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Fund-Raising For Your
Micro-Budget Film

by Dale Newton & John Gaspard

When we made Resident Alien and Beyond Bob (for $28,000 and $26,000, respectively), we thought we’d gone about as low as you could go, budgetwise.

So, can you imagine our elation when we realized that we could complete Grown Men for in the neighborhood of $10,000? Well, obviously we decided to move right into that neighborhood.

But that $10,000 had to come from somewhere, and so will the cash you need to get your movie off the ground and through postproduction. You’ve got to buy or rent a camcorder, sound equipment, lights, and tape stock, and you need to get your hands on an editing system. And pay for lots of costs in between.

Yes, you’ve reached that point. You have the idea; the script is written (or percolating); you’ve worked out your budget; you’ve set up your business structure; and now the next big step looms before you. You ask yourself, “How the heck do I come up with the money to do this?”

A darn good question. A tough question. A question with many possible answers. Most moviemakers follow one or more of the following well-worn paths: Investors, Credit Cards, Scrimping, Grants, Favors, and Found Money.

The biggest problem with investors is that they generally want their money back. It’s annoying. Some of them even want their money back plus a profit. Apparently they don’t understand movie investments. While as a moviemaker you’re in a position to offer your investors many things — the thrill of being an integral part of an artistic experiment, the joy of watching talent bloom, the sheer excitement of being involved in the moviemaking process and seeing their names in lights — a guaranteed payback is, sadly, not on your list of deliverables.

So when you begin scouring your hometown for investors, you’ll want to seek out people who are clearly much more excited about the process of making a digital feature than its actual outcome, profit-wise. If an investor is simply looking for a fast or hefty return, it’s best to suggest that they look elsewhere. However, if they’re committed — to you, to your idea, or to a local asylum and have granted you power of attorney — they can become some of your strongest allies.

The other problem with raising money via investors is that, in many cases, it actually costs money to raise money. And on a no-buck digital feature, there is no loose change jingling in your pockets for such shenanigans. Limited partnerships have historically been the financial vehicle of choice for independent moviemakers. However, limited partnerships require voluminous paperwork, and with voluminous paperwork comes lawyers, and with lawyers come fees. You could easily spend $5,000 on legal work to put together a limited partnership for your $8,000 movie.

You see the problem.

If you’re determined to take the limited partnership path, find a lawyer who will take care of the voluminous paperwork for free or on a deferred basis. It can be costly and difficult to raise money in other business structures as well, such as taking on stockholders in your corporation (make it less than 25 people and from the state in which you’re incorporated), adding members to your limited liability company, taking loans, entering a full partnership, or receiving nonprofit donations. Be sure you understand all the steps before you walk down any fundraising path.

Once you’ve figured out how you’re going to set up your money-raising apparatus, the next step is to go out and actually start knocking on doors to find your investors. (Beware. In some states, there are rules governing how many doors you can knock on, especially for limited partnerships and stock offerings.) Doctors, dentists, business people with a love of movies, women who’ve outlived their rich husbands, old rich guys with young second wives who are dying to get into movies… these are the traditional supporters of independent moviemakers.

And the beauty of funding an ultra-low-budget movie is that it doesn’t take a large number of investors to pull together the cash you need. If your budget is $8,000, all you need are ten friends with $800 each. Or five friends with $1,600 each. Or four friends with $2,000. Or one really good friend with $8,000. The money is out there; you just have to go ask for it. Once you’ve found your investors and their money, don’t abandon them while you dive into production. Keep them informed of your progress and give them an opportunity to share in the few moments of glamour and excitement that are part and parcel of the process.

They should be invited to the set to watch production, and if extras are needed, they should be asked if they’d like to take part. If you’re sending out updates in the form of a newsletter to the cast and crew during postproduction, the investors should be added to the snail-mail and e-mail lists.

All the investors should certainly be invited to preview screenings, and they should be given a place of honor at the premiere. In short, you should involve them in the process so that they can get something out of it other than a profit (if even that).

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