Funding an Independent Film

How do you get the money to make a film about dying languages?
How would you convince funders to back your film when it doesn’t have a clear audience?

The Linguists Theatrical Poster

The Linguists Theatrical Poster

The Linguists

Last October, the Independent published an article about funding independent films and examined Ironbound Films‘ documentary, The Linguists, as one case study.

The film’s creator, Seth Kramer, upon facing resistance from foundations and grants, self-funded a $10,000 expedition to Siberia with scientists David Harrison and Gregory Anderson, to film the first 20% of the film. With a reel to show, they were able to attract an additional $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to finish the film.

Success?

The Linguists recently aired on PBS after showing at Sundance last year. A DVD is available directly from Ironbound Films, and the film has been well reviewed by Vanity Fair, the Washington Post, the LA Times and even Noam Chomsky.

The Independent’s article also includes case studies of two lower budget films, the $60,000 USC student short, The Abattoir, and the $100,000 feature A Good Day To Be Black and Sexy.

The State of Independent Film

It seems fitting to write about the state of independent film on Independence Day (here in the US). Indeed, the topic is not only apropos, but fashionable. Much has been said about Mark Gill’s comments at the LA Film Festival last week. Some agree that the sky is falling, while others take comfort in his optimistic closing remarks. I won’t rehash all of that here, but I want to echo my support for John August’s take on the matter. In his postmortem of The Nines he suggests that success for an independent film is measured not in dollars but eyeballs.

You should make an indie film to make a film. Period. Artistic and commercial success don’t correlate well, and at the moment, only the former is remotely within your control.

So, you make the film you want to make. And because film is your passion, you’re not in it for the money. You’re doing what you love, not shooting for an early retirement. You try to break even, maybe gain enough capital or recognition to make another. So, how many people saw your film? Who heard your story? It’s a different way of looking at success.

Cameraman Image by Elsie esq.
August also writes some about the impact of BitTorrent on the success (financial and otherwise) of The Nines. In the end, he says he would have made the same movie but distributed it differently. This is emblematic of the changing tide in the indie film world. Despite the ever increasing availability of filmmaking tools, the artist’s ability to create an emotional connection with the viewer is as crucial as ever. The arena where technology is truly changing the game is in the methods for putting that story in front of an audience.

Digital distribution opens up avenues of connecting with an audience that weren’t available to independent artists ten, or even five, years ago. So make your film and do it cheaply enough that you don’t have to worry about the money. Then, see how many people you can share your story with. And throughout the process, revel in your independence.