How to Fund Your Independent Film!

Written by CJ Cookson on . Posted in Guides


All you need is bags of money!How many notices have we seen from directors who have a great idea for a film, have written a script themselves and now ‘just’ need a producer to raise a hundred thousand to make it? What could be simpler? And let’s not forget that all-important incentive… no fee, but you’ll get a VHS copy of the film if, and when, it’s finished! Wow, as a producer myself, I’m drooling and chomping at the bit to get a piece of that action! Who wouldn’t?


You may think that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but that’s pretty much the way many directors think – especially the ones trying to break into the industry. So, let’s get back to reality for a minute. Practically speaking, any producer worth their salt isn’t going to be interested in raising money for you unless you’ve already proven yourself capable of making a great film - on time and under budget. So what’s the alternative?


Basically, you’ve got a choice and it’s a very simple one... self fund or get funding! You can forget investors who insist on a proven track record, sound business plan, established marketing strategies and 50 per cent of everything you make. No, you have to go right back to basics – and those basics involve effort and creativity! But, if you’re realistic in your expectations, it’s certainly possible to get that film made.

How? Well, let’s assume you don’t have an extremely rich uncle or trust fund ready to kick-in and let’s also assume you’re willing to make your film for a modest amount. Okay, now we’re getting somewhere. The key to raising money is to broaden your approach beyond expecting key cast and crew to work for absolutely nothing simply to put a smile on your face.

You need money and there are a few ways to raise it. Of course you could try to compete in the film funding competitions but, unless you’re a young Spielberg, you might be statistically better off playing the lotto. No, you need to get people to part with their hard-earned cash. At this stage, you’re probably thinking ‘sell film credits’ – how about a producer’s credit? Easy money! Right?


For heaven’s sake, earning respect as a producer in this business is difficult enough without you throwing around producer credits like confetti at weddings! This practice is frowned upon, so don’t do it! Besides, fifty producers attached to a project might look a little odd and you’ve got to project professionalism at all times - otherwise no one will take you, or your film, seriously.

Being taken seriously is the key, so make sure you keep within the realm of film as weeding lawns and cleaning windows for cash just doesn’t cut any ice in this business. You need a professional script, budget and a business plan – even a brief one will do. People will want to know that the film will be good and will get finished in a timely manner.

The two ideas we will discuss are ‘risk’ and ‘charity’ – the latter being something I haven’t really seen used in the manner I’m going to propose. But firstly, let’s discuss risk. We all know ‘risk’. It’s what the filmmaker takes when no one else has confidence in the project and this is what sorts the weak from the strong. After all, if you don’t have enough confidence in your film to take a risk, why should anyone else?


This is also a benchmark as to how serious you are. Are you willing to re-mortgage your home, take out a whopping term loan and max your credit cards to get that film made? If not, you should be asking yourself why. And, in taking such a risk, you have to be your own producer and learn that all-important word – ‘no’! Without that simple, two-letter word, your money will disappear too quickly and the project will falter.

Too much trouble? Too much risk? Why can’t someone just give you the money to make your first film? Look, the harsh reality is that, for every good producer, there are a thousand directors trying to make their first feature. In an industry where the producer hires the director, not the other way around, you can’t honestly expect a producer to get excited just because you believe in yourself.


You have to prove yourself first – and that’s really the catch 22 situation, isn’t it? You need funding to make your first film but you probably won’t get funding unless you’ve already made your first film! As an example, I now only accept screenplay submissions from agents – because writers have to prove themselves by selling a script before they can get an agent. Yet, it’s almost impossible to sell a script without an agent. Catch 22!

It’s a really hard industry to make a career in. So, let’s discuss our second option… ‘charity’. Now, I have a pretty good idea what’s going through your head… do you ask for charity? Nope, you don’t. In fact, it’s the other way around – I’m going to suggest you consider giving away all your hard earned money to a good cause. If you really want to make that first film you’ll consider it – maybe even embrace it. Am I mad? Maybe.


A charitable film project is what I am suggesting. Simply stated, you get to make your film by agreeing to give all the profits to charity. Nothing rallies the troops like a good cause and you’ll be helping yourself to get that first feature made through altruism. People will be more likely to donate time and money to your project if they know it isn’t going in your back pocket.

This allows a marvelous opportunity. Raffles are just one of the many options that can help to realise those all-important funds. Why not pre-sell cinema tickets for your premiere and get the theatre donated by the cinema in exchange for publicity? This kind of exposure is much easier to acquire if it’s for charity. You might even persuade celebrities to show up and make a real star-studded evening of it!


Local businesses would be less resistant to contribute – especially if you throw-in backstage passes or cameo roles, and criticism will be mostly muted because it’s in aid of the less fortunate. Celebrity actors may even agree to take roles because, as wonderful as charity is in its own right, it also provides much-needed personal exposure in the entertainment business.

Let’s not forget that, if you do manage to get a few celebrity ‘names’ in the film, it’ll probably be a lot easier to sell to the networks - thus raising yet more funds and increasing your media coverage. Any creative idea that can combine a personal opportunity with a benevolent objective can’t be all bad. As a word of caution though, make sure you have all your legal bases covered – perhaps registering the film as a charity.

But, above all, just make damn sure you can create an entertaining and professional film, because if it comes out like a dog’s dinner, you’ll never be able to raise your head in public again. If you fail in the public eye, the press won’t be the only ones less than forgiving and emigrating may be your only way out.


A previous article by CJ Cookson entitled 

What is a Producers Job Anyway?.... can be found here: