Funding. It’s a huge part of the filmmaking process, and perhaps the biggest obstacle for first-time filmmakers when they’re trying to get their projects off the ground, especially given the seemingly impenetrable nature of the studio system, which sees independent films being financed from anywhere between ten to one-hundred million dollars. But in the early stages of their career, filmmakers shouldn’t be waiting around to be handed a cheque of that size. Instead, they’ll have to find the money somewhere else.
One of the reasons short films can be so difficult to fund is because of the lack of a guaranteed financial return. Given the nature of the format, even the highest quality of short films aren’t money-makers, making them hard to pitch as worthy investments.
That being said, there are organisations out there that are looking to support filmmakers with access to funding such as BFI and The Film Fund. Also, budding screenwriters may want to consider submitting their work to seasonal competitions like Shore Scripts or ScreenCraft. However, bear in mind that these organistions are looking for particular stories to tell and may turn down your scripts, not because they’re not well written, but because it doesn’t align with their vision. Not to mention, submissions often come with a fee and, if you’re not careful, these fees can mount up!
Crowdfunding is also a disruptive new source of funding, and has the added benefit of connecting filmmakers directly with their audiences. Many successful feature films have been partially or fully-funded through platforms like Kickstater and Indiegogo such as The Babadook (2014) and Anomalisa (2015). However, before you ask people to invest in you and your project, you should prove how hell you know your craft and create some endorsement with a strong portfolio of work, rather than expecting people to raise £15,000 in the hopes that you might know what you’re doing!
So, depending on the story you’re telling, funding organisations may not wish to work with you, and if you’re a first-time filmmaker, you won’t have a portfolio of work to back you up when seeking investment. Such is the frustrating position I’ve found myself in when producing my own short films, but the solution is simple.
Amateur filmmakers are often dissuaded from using their own money to fund their films, but I’ve found it to be the only way to guarantee that any of my projects actually get off the ground. Not only that, but investing your own money will mean that you will consider your budget even more carefully. There’s a lot to think about when scheduling and coordinating the production of your film - everything from movements between locations to what’s on the menu - and if the costs are coming out of your wallet, then you’re going to want to make sure that every penny is being used properly. Such discipline will hold you in good stead when you’re budgeting future projects, as you’ll have a better understanding of which areas you feel the need to invest more money into and where you might be able to creatively cut corners.
For example, during the production of our most recent short ‘Boredom’, we were mostly shooting on location in the Yorkshire Dales, but were able to access the privately-owned estate for completely free. This came as a result of researching the area, speaking to others who’d shot on location in the Dales, contacting the land owners directly and explaining our requirements and our lack of budget. Not having to pay to access a location helped to keep the production budget down massively, and if you do your research, you’d be surprised as to what you can find.
Finally, funding your own films gives you total creative control over your projects, and allows you to tell your stories your way. That being said, filmmaking is a collaborative medium, and it’s important to involve the right people in the right roles if you want the best results. Be confident about the things that you know, and humble about the rest.