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Funding your shortage: a guide to financing your short film

There’s no getting around it. No matter how simple, your short film will cost money. Once you decide to turn your script into a film, you will need to create a budget and figure out how you are going to meet your expenses.

WHAT FUNDING SOURCES ARE AVAILABLE?

Of the New Zealand short films selected for Show Me Shorts each year, less than half were funded through public or charitable grants. That means more than half are self-funded, crowdfunded or a combination.

As the number of filmmakers increases globally, so does the demand on investment sources. Luckily the cost of technology and equipment is decreasing, and the variety of funding models is increasing. We recommend you get creative, both with your budget and your funding strategy.

NZFC

The most widely recognised investment source for New Zealand short film makers is the NZ Film Commission. This is our public organisation charged with promoting the telling of NZ stories on screen by investing in film projects, professional development for filmmakers and making sure those films reach audiences in NZ and abroad. Short films funded or partially-funded by this government organisation have a strong track record internationally. These films may also be offered additional support with distribution, sales and marketing. There are currently three funding streams available: Fresh Shorts (Fresh 10 and Fresh 30) and Premiere Pathways. There is also some funding available for post-production if your short film is accepted by a top international festival.

Other public and charitable grants

Unfortunately, other sources of public and charitable funding in NZ are few and far between. Most charitable trusts are already operating on very tight budgets and relying on networks of volunteers. Public agencies are also subject to strict budgetary guidelines and oversight. But if you know of an agency or trust that your project has particular relevance to, be sure to check what sort of programmes they fund or contact them to see if they might be able to give you support in other ways. Documentaries close to the heart of charitable entities seem to have a slightly better track record for securing funding from this source.

Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding is a relatively new tool for filmmakers, and the way it is used is still evolving. Here are some of the key platforms available:

Boosted.org.nz – A New Zealand arts-dedicated crowdfunding platform and part of The Arts Foundation. It provides artists, arts professionals and organisations with campaign support and resources to reach their funding targets, as well as assistance with their ongoing goals. Boosted also offers donors a 33% tax credit.

PledgeMe – A New Zealand website. Users can post project ideas online for people to help fund in return for a creative reward.

Indiegogo – A worldwide crowdfunding website based in the USA. They can make international payments to New Zealand artists via paypal.

Kickstarter – An international crowdfunding website that is now open to New Zealand projects.

Some key tips for running a successful crowdfunding campaign are:

  1. Get your pitch right: What is new, innovative, revelatory, inspiring, necessary or just plain good fun about your project? You are competing in a flooded market with thousands of other artists trying to crowd fund their work, so don’t let Tall Poppy Syndrome keep you from confidently expressing how awesome your project is going to be.
  2. Be realistic: Many crowdfunding platforms will only pay out if you reach your goal, so set an achievable target.
  3. Use your networks: Virtually no one pledges on a crowdfunding site unless they know the artist or know of them through a trusted network. Family and friends are your best starting point. While this can seem like you’re imposing on your loved ones, it’s an important part of generating the initial momentum that can lead to wider public support.
  4. Inspire confidence: People are more likely to pledge if they feel confident the artistic team have the ability to deliver the project, so teams with a track record have an advantage. If you’re only at the start of your career you should begin building a strong online presence that showcases your work so that anyone who doesn’t know you can find out more when they inevitably Google you.
  5. Make them feel part of the team: Many donors are motivated by a desire for creative belonging. That means they want to feel authentically connected to you and your work. Share your mission with them, updates on your trials and tribulations and especially your successes. Giving away things like badges, t-shirts or artwork at higher donation levels is another way to get people to sign on and feel involved. Plus, it can be a regular reminder for your supporters and a form of promotion.
  6. Include incremental goals: One way to limit your obligations or get more supporters once you’ve reached your main goal is to use ‘stretch’ goals as waypoints. For instance, you can have a shoestring budget goal that determines whether the project goes ahead but then further goals that will allow you to spend more resources on the all-important finishing touches like professional-quality sound, editing and other post-production elements.

Without a doubt, using crowdfunding for any project is a lot of hard work. Do you have the time to dedicate to running a campaign? If not, it may be better to just avoid it.

