Let’s say you’re a few years out of film school like I am. While in college, we dreamed of being free of the institution, spending our lives making films. But how can anyone balance paying rent with continuing to support a passion for filmmaking?
As emerging filmmakers, we struggle to continue our craft without the built-in institutional support of college. Last year, I wrote about it. Since then, I have had to learn how to finance and produce my own independent documentary, Expanding Sanctuary. Through the process of working on that film, I learned a few helpful tips and tricks that can help emerging filmmakers continue their filmmaking after film school.
Part 1: Find your community of support
Film school provided us not only with access to equipment but also to a filmmaking community. Being able to collaborate and lean on friends helps motivate artists to keep creating. Connecting with local film organizations or film offices will introduce you to filmmaking opportunities and peers.
Expanding Sanctuary started when I was fortunate enough to be awarded a scholarship for the Film Scholar Program at Scribe Video Center. The program allowed me to collaborate with peers and workshop my ideas. It provided an invaluable community of support that I had struggled to find. From there, I was exposed to other opportunities that allowed my filmmaking practice to expand. Nonprofit filmmaking organizations (like Scribe, DCTV, Kartemquin, and others) offer free or low-cost resources for emerging and established filmmakers to grow their craft.
Part 2: Understand the finances
Filmmaking is costly, especially if you are just starting out! It’s often difficult for investors to take a risk on emerging filmmakers because we may not have the “experience” or “track record” that they are looking for. Local arts grants are often more generous to early-career artists than national grants. For Expanding Sanctuary, we were honored to receive an Art & Change Grant from the Leeway Foundation, which supports women and trans artists based in Philadelphia. The grant made it possible to hire an editor and continue the momentum on the film. However, that grant came after a full year of rejections. As an emerging filmmaker, apply to everything and don’t stop applying until you get something!
Even with a grant, post-production is still very expensive. Another option for emerging filmmakers is to crowdfund. Each platform, from Kickstarter to Indiegogo, offers different fees and benefits. For Expanding Sanctuary, we were able to crowdfund $10,000 through Seed & Spark. We picked Seed & Spark specifically because they support diverse filmmakers and are connected with our fiscal sponsor CultureTrust of Greater Philadelphia. Seed & Spark also offers filmmakers rewards for campaigns that have a high following and I wanted to ensure that folks who could not afford to donate could contribute in some way to the campaign.
When deciding how to fund your film, keep taxes in mind. If you would rather not deal with taxes, fiscal sponsorship might be the way to go. If you are interested in getting personal tax benefits, an LLC might be the best option. Before making a decision and spending time and money on your documentary, figure out which financial plan would be most beneficial for you.
Part 3: Strategize film distribution
Even before you begin your film, you should have a vision for where you would like to see it shown. Creating a distribution plan is essential because it dictates whether the film you worked on will be seen. If you’re interested in having your film shown in a particular film festival, it’s a great idea to visit the festival, if possible. Visiting the festival—or at least going to one screening—gives you an insight into the overall programming of the festival and helps you decide whether you are interested in submitting your film. If you can’t afford to attend the festival, volunteering is a great way to learn more, attend screenings, and meet key staff.
The Philadelphia Latino Film Festival has become a key support system in my growth as a filmmaker. Two years ago, they screened my college film To My Motherland, and this year, I was featured as part of their Work-In-Progress Lab. Establishing that connection came through volunteering at the festival for many years. Through the festival, I have met mentors, peers, and even found my producer!
Your should also make a plan so your film can thrive outside of film festivals. Getting into festivals provides important exposure for your film but it isn’t the end of your film’s life. Look into local screening venues and coordinate community screenings. Some restaurants and bars even look for events to host at their establishments and could provide the space for free. Plus, it’s an avenue to get your other work out there as well!
Part 4: Keep going
Motivating yourself to start and complete a film is the hardest part. My film has been the accumulation of almost two years of work from pre- to post-production. It’s been difficult to keep the film moving forward in spite of financial and personal roadblocks but each issue that has arisen strengthened my filmmaking and informed my storytelling. The road to complete the film is almost as important as getting it done.
Learn more about Expanding Sanctuary: https://www.expandingsanctuary.com/