More documentary filmmakers are breaking the mold when it comes to fundraising. They are making more with their films, building key partnerships, and engaging core audiences…and the most successful filmmakers are doing all three long before their film is finished

The traditional ideas around how to fundraise for independent films are broken. Filmmakers desperately applying to longshots grants; accepting money from investors they know are very likely never going to get paid back; begging their friends and family for money again and again. These approaches to fundraising are soul crushing and not enough. 

There is another way. I train filmmakers to prioritize fundraising from places that are never discussed in film school. My non-traditional approach to fundraising has helped hundreds of filmmakers raise millions of dollars. A non-traditional funder can be a company, foundation, philanthropy or nonprofit, or wealthy person that may never have supported a film before but they care deeply about the topic of your film

Non-traditional funders that have supported filmmakers I've trained include companies ranging from 23andMe to Purina, nonprofits from AARP to the American Psychiatric Association, to celebrities and wealthy people who are dedicated to a cause.

In addition to getting the critical funding you need, building relationships with non-traditional funders can help in a few powerful ways:   

  • Building relationships that will grow over time
  • Raising awareness that will lead to unexpected opportunities
  • Engaging directly with your target audiences

Take my free, non-traditional fundraising mini-course

I want to highlight three cutting edge fundraising techniques that can begin as early as production and ideally start months before picture lock. A number of filmmakers I’ve advised had success with these innovations but today we’ll focus on one film team that has raised over $250,000 during production and post for their documentary: ALL THE LONELY PEOPLE. This is a powerful feature documentary about our loneliness epidemic by Stu Maddux and Joe Applebaum.

Fundraising Innovation #1
Host events with work-in-progress clips

You do not need to wait for picture lock to get a partner to pay you to host an event. Consider showing clips from your film, screen your trailer, and give a presentation about your film, your vision, and the themes of the story you are telling. And guess what: you can charge for these events or ask for donations.

We filmmakers often assume that no one will pay for our film until it's done but that isn't true. Many of the partners that want to host events aren't just paying for your film - they want and value an experience. It’s not just about showing moving pictures. Partners also want to lead a discussion, moderate a panel Q&A or invite their community to participate. They may want to invite their employees, their email list, or a local Congress member. 

Event hosts want to share documentaries for a number of reasons. The good news is you can do all of this with work-in-progress clips of your film or scenes that you know will be left on the cutting room floor or any additional footage that doesn't have to be perfectly edited and color corrected in order to be valuable.

The film team behind ALL THE LONELY PEOPLE has booked at 14 different events where they showed 5 to 6 work-in-progress clips of the film. All 14 events were booked before the film was finished. They generated over $35,000 by charging licensing fees for these events where they would show the clips and give a presentation about what they learned through the filmmaking process. Partners found this presentation valuable even though they didn't have a final film to screen.

Most of these events were virtual so they were collecting emails along the way and perhaps most importantly, they were building relationships and awareness for their film with partners. This relationship building led to unexpected opportunities for their fundraising.

Watch the recording of my online workshop with the filmmakers behind ALL THE LONELY PEOPLE and legendary distribution strategist, Peter Broderick.

Fundraising Innovation #2
Get paid by partners and before picture lock

With little else than a pitch deck, clearly articulated vision, teaser trailer, and short work in progress clips, you can start to build relationships with non-traditional funders. By clearly  communicating your vision for your distribution, your film’s message, and its anticipated impact, you can get partners to write you checks– and sometimes big ones!

When pitching a non-traditional funder like a company, nonprofit, or philanthropy that doesn't typically support films, mission alignment between the topic of your film and a funder’s work is priority number one. You also need to emphasize impact and specific deliverables for what a funder is putting money towards. 

For example, pitch that you plan to do a series of events at medical schools, high schools, city councils, community centers, or senior living communities. Depending on the topic of your film, make clear how your film is going to make a difference.

The film team behind ALL THE LONELY PEOPLE pitched the healthcare company Humana to do a series of 11 virtual events focused on cities that are especially important for their community engagement. The film team is being paid a flat fee of $20,000 fee in exchange for being recognized as a sponsor of this series of events, which they will invite their communities to. On top of that, they've already told the film team that these events are the first of more they hope to do in additional cities.

Fundraising Innovation #3
Secure funding from government agencies

The ALL THE LONELY PEOPLE team, while still in post-production, reached out to state departments in California and New York for funding. The agencies saw the film as useful for efforts combating loneliness and agreed to license using parts of the film–not the entire film but scenes from the film. 

The California Department of Social Services paid $30,000 to license a 5 minute clip of ALL THE LONELY PEOPLE that they could put on their website. Their funding was also for additional content that the filmmakers would create for the department to use.

The New York State Department of Aging paid upfront for 15 screenings of ALL THE LONELY PEOPLE for when the film is complete–writing a check for $60,000. The NY State Department already said that they're interested in doing an additional 15 screenings next spring for another $60,000. The filmmakers created this partnership and built these amazing relationships while they were still in post-production and only had work in progress clips of their film to share.


Fundraising for your film is hard. It’s really easy to get discouraged. I've been there. It’s hard work but it's fundamental for us to be able to succeed as filmmakers. Getting rejected from film grants and asking friends and family for money for a crowdfunding campaign can be demoralizing and test your optimism. It’s important to approach fundraising in a way that’s specific to the unique story you’re telling–and not simply the way every other filmmaker is fundraising. Think in an innovative way when it comes to fundraising for your documentary. You have to be creative and resourceful to make a film–apply that to your fundraising too. 

I hope learning about the innovative fundraising approach of filmmakers like Stu and Joe for ALL THE LONELY PEOPLE will help challenge you to break the mold and approach film fundraising in a whole new (and more effective) way.

cutting edge fundraising with Keith Ochwat and Peter Broderick
Watch the recording of my online workshop with legendary distribution strategist, Peter Broderick, and the filmmakers behind ALL THE LONELY PEOPLE.