Film Fundraising 101, 102, 103 & 104

I often have people ask me for tips on how to have successful crowdfunding campaigns and how to raise money to make movies. After making four successfully crowd-funded films I'm finally putting down my thoughts so I can share this link instead of replying to all those emails!

I've been meaning to write this blog since 2014 after I raised the money to do 1440 and Counting ($40,000). Then in 2016 raised $57,000 for Neighbor.

But I realized that my first film I ever fundraised was a short in 2011. I co-wrote, produced and acted in it. It was called Tester. I raised $1380 (I was going after $900, so that felt pretty good). I did a couple of other shorts too for under a few grand... 

So all in all, it's safe to say I raised about $102,000 to make a bunch of short films.

That's a lot of money.

I'm learning now in hindsight...that I probably could have made ONE FEATURE FILM with all that dough, but for me it was a great experience that resulted in some great films in which I'm very proud to share with the world.

This was how I learned to make films, by MAKING films. That's the price some people pay to go to film school. So I'm happy to say my film school was making films. The experience was invaluable. And I'm so glad for all those who supported me, my vision, and my journey.

Now on to what I learned in hopes to help others find success.

First of all.

There are so many GREAT resources out there.  Google them, watch and listen! Utilize them. I'll share a few here.

#1-I recommend you start by listening to Ep. 73 of this podcast called MAKING MOVIES IS HARD. I've met these two guys, (local Bay Area dudes) and I love what they are doing. The struggle is real and they shoot straight, complaints, rants, insecurities and all. It's not a cake-walk, making movies, but it's worth it! Listen to their podcast BEFORE you start your fundraising.

#2-Indie-gogo put out this great list of 8 stats that make for a successful fundraising campaign. I won't repeat any of them in this blog, so make sure you read the blog now! (IE: Short time frame is key, get a good Video, give updates, etc).

#3- Filmmaker and STAGE 32 CEO wrote a great book on CROWDSOURCING. Money is CRUCIAL in filmmaking but you also NEED a great CREW to collaborate with to bring your stories to life.


OK. Now on to my personal 2 cents.

My best advice to someone fundraising for a film project (or anything for that matter) are these two things: 

It's ALL about your relationships and your vision (and are you willing to make sacrifices to see it come alive?).

I'll say it a different way, it's all about who you know (and know well) and if they like you, and if your passion for what you're doing is energizing, electric, and worth buying into (literally).

If you're not cuckoo for cocoa puffs, over the moon, crazy excited about your movie, why would anyone else want to be?

You have to BLEED enthusiasm and passion to get your film made. You have to be willing to give up sleep, money, and friends to see it happen. It takes a lot of hours to get a movie produced. Hours you could be spending asleep, working out, and doing those fun escape room things with your friends.

Are you willing to give that up?

Are you willing to RSVP no to your co-workers bachelor party? You might have to. Are you OK with five hours sleep a night? Are you OK seeing friends a little less because you're scheduling meetings and working late into the night writing your movie, and editing your pitch video? 

Because you'll have to do things like that to get movies made, especially if you start later in life like me (and have a full time job, a marriage and three kids).

But even if you're single, it's hard.

What I mean is, it takes SACRIFICE. The money doesn't just fall from the sky once you post your Kickstarter or Indie-Go Go campaign, or my now favorite : SEED & SPARK. (Find the best one that's right for you!).

I'm not saying you have to give up friendships and ignore people, I mean, if you want to make a movie, you don't have a lot of time to "hang out" and shoot the breeze with friends on a Friday night. If you're like me, you'll be up late most nights writing, dreaming, and planning for your visions to come to life. Friendships are key in this time for support and partnership, but some friends won't get it and therefore won't be a part of the picture, sadly.

You have to be intentional. DO NOT THINK you will meet your goal just by BEGGING people in Facebook. Please don't do that. That's so lame. All of us on social media see hundreds of people asking for money. Ignore. Pass. Bye.

No one cares. Asking EVERYONE is ASKING NO ONE. You have to be personal. You have to be specific. And this requires A. LOT. OF. TIME.

When I did my first campaign, I totally under estimated the amount of work. And I started with a plan, a good plan, so I though. But you have to work that plan and keep the momentum going for all four weeks of your campaign. (I did a thirty day Kickstarter).

