Why Fees Are for Chumps — Don’t Pay When You Hit “Submit”
I’ve been gone from this blog too long, but I have a good excuse. I have been in the thrall of fundraising and producing three documentary films over the last few years. It’s been intense. But now I’m back and ready to share everything I learned and everything I already knew before that.
Recently, I have started taking on consulting clients who are filmmakers needing fundraising support. If you fall into that category and want to find out more about my services, how they’re structured, and what they cost, you can email me at holly(at)hollymillion(dot)com.
Between the fundraising for my own documentaries and the researching funding opportunities for my film clients, I’ve become much more familiar with what’s going on in the funding world at the moment. There’s been a ton of upheaval in this world over the past six years, due to the economy tanking in 2008 and due to the tectonic shifts in the film and media world itself. Recently, I’ve come across several funding entities that actually charge a fee for filmmakers to submit a proposal for funding consideration. Pondering this for a moment caused me to experience a blood-boiling anger. Because I have learned that paying fees for submitting your film for consideration is a total scam and that these entities are treating filmmakers like chumps.
Funders charging a fee is not the norm most of the time, but it happens enough that I realize it’s something I should write about. I’ve seen this situation, where a fee is charged, in the case of some foundations, but also in the case of film festivals, and also in the case of other special conferences with pitch opportunities. Now, I’m not going to name names here, because it’s liable to unleash a wave of defensiveness on the part of the guilty parties — I mean the helpful funders, festivals, and conferences who just want to make money — I mean help filmmakers. One of these funders positions themselves as wanting to help women in film, but they charge $75 for each funding proposal submitted. Now, $75 seems pretty confiscatory to me, especially when you consider that they hand out less than 10 grants a year. The vast majority of applying filmmakers who are paying $75 are doing something functionally equivalent to flushing cash down the toilet. One of my film clients wanted to apply for this specific grant, and she asked me, “Do you think it’s worth it?” To which I replied, “I actually think this is unethical and a complete scam.” To which she replied, “But I am desperate and want to try.” That’s right, she was desperate, just like a lot of filmmakers who are wondering how in the hell they are going to raise the money they need to finish their films.
But, once these filmmakers do finish their films, the scam continues. Because all of these filmmakers want to get into festivals, so all of them are about to pay hundreds, or even thousands of dollars in submission fees to film festivals. And in almost every case, the films that will be selected to screen will have by-passed this whole lame-ass system and will have paid not one thin dime in submission fees. Because there is a whole secret, separate system where the filmmakers who get into festivals have used their connections to by-pass the front door, the fees, and all the plebeians who are trying to get in that way. And they are talking to the programmers directly. So my best fest advice is, “Screw fees! Contact the programmer directly somehow, find a consultant or ally who will champion your film and get you direct consideration without the fee.”
And don’t ever, ever, ever submit your film to a festival through Without A Box. Yeah, I know I said I was not going to name names, but this one merits being called out. The site is an abhorrence, first of all, that looks like a relic of 1995. But the real sin is that the fees you are charged to submit your film to festivals through WAB will purchase you absolutely zero. So call me shrill, but I am going to exhort you never, ever, ever to submit a film through WAB. It is a total lie.
And then there are the filmmaker conferences that offer pitch opportunities. You’ll get to pitch your film to industry representatives, get feedback, and maybe even score funding opportunities. Hallelujah! Where do I sign up? Not so fast, young filmmaker! You first have to become a member of the host organization. And THEN you have to pay a fee to be considered for the pitch opportunity. Does this sound familiar? Good. Because if you’re being asked to pay $100 to become a member and then you are being asked to pay a fee to be “entered” into consideration, you might as well open up your wallet, take out all your money, walk to the john, toss it in, and flush. Your chances of being selected for this “opportunity” are only marginally better if you pay your fee to that organization instead of flushing.
Stick with funders who want to GIVE you money, not the ones that want to CHARGE you money. Save your precious cash for something more important, like, oh, I don’t know, hiring crew, travel, renting equipment, editing, color correction, you know, all that film stuff.
In fundraising solidarity,