Posts Tagged ‘Film Funding’

a post by Nancy Schwartzman

a post by Nancy Schwartzman

Back in September 2010, I was selected to participate in Cinereach’s Reach Film Fellowship, a program for emerging filmmakers making short films. I wanted to explore technology and its impact on our intimate relationships, so I developed xoxosms, a documentary about two awkward, introverted teenagers from two different worlds. The subjects of the film, Gus and Jiyun, found each other and fell in love on the Internet (see prior Cinereach guest post for how I navigated my delicate access to their love life). The film is about to premiere at the New Orleans Film Festival this coming weekend, but as I reflect back on the early days of the project, I think one of the most valuable things I can share is what I learned from my experience crowd-funding to raise a significant portion of my film’s budget.

The Reach Film Fellowship provided mentorship and a grant towards making the film, but we needed more money for post-production because we shot in multiple  formats and needed motion graphics sequences to illustrate Skype and chat scenes. I chose to do a crowd-funding campaign to bridge the financial gap for a few reasons. First, I wanted to try online fundraising, which requires a new kind of trailer and telling the story of my film outside the immediate film and film-granting community. I felt that the topic of love and the Internet would catch peoples’ attention and help generate energy, excitement, and perhaps a community around the film.

Before production, we started a Tumblr blog called, “Without the Internet, we never would have met…” which drew inspiration from stories of long distance relationships (“ldr”) and Internet love that we found in online communities. The blog was not intended as a marketing site for the film, but as a place to highlight and explore relationships like Gus and Jiyun’s. We hoped people with a natural interest in the topic would find us.


I made a list of friends, family, and colleagues to see if I felt comfortable asking them for money—I did. I assessed the community around The Line Campaign (the multi-platform outreach component of my first film, The Line) to see if I could possibly migrate the community to support this new film. The Line Campaign includes an active blog and a crew of bloggers, 2600 twitter followers, a Tumblr blog, 2 Facebook pages with about 3,000 fans, and a newsletter with 3,000 subscribers. I had interns who could help spread the word about xoxosms, and a community of friends and colleagues in the sex-positive, youth media, new tech and feminist blogosphere that I hoped would be interested in the film. So, with a decent size network, plus a healthy dose of shamelessness, I was hoping to get the money needed to finish the film.

xoxosms on kickstarter - home

I chose Kickstarter as my crowd-funding platform because I knew it would be a good tool to rally potential supporters that were already in my network, but I was also drawn to the sense of community on the Kickstarter website. I spoke to Justin, who handles PR at Kickstarter about the “stumble upon” factor of their website and learned that over 100,000 new backers to Kickstarter campaigns return to support other projects. Additionally, 44% of all projects launched through Kickstarter reach full funding. There is also a weekly newsletter and snappy blog that highlights projects, and helps them stand out.

There have been some stunning success stories for documentaries and independent films on Kickstarter. For smaller projects like mine, these heights can seem insurmountable—the bar is so high. Don’t be intimidated! There is room for you, and you don’t need a full-time team or thousands of followers to get it done.

Below I’ll present some tips based on how I navigated my Kickstarter campaign as a case-study. If it captures your imagination, I invite you to comment and ask questions about how I did it, or share tips from your own experience.

1. Study Kickstarter!
How did the successful projects conduct their campaigns? What is the language and tone of the site? How do people structure their rewards? What kind of video do they use?

While I was studying the site, I looked at a diverse bunch of projects – books, theater, art, film, and tried to gauge what attracted me to them. I was trying to find the right balance between intimate, aesthetically pleasing, descriptive and urgent. The breezy and familiar tone of Coming and Crying, the “Awkward Erotica” anthology, impressed me. The writing spoke to the reader like a friend, or a diary, and you felt invited to participate in the making of the anthology. The community of writers and supporters were sure to follow, too. Disclosure: I know the gals who created Coming & Crying, but with their 785% funding rate, you didn’t have to know them to feel like you wanted to, or already did.

2. Get Ready for Your Close-up: why you have to be in your Kickstarter video
Because your passion for the project is a critical selling point, you need to put yourself in the video. Every successful Kickstarter campaign for a film (and pretty much any project) had a video featuring the person heading up the project talking about why they were passionate about making the film. The word passion comes up a lot on the site, including here in the FAQ. It was clear to me that successful Kickstarters knew a good video was an opportunity to engage with site visitors directly about why they were making the film, show some beautiful and compelling footage, and explain why they needed the Kickstarter audience to help them complete their visions.

