakers, participating in these competitions means more than just a chance to secure the necessary financial support. You’re also getting access to a network of professionals who can offer vital guidance, mentorship, and connections.

Government grants

If the value of your project is more cultural than commercial, then you might struggle to find investor backing. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t other avenues. There are always grants available to independent filmmakers. Though these grants often do not offer vast sums of money. But they provide enough financial support to cover a significant portion of a film’s budget.

The process of securing government funding can be lengthy and competitive. They often requiring applicants to submit detailed proposals and plans for how the funds will be utilized. But just like other methods of funding, filmmakers can create a domino effect. Meaning, the prestige and financial backing of government grants can also be used to attract additional investment from producers and private investors.

Reservoir Dogs is partially a product of government funding.

Some of our favorite classics have been funded by the government by way of the National Endowment for the Arts. If not for the partnership between the NEA and the Sundance Institute, some stories might never made it to the screen. These include breakout hits like Paul Thomas Andersons’ Hard Eight, and Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. These instances highlight the potential of government grants to not only facilitate the production of influential films but also to support visionary directors in realizing their creative ambitions.

So yes, the application process for these grants is demanding. But there lies a benefit that differentiates government grants from the rest: creative control. As we mentioned, grants and organizations like Sundance Institute make it a worthwhile endeavor for filmmakers seeking to fund their projects without relinquishing creative control or incurring significant debt.

Conclusion

The challenge of making a film remains a daunting task. But the landscape for filmmakers today is vastly different and more encouraging than it was in the past. 

It’s also important to remember that funding is rarely a one-and-done deal. It may require creative thinking and a blended approach to get your project across the finish line. There’s no right or wrong. It’s about finding the method that works for your film. Whether that’s drafting a complex financial plan for investors, or getting in touch with your local dentists.


Danny Avershal

Danny Avershal is a writer and video producer based in LA. He writes about entertainment, technology, and entrepreneurship, and his work can be seen in Rolling Stone and Fast Company.