Beyond the Crowd: Looking at Film Funding Alternatives to Crowd-Sourcing

Sundance Institute

OK, you want to finance your latest and greatest film project, you say? I’m sure you’ve thought of the basics… ask your rich benefactors, call your family, start a Kickstarter, encourage your friends to ask their friends, did into your savings account, post and re-post on social media, et cetera.

But what else? Grant funding. This can be a viable way to get the money you need for your next project.  And what’s more, you can easily re-apply for each new project you do — without the fear that you’ve exhausted the amount of times you can ask for funding from a single source.

This kind of funding requires some additional work.  But with the right tools and a can-do attitude, you’ll find the work is not so different than a thought-out pitch to your network, your family, and your social media. Most importantly, it can help nail down why your project is worth supporting.  Below are some simple steps to get you started:

  1. Know your project

    This seems simple enough.  But often times, an evolving idea may lack the kind of specificity needed to make your case.  Funders want to know that if they give you money, they will see something great in return.  Don’t be discouraged, though.  This doesn’t mean you need to know all the ins and outs of the project and have things locked down, but it does mean you have to be confident and sure of what you’re doing and where you intend to go. Before you start searching for a good fit for your project, ask yourself the following questions:

    • What is my film really about?
    • What is my plan for the next few steps of production?
    • How much money do I really need?

    If you can answer the above questions, you are ready to look for funding.

  2. Identify funders who want to fund people like you

    One of the simplest mistakes you can make when applying for a grant is to apply for one you don’t really qualify for.  While nothing “bad” will happen if you make this mistake, you will have put in hours of work and gained nothing.  Be confident that you have picked the right money to apply for and then go for it.  Databases exist to help you identify funders (sometimes for a subscription cost like Foundation Directory), and a sampling of funders can be found later in this article. Often times, a foundation’s website will provide all the information and guidelines you need to apply.

  3. Read all guidelines carefully

    Not all proposals are created equally.  Some funders may want you to be short, sweet, and to the point.  Others may want to see comprehensive plans and detailed budgets.  Either way, you want to make sure you are prepared and able to give them everything they want.  Hundreds of people may be applying for the same funding, and you want to stand out.  Not fully read directions does just the opposite of that.

    True anedoctal story: I once worked for a branch of city government that provided arts funding.  We literally got close to 50 proposals (each 60+ pages) for a pot of money totaling $15K.  After reading through the first 10, we were tired, grumpy, and our patience was thin.  At this point, we were EXTREMELY in tune with the proposals that were missing key pieces of information, and thus unfit to pass on to our peer review pannel.  Our eyes = those of a hawk.  Don’t let the focus of a professional reviewer ruin your chances of getting money.

    Note: many Foundations require individuals to have a fiscal sponsor in order to obtain funding.  If you run into this, DO NOT PANIC.  All this means is that they filter the money through a middle man (a non-profit organization) so that the gift is charitable and tax deductible.  Their are many local organizations who act as a fiscal sponsor, but if you’re stuck, Fractured Atlas is a great national fiscal sponsor.

  4. Just because you really think Kung-Fu is cool, that doesn’t mean you should be talking about it

    In the fundraising world, we sometimes refer to this as “knowing your audience.” Chances are that you’ve got a super cool, elaborate story that will give the next Michael Bay film a run for its money.  But just because you find that cool doesn’t mean the funder wants to hear all about it.  Is the money funding projects that are technically innovative? If so, perhaps it would be more efficient to focus on describing the great special effects tricks your art department has come up with, rather than taking 12 pages to give a play-by-play of the nail-bitting fight choreography in the climax of your Bruce Lee-esque kung-fu epic.

  5. Be honest

    Funders are good at reading when you’re bluffing. After all, they read proposals for a living. If they sense something awry, they won’t be keen on giving you the money. So what’s the harm in a little white lie? Well, if you get the money, the foundation might require you to give them a report when you’re project is done outlining what you spent the money on and the final result.  If you lie, you risk jeopardizing the money you got.  And no one wants to be told they’re not getting the money they were expecting.

  6. Double-check for professionalism

    Remember, your main job is to convince these foundations that they should hand over their money so you can see your project through to fruition.  Make sure your work is top-notch, spell checked, organized, and 100% complete.  Put your best foot forward, and you improve your chances of catching their eye.

Below, I’ve compiled a short list of some of my favorite film funders.  Of course, there are many, many more; if you’re willing to put in the time, there’s plenty of funding to be found out there.


Courtney Robertson
Non-Profit Arts Administrator

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