I scoured the site for documentary videos, and decided to merge the Angela Tucker and Jacob Krupnick approaches. In her (A)sexual pitch, Angela Tucker intros the piece and then lets the footage from the film speak for itself too. In Girl Walk // All Day, Jacob gives a brief intro, and then narrates throughout (over footage from the film, explaining what the film will do, who the character will meet along the way, and what the audience will see). Both filmmakers come off as direct and honest, with compelling film subjects. My take-away: be real, speak the truth, and keep it short.

3. Start The Presses: how/why you can get some
For xoxosms, a 21st century love story about teens, the Internet, and relationships, I targeted my existing list of sex bloggers, tech lovers and teen-culture folks, hoping they’d take interest in the story, and direct traffic to our Kickstarter page once we launched. For an extra hook for the media, I launched the project on Valentine’s Day. I sent a general press release about the film with a link to the video on our launch day to a large list of journalists who write about tech issues and young people. I also sent personal letters to folks that I know, either because they wrote about The Line in the past, or through other professional channels.

Within a week of our launch, we were profiled on IndieWire, Social Times, Break-up Girl, Kickstarter Blog, and We were also project of the day on Kickstarter (but see #8 on how we may not have maximized that opportunity). The press attention lent credibility to the project and attracted some donors that were not already part of my circle of contacts.

4. Three Touches: timing, and roll out
30 days is the average time it takes to get a Kickstarter project funded. It’s also a long-enough-but-not-too-long period that gives you enough time to email blast and pester friends, family and lists about three times (do you know that creepy marketing term “3 touches”?) without overwhelming them. I recommend personal emails first, then group emails.

30 days is also short enough to provide your potential supporters with a sense of urgency about making their donation. A 90-day campaign would just be torturous. You’d have to pester people for a longer amount of time, and wait with your stomach in knots for that much longer.

The 3 touches is very important. Be prepared to ask everyone you know and love AT LEAST THREE TIMES THROUGHOUT THE MONTH. We are busy, flakey, cheap, procrastinators.  Most of us need to be kicked and nudged. In the FAQ of the Kickstarter site, it talks about average time and duration of campaigns. Notice, in the chart below, how large numbers of backers kicked in towards the end:

xoxosms Kickstarter Tracking

Here’s what I did during my 30 days to make the most of the time:

Day #1
I begged my close friends/family first so when I launched the counter wouldn’t be at zero.

Week #1
Facebook blasts – driving friends to my Kickstarter from my personal page and xoxosms page
Twitter blasts – direct messaged everyone, asked explicitly for RTs.
Rolled out the ask on our Tumblr blog
Emailed friends w/blogs or podcasts an abridged version of the press release with the critical details, video and link.

Week #2
I recruited a friend who had offered to donate a generous sum to the project to set up a funding challenge to inspire others to give. I gave her a key list of friends, close ones, and she emailed them offering to match their contributions. She nudged and pinged and kept them engaged in funding, and got them to ask their friends.

Week #3
I blasted The Line Campaign newsletter, a group mostly focused on healthy relationships and preventing violence, about my newest project and how the film relates to their work. I was concerned that the topics were too far apart, but we received a great response from the list.

Week #4
I begged my crew to reach out to their networks as we approached the home stretch. I got an awesome intern to re-email everyone on Facebook and round out the final asks. Late in the game the Documentary Doctor (Fernanda Rossi) offered a consulting session as a gift for a $150 donation and another friend donated a photograph for $250. Both got snatched up immediately, fetching high prices.

During all of these new pushes, I continued to reach out to friends, family and networks. I sent personal emails three times, Facebook emails three times, and twitter blasts three times, at the beginning, middle and end of the Kickstarter campaign. I made sure to use multiple platforms because everyone uses these platforms differently. Putting it everywhere (three times!) makes it hard to ignore. I promise, the self-loathing does subside! Remember to give yourself time to make the asks and do the pushing, and don’t get mad at people that don’t give. They are just overworked and/or broke, like you are.

5. Backer Updates: how to say thanks, ask for more, and keep backers engaged

People who back a project get backer updates from the filmmaker through Kickstarter. These are little messages about the project they supported, its status, screenings, and events. I kept mine short and snappy. I included comments from new backers, about how the story reminded them of their lives, and also frame grabs from the video footage of the film as we were editing. I tried to give a blow-by-blow of where we were in the editing process, and how the money coming in was actively helping. My goal in crafting these updates was to keep an authentic connection with them alive. I wanted them to continue to feel invested and proud of the thing they were helping to make as it built momentum. I wanted to make it fun and rewarding.

6. Attitude and Mental Health: how to be pushy and zen
Be prepared to go under for those 30 days while your Kickstarter campaign is active. You don’t roll out a Kickstarter campaign while your’re in the middle of tons of other stuff or really burned out. Kickstarter is not easy. I did not follow my own advice (I was editing my film while Kickstarting), and it was exhausting.

