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

Tag Archives: fundraising

The Leading Causes of Film Trailer Failure

Ultimately, it is the sample/trailer that causes a film project to be funded — or rejected. Here are some of the common trailer snafus that can torpedo your funding chances as well as some tips for how you can create a trailer that can “make” them love it.

Problem: The trailer doesn’t match the proposal. It’s a Catch-22. The funder touts how they want to fund films that push the envelope, films that go where no other film has gone before. You know that’s you. You are thinking big. And you write a vivid description of your narrative/documentary/animated film shot in HD and distributed via Twitter. They love you and think you are a genius. Then they see your trailer, you know, the one for the film you haven’t raised any money for. You do your best to simulate your vision in the trailer. You don’t have the camera you want to use. You can’t pay for the animation. Of course the trailer is just a pale imitation of your unfunded vision. Sorry, they don’t get it.
Solution: Under-promise in the proposal and over-deliver in the trailer. Tone down your vision on paper so that it doesn’t sound like something completely unattainable. Then blow their socks off with the best trailer you can muster with limited funds.

Problem: The trailer tries to say too much. Who the hell are all these people? They are saying a lot of things. They’re doing random things. I’m being lectured by a voice-over narrator who is reading a long list of information. I’m watching a blow-by-blow five-minute condensed version of a 90-minute film. Blah. Blah. Blah. There is no meaning.
Solution: Less is more. You can’t tell the whole story of your film in five minutes. Don’t try. You will not succeed. Give them a tasty slice, not the whole freaking cake.

Problem: The trailer fails to hook them in the first 10 seconds. They say they want a 10-minute sample. But it’s the first few seconds to hit their eyeballs that will seal your fate. They’re bushed. They’ve watched umpteen trailers. You’re number 43. If they watch past 43 seconds, you’re doing good. Like a thoroughbred in a high-stakes race, how your project comes out of the gate determines whether you’ve won or lost.
Solution: Lead strong! Forget the wind-up and deliver the pitch. Have the viewer enter the action in progress. Slight disorientation is remarkably focusing.

Problem: The trailer lacks emotional punch. I was sitting on a grant panel a few years back. We’d read hundreds of proposals and watched dozens of samples. Then somebody popped another DVD in the player and BOOM!, we all sat up. The screen was filled with raucous crowds of women in a prison in Colombia. They were cheering on beauty pageant contestants strutting on a walkway. There was color everywhere! Ribbons! Balloons! Guards trying to hold back the screaming women. Everybody on the panel was screaming along with them. When the sample ended, we looked at each other as if to say, “What was that?!” We didn’t get any additional information from the trailer about what the film was about. But we knew we wanted to see the film just because of how the trailer made us FEEL. This was not the case with the majority of trailers we had seen.
Solution: Find the emotional intensity in your project. Collect it from the scattered corners of the film. Gather in a ball. Insert in trailer.

In fundraising solidarity,
Holly Million

Upcoming Film Funding Deadlines

Finding foundations that fund film is about as hard as finding a dinosaur egg. Actually, given the economy, it’s getting harder to find ANY foundations that are funding anything. Seriously. Thank God there are 70,000 foundations around the country. Somebody must have some money for your film! Okay, here are two dedicated film-loving foundations that you should take a look at.

Pacific Pioneer Fund
August 15 is the next deadline for emerging documentary filmmakers to apply for grants between $1K and $10K. Visit their website for more information. What do they mean by “emerging?’ Somebody who has made at least one feature documentary before but who has not been a working filmmaker for more than 10 years. However, there are always exceptions, and this foundation is no exception.

The San Francisco Foundation
The Fund for Artists Matching Commissions has a new deadline of June 19, 2009. Visit their website for more information. The San Francisco Foundation is a relative newcomer to funding films, but their arts program officer is a working filmmaker who deeply appreciates all the struggle that raising money for a film represents, and he has been a true-blue champion of creating funding opportunities for filmmakers. Bravo!

Next on The Money Couch: Events for Indie Films

Coming up Monday, June 8, at 7:00 PM Pacific Time on my Internet radio show, The Money Couch: Indie Film Edition, I’ll be interviewing film fundraising and house-party guru Morrie Warshawski. We will be talking about “Successful Fundraising Events for Indie Filmmakers.” Sure, you’ve wanted to raise money through an event, but do you know what it will take to make the event a success? Morrie knows.

