I’ve been talking about and teaching about PBS underwriting for years but for many filmmakers outside of the Show&Tell community, it remains an elusive mystery. But for those that embrace underwriting and fight to make it happen, it is the best way to make $100,000, $200,000 or even $500,000 with their films!
PBS underwriting is a fancy way of saying ‘brief commercials before and after a film airs on public television’. Essentially, filmmakers that take advantage of this incredible opportunity are selling commercials to companies, philanthropies, and others in exchange for recognition during their film’s national broadcast.
You can sell up to a minute of these brief commercials. And the great news is and you get to keep 100% of the funds. PBS takes no cut. The commercials can be broken into increments of 15 seconds, 10 seconds, and all the way down to 2.5 seconds. And, you set the price.
Rather than thinking of underwriters as merely funders, consider them partners who align with your film and its message - whether they are companies or philanthropies from within your target audience, or wealthy individuals looking to support a cause they are passionate about.
Companies or partners that become underwriters don't just underwrite your broadcast. They often will support you in other ways like hosting a virtual event (or series of events) and sponsoring your educational materials. So when you’re talking with a prospect, let them know several ways you can work together–underwriting being the centerpiece of a partnership.
A few underwriting PRO TIPS:
- Do some extra research up front rather than doing cold outreach. A little extra thoughtful research now will pay off
- Give yourself 6 months to secure underwriters before your premiere
- You need pitch deck, website, and most importantly, polite persistence
- You likely won't get an underwriter or even a call with your first email. It's usually two or three follow up emails to finally get to people. So don't be discouraged and keep following up
- Build momentum with your target audience with virtual events, educational screenings, or other partnerships. These allies might eventually become an underwriter
- Explain it simply: give a simple breakdown of how underwriting works
Even during very difficult economic times, so many filmmakers have succeeded securing underwriting. I want to encourage all of you to not let the thought of how hard it might be get in the way of an essential way to make money with your film.
There are plenty of doubts that will arise while seeking underwriting. It's difficult. It takes time. And we will all be grasping at reasons to give up. But underwriting is the brass ring.
There is a saying that I love and I found to be so true, which is: the harder you work, the more luck you'll have. The more research you do in the beginning about your target audience and different potential underwriters; the more of them you reach out to them and follow up; and the more you practice polite persistence, the better chances you have. It’s hard, but it’s worth it!