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by Sophia Savage
September 21, 2011 7:53 AM
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IFP Independent Film Week: 8 Quick Tips on How to Fund Your Documentary

IFP's Independent Film Week is underway with a host of master classes, panels and conversations about financing, production, distribution and more. Among the several offerings Wednesday afternoon, IFP presented "Master Class: How to Fund Your Documentary" at the new Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center in New York.

IFP's description of the class states: "Learn how to navigate the vast array of funding options for non-fiction, and avoid the pitfalls, in this intimate masterclass..." iW is presenting highlights below from the discussion...

Three key elements to taking your documentary project all the way: Viability, Originality and Exclusivity. Here's eight common sense points Masterclass leader Louise Rosen shared to help non-fiction filmmakers take that project from concept to reality. (All items in brackets were taken from a Power Point presentation given during the conversation).

Know Your Subject

If your film isn't personal, you need to do your research to know what's already been done on your subject, and not just in the U.S. Check international databases to inform yourself so you can know how to position your own project as being unique. If you have exclusive access to someone or something, lock it down. Protect yourself from losing this edge. (Realscreen.com, Reelisor.com, Telcoreport.com, Broadcastnow.com, Worldscreennews.com, Documentary.org, D-word.com, Beyond the Box, IFP, blogs!)

Do Your Homework

Keep your ear to the ground, serve your professional development: Go to workshops, festivals, conferences, training opportunities; read papers, blogs, news, commentary; stay collegial, share and compare with your colleagues and competition; do not isolate yourself.

Seek out opportunities where your idea can be discussed in a professional context. Test your concept and gain more confidence in how you pitch it.

Know Your Audience

Know your target audience. Who is going to buy and watch? TV, community use, education purposes, non-profits? Be adaptable to how your material can be used, from feature format to series to 1-hour format.

Value Your Time and Budget Accordingly

There are different budgets for different funding scenarios - and have different versions. Keep in mind that if you don't value your time, investors won't either. Document the cash value of your time and your team's time - it's part of the project's real cash need. Remember that there is a gap in how the US and European markets think about budget. Be able to defend every line item.

Remember: Funding is a Marathon, Not a Sprint

Don't expect all your funding to come from one place, because it won't; it's incremental. Look local first, at historical or arts societies. Don't discount small amounts. Consider crowdfunding (Kickstarer, IndieGoGo). If you find a private investor, it's best to go through a fiscal sponsor to buffer yourself. Be prepared to engage legal and accounting services of your own. Very few large sums are available, and they tend to be for completion funding. It's very important what material you have to show.

Know How to Pitch Your Project

You need to be able to sell your project with two paragraphs, two pages, or the complete rundown. Tailer your pitch for the specific audience; know the mission statement of the entity you are asking money from. Write the pitch/proposal for a decision maker; keep room for their point of view or expertise.

Pitch events can be crazy; attend some as an observer to get a feel for it. Be true to yourself and your style - not everyone is a showman. In your pitch, consider tone, style, how much to disclose, type of footage, etc. Think visually.

Maximize Your Marquee Value

If you are starting out and don't have a track record, try to add credibility through your team. Endorsements from anyone respected does a world of good. Bring in consultants, co-producers, etc. A strong editor and DP say a lot.

Get the Word Out

Get a website, and the sooner the better. The method of blogging as you go is debatable, but updates in some form are wise to keep your network in the loop. Consider the best way to share information; trailer, teaser, taster, sampler, selects? Don't discount people who say "No"…build relationships, keep in touch. It's a small world.

Exposure: It's not over until the film is out there! Britfilms.com is a great festival database; don't just use Withoutabox. If you pay for PR, make sure you are going to get a return.

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1 Comment

  • Jack Binder | September 21, 2011 8:56 AMReply

    Also, have your budget reviewed by a professional to avoid costly errors or omissions. http://filmbudget.com