Morrie Warshawski is a consultant, facilitator and writer who has spent 30 years specializing in the nonprofit sector. His work is characterized by a commitment to the core values of creativity, thoughtfulness, tolerance and transparency. Warshawski works with nonprofits that are having difficulty achieving their goals. He helps them reach their dreams through strategic planning.

Morrie is also the author of Shaking the Money Tree: How To Get Grants and Donations for Film and Video, 2nd Edition and The Fundraising Houseparty: How to Party with a Purpose and Raise Money for Your Cause – 2nd Edition.

The Money Couch: Film Edition is hosted on, the site for live Internet radio. You can also stream past episodes of The Money Couch: Film Edition and The Money Couch: Nonprofit Edition online or download free MP3s of past episodes to listen to on your iPod, PDA, or computer.

Come join us on The Money Couch.

See My Fundraising Videos on

I’m plugging a new website called that my friend Michael V. Williams has launched. According to the website, GuruTube is a “new website dedicated to objective, informational videos by widely acknowledged experts in a variety of fields and disciplines.” I have two videos on the site, one dedicated to nonprofit emergency fundraising, and the other an overview of the nuts and bolts of what it takes to be successful at indie film fundraising.

Other gurus on the site include David Meerman Scott, a marketing strategist, keynote speaker, seminar leader, and the author of the hit new book World Wide Rave, as well as Paul Gillin, a long-time technology journalist who’s worked almost exclusively online since 1999. He advises marketers and business executives on strategies to optimize their use of social media and online channels to reach buyers cost-effectively. In addition to consulting and writing, he does speaking engagements and seminars. He has a knack for simplifying complex concepts and making technology trends understandable.

Check out and continue to visit the site as it grows and expands. Now you can get your dose of expert advice in video form.

How to Ask People for Money Webinar

Are you tired of barking up the same old foundation trees for grants for your film? Have you noticed that the well of grant funding has shriveled and dried up? That’s why you need to learn how to ask people for money.

Individuals are certainly feeling the pinch of the economy, but unlike institutional funders, individuals have more discretion with how they spend their money, even in bad times, and there are different factors that motivate them to give in good times or bad.

I’ve been teaching a popular class called “How to Ask People from Money” through the San Francisco Film Society for over a year. Now, I am proud to introduce a webinar version of the class. The webinar takes place Saturday, June 13 from 10 AM to Noon and is hosted on The webinar is a bargain at $25 per SFFS member and $35 for non-members, and you will leave with greater knowledge and power over your individual donor fundraising than you ever would have imagined.

Asking people for money….it’s easier than you think! Come take my webinar. Click this link to register.

Tonight on The Money Couch: James David

Joining me on my Internet radio show, The Money Couch: Nonprofit Edition, is PR expert James David. We’ll be talking about “How Free Press Makes You a Better Fundraiser.” While this is the nonprofit edition of The Money Couch, the tips James shares will be just as applicable to indie filmmakers. The Money Couch “airs” Monday night at 7:00 PM Pacific Standard Time. Click the link to go to, the site which hosts The Money Couch in both editions.

James David is the communications manager for Goodwill Industries of San Francisco, Marin and San Mateo Counties. James has had a multifaceted, diverse career in public relations through his clients at agencies and through his work in house. His past clients have included mobile startups such as Microsoft spin-off Zumobi, Web sites such as as well as publicly traded consumer technology brands such as Sony Electronics. He has also worked in cause marketing for clients such as the Ford Motor Company and Arianna Huffington’s 2000 Shadow Conventions. In terms of in-house experience, he has previously worked as the public relations manager at a publicly-traded social networking company as well as served a communications consultant for Washington, D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams’ Office of Communications, beefing up their existing team in the weeks before Y2K, staying on with the office to work on city’s census awareness campaign.

James is always enthusiastic about public relations and sharing his tips, so I know this will be a great show!

Drink up knowledge at my upcoming classes!

Because knowledge is power, especially in these tough times, check out my upcoming fundraising classes.

For filmmakers, I’m offering my tried and true, highly popular “How to Ask People for Money” class through the San Francisco Film Society again in the next couple of months. First, I’m introducing a new webinar version of the class on June 13 for the low, low price of $35. This is a condensed version for people who want their information like their breakfast drink, in “quick,” or even “instant” form so you can chug it and run.

I’m also offering a live version of “How to Ask People for Money,” which is known for its action-packed format, on August 29 through SFFS at $200 for non-SFFS members and $180 for SFFS members. I’m developing a new version of this class for the staff and board of nonprofit organizations and will deliver it in webinar form on August 15 and October 3 from 10 AM to noon.

