Getting funding for your short film project can be a major challenge. Unlike big-budget studio films, short films typically don’t have access to millions of dollars from major financiers.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t find the money you need to make your short film a reality! With some strategic thinking and persistence, you can piece together funds from a variety of sources.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the top ways to secure funding for your upcoming short film production. From crowdfunding campaigns to contests, grants, sponsorships, and more, we’ll give you tips and tools to get your project financed.
Conduct a Detailed Budget Breakdown
Before you can start looking for funding, you need to determine exactly how much money you’ll need to raise. Put together a detailed budget that outlines every aspect of your production and post-production costs.
Some line items to factor into your short film budget include:
- Cast and crew rates
- Equipment rentals
- Production design
- Craft services
- Travel and lodging
- Post-production editing
- Original music and licensing
- Marketing promotion
- Festival submission fees
Build your budget so you have a “bare bones” number for the absolute minimum needed. Then add in some contingency for overages, surprises, and upgrades to get your ideal fundraising goal.
Having a thoroughly vetted budget will not only give you a target number for fundraising but also come in handy when applying for grants or sponsorships.
Leverage Crowdfunding Platforms
One of the most common ways aspiring filmmakers fund shorts today is through crowdfunding campaigns. Platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo allow you to raise money directly from supporters through an online campaign.
The process works by setting different pledge levels with associated rewards. This lets backers choose how much they contribute in exchange for goodies like production credit, merchandise, or VIP access.
Some tips for running a successful crowdfunding campaign:
- Set a realistic goal based on your budget needs. Projects with achievable targets have higher success rates.
- Offer exciting rewards at various affordable price points like $10, $25, $50, $100, and up.
- Build hype through social media weeks before launch. Slowly reveal details and teasers leading up to launch day.
- Make a high-quality campaign video that introduces the film concept and key creatives. Put the team’s passion on display.
- Draft an engaging campaign page that tells the story and clearly explains where funds will be used.
- Send personalized asks to your network right after launch to build initial momentum.
- Maintain excitement by posting frequent updates about the campaign and production process.
- Add “stretch goals” if you surpass your original goal to incentivize higher contributions.
- Express gratitude and keep supporters in the loop as you move into production.
Short film campaigns on Kickstarter have an overall 54% success rate, with an average pledge of around $71. So it’s definitely worth investing time into your campaign if you want access to crowdsourced funding.
Apply for Relevant Film Grants
One of the best ways to get large chunks of money for your short film is through grants. These are effectively funds given to filmmakers for free, without repayment or revenue share requirements.
The tricky part is finding grant programs you qualify for and putting together compelling applications. Here are some tips:
- Thoroughly research grant databases like FilmPipeline, Sundance, and Short Film Depot to identify options.
- Prioritize grants specific to short films, women filmmakers, minority creators, regional productions, or narrative genres.
- Double-check requirements about project length, production dates, location, and subject matter to confirm you qualify.
- Follow instructions carefully and submit all requested materials like budgets, summaries, examples of past work, etc.
- Highlight how you’ll use the funds if awarded and the expected film festival/distribution plans.
- Draft a cover letter introducing yourself and summarizing the key details of your project.
- Meet deadlines! Grants often have very specific annual cycles and late submissions may not be considered.
- Follow up after submitting to check on application status and ask for feedback if not awarded.
While competition is stiff, numerous grant opportunities exist:
- Austin Film Society Grant – Up to $5k for Texas filmmakers
- Film Independent Grants – Various grants up to $25k
- Panavision New Filmmaker Grant – Camera packages valued up to $60k
- ScreenCraft Short Film Production Grant – $10k cash grant
Keep searching for state, city, organization, and festival grants, and get applications on file months before deadlines. Even modest $500-$2000 grants can combine to cover big portions of your budget.
Enter Contests and Challenges
One of the most exciting ways to fund your project is by winning money through a short film contest or challenge.
Major brands and media companies are recognizing the marketing value of short-form video content. In turn, many are sponsoring competitions offering production grants as prizes.
Start researching short film contests 6-12 months prior to when you want to start filming. Here are some tips for finding and strategizing relevant contests:
- Search film festival sites for associated contests like SXSW and Austin Film Festival.
- Look for companies hosting themed challenges like Vimeo or Adobe platforms.
- Target contests with reasonable submission fees. Avoid excessive fees unless prize money is substantial.
- Review previously winning films to get a sense of the styles and topics selected.
- Only submit to contests where your short film idea truly fits the brief and has a chance.
Once you have a calendar of target contests, it’s time to strategize:
- Be realistic about how many you can handle based on submission costs and production timeline.
- Factor deadlines into your shooting schedule, allowing time for polishing edits.
- Rank contests by priority. Go all out tailoring your project for one or two top choices.
- Adapt your project idea or edit to align with contest criteria without compromising your vision.
