My father is the king of coupons. If there’s a deal, he’s there. If there’s a sale, a sample, a miniature bottle of shampoo left unattended on a cart in a hotel, he is thrilled. So, being my father’s daughter, I too am tickled pink at the thought of discounts and free stuff. And the best way to obtain these wonderful free things? Well, make a movie, of course.
As someone with years of practice convincing people to hand over their goods, I thought I’d share some tips for how to get your artistic little hands on as many free things as possible. So, from the girl who learned from the very best:
1. Have something tangible. Print some postcards, or fancy looking business cards or make a prospectus (remember, you can acquire some of these things for free too). Having something to show for your project means a. it’s real, b. you’re serious, and c. they can’t forget about you.
2. Pick targets wisely. Do a little research and find out who donates to other films, arts organizations, groups related to the topic of your film, etc. Or find out if your parents/rich uncle/roommate’s cousin/lead actress knows the guy who owns (fill in the blank). And go to places you frequent, places you make the products you LOVE. It’s easier to ask for something when you can faun all over it. Businesses want to keep their most loyal fans the happiest, so keep that in mind. And another word of advice: try to avoid giant corporations because they already give a percentage of their profits to someone else. And you’re an indie filmmaker, so find other indie people to help you out. They will understand what you’re trying to do and are more likely to be supportive because of it. If you’re filming in a location outside of New York City or LA, find places that are local and proud of it. If you sell your film as something good for the community, they’re more likely to get onboard with free things and word of mouth. So, once you have your list of places to hit up…
3. Pick your times wisely. You’re going to want to speak with the manager or owner. If you waste your pitch on the hostess, you’ll feel foolish when she tells you she’s “going to find the manager,” but really you hear her laughing about you to her friend in the kitchen. So, figure out when the person in charge will be in. What time is that? Probably before the “dinner rush.” That being said, don’t prance yourself into a restaurant at 8:30pm on Saturday night and expect anyone to listen to you. If the place looks crazy busy, go back another time. Same for if the place is empty. You don’t want to ask for free things when the place isn’t making any cash. And it’s more awkward to walk out with a rejection when you’re the only one there too.
4. Know what you want and what they get in exchange. If you want a meal for fifteen people Friday afternoon, tell them (but make sure you’re asking for things at least three weeks in advance!). If they ask how they can help and you don’t have an answer, a. you look pretty lame, b. they’re quickly losing interest, and c. you feel like a fool. Start your pitch telling them you’re looking for donations, but give them the chance to ask what exactly that means. This engages them in a conversation. Much easier to trap them this way. But also know what they’re getting in return. Credit on your awesome film that will be distributed to millions of people the world over and your crew will just LOVE their product and buy it all the time. And you LOVE their product and will continue to be a diehard fan, especially if they give you boxes of their treats for nothing. And you’ll add their company’s name to your website. It’s a win-win! You feed/house/dress/impress your crew and they have a new marketing outlet that costs them next-to-nothing.
5. Practice your pitch. Even if you’re only practicing with yourself in the mirror or to your goldfish, it’s good to be prepared. It’s scary to ask a stranger for a hand out (remember asking the scary neighbors on the corner with the big German Sheppard to buy cookies and popcorn for Boy/Girl Scouts?) Just remember, you don’t have a huge organization behind you this time, so you really have to sell yourself and your film. Now, once your pitch is perfected, you’re good to go.
6. Dress the part. It’s okay to look like a bum on set, but no one’s going to want to hand over free things to you if you don’t look professional. Their donation is an investment. They are marketing their product through your film, both in your credits and on set to your crew. If you haven’t showered, they won’t expect that you’re going anywhere with your film or career and they’ll assume your crewmembers probably smell too.
7. Remember the name of the person you spoke with. Write it down when you leave. Even if the manager/owner wasn’t in, know who talked to you. This way, you can call/email the person in charge and say, “Yes, I spoke with Emily at your (insert store name) on Sunday and she told me I should contact you about…” It makes it more personal, proves you actually went to the store and you can make it sound like you and Emily are best buds. And why wouldn’t you want to donate to your best worker’s filmmaker friend. It’s just a couple baked goods, right? (wink wink).
8. Don’t be shocked by rejection. Have something to say if they tell you “no.” Don’t cry, don’t pout, don’t tell them to go to hell. Just tell them very nicely that you understand, and it’s no big deal. Then ask if you could just put some postcards out on the counter. Most likely, they’ll let you lay out some postcards. You get some free advertising space and it won’t be so awkward leaving, because you still got something out of it. And, you can always boycott them for the rest of your life, too… (just kidding… or am I?)
9. Follow up. Even if the person you spoke with told you that the whole premise of your film sucks, email them anyway. Thank them for taking the time to meet with you. You can always hit them up again next year when you make a film, or send them a nice little update when your film wins the Academy Award. (Remember, living well is the best revenge.) If the person did offer you something, thank them in the email/phone call and reiterate what you think the agreement was. It’s important you’re both on the same page so a. they don’t think you’re ungrateful and b. you can plan accordingly. Give them a date that you’re going to call/email them again to check in. If you don’t remind them about the meal they’re donating, don’t expect it ready when your PA shows up in a month and a half. Show some respect – they’ve got more to worry about than your movie (I know, it’s shocking) and while they’re happy to help, they’ll appreciate a reminder and think you’re uber-professional.
10. Give them the credit they deserve. If someone donates to your film, whether it’s cash or props or locations or food, etc. send a thank you note. Try to plan ahead and have some thank you notes on set so your cast and crew can all sign it. Not only does it make you look really thoughtful, but it’s more likely to end up on the wall of the restaurant/café/main lobby, etc. This means more free publicity for your film! Then make sure to email an update about the film during post-production. People who don’t work in film don’t understand how fricken long post can be. They’ll assume you forgot about them and tear down your awesome thank you note and light it on fire. Well, maybe nothing that extreme, but you’ll look rude. Remember, they helped make your film possible; the least you can do is keep them in the loop. Let them know when the film will be ready. Then invite them to the premiere, screening at your mom’s place or send them a DVD. Everyone loves seeing their name in the credits. And if your film – I’m sorry, WHEN you’re film plays in festivals or finds a distributor, let them know. Remember, they want people to see their logo or name. If your film plays to sold out audiences the world over, they’re not only happy for you, but they a. now have some bragging rights and will tell their friends (who might just buy a DVD!) and b. they know they’re getting free advertising. This way, when you make your next film, they might give you five cases of soda instead of two.
By following the ten steps/rules above, I have acquired donated things for my film Wild Birds from: Comfort Suites, Pop Chips, A-Treat Beverages, Wild Flower Café, XL Graphics, Boylan’s Bottling, Company, Chipotle, Hub Wilson Photography, Yocco’s, Cold Stone, The Goosey Gander Restaurant, Civic Theatre of Allentown, Sal’s Pizzeria, Foo Joy and Gallery Bar. You can visit the “Thank You Page” on the Wild Birds site with links to these awesome people’s websites.
These methods are tried and true and the above donations not only make my film possible, but they also make my father, the Coupon King, proud. Remember, the best things in life are free!
RFF 2010 Fellow Courtney Hope recently graduated from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts with a degree in Film & Television. While a student at NYU, she wrote and directed several short films. Hope’s thesis film Sex & German Grammar, which was awarded the prize for Best Cinematography at NYU’s Fusion Film Festival, also screened at the Southside Film Festival and the Palm Springs Shortfest. Hope has also shown films at the London Super Short Film Festival and the Reed Media Festival, and took home a prize at the 2007 Southside Image Over Words competition. Hope recently completed her first independent short, Another First.