Here are some key points how to raise money for your low budget documentary / community film making production or make it happen anyway.
We always get asked, what does it cost to make a documentary?
It’s a classic ‘how long is a piece of string’ question… and leads to more fun:
How valuable is your time; are you willing to work for free?
Is this project a passion of yours or are you hiring yourself out to make someone else’s film?
And with anything in current market economies, it depends how valuable your skills are, how good your reputation is – in short: how much you can reasonably – or unreasonably – ask others to pay for your creative efforts?
Industry standards are changing constantly, but accepted costs used to be: • TV doco half hour costs ~ AU$100.000 • TV doco full hour costs ~ AU$200-500.000 • Promotional doco 10-30 minutes costs ~ AU$30-50.000 • Promotional doco 5-10 minutes costs ~ AU$20-30.000 • Interactive website – depending on scope ~AU$10.000 to 100.000plus • Community project – depending on scope ~AU$0-100.000plus
These figures are for professional productions employing a full crew [can include: producer, director, writer, researcher, camera operator, sound recordist, editor, marketing etc] With the changing digital economy, we now find all sorts of costings offered – it really depends what you think you are worth and how big the project needs to be.
We made our first documentaries on next to no budget, meaning we didn’t get paid and poured a lot of our own savings in to telling stories that were important to us. This helped, though mostly unplanned, to launch our career, and as a result, we were able to apply for funding, as we now had examples of our ability. It is very hard to raise funding if you don’t have a track record that demonstrates you have been able to finish projects successfully. And yes, this seems unfair – the people who have some get more – but if you view it from the funders perspective, they want to spend your [or tax payers] money where they feel safe to get good results in return.
The best way to prepare a budget is to think back from your final outcomes of your idea – what are your delivery items [web video, DVD, broadcast TV doco etc] and then plan backwards and put a cost to producing each one. Consider what is involved to make a 1 minute video for the web, from renting an office for a week to develop a proposal, write the script, etc, to traveling to the location, hiring a camera, crew, talent, to hiring an edit suite for a week with an editor, composing music and exporting it to the web. Get help, there are lots of mentors out there – and lots of courses on budgeting and producing.
It is a common misconception that budgets are scary and spread sheets are boring. So let’s talk about money. More often, and with the people you are partnering with and also with the people you are delivering to. Budgets are blueprints for creative work, spread sheets are our friends and need to be invited to the party. Think of a budget as a reality check – what can we do with the time and money we have [or not have]? From the crew wages to cameras, computers, SD cards, batteries, petrol, lunch and light kits, it all needs to be on the spread sheet.
This is always a conversation killer amongst colleagues in a competitive and exploitative environment. People are often outraged at the idea that budgets, expenditures and incomes should be transparent. Why not? Are you being overpaid?
Chances are that you receive public funds to do your work – these budgets are open to public scrutiny anyway. And yes, this is where it hurts. How do we transfer control and include our communities in budgetary decisions? Mostly we think we don’t need to – ‘They’ don’t want to know. But guess what, ‘there is a budget in my art…’.
Examples of budgets
Once you have a great idea, think about possible funders, partners and sponsors.
For whom would your project be a natural fit? If it is about the environment, don’t go to the department for health and aging, for example.
But think outside of the box – go online and research Government Department’s priorities, see if you find an interesting match.
A lot of arts funding in the community sectors now relies on other non-arts partners to bring money to your project.
But be aware, for every dollar, someone wants something back – so make sure your goals are as much aligned as possible.
Build a relationship with the potential funder. Call them introduce yourself and your idea. Make it memorable. They are your project’s first audience. But don’t give up or change your project to fit their brief or limited understanding. Always make sure to meet the project officer in charge of funding – it is all about getting your idea across personally, even though these project managers don’t make the decision alone, they can influence opinions, it is their job to know if your project is viable. Often they can be very helpful, sorting misunderstandings in your concept or pointing out other funding sources.
If you can do it independently and you really like your idea, if your message needs to be told, just do it. We made our first doco on 2 consumer cameras and learnt Final Cut Pro in a few weeks, while on Centrelink. We also believe artists should be paid but getting the foot in the door often needs more than waiting for a break. If you can make a living out of your creative work, great – but don’t expect this to happen overnight.
Offer and push for transparency from Day 1 on copyright and legal processes.
Outline your chosen legal set up in the rights & responsibilities of your Community Partnership agreement. Don’t start work without it, as it always leads to misunderstandings or worse.
And while you are at it: All of this is negotiable. Always. Why not?
A broadcaster may think differently, but hey, so can you.
Make sure the ownership reflects the nature of the project and its partner’s investment, be that money, in kind, ideas, traditions, power of influence. And keep this process open.
A crucial part of an equitable agreement is that all partners and participants benefit. So think creative commons, moral rights, new ways to manage and share IP and copyright.
This space is evolving, but most people are scared of legalese and so the old structures of control and ownership survive unchallenged. Keep it simple and build real trust. We see too many ‘15 minutes of fame’ promises being made that don’t change a thing. Broken promises just reinforce feelings of disempowerment, however low the budget.
Deliver what you agreed on, based on an open process and transparent negotiations. Over-delivery is even better.
Find other useful web resources here:
“Film is a tyranny, and the tyrant is money. The great thing is that, in spite of that, impossibly, some people keep on smuggling out messages of hope from the other side, past the tyrant. I mean, there shouldn’t be one good movie made given the way it’s structured, and yet there are many good movies made. That seems to be implausible and marvelous at the same time”
Film finance as defined by wikipedia
Screen Australia, a comprehensive website with helpful links for any Australian filmmaker. Specifically a funding header with different sub-categories for the specific style of production you want
Funding programs from the South Australian Film Corporation
Details about film in Australia and film financing from the Australian Government
Sample paperwork from screen Australia for aspiring film makers