by Bri Castellini
Money can’t buy you love but it can buy you camera equipment, fruit snacks, and fake gun props. Even the simplest project requires start-up cash, so what follows is an exploration of the most common financial options as you go forward in your independent filmmaking journey.
Option 1: Crowdfunding
Let’s just get this one out of the way. Crowdfunding is a full time job from the moment you think about starting a campaign to the moment you finish sending out the final perks. There have been a handful of massive success stories for independent, unknown artists, but it is by no means a sure thing.
- If you’re going to commit to crowdfunding, commit. Have a detailed plan for when you’ll update your social media with new pleas, when you’ll announce pertinent production information to backers, and when you’ll send out all the extra rewards for donors.
- Pick the platform best-suited for your particular needs. My top two picks would be IndieGoGo, for their flexible fundraising option (meaning you keep any money you raise, regardless of reaching your goal), or Seed&Spark, for their filmmaker-centric platform, which allows people to “loan” you things like props, equipment, and locations instead of donating money for you to purchase them yourself.
- Try to offer intangible but personalized “perks” for the different levels of donations. Things like social media shout-outs, a personalized thank-you video from the cast and crew, or access to secret behind-the-scenes material don’t cost anything to provide, which means more money from the campaign can fund the production itself.
- If you’re going to offer physical perks, like posters or t-shirts, make sure you’re actually making a profit. If a poster costs $11 to print and $6 to ship and you’re only asking for $20, you’ll end up with $3 per poster for your production budget. Is that really worth it?
- Build as much of your team, cast and crew before you launch the campaign, and insist that everyone involved. The more people you have promoting your campaign, the more likely you are to create a groundswell of support.
Option 2: Grants and Festivals
Another route might be to get funding from an individual source. While there aren’t many web-series specific grants, at least not in the US (yet another reason to move to Canada!), there are some, so get Googling. Plus, plenty of contests and film festivals have screenplay categories, so once you have a script, submitting it on its own might get you some cash or other prizes useful to production. You can also use those laurels when approaching other fundraising sources.
- Make an account on FilmFreeway or WithoutABox and start searching for screenplay contests. These sites make it super simple to submit to multiple contests and festivals without having to redo your application each time.
- Figure out what sets your script or team apart from the crowd, because many grants have specific qualifications for consideration. For instance, are you a minority writer or director? Do you have a female cinematographer? Is your script about mental health, or does it promote a political cause? Are you a student filmmaker? Find your niche and work it.
- Submitting to grants and festivals comes with an up-front fee, usually between $10-$60 per submission. Keep in mind that these can add up and don’t guarantee a return on investment.
Option 3: DIY
This route is isn’t mutually-exclusive with the other options. You should consider this to supplement funding or as a fallback fundraising method.
- Use your script breakdowns to make a budget template. Find price quotes for different props on Amazon, for different locations on Yelp, etc, and add it all up to give yourself an idea of how much you’ll need, best case scenario. Then do that same exercise but for the worst case scenario that still allows you to make your project.
- Cut as much from the script as you can without sacrificing the story or the heart. We talked last week about all the “realistic rewrites” you’ll end up doing as you start to take stock of your available resources, and this is round two. If something can be cut, cut it. Sometimes this means whole episodes are either condensed, combined, or discarded entirely. Be ruthless, because you literally can’t afford everything you want.
- Beg, borrow, and steal. Post on Facebook to see who in your existing network might have a fake gun, or a sweater vest, or an empty living room to loan you. If there’s a free option, use it. Those options might not always be the ideal ones, but they’re the cheapest, and if you’re smart, creative, and focused on your ultimate production goal, they’ll work just fine.
- Don’t forget about the basics — food and water on set (a necessity whether or not you’re paying your cast and crew), transportation to and from shooting locations, and general contingencies.
Even the simplest, most straightforward production will cost you something, and it’s important to be realistic with yourself about what you can and cannot afford. In any case, you literally cannot move forward with your web series before knowing what your money situation is.
Now that all that gross finance talk is out of the way, it’s time to expand your team! The next two weeks will explore hiring the rest of your crew and casting the characters who survived your realistic rewrites.
Bri Castellini is an award-winning filmmaker as well as the Community Liaison at Stareable, a hub for web series. Check out www.stareable.com to find and read reviews of thousands of web series, all in one place. For more great articles about the craft of web series, visit the Stareable blog.