Stop being so traditional
Competition for documentary film funding from the standard funders like the Sundance Institute and Gucci Tribeca is fierce. We’ve all applied to these grants and only a tiny, select few of us receive support.
Luckily there are other non-traditional funding options.
Approaching corporate, philanthropic and nonprofit funders outside of the traditional film funding world is much more effective. Over the last couple years, we’ve helped filmmakers fundraise over $2,000,000 exclusively from funders like:
- foundations dedicated to supporting women in the culinary arts
- corporations like Purina, Google, and 23andMe
- conferences dedicated to mental health
None of these non-traditional film funders are highlighted in the typical film funding playbook. But that playbook is well-worn and out-dated.
Embrace your niche
Prioritize reaching out to companies, philanthropies and nonprofits that are prominent, influential and have a track record of supporting the issues central to your film.
If your film is about climate change, you’ll have a better chance securing funding from Patagonia than the Ford Foundation. If your film is about Progressive Christian activists, you’ll have more luck finding funding from aligned faith-based foundations than from the Sundance Institute.
Why should someone support you?
To secure support from non-traditional foundations, companies, or nonprofits, a potential funder must see how your film complements their work and is useful. Often, the feature cut of your film is not what is most compatible with your funder’s needs.
Funders outside of the normal film funding world will support your film if they think your film has purpose or utility that aligns with their work or mission. We’ve seen non-traditional film funders support documentaries for reasons including a film:
- complements the community engagement work they are already doing
- furthers programs or initiatives they are already supporting
- contributes to conversations that they are leading
More cuts = more opportunities
If we are going to seek non-traditional ways to fund our film, we need to be open to editing non-traditional cuts of our film.
We filmmakers have been programmed to create versions of our film to fit the traditional and old channels of distribution — a 90-second trailer, hour-long television cut or a 75 to 90 minute feature.
This is the old way of thinking. If you are seeking non-traditional funding, don’t limit yourself.
Sometimes a traditional 90-second trailer and sharing a link to your feature will do but other times we’ve seen how a:
- 6-minute extended trailer helped capture the attention of philanthropies that did not typically fund films
- 15-minute cut of a feature helped book paid conference screenings
- 45-minute cut of a feature is a perfect length for a meaningful Q&A and panel discussion
- 55-minute version of a feature was cut for television but became the centerpiece of a successful sponsored virtual event campaign
By creating and sharing various cuts of your film, you open up more options as you seek funding. And by being flexible with how you edit and present your film to potential funders, you give yourself more opportunities for a funder to see value and utility in your film….and ultimately make you more successful as you fundraise.