- Maximize chances by submitting to multiple contests, but focus energy on best fits.
Winning even a single $5k production fund contest can finance a substantial chunk of your short film. Just keep in mind that contests favor quality over quantity, so carefully target opportunities worth your time and money.
Seek Out Corporate Brand Sponsorships
Many brands today are shifting portions of their massive advertising budgets into branded content and entertainment. Rather than a traditional commercial, brands may fund your short film project directly in exchange for subtle product placement or creative input.
To secure this type of sponsorship funding:
- Make a targeted list of about 25-50 brands that fit your film concept and demographic. Think airlines for a road trip film or athletic brands for a sports theme.
- Research which brands have been involved with other shorts or original content. Intel and HP frequently sponsor sci-fi projects.
- Pitch brands in writing rather than cold calls/emails. Include your concept, budget, reasons their brand aligns and potential marketing benefits.
- Offer tailored branded integration ideas. Could their product play a hero role or will it simply appear on screen?
- Suggest marketing support like social media promotions and screenings for added value.
- Be flexible about creative collaboration while protecting your vision.
- Start conversations early, 3-6 months pre-production. Sponsorship deals take time.
- Consider product donations if full funding isn’t possible. Locations, props, wardrobes, and food sponsors can help cut costs.
- Cater to what appeals to brands – diverse casting, mission-driven story, feel-good themes, and viral potential.
The key is explaining how sponsoring an original short film aligns with a brand’s strategy versus traditional ads. With persistence you can absolutely secure at least partial sponsor funding through mutually beneficial integrations.
Sell Pre-Sale Viewing Packages
Pre-selling your short film is a runway model approach. You raise production funds by offering viewers early digital access for a fee before festival or online release.
Some tips for pre-selling your short:
- Analyze comparable genre shorts to determine fair price points, typically $5-$20.
- Offer bundled packages like digital rentals, behind the scenes footage and merch.
- Provide production updates to make supporters feel invested.
- Shoot test footage and teasers to build excitement around the concept.
- Market early and often to your network through email and social promotions.
- Consider offering executive producer credits at higher tiers to drive bigger buys.
- Incorporate presale revenue directly into your production budget and schedule.
- Follow through by delivering viewing links and rewards promptly after completion.
While pre-selling requires lots of hustle, a few hundred presale purchases can provide meaningful budget relief. The built-in audience gives you an instant viewership base as well.
Fund from Your Own Resources
While not always ideal, contributing your own money is often unavoidable to get a short film made. Before reaching out to others, examine your own assets and capacity to self-fund all or part of the project:
- Determine if you have personal savings you can dedicate as a passion project investment. Short films rarely yield revenue, so be comfortable with the risk.
- See if you can put production costs on a business or personal credit card with a plan to pay it back over time. Compare card interest rates and benefits first.
- Ask key cast or crew to defer their normal rate in exchange for back-end profit participation. Bring them on as true stakeholders.
- Negotiate discounted or donated rates from vendors you have existing relationships with like crew, equipment houses, or editing studios.
- Take advantage of any resources you already own like camera and lighting gear, editing software, wardrobe, props, or locations.
- Look for ways to cut costs through trade agreements. For example, offer video content creation services to a location or supplier in exchange for their goods.
- Get creative about cheap locations like public parks, using your own apartment, or friends/family connections.
- Enlist volunteer help from film students, intern teams, or experienced connections willing to donate time.
Fundraising the full budget from external sources takes an immense amount of work and luck. Be prepared to invest your own money or assets to demonstrate commitment and fill budget gaps.
Leverage Deferred Pay Agreements
Deferred pay or profit participation agreements can help stretch your budget by delaying upfront cost payments.
Rather than paying key collaborators like cast and crew their full rates, offer to:
- Pay a reduced day rate, followed by back-end bonuses if the film gets distribution or wins awards.
- Provide percentage points based on the film’s profits once sold, typically 5-15% each.
- Split revenue 50/50 after earning back the film’s costs through distribution.
- Negotiate add-ons like IMDB credit in lieu of the full rate.
Tips for effective deferred pay agreements:
- Start conversations early in pre-production, never on set day-of.
- Present it as a collaboration for mutual success, not just a budget-slashing tactic.
- Make sure agreements are clearly documented and signed before shooting.
- Only make offers that the cast and crew are excited about, not strong-armed into.
- Prioritize deferring bigger line items like director and DP rates versus production assistants.
- Outline detailed recoupment and payment timelines based on distribution milestones.
- Maintain positive relationships with deferred cast and crew after filming by providing frequent updates on festival strategy, distribution deals, etc. They’re investing in you!
Deferred pay works best when the cast and crew see big career value in the role and passion for the project. Just be absolutely transparent about repayment plans to maintain trust.
Only Use Credit as a Last Resort
Financing production on credit cards or loans may seem fast and convenient, but should only be considered as an absolute last resort.