Warn friends and colleagues that you are about to be the most annoying person they know – but it will be worth it. Get excited and people will get excited. Be “that” person – the one always asking for posts, re-posts, tweets, re-tweets, and money. It will be over soon, and you can throw your backers a fun thank you party.

7. What Worked, What Didn’t and Metrics
What worked: Our trailer. Everyone loved it and got excited. Invest time and energy in pitching your project well.

What didn’t work: Image choice. My initial thumbnail photo for Kickstarter was way too dark to pop off a busy Internet page. When we were project of the day on Kickstarter, the image was too murky and had a sad vibe, I think we got lost:

xoxosmsKSR pic

I swapped out my initial shot for something bright that would leap of the digital page. Red was a better choice:


Overall Backer Metrics:
188 backers donated. We surpassed our goal of $8,000 and hit $8,538
132 of the backers were friends, family, and colleagues from The Line Campaign, twitter friends, and friends of my partner, Isaac Mathes.
56 were friendly strangers; 54 of them were backing several other projects.

Status Update:
We wrapped, locked and onlined xoxosms, in the months following our campaign. As I mentioned above, we’re excited for this weekend, when we’ll screen at the New Orleans Film Festival (opening for Angela Tucker’s feature doc (A)sexual). We can’t wait to share our Internet love story with a larger audience, and see what kind of conversation gets sparked. We plan to gather responses using Storify.

We are crafting our Internet outreach strategy with live events and festival screenings to make sure xoxosms reaches a broad audience. Check out our new website, and please to join the discussion: Can online love work IRL? Send us your thoughts about “digital intimacy,” online dating versus in the flesh, and whether technology connects us, isolates us, or both. Use the #xoxosms hashtag so we can find you on twitter.  As I learn from my adventures, I’ll be sure to check back in with Cinereach and share more tips with you.

Nancy Schwartzman made xoxosms as a Reach Film Fellow at Cinereach, working with mentor Francisco Bello. Recently named one of the “10 Filmmakers to Watch in 2011” by Independent Magazine, Nancy makes work that explores the intersection of sexuality, new media, and navigates the complexities of modern relationships. In addition to xoxosms, she is the director and producer of the documentary film The Line (Media Education Foundation, 2009). Her work has been featured in The New York Times, The Village Voice, The Daily News, Gawker, Jezebel, Alternet, MTV and more. The Line Campaign, an interactive, multi-platform audience engagement campaign, has been highlighted by the Center for Social Media in Designing for Impact and by the Fledgling Fund in From Distribution to Audience Engagement. In addition to Cinereach, Nancy’s work has received funding from the Fledgling Fund and the Playboy Foundation. She is currently developing a feature documentary about young women in Kabul, Afghanistan, among other projects. Nancy lives in Sunset Park, Brooklyn with her partner, Isaac Mathes.

As we anticipate the premiere of Circumstance (a Cinereach grantee) in New York and LA theaters this weekend, Cinereach asked one of the film’s producers, Karin Chien, to reflect on the struggle behind the now-apparent glory. Faced with a compelling and important story, but a hard sell from a commercial perspective, the resourceful and committed team behind the film charted a harrowing fundraising course — from pre-production to the final days before their Sundance premiere. We hope other independent producers will find the Circumstance team’s experience useful and inspirational. From our perspective, above all else, it is a testament to the dedication and bravery of the independent producers who bring vital stories into being. We’re proud we had a small part in the Circumstance story, and congratulate the team and its supporters, on reaching this exciting milestone at last.

a post by Karin Chien

A post by Karin Chien

Circumstance, a film about teenage rebellion and love in an oppressive Iranian society, could not have been made without nonprofit support. This is a subtitled film spoken in Farsi, performed by an unknown cast, shot in an undercover production in Beirut by first-time writer/director Maryam Keshavarz, with minimal distribution potential in the region where the story was set. Who was going to invest in this project? Even amongst indie films, it was a risky proposition.

The film was too provocative and too lesbian for Middle Eastern investors, too non-commercial for film investors. But while equity investors were turning us down left and right, something extraordinary happened the film received over $300,000 in non-profit support 14 grants and in-kind donations in all.

Circumstance is the fortunate beneficiary of a few extraordinary individuals and organizations who believe in meaningful filmmaking. Cinereach, not least amongst them, came along five years ago and took notice that indies with socially relevant themes were struggling to survive in a commercially driven marketplace. San Francisco Film Society revitalized itself under Graham Legatt and found several million dollars to give away to narrative films. Sundance Institute kept doing its thing and has attracted more grant money than ever. It’s the start of what I hope is a permanent trend.

