Getting film funding for your first short or feature

Here are some great tips on how you can fund your first foray onto film.

First-time filmmakers can get the short straw in a lot of ways. Film schools are great for being able to use cameras and get stuff done. But when you are out in the big wide world, there’s no bottomless equipment store to raid, things cost money and money is time. No one will give you money if you don’t have quality films to show, but to be able to make these films, someone needs to give you some money. Funding your first real feature film is a cheeky catch 22.

So, let’s assume that you can write and that you have a final draft of your film that you are happy with and even maybe some creatives already attached to the film. What’s next?


1. A great pitch

Honestly, if you don’t have a good film pitch, then you may as well throw the towel in. The majority of producers or investors won’t open the first page of your script if they aren’t engaged by what you are trying to sell them. Time is precious and they have lots of submissions to get through. Pitching your film is tricky though because not every good writer is a good pitcher. No shame in that, but there are bonus points for trying to get it right. Keep it short and simple, be precise and to the point, don’t stumble on your words and try to tell your story as imaginatively as possible. Make them see the film in their heads as you speak. Getting them inspired will, in turn, create kudos for you and may lead to good things for your project.

2. Complete honesty

Don’t honey coat your budget, or embellish the ease, or difficulty, in your shooting schedule or crew requirements. No bullshit here is the way to go. Be direct and not wishy-washy. Industry people appreciate that more than one would think.

3. Affordable budget and a great business plan

Often, investors read a business plan first, before anything else. If your budget is attractive and realistic, they are more likely to want to learn more about you and your project. This is a great way in, it opens the door, then you’ll just need to wedge your foot in there for a while.

The key to the above points – is making everything as easy as possible for your potential investors, buyers, and producers. A lot of work on your behalf, but you have to put in the work if you want to see results.

"We don’t make movies to make money, we make money to make more movies.”

– Walt Disney


1. Don’t use your own money

I know it’s tempting to self-fund, especially if you’ve already spent years trying to get investors or co-producers, your last resort may very well be applying for a new credit card and financing your film yourself. Unless you have an already expendable income and can sink the money into realising this particular screen dream, it is a risky choice. There is no guarantee your finished film will be sold as a completed product, no matter how good you think it is.

2. Crowdfunding

A popular trend these days is to launch a crowdfunding campaign where people you connect with across the globe can throw some cash your way, all for the greater good of your project. In return, they receive some perks, like credits on the film,with tickets to the premiere, a copy of it to keep, a poster, even just a hug and bragging rights. Their reward can be anything, but what you gain, is a possible budget for your film. His can be a tough slog, once you’ve exhausted donations from your family and friends, you really have to have a special product if you are hoping strangers and film lovers out there will contribute independently. So it better be a pretty good hug in return!

Check out these Top 10 Crowdfunding websites for more of an insight into how it all works.

3. Deferred Payment

Films made on deferral payment are in production all the time. Deferral means that everyone signs a contract that they will complete the film for no immediate pay, with the understanding that they will be paid when/if the film is sold and profits are made after costs. This is an awesome way to be involved in the project with like-minded passionate people, who are crossing their fingers that it gets sold, but if it doesn’t, it’s ok because they’ve got something to show for the work, even if it’s not a big fat pay cheque.

4. Government Funding and Grants

Yes, please! Every filmmaker dreams of government funding at some point in their careers. There’s not much more satisfying than people in suits saying ‘please take this money and do good things for arts and culture!’ with only a few possible strings attached. Applying for this funding can be a veritable shit fight with paperwork, but worth it in the end, if you are granted part or all of what you are asking for. Government arts funding parties want to help you and they usually release funds every year. So strike when the timing is perfect, find the right grant, and sharpen your pencil.

The major film funding body in Australia is Screen Australia , in New Zealand, it’s the New Zealand Film Commission and in Germany, the DFFF (German Federal Film Fund) .

There are many independent grant giving arts corporations around, and they all have different criteria to apply. The online filmmaking community website,  No Film School, has a great and informative list of worldwide grant givers for all things filmmaking. Check it out here.

6. Co-producing

Co-producing with another company or individual is a great way to get something made. You are splitting the risk and the success, but that extra support can be what you need to get a film in the can. This scenario works out well especially if you have a co-production with another country, utilising their locations, crew, and actors to help you complete the film. Not all films are suitable for a co-country production, but you can still have a co-production with one or more producers. Makes it one big family really!

7. Pre-sales

Hanging solely on your ability to sell your product, pre-sales can often bring your project to reality. Pre-sales to a film not yet in production can be a hard thing to pull off. So you need to surround yourself with the right people: pitch to producers, film companies, and private investors. Or get your producer to do it for you, especially if you are not a people person. Large film festivals often have official events where hundreds, if not thousands of people are trying to sell their film. It’s a great big ocean out there, and there will be a lot of fish.

"In England, I’m a horror movie director. In Germany, I’m a filmmaker. In the US, I’m a bum.”

– John Carpenter

Learning from the above can only mean there are many avenues to go down in regards to getting your film financed. Find the most appropriate for you, and if, at first, you don’t succeed…oh, you know the rest. Cliché, but true, A filmmaker is not a filmmaker if they don’t believe in their own work.

There are many international pitching forums and competitions, check out this starter list and start applying!

And now, what has been your experience in film funding? Do you have any extra tips for our readers? Leave us a comment below, and we’ll see you at the movies!

Charmaine Gorman is an Australian actress and writer living in Berlin with her family. As a content writer and editor, she works for many clients around the world, and along with her husband, is the founder and content manager of the online travel guide My Guide Berlin.

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