High-interest rates can sink first-time filmmakers into serious debt without the ability to recoup costs. Lenders may impose restrictions around rights or distribution control.
If you have no other options, proceed with extreme caution:
- Thoroughly examine interest rates, fees, terms, and payment timelines before signing anything.
- Consider both personal and business credit cards or lines of credit and compare rates. Business cards tend to offer better rewards and lower rates.
- Consult a lawyer or accountant to understand the full financial implications.
- Make payments on time and have a plan for paying back balances quickly. High-interest debt piles up fast.
- only borrow at minimal levels that you are extremely confident can be paid back from revenue or further fundraising.
Credit can certainly help you start filming quickly. But make it your absolute last choice given the financial risks. Explore all other funding resources and tactics first before resorting to high-interest debt.
Don’t Give Up: You Can Fund Your Film!
Coming up with a full budget to fund your passion short film project is challenging. But have no doubt – with the right combination of grants, contests, sponsorships, crowdfunding, out-of-pocket investments, deferred pay, pre-sales, and sheer willpower – you can finance your film.
Be prepared to hustle, get scrappy with your resources, and adapt as needed. Stay organized with your fundraising strategy. Track submission statuses, set timeline reminders, and follow up relentlessly.
Most importantly, never lose sight of your vision. Maintain your creative conviction through setbacks. Let your passion shine through to inspire others to support you.
Every great movie once started as just an idea with zero funding. Keep fighting to finance your film, and you’ll be following in the footsteps of generations of indie filmmakers who found a way. The film world needs your unique voice!
Frequently Asked Questions
How much does it cost to fund a short film?
The cost to fund a short film can range quite a bit, but a general rule of thumb is to budget at least $500 – $1000 per finished minute. So for a 15-minute short, you may need $7,500 – $15,000. Total costs depend on factors like scale, locations, cast size, equipment needs, and post-production. Build your budget based on your specific script and production plans.
How do you get financed for a short film?
Common ways to get financing for a short film include crowdfunding campaigns, entering contests with production grants as prizes, seeking film-specific grants and corporate sponsorships, pre-selling access to the finished film, contributing your own funds, securing deferred payment and profit-sharing agreements, and only as a last resort, using credit cards or loans. A combination of these approaches is usually needed to fund a full production budget.
How do you get sponsors for short films?
To get corporate brand sponsors, make a targeted list of companies that align with your film’s genre, topic, and demographics. Research brands already investing in short films. Pitch with a deck summarizing the concept, budget needs, marketing benefits, and creative partnership opportunities. Sell them on supporting original content versus traditional ads.
How much does it cost to make a 20-minute short film?
For a 20-minute short film, you’ll likely need $10,000 – $20,000 or more depending on the production value. Lower-budget shorts can be made for $5,000 and up if you have access to free locations, equipment, cast, and crew. But $10k-$15k provides more flexibility for a moderately polished production.
Do I need an LLC for a short film?
You don’t strictly need an LLC to make a short film. Especially for low-budget projects, you can simply release it under your own name. However, an LLC provides liability protection and credibility if seeking financing. Weigh the costs and benefits – an LLC may make sense once your film has a sizable budget.
How many pages is a 40-minute short film?
A general rule of thumb is that one page of script equals about one minute of screen time. So for a 40-minute short film, you’d want a script in the range of 35-45 pages. This varies based on how dialogue-heavy vs. visual the story is. Write an initial draft, time it, and adjust length as needed.
Is it profitable to make short films?
Making a profit from short films is very difficult unless you secure distribution on major platforms like Netflix. The best mindset is to focus on artistic growth, festival exposure, and using the short to prove skills that lead to paid work. Any revenue is a bonus. Manage costs through grants, sponsorships, and deferrals.
How do you make a short film with no budget?
With no budget, get creative with available resources. Use your own gear, enlist friends for cast/crew, borrow props and wardrobe, and look for free locations like outdoors, public places, or your home. Make the filming process part of the project by engaging volunteers. Lean into limitations to drive creativity.
Can I sell my short film to Netflix?
It is highly unlikely as an unknown filmmaker that you can directly sell your short to Netflix, as they typically acquire through festivals or established production companies. But it is possible to get short films on Netflix through contests, branded partnerships, or targeted submissions once you have an impressive festival track record.
Do I need a producer for my short film?
A dedicated producer isn’t mandatory but can be very helpful for the logistics, budgeting, casting, scheduling, permissions, and problem-solving of making a polished short film. If you can’t afford a producer, take on the role yourself or split responsibilities among your team. Producing skills will elevate your filmmaking.
Who buys short film scripts?
There isn’t much of a market for selling unproduced short film scripts compared to features. Your best bet is entering reputable screenwriting contests and leveraging success to get meetings with production companies, not outright script sales. Use the script to showcase your skills and build connections.