For all your friends working in the nonprofit field, or for yourself if you are curious, I am offering my new class “An Actual Emergency: How to Fundraise in an Economic Meltdown” in webinar form on June 20, August 8, and October 23 from 10 AM to noon Pacific Time all three days. The enrollment fee is a bargain at $35! I’m also teaching a more hands-on, live version of the class on September 12 for a fee of $90 per person.

For more information about the nonprofit classes or the film classes, please email me at You can learn more about my fundraising consulting or my classes at

Follow Me to the SXSW Film Festival

I produced the documentary film, It Came From Kuchar, directed by Jennifer Kroot, which is having its world premiere at the SXSW Film Festival in March. While at the festival, I am going to be blogging for, the film website and blogs of the San Francisco Film Society, where I write a column called “Fear Free Fundraising.” My husband, DP Chris Million, who shot It Came From Kuchar is also attending the festival and working on assignment as a vlogger for Chris is directing his own documentary, Jack London: Twentieth Century Man, which has received grant funding from the California Council for the Humanities.

Chris and I plan to post content from our festival explorations on, but also on this blog. Stay tuned for interviews with Jennifer Kroot, George Kuchar, and other luminaries from SXSW. I hope to run into Kari Nevil, Jennifer Steinman, and Erin Essenmacher, three Bay Area filmmakers I know who are also having films premiere at the festival.

Since I am writing a new book, A Helluva Guide to Indie Film Fundraising, I will also be on the prowl for interviews with filmmakers who are willing to share their tales from the trenches on how they secured money for their indie films. If you are an indie filmmaker who plans to attend SXSW, please drop me a line. You may end up in my blog posts, Chris’s video diaries, or in my book, where your exalted tales of fundraising victory will inspire generations of filmmakers to come!

Brick by Brick, Raising $500,000

I’ve been writing about the feature narrative, “Nominated,” and my involvement as the producer. Director Dan Pavlik, of Southpaw Productions, has written a fantastic script. In fact, Dan is a script-writing machine. He came to my house for dinner last Friday and slammed another screenplay down on the dining room table. “What? Another one?” I asked. “I got a drawer-full of them!” Dan replied. Some people just can’t stop!

I had originally proposed to Dan that we try to hunt down some equity finance for his film. But that was long before the bubble burst. 2009 is not the year for us to hunt down equity finance, a rare bird in the Bay Area even in a good year. Instead, we are reverting to our hunter-gatherer roots. Dan and I have donned our animal skins and wooden clubs and are going out to hunt us some investors. One bonk on the head with the club, then we drag ’em off by their hair! I guess I’ve seen one too many caveman cartoon.

But seriously, we are going to take a grassroots approach to our fundraising needs. I proposed that we form a core team of 5 or 6 people who will sell shares in the film. Shares will be set at around $1,000, and there will be half shares, quarter shares, etc. The members of the team will be equipped with a sales package to help them promote the film. As they sell shares, they will be rewarded with either a cash cut or a fraction of a share, TBD. And of course, everyone on the team will also be graced with the title of producer in the credits. Sounds good to me!

By dividing the labor, we increase our chances of raising the half million needed to make the film. Together, our group has a bigger network than any one of us alone. Dan’s already created the LLC to provide the business structure for the film. Now we have to consult our attorney, Richard Lee, to see if the LLC can accommodate the large number of investors we would like to have. Dan’s recollection is that there are 35 members max for the LLC by law.

Stay tuned as we figure out the nuts and bolts of selling shares and getting “Nominated” filmed! In the meantime, check out our trailer.

“The Money Couch” Offers Filmmakers Online, Downloadable Fundraising Tips

Are you looking for bite-sized tips and real examples of fundraising knowledge in action? Then tune in to The Money Couch: Film Edition on I launched The Money Couch to address filmmakers’ need for fundraising insights and information in short soundbites that can be listened to online or downloaded to a computer for future reference. Some of the recent topics covered on The Money Couch: Film Edition have included “What’s in a Winning Proposal,” “Hella Hot Tips for Individual Donor Fundraising,” “Donor Cultivation for Filmmakers,” and more. Future episodes of the show will feature interesting, knowledgeable guests including those representing funders, sponsors, investors, and filmmakers who are veterans of the fundraising process. If you have a suggested topic for us to cover on The Money Couch: Film Edition, please email me at So tune in, turn on, and raise funds!