So...make a list of your friends, your family, your neighbors, your former teachers, your parent's friends, your co-workers, your pastors...tell them IT'S COMING.  Tell them you need them. Tell them you want to make a coffee date with them..and then PITCH the hell out of them! Share your passion. Tell them how excited you are that THEY can be a part of this something BIG you are about to give birth to...(to weirdly descriptive? Yes! Well, it's kinda true. Making movies is messy and awkward, like becoming a parent, and I love it.

My first film I had 162 people give me my $40,000. (That's about $308 per person. But most people gave $25-$100. It's the generous amazing ones that blessed me with $5,000 each. I had a good handful of them).

My second big ask of $50,00 (which ended up being about $57,000) came from 122 people. Do that math. That's about $400+ a person.

I am a social media monster and habitual texter...100%. I love the quickness of sending message where I don't have to do small talk. I'm over small talk. Please don't call me because if you do I will think you are in the hospital or hanging off a cliff somewhere.

BUT Let me say this again. You WILL NOT raise your money if you ONLY POST ON FACEBOOK, TWITTER and INSTAGRAM. You will use these mediums but you have to talking with people face to face. Yes email, text are great but YES CALL PEOPLE. ON THE PHONE.

If you are the producer or the director will have to work harder than everyone else to raise funds for a project (and it can be very lonely).

Don't expect anyone else to care about your film as much as you. I often found myself disappointed that others weren't working as hard as I thought I was to raise the money, but I had to accept that everyone couldn't match my enthusiasm. It as an unhealthy expectation to have. When I released it, I was able to focus better and work harder. I've seen one too many producers/writers/directors get lost in complaints and excuses when trying to launch their film because they spend all their time ordering others around to do their work or expecting their team to bring the money in. Usually it comes down to that one person who is seen as the leader of the film who does the most work.

In the end it all comes down to your ability to woo people into your story,  your passion, and ability to make the money back (if it's a feature).

If it's a short (which never makes money back), your donors have to know WHY they should give to your film.

When I look back at my fundraising efforts, it really came down to people believing in ME. 80% of all my funds came from people who knew me personally (friends, family, community, neighbors)and wanted to support me. The stories I was telling were important and some donors gave because they themselves were passionate about social justice issues, but the majority of my supporters gave because they wanted to support ME and the believed in my passion, my vision, and wanted to support the story that I wanted to tell. That's amazing!? 10-20% of my donors came from friends of friends, or friends of family, but they were few and far between.

And for that I am so grateful for the people who gave me a shot, who believed in me,  and who gave so generously. Now I am making my way into FEATURE FILMMAKING and it's a whole new experience.

Here's some of my fundraising videos if you want to see how I told the story.

This is the first one I ever did and you can see the quality is REALLY poor but it did the job! I acted and produced this piece. It was quite the learning experience on how to make a film.

Tester (2011 $1380)

I loved doing the 1440 video. This was my first foray into writing and directing. I wanted to re-create the story a bit (and it radically changed from this pitch video to production) to give our donors a little proof of concept. I did all these videos with my friends and community. It was a great experience working with actress Loretta Devine and I made a life-long friend and creative partner in actor Jeremy Ray Valdez. This short gave me the drive and passion to go full time into filmmaking.

1440 and Counting (2014, $40936)

I couldn't wait to make another film after 1440 and Counting. The unique thing about NEIGHBOR was that I partnered with a great non-profit in my city, THE REDWOOD CITY PARKS AND ARTS FOUNDATION, and they allowed me to raise my funds as my fiscal sponsor which enabled every donor to get a tax deduction. This was HUGE. I also used a different platform called CROWD-RISE which took less of a cut than Kickstarter because I was working with a non-profit.

Neighbor (2016, $57,349)

The last film I did was SELF.IE. My friend Lydia and I set out to raise $3000 and we used SEED & SPARK which has become my favorite. They are very film friendly (they only fundraise for films unlike Kickstarter which does inventions, books, music, etc)  and they super supportive.  Based on what I learned doing bigger crews and larger budgets I didn't want to wait to make another film. I was very encouraged to do something with a skeleton crew and do it as cheaply as I could.  It has a different look and a different feel.

Self.I.E (2017, $3,175)

Total=$102, 840

I hope this is all very helpful to you!

If anyone has some other ideas I should add here, let me know! Tweet me or INSTA me.