I’m sure a lot of people wonder about how films are funded. It’s actually a simple, yet very complicated process that is entirely dependent on what kind of film someone is planning to make.
For instance, most people know that studios finance films, and they do. But what happens when you don’t have a studio and all their money and power behind you? Well, you hit the bricks, that’s what.
For a filmmaker who aims to make a feature narrative film, the kind that would premiere at a place like Sundance, or Toronto Film Festival, or any number of the gazillion film festivals out there, they have to find investors. And that can be a lot of different kinds of entities. It might be as simple as asking mom and dad for a million dollars, but that’s a resource very few of us have. (There’s a joke about a billionaire who went into the film business so he could become a millionaire.) But most people look for other people, businesses, and sometimes grants to cobble together enough money to make their film. In these cases, the amount of money they manage to acquire is usually a result of how good their pitch is, and how much their investors think the return will be.
The nice thing about feature films: they have a chance to make money. They might win cash awards at festivals, plus they can often ask for screening fees from festivals, and if they’re lucky, a distributor will come along and buy the rights to the film. If they’re really lucky, the film will have a theatrical release, and if they’re really really lucky, the theatrical release will be on more than 100 screens. And then, of course, they can sell VOD (video on demand rights), and DVD.
Then comes documentary films. For much of the US, the word “documentary” conjures up images of boring films you might have watched in high school geography or history class. But hopefully, it instead makes you think of films like Farenheit 911, Man on Wire, or Grizzly Man. (If you get the chance to see a film called Senna, I strongly recommend you see it: it’s one of the best documentaries I’ve EVER seen.)
Documentaries are less likely to get their funding from investors, because they are less likely to get a theatrical release (and therefore make less money). However, many docs get to claim that they are socially relevant, or improve the world in some way, so they are eligible for a whole variety of grants from the government (like the NEA) or from private organizations that fund the arts (or even subject-specific projects, like green technology). And if it’s a good film, there’s a chance they’ll be able to sell some DVDs, or some VOD rights and make some of the money back.
Now with short films, they’re in a rough spot. Short films rarely, if ever, make any money, because there is little to no chance of theatrical release. They can’t ask festivals for screening fees. So basically, the only chance of making money is to win cash awards at festivals and/or sell DVDs. So where do they get their funding? Mostly begging. Yep. There are very few grants out there for short films, and those grants are ridiculously difficult to get. So, we have to put our hands out and hope that people are feeling generous, or like us enough to give us a little something to help out.
This is where fiscal sponsorship comes in. This is something whereby an entity (usually a non-profit) oversees the project (usually only budget issues), and for a small fee (usually 3-5%), they lend their non-profit status to a filmmaker. Cool, huh?
What does that mean? It means that any donation you give to a film that has sponsorship is tax deductible. It also means that there is an organization around making sure I don’t take you money and blow it at the track. It’s really a win-win-win situation.
So here’s the deal: I happen to have fiscal sponsorship for The Magicians. There is a local organization called Media Arts Center San Diego, and they provide sponsorship to several local filmmakers. Check them out online.
So, if you want to help me fund my film, you can do one of two things: you can contribute to my Kickstarter account (which is unfortunately NOT tax deductible, because there is an exchange of goods), or you can just write a check and take the charitable donation deduction on your 2011 taxes. And trust me, we need the money.
Think you don’t have enough? Think again. I have over 400 Facebook friends. If every one of them gave me $25, I’d have $10,000 (which would allow me to fund the film AND pay a few cast/crew). And really, $25 isn’t that much money. In California, that’ll buy you two cocktails. So, instead of taking me out for drinks, give my movie the money. That’s what I really want anyway.
Again: Kickstarter Account for The Magicians
Or: Media Arts Center San Diego: send checks to 2921 El Cajon Blvd, SD, CA 92104, with either Lisa Franek or The Magicians in the notes line. Or contact me and I’ll talk you through it. It’s easy.