Grants are a godsend for any indie film. Not only do they not need to be paid back, but they don’t dilute investor profit participation. With grant money, investors receive more profit participation than if the film were fully capitalized with equity, thus making it more attractive to equity investors. Grants also come with virtually never-ending support – amazingly, these organizations gave us money and they kept giving: referrals, introductions, publicity, and advice. No resource went unused.

This is a breakdown of our non-profit support, and a snapshot of how Circumstance got made:

1. Sundance Institute: Circumstance participated in the Sundance Screenwriter & Filmmaker Labs (note of caution: it’s harder to become a Lab Fellow than to get into the Festival.) Maryam met our cinematographer and composer at the Labs. And once you’re a Lab Fellow, you’re eligible for Sundance grant funding from sources like the $5,000 Adrienne Shelly Women Filmmakers grant Maryam received and the $15,000 Zygmunt and Audrey Wilf Foundation Award the film received. Sundance has done an incredible job of bringing in money and partners to ensure their Lab projects get made and seen. Sundance grants enabled us to cast around the world, scout in the Middle East (Middle East Filmmaker Grant), shoot on 16mm film (in-kind Kodak donation), continue editing when we ran out of money (Annenberg grant), and finish with a 35mm negative (in-kind eFilm lab donation). In addition to grants, Sundance gave us notes on our rough cuts, wrote letters to the Jordanian Royal Film Commission when we were scouting, and introduced us to vendors and crew. The value of their support cannot be overstated.

2. Cinereach: This relationship actually started unexpectedly. Cinereach turned down our first grant application. But like all persistent indie filmmakers, we tried again. The second time, we were funded, and at exactly the most crucial moment. Following the massive post-election protests in Iran in 2009, we decided to fast-track the production in Beirut. We were worried the situation would worsen in Iran, and that our window to shoot this film in the Middle East would disappear. Before the protests, we planned to bring art department crew from Iran. In the end, only the Iranian props that a Western journalist brought back from Tehran participated in the film; it was too risky for Iranian-based crew or actors. We wanted to do our part by telling a story about Iranian teens, thousands of whom were killed or disappeared in the protests. When Maryam and fellow producer Melissa Lee started pre-production in Lebanon, we hadn’t raised even half the budget. The $25,000 Cinereach grant came through right before I left for Beirut. It was not only much needed money, but an incredible validation of our decision. In a way, it told me that everything would be ok, though it was still hard as hell. During the final stretch, Cinereach contributed another $20,000 post-production grant, which paid for sound and music costs.

3. San Francisco Film Society (SFFS): We were in the midst of editing the film in LA when we received an email from Josh Welsh, Director of Artist Development at Film Independent (see below), that SFFS had created a film fund and the deadline for applications was the next day. We quickly pulled together an application that included 10 minutes of footage. Incredibly, SFFS granted us $50,000 based on that 10 minutes and our written application. They knew and they believed. We found out about the grant after having paused post-production due to lack of funding, and it gave us a huge push towards the finish line. SFFS told us that Circumstance is the first of their grantees to have finished and the first to have theatrical distribution, and we couldn’t be more proud.

4. Film Independent (FIND): Maryam participated in the FIND Producer’s Lab in LA, which was taught by producer Gina Kwon. Gina brought the project to me. Though my plate was full at the time, I never forgot Maryam’s script. It was one of the smartest and most engaging scripts I had read in a long time, and it spoke to my desire as a producer to work on films about women and about politically relevant stories. Six months later, when my schedule freed up, I made a call to Maryam to see if she still needed a producer. Melissa Lee had just joined the project, and I joined the team right around Obama’s election. I remember that great post-election sense of change and empowerment. In addition to connecting me and Maryam, FIND granted us an in-kind Kodak film stock donation. They also recently hosted a screening for their members to help generate word-of-mouth for the theatrical release. Josh Welsh continues to look out for us for any and all opportunities (see SFFS grant).

5. Women In Film: We received a $10,000 grant from WIF and Netflix that kicked in right when we were completing the post-production for Sundance. It couldn’t have come at a better time. WIF also featured us on a panel at the Sundance Film Festival and will be including the film in their “Fearless” screening series in LA.

6. Fonds Sud:  Thanks to our tireless French co-producer Antonin Dedet we received two grants from France. The first was a $4,000 development grant from Antonin’s home province. The second was a sizeable $40,000 Fonds Sud grant to cover post-production expenses. We had originally applied for development and production grants from the Fonds Sud but we were turned down, so it was a huge relief to receive the post funding. The grant has a very restricted spend – only in France and only for certain post-production items – so we had to factor in travel to France, overseas shipping, and exchange rate increases. But the Fonds Sud grant allowed us to make the 35mm festival print, create laser subtitles on the print, and deliver an interpositive.

