Nuts, bolts, hot tips, and road-tested information from Holly Million for indie filmmakers raising money

Tag Archives: funders

Outsider to Insider Tip #3: Volunteer to Connect

This post is part of my ongoing series — bordering on a rant — about how to go from outsider to insider. Doing this fuels your success in fundraising, and in every aspect of marketing and distribution for your film. I’ve become obsessed with this concept. Just ask my husband. I walk around the house muttering, “Outsider to insider. Outsider to insider.” He thought I was a little loony at first, but now he recognizes the zany brilliance of what I’m doing.

Today’s outsider-to-insider tip is to volunteer. Not just any volunteering. Volunteer with people who will help your film get money, get screened, get publicity, get connections. I just had an opportunity to do exactly this, and I’ll tell you what happened. I’m making a feature-length documentary called “A Permanent Mark” that tells the story of Agent Orange and how it has affected American veterans and the people of Vietnam. If you’re not a fan of Dow and Monsanto, this film will only make you hate them more. This is a film with a strong human story and a strong environmental story. In other words, the perfect film for a green film festival.

Environmental film festivals are coming into their own, and I have long thought that my documentary should enjoy a long run in these festivals. I’ve also learned — and have posted on this blog — that paying fees to apply to festivals is for chumps. You need to get invited to submit your film, and then you won’t be paying a dime. You also increase your actual chances of screening. So there is an environmental film festival in my local area that I have long held hopes of being one for my film. I have become friends on Facebook with the founder of the festival. So a couple weeks ago, the festival posted an announcement on Facebook calling for volunteers. And to this I responded with a vociferous YES! I looked through the volunteer options and decided to target the filmmaker brunch, because I knew it would not be a hard volunteer job, that I would meet all of the filmmakers in the festival, and that I would likely meet all the staff of the festival. Sure enough, the programmer and the founder of the festival both arrived, and I introduced myself and mentioned I am also a filmmaker who focuses on environmental issues. “Oh, what are you working on now?” they asked. So I launched into the pitch for the film, watching as they became more and more excited. The festival founder said, “We would like to see that film. Can you submit it to us when you’re done?” I said of course!

So just by volunteering, strategically, and putting myself face to face with the key people, I went from outsider to insider. Oh, yeah, and I won’t be paying any submission fee.

So ask yourself — how can you volunteer to get in front of a funder, a programmer, an investor, a community partner? Get in front of them. Help them so they will help you.

In my next post on this outsider to insider theme, I will talk about the power of just asking for the connection — I grew my Facebook following from 400 to 1,800 people in the past ten days. Find out why and how (hint: it’s about going from outsider to insider).

In fundraising solidarity,

Holly Million

Why Fees Are for Chumps — Don’t Pay When You Hit “Submit”

Watch your cash swirl down with every fee submitted.

Watch your cash swirl down with every fee submitted.

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,

Holly Million

Pitch Perfect — Look for Opportunities to Pitch Your Film to Funders and Distributors

If you’re going to fund your film, distribute your film, or — “Please, Film Gods, hear my prayer!” — SELL your film, you need to be able to pitch. I used to teach a class at Film Arts Foundation and later at the San Francisco Film Society on how to pitch. I guided the participants through an intensive process in which they learned how to answer ten key questions about their film in a concise, compelling fashion. Continue reading

Hey, narrative filmmaker peeps! SFFS-KRF grant deadline looms!

Hey, all you narrative filmmakers out there awash in a sea of documentarians! Here is your rare chance to apply for grant funding for your narrative. Deadlines are fast approaching for the Spring 2013 round of the SFFS/KRF Filmmaking Grant LOI — The San Francisco Film Society and Kenneth Rainin Foundation have $300,000 smackeroos to give away to projects that “help contribute to the Bay Area filmmaking community both professionally and economically.” And by “projects,” they mean narrative films. Documentarians, there is no need for you to read further. Past grant recipients include Destin Cretton’s “Short Term 12” (SXSW 2013, World Premiere), Ryan Coogler’s “Fruitvale” (Sundance 2013, Dramatic Audience Award and Grand Jury Prize Winner) and Benh Zeitlin’s “Beasts of the Southern Wild” (Four-time 2013 Academy Award Nominee). Here are the deadlines, and I told you they were looming!EARLY DEADLINE: February 13, 2013, 4:59pm PST LATE DEADLINE: February 20, 2013, 4:59pm PSTHere is where the fine print lives. To apply, visit this link and be ready to submit! And by the way — good luck! — In fundraising solidarity, Holly Million (Public domain photo by Kosta Kostov)

Funder Feature: Cinereach

Hey, filmmakers! How often do you hear about new film-specific funding opportunities? Not often these days.

