Crowdfunding can seem like a great way for struggling filmmakers to get their projects made. But the reality is, most crowdfunding campaigns fail. Go onto the Indiegogo or Kickstarter websites and scroll through the hundreds of closed campaigns. You’ll see the harsh reality – that most of them do not hit their target. In fact, most don’t even make it half way.
I know from experience how disappointing it can be to have a crowdfunding campaign fail. I ran one myself to fund my first feature film. I started with such high hopes, read all the articles about how to run a successful campaign and followed all the advice. Alas, despite my best efforts, I didn’t make anywhere near my target. BUT… I still made my film.
Here are a few tips that can help you slash your production budget and get your films made – even if your wallet is empty.
CHANGE YOUR LOCATIONS – Especially in LA, or any town that is savvy to film crews, it can get insanely expensive to use even simple locations. So, go through your script and think outside the box. That scene at the café/restaurant where two of your characters meet to have that important conversation… Would it still work if they were drinking to-go coffees in a park, sitting on a bench? What about that break-up scene… Could it happen in an apartment (ie; your own apartment) rather than a fancy hotel? And when it comes to purchasing a filming permit (which are insanely expensive in LA), you can usually get away without buying one, so long as your crew is tiny and inconspicuous. Just don’t piss anyone off or attempt anything crazy, like a car chase through a busy street. Common sense, people!
RE-EVALUATE YOUR CREW – Separate the “wants” from the “needs”. Sure, you want to have a production designer, costume designer, and hair and makeup artist working on your film – But do you need them? Unless you’re doing some crazy sci-fi thing or a period piece, the answer is: Probably not. Don’t get me wrong, I have a great amount of respect for all these positions, but when it comes down to it, if you don’t have the money, you can’t hire them. Have the actors wear their own clothes, or you can pop down to Goodwill and pick up a few things for them. I’m pretty sure that actors are also capable of brushing their own hair and putting on a bit of makeup, or better yet, don’t have them wear any makeup! Really, the only crew that are 100% necessary to make a film are camera and sound. Get one of each and you’re good to go.
DON’T GET HUNG UP ON EQUIPMENT – If a feature film can now be shot entirely on an iPhone and get into Sundance (If you haven’t seen Tangerine yet, please do) then there’s no excuse. Despite what many cinematographers may try to tell you, you don’t need a RED or an Arri Alexa to make your movie. Most people won’t be able to tell what camera you used, and if the audience is thinking about that when they watch your film, you’ve got bigger problems – like a boring story.
LEARN POST PRODUCTION SKILLS – This will take time, so be patient with yourself, but if you can learn how to edit and do color correction, it will save you so much money in the long run. I also think that video editing is a skill every director should learn anyway, because it makes you a much, much better director and producer. By editing your own footage you really start to understand mistakes you made on set and how you can do better next time.
CAST NON-UNION ACTORS – This especially applies if you are making a feature film – and it’s not even about paying your actors – because you should always try to pay your main actors a little something, whether they are in the union or not. The main problem with SAG is that when you cast even one of their performers in your film you are forced to tackle an insane amount of complicated paperwork. On top of that, you have to learn to do your own payroll accounting (or hire someone to do it), pay extra fees into the SAG pension and health plan (which doesn’t even go to the actors in your movie unless they make over a certain amount of money from acting each year). You will also need to purchase workers compensation insurance (not included with your regular production insurance) and hand over a large cash security deposit to SAG several weeks before you start filming. And good luck getting that deposit back in a timely fashion. Unfortunately, SAG doesn’t yet seem to have the staff needed to keep up with all the low budget productions that are being produced these days. It’s very hard to get assistance from them with the signatory process so you really are left to figure most of it out on your own. I get why the union exists and I support their mission, but if you’re trying to make a microbudget film with your spare change, you don’t need the extra stress of having to deal with them. So get out there find some amazing non-union actors – You won’t need to look far. They’re everywhere. Then, once you have them on board be sure to treat them very well.
Okay, So, with all these restrictions maybe you can’t make what you originally set out to make, especially if it was a violent period drama set in medieval times requiring hundreds of background actors, stunt doubles and starring Jennifer Aniston. The important thing is to make SOMETHING! Even if you’re broke as hell. Pick up some extra shifts at work and eat grilled cheese or ramen for dinner for a month and take those extra pennies and make a movie. As hard as it may seem, you must never let a lack of money stand in the way of making stuff! Always keep making! It’s the only way to improve. Then, when someone does hand you the big bucks, you will be ready.