Budgets are rarely considered part of the artistic process of filmmaking, yet fundraising for independent work, in particular documentary, requires a profound amount of creativity. Whether we like it or not, it is a necessary skill set in order to survive as media makers and artists. One unfortunate aspect of talking money is our society's complex relationship with it, and many of us apply an on-guard or protective approach to the subject. As a result, open and frank sharing of information is lacking. I've attended my share of budgeting and fundraising panels through various local organizations, which have offered valuable information. More recently, GETTING REAL, the 2014 IDA conference presented some unusually honest dialog about funding sources and how filmmakers are actually financing their projects. It was validating in a lot of ways, and a bit sobering. I believe the conference helped open the doors to the money conversation. It's an issue that is only gaining importance, not only for filmmakers as individuals, but for the survival of the art form.
UnionDocs held an Art of Asking workshop this past weekend, hosted and organized by producer, Adella Ladjevardi. The two-day event included guest speakers Lana Wilson, Tracie Holder and Anna Rose Holmer. Participants were at various stages of production and the experience was rather conversational, which aided to a relaxed atmosphere. Discussion ranged from guest speaker project examples and case studies, to the review of budget templates (yes, you should pay yourself!), to how the grant selection process often works, as well as ways in which those individual supporters are cultivated.
Each attendee had the opportunity to show a piece of their work and/or talk about their project. Everyone received feedback and advise from Adella or one of the guest speakers. This was worth the price of admission and then some. It appeared to not only benefit each participant to hear seasoned professional's reaction to their work, but it offered a sampling of the other types of projects currently being produced. It's easy for filmmakers to work in a vacuum, especially while in the midst of a production, but I think it's really important to also be part of the collective. Workshops like Art of Asking support that.
Below are just a few of the many pointers mentioned by some of the speakers. These samples from the weekend might appear obvious, especially in the grant section, but as someone who reviews preservation applications (and as a preservationist, may I encourage everyone to add a "Preservation" category to your budget. Your docs deserve a long life!), you'd be surprised at how many overlook the basics. I know I have.
- Carefully review the grant maker's mission, application, guidelines and previously funded work. Does your project fit? This saves both sides time and money.
- If you call or email a question to the grant maker, make sure you're asking something that isn't already covered within their site, application or guidelines. Why begin a relationship by appearing as though you don't pay attention?
- If you've already applied for a grant, but were turned down, evaluate whether to reapply. Look at what projects they funded the round you last applied for. Review their site and guidelines again. Did your project receive a flat, "Thanks but no thanks", or did you receive personalized encouragement to try for next time? If you do apply again, state the ways your project has strengthened, or made progress since the last submission.
- If you're fortunate enough to receive an award, whether it's cash, in-kind support, a lab experience, or pitching forum, think of it as the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Keep in touch and express your gratitude.
- An online campaign usually requires a producer/director to ask everyone they know for support, whether a colleague, family member, or friend. Most backers are people you already know. Statistically, a very small percentage comes from strangers browsing Kickstarter or the like.
- Explore partnering with an organization early on. Offer incentives such as exclusive screenings for their members in exchange for assistance with spreading the word. Not every organization will do this, but it's worth an ask, because some will see the mutual benefit.
- Not every film is a good fit for crowdfunding. Is your audience active online? Make a list of your contacts who communicate online and your social media followers. Look at your final number and also at how many of your followers are actively engaging with you and your project's posts.
- Find potential individual supporters by researching what and who is doing work on the issues or themes that are being explored in your film. Reach out to this list. Always be gracious and grateful, regardless of the response and use the phone, rather than email.
This workshop was pretty dense so the above is a fraction of what was covered, and certainly doesn't replace being there and engaging with one another. What struct me most about the two days was the honesty in the room, and that was refreshing. Most documentaries don't make money. Most nonfiction filmmakers have a day job and it's a tremendous uphill hike to acquire the funds to realize productions. That being said, I think the industry is examining this challenge and ways in which to support its community. I look forward to the 2016 IDA conference, and various other organizations, such as The D-Word who are galvanizing the indie doc world and strategically looking at long range plans for survival.