Well here is a relatively new funding opportunity you need to check out. And it comes in three flavors: Cinereach Grants & Awards, The Reach Film Fellowship, and Cinereach Productions.

Cinereach is now accepting letters of inquiry and sample work for their winter grant cycle. The deadline is December 1, 2009, and they will request full proposals from select projects in January. Each year Cinereach grants over $500,000 to well-crafted feature films that depict underrepresented perspectives, resonate across international boundaries, and spark dialogue. Grants usually range from $5,000 – $50,000 and are awarded to films at any stage.

Cinereach was created in 2006 by young filmmakers, philanthropists, and entrepreneurs to champion vital stories, artfully told. The young nonprofit facilitates the creation of films that challenge, excite, innovate, offer new perspectives and inspire action. Cinereach has awarded well over $2.5 million in grants and achievement awards to more than 40 feature films.

Recent Cinereach funding recipients include October Country, a new documentary by Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher, which won Best American Documentary at Silverdocs and Entre Nos a fiction film by Paola Mendoza and Gloria La Morte, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival.

For more information, visit the Cinereach website. And good luck! Let me know how it goes.

In fundraising solidarity,
Holly Million

(Lightning photo by Mark Coldren)

Funder Feature: Sundance Documentary Fund

Hey, documentarians! One advantage you have is an ability to present your film as a “mission-driven, social-benefit project.” In other words, your film’s gonna change the WORLD! Narrative filmmakers have a harder case to make in that realm (although not impossible, as I’ve done it before), so most grants go to docs. Here’s a marquee grant that all social-message docs should take a look at: The Sundance Documentary Fund.

Back in the day, the Sundance Documentary Fund used to be the Soros Documentary Fund. This is a very competitive grant. You really need to have all of your ducks in a row before you attempt this one. Even better, there are two funds, one for Development, and the other for Work-in-Progress. So if you can snag the Development grant, you know that increases your chances of grabbing the Work-in-Progress grant. Work-in-Progress covers films in production or post-production. Almost nobody funds production anymore, it seems. Which is why they say, “For everything else, there’s VISA.” But here is a rare exception.

The Development Fund gives grants up to $15,000, and the Work-in-Progress gives grants up to $75,000, although most grants fall in the $20,000 to $50,000 range. There is a checklist of application materials available online. As with most competitive grants, for which hundreds if not thousands of filmmakers are applying, you need to have outstanding ideas that are clearly and compellingly communicated, a solid team, a solid plan, and for the work-in-progress grant, a kick-ass trailer that blows their socks into the next county.

I recommend forming your own “review panel” to read your application and critique it before you send it off. If you want to enlist more public commentary, you can do what filmmaker Brad Lichtenstein did and post your Sundance Documentary Fund application online, on your blog, soliciting input from random strangers. You know what they say about the kindness of strangers.

In fundraising solidarity,
Holly Million

(Photo by Andrea Schafthuizen)

Don’t Fear the Funder: Film Funding Panel

The San Francisco Film Society’s Film Arts Forum is a bimonthly information-sharing, discussion, networking, professional development jamboree. It’s an opportunity for local filmmakers and cineastes to meet one another and talk about their craft. SFFS gets the conversation started with dynamic presentations, topical panels, works-in-progress screenings and trade secrets. Past events have of offered a behind-the-scenes look at the Sundance Film Festival, a debate about online distribution and excerpts from two local documentaries. It’s an entire conference in the span of a few hours.

On Monday, June 15, I’m moderating a panel called “Think Like a Funder” which features film funders who will share what they are looking for in the projects that come cover the transom. The fifth SFFS Film Arts Forum will take you into the decision room of Bay Area–based independent film funders Independent Lens, ITVS International, Global Film Initiative and KQED. This is your chance to ask your questions, press the flesh, and generally overcome any fear of funders. They are real, flesh-and-blood humans, just like you and me!

The event takes place at the Mezzanine, 444 Jessie Street in San Francisco.

I will profile each of the featured funders on this blog for those not in the San Francisco Bay Area. I want you to have a shot at the money too!

In fundraising solidarity,
Holly Million

(Cartoon by Fritz Ahlefeldt — LINK)