Self Funding

While not an ideal option, many ‘successful’ short film makers have other jobs they use to save up and fund their short films. Examples include internationally acclaimed Wellington short film maker Michelle Saville (Betty Banned Sweets), and multi award–winning Auckland short film maker Richard Mans (Abiogenesis). If you’re committed to a future in filmmaking, you could consider this an investment in yourself and your career. But you should also be realistic with yourself about the time and money you are able to commit to your project. You need a budget and schedule. Take spending your own money as seriously as if it were coming from another source.

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Richard Mans’ film “Abiogenesis” is an example of a successful self-funded short.

 

WHAT WILL I NEED TO APPLY FOR INVESTMENT?

In order to apply for investment in your project through any source, you first need to know how much money you require. That means preparing a detailed budget. You will require a story outline (treatment), and generally a completed script too. You may also need bio information about key cast and crew who are already attached to the project. Any visual elements that help sell your project will be an advantage, such as storyboards, a poster, or test-shoot scenes.

By making sure you have a budget (a simple spreadsheet will do), you can figure out how much money you will need at the very minimum, as well as how much you would ideally like.

HOW DO I CREATE MY BUDGET?

Start with your ‘blue-sky’ budget, based on all the things you would ideally like to have, then pare it back and see what is actually essential. This second budget is generally the more realistic one you will end up using.

Creating a draft schedule is a good idea at this stage. Break your script down into locations and then work out how many scenes you have at each location and the length of each scene. This will give you an idea of how long you will need to spend at each location and which order of filming will prove most efficient. From this you will get a rough idea of how long you will need to shoot your film and can start to figure out what that will cost.

Elements to ensure you include in your budget are:

  1. Cast and crew: Clarify early the situation regarding payment for your crew and try to be consistent. Some projects offer everyone the same flat fee, even if this is a small amount as a gesture. If you are not paying your crew it is customary to cover their expenses. You may also offer them equity in the project.
  2. Catering: An army marches on its stomach. This is often the most expensive item in the budget for a short film. Feeding your team well is essential to keeping them motivated and working for you through the duration of the shoot.
  3. Locations: The use of some locations may require a fee. Do your research.
  4. Travel: This is where your schedule comes in useful. Figure out who needs to get where and when, and how you are going to transport your team around.
  5. Gear: Work with your team to decide which camera, sound and lighting gear you will need. Try not to skimp on this, as these items have a big impact on the end quality of your project.
  6. Marketing: For a small cost during production you can ensure you capture all the still and moving images, as well as media kit information you require to effectively sell your film once it is complete. It’s much more difficult (and expensive) to create these later.
  7. Insurance: Make sure you tick all the legal boxes and don’t end up liable for any damage or losses incurred during your shoot.
  8. Post-production: Most first-time filmmakers don’t leave enough money in the budget for post-production. A rule of thumb is that around 25% of your budget should be reserved for editing, grading, a soundtrack and any other post production elements required to finish and deliver your film in a high-quality output format.
  9. Film festivals: Many film festivals charge a small submission fee, so leave aside some funds for this.

Here’s a useful sample budget as an example of what yours might look like.

Once you have a list of every element you need to deliver your film, find out how much each will cost, ideally with official quotes from suppliers and crew. Then see if you can get some items sponsored for free or a discount. The New Zealand film industry is notoriously generous to short film makers, often offering goods and services for discounted rates or gratis if they think that you and your project are worth investing in. Call in as many favours as you can, pick up the phone and visit potential suppliers with cupcakes if you have to. Every cent you save can be reinvested in other areas of the production to elevate the value of your project.

Your budget will be a constantly changing document, insomuch as your ‘essential’ items become more refined, deals might be struck, while some items might remain beyond your reach.

Know your budget intimately. If you understand your budget thoroughly this will help you make swift decisions later on set when problems arise. You will know where you can cut back, in order to pay for unexpected items. But hopefully this will be minimised by your thorough planning.

In an ideal world the short film art form would be a staple in every home, the filmmakers would be lauded as national heroes and showered with money and resources to keep making more shorts. In practise, short films are on the rise, but no one is making money out of this. A carefully created and managed budget will help ensure you don’t lose money. Without one, you can almost guarantee that you will either spend more money than you plan or end up without the finished film.