7. Hubert Bals Development Fund: A Dutch producer helped the film apply for a $12,000 development grant that was critical to allowing Maryam to hold auditions around the world. We found our principal cast in Canada, France, Sweden, and the US. Without this grant, our casting process would have been severely limited. We applied later for the Hubert Bals Plus fund, which funds production, but were turned down.

The financing of Circumstance often felt like The Amazing Race – Maryam, Melissa and I in last place, and the production budget in first place. We were constantly raising money to catch up to our spend. For the first time, I broke a major producing rule of mine – never go into production without all the money raised  – but we knew we had to. With the massive social and political change about to rock the Middle East, this was the time to tell this story. Even two weeks before our Sundance premiere, we were still locking in another equity investor. It wasn’t until we sold the film to Participant Media 48 hours after that premiere that the producers finally pulled ahead of the budget, after 18 months of breakneck sprinting.

As you can tell from the partial list above, Circumstance was incredibly lucky. Organizations like Tribeca Film Institute and New York University also provided valuable resources and support. But we were also rejected by more organizations than I can remember. More than once we were turned away because of the US embargo with Iran (ironic since Iran would later denounce our film). But we tried every avenue because we felt this film had to be made. In the end, we raised little more than half of the budget in private equity, mostly from friends and family who believed in us, and the rest in grants, in-kind donations and deferrals.

At our Sundance premiere, after the standing ovation and before the Q&A, I read a long list thanking every organization that gave us funding. And, not surprisingly, someone from almost every organization that funded us was in the audience, cheering us on at the premiere. It felt incredible to finally say in public, thank you to the funders who believed in us from the beginning. Their belief was the greatest support of all.

Scene from Cirumstance

A Scene from Cirumstance

Circumstance begins its theatrical run this weekend in NYC and LA. Click here for theaters, screening times, and the official trailer.

Karin Chien is an independent film producer based in New York City, and the 2010 recipient of the Independent Spirit Producers Award. Karin has produced eight feature-length films, including Circumstance (2011), The Exploding Girl (2009), The Motel (2005), and Robot Stories (2002) which have won over 100 film festival awards, premiered at Sundance and Berlin, and received international distribution. Karin is in production on Untitled (Structures), an installation by Leslie Hewitt in collaboration with Bradford Young, and in post-production on P. Benoit’s Stones in the Sun about exile from Haiti, and Bradley Rust Gray’s Jack & Diane starring Juno Temple and Riley Keough. Karin is the president and founder of dGenerate Films, the leading distributor of independent Chinese cinema. Karin is also the director of the Center for Asian American Media (CAAM) Fellowship and the curator of the Chinatown Film Project, an inaugural film exhibition for the Museum of Chinese in America.

National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has announced a new grant program called Bridging Culture through Film: International Topics which supports documentary film projects that examine international and transnational themes. More information is available here.

The application deadline is July 28th. Any U.S. nonprofit organization with IRS 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status is eligible, as are state and local governmental agencies. Individuals are not eligible to apply. Independent producers who wish to apply for NEH funding are advised to seek an eligible organization to sponsor the project and submit the application to NEH. Awards are for one to three years and for up to $75,000 (for development) and up to $800,000 (for production).

Applicants are encouraged to contact NEH program officers who will answer questions about the review process, supply samples of funded applications relevant to this grant program, and review preliminary drafts. Staff comments are not part of the formal review process and have no bearing on the final outcome of the application. Draft proposals should be sent as attachments to e-mail messages to [email protected].

Announcement courtesy of:


Tue 3/23, 7:30pm, DCTV

Applying for funding can be one of the greatest stresses for filmmakers. But here’s a chance to hear more about what funders are looking for and the best practices for applying to them.

Join us as Natalie Difford (Chicken & Egg Pictures), Ryan Harrington (Gucci Tribeca Documentary Fund) and Adella Ladjevardi (Cinereach) calm our nerves and share their invaluable funding criteria with us.

Working with funders is all about building relationships and it starts with a familiarity of all the options out there. Meet The Funders will get you familiar with the current landscape and include some top tips on filling out those tricky applications and submitting killer sample footage. This event is most relevant for filmmakers working on social issue projects.

$15 DCTV & Shooting People Members
$20 IFP, NYWIFT, DocuClub Members
$30 General

Details & Tickets here.


    • 2014
    • 2013
    • 2012
    • 2011
    • 2010
    • 2009
    • 2008
    • 2007