How do I make a film when there is no money?

Snark, Feature, Animation

A question that has plagued all film makers at some point in their lives!  Unless you have a BAFTA somewhere up your sleeve, or you have a co-production with funding attached from elsewhere, then it is unlikely that you’ll get  industry funding from public bodies. Also, most financiers want a track record of sales and profits from films that you have previously produced, so this is tough when you are starting out or only have a few films behind you. 

The popular answer I hear is ‘crowdfund it – how hard can it be?’ The answer of course, is that it is very hard. But even Creative England advises people to do this first, and even ‘funded’ shorts must have a crowdfunded element. The trouble is, every Tom, Dick, Harry and Jane are out there trying to crowdfund their film.  This means that the market is saturated with people raising money for films, so it really is a contributors market. 

From my personal experiences of crowdfunding, I learned that a big chunk of what I was trying to raise came from family and friends, and that this really is limited to a one-time only thing. Most people who contributed towards my first feature film ‘The Hunting of the Snark’ were family and friends, who then didn’t do onto contribute to the next film. Some people did, but here is the important learning – I needed to create and engage an audience for the film in order to raise the funds for it. These are the people that will be contributing. The crowd part of the crowdfunding. I’ll go into this more on another blog.

Another way I have funded films has been through private investment. Either through a production company fronting equipment and a few hundred quid of their own money, or through digging into my own pockets. 

And of course, most of the time all you can offer is expenses and collaborations.

Ménage du Trois, Producing, Expenses, Exposure Bucks

I have produced 14 films to date, and my key learning so far is:

1 – What do other people get out of helping me make my film?  Thinking about what cast and crew get out of it ensures that people will want to work with me on future productions. And this helps me build my team. Sometimes just offering food, travel and an IMDb credit isn’t enough. In the past I have exchanged skills with people, which is a productive, collective way of getting films made with no money.  For example, I edited and colour graded someone’s film for free, and in return they worked on one of my films. I always have a caveat to this though – the film needs a purpose, such as being sent to film festivals or film distribution. Please contact me if you want to collaborate in this way.

2 – Not repeatedly asking people to work for free. I found that a few people worked for expenses on my first film, or new people worked for expenses on another film, but I never asked them to come back and work on something else without pay. If I thought they were good enough to bring back on another production, or I liked their performances, then they were worth paying. And if I thought that my film was worthy of other people’s time, then it should be worth money from my own pocket. 

3 – I appreciate people’s time and efforts that they put into my films. Whether they are being paid or not, I believe in giving praise where it is due.  Also, where someone has given up their time to work on a film for expenses or for free, a thank-you goes a long way.  From experience of being on the receiving end, don’t be an ass-hat. I’ve worked as an editor on a film where I had no script, no camera notes, and no direction, with over five hours of footage with takes that were not boarded, only to get ‘hahaha’ and ‘lol’ as replies from the director. Respect each other.

Written by Saranne Bensusan 22nd January 2018.

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