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How to Finish Your Film


By some miracle, you managed to get through production on your documentary. During shooting you told yourself you were going to hire an editor, like a grown up filmmaker, but production wrapped and you realized editing it yourself would save you a ton of money. Plus it’s the auteur way to go, right? Also, you spent that last bit of crowdfunded cash on 3D animation that, yes, was absolutely necessary.

Still, you’re desperate for funds because color needs to be corrected, sound mixed, titles created. Maybe archival footage needs to be purchased. Maybe a composer needs to be commissioned. If after 13 years of devoting yourself to your life’s work, you’re just not ready to finish it because you fear the gaping void that will open once the project is done, read no further. Or maybe read further but do the opposite of these suggestions.

When you’re really ready to finish your film, what should you do besides pray that a trunk full of money will fall out of the sky and land at your feet?

Use Your Time

You don’t have money to spend, but what you do have, perhaps, is time to spend. Do some research into organizations that have funded projects similar to yours. Write a proposal that can be easily adapted for various people and organizations. You may already have one, but if it’s not up to date, get on it.  

Other things to do with your time: pursue finishing grants and put together an updated press kit or look book. Reach out to your mailing list with the latest news and send personal emails to people who have given you money already. They have a sense of investment in your work and the chances are high they will want to help you further.

Approach Foundations and Nonprofits That Have Previously Supported Your Work

If you’ve received funding from any grant-giving organization at any time for any project, approach them. They know your name, they like your work, and they believe in you and your project. Send them an email reminding them of their past support and give an elevator pitch because, more than likely, it’s possible they won’t remember. Tell them how much money you need to finish your film and how much you’d like from them.

I’ve done this with a foundation I received a tiny grant from for a different project in 2009. In 2017, I sent one of these reminder/request emails, and a month later they sent me a nice check—almost enough to pay the colorist.

Pro tip: when you receive a grant, or money from friends and family, send the patron a personalized thank you. Invest in a box of blank note cards and some stamps.

Do Another Crowdfunding Campaign

Everyone loves spending a month, or maybe two, on social media begging everyone they’ve ever met, and everyone those people have ever met, for money. But your last one was worth it, wasn’t it? Maybe the goal was met, maybe you even surpassed it. So why not do it again?

Because crowdfunding fatigue is real. Because pissing off your friends with another barrage of pleas doesn’t seem like a good way to keep those friends. Because data tells us you’ll only raise a small fraction of what you raised the first time.

Unless you put together a new team to help, a team willing to reach out to their network, a team that hasn’t worked on a crowdfunding campaign before. Having an experienced consultant is great, but that person isn’t likely to convince his or her network to help out. I’ve worked on three campaigns. With the first one, my network was enthusiastic that I was associated with this nifty documentary. They were responsible for more than $3,000 of a $15,000 goal.

With the second one, my network donated a few hundred dollars. My third campaign was for my own project, and it did well, but I am convinced it could have done better had I not asked my network for money twice before. The lesson here is to bring on someone who knows a little bit about crowdfunding and marketing, someone with a large social media following, someone who wants to get their feet wet with fundraising or filmmaking, and someone who is willing to spread the word to all his or her people on Facegramitter.

Use your skills

Like many filmmakers, you probably have a variety of skills. And like many filmmakers you probably know a large network of like-minded professionals. Consider bartering. Bartering has been around since human beings have had things to exchange. It builds community and can lead to fruitful collaboration. Offer one of your skills in return for a service or labor you need to bring your film home.

Play the Credit Card Game

If you have a knack for remembering when to cancel those free subscriptions (like when you took advantage of a certain cable station to binge watch a certain television series that started up again after a twenty-five year hiatus), don’t mind paying a credit card transfer fee every six months, and are confident in your debt management skills, consider playing the credit card game.

In case you are unaware, this is when you charge goods and service to your credit card, then transfer that amount to a new credit card that allows you to transfer that first card’s debt for a small-ish fee and not pay interest on that amount for six months, or sometimes a year. It’s a version of robbing Peter to pay Paul, and doing it long enough so that Peter, Paul, Mastercard, and Visa are all paid. I did this with my first short film and I managed to complete it, buy some time financially, and not sink into debt.

If you decide to do this please be careful and diligent. I wouldn’t forgive myself if a filmmaker took my advice and found themselves paying 19% interest.

The Best Way to Finish Your Film

Pay attention to your realistic budget. Frank Sinatra once said contracts were made to be broken, but I’m here to tell you budgets were made to be adhered to. Utter, willful, disregard for those numbers in that Excel sheet will lead you down a path where you’ll always be scrounging for money. And yes, when you’re making an independent film, there’s always going to be some of that. Sometimes a lot of that.

I hope some of these suggestions will cut back a bit on the frustration and help you finish your work. So get to it; the world is eager to see your film.

David Licata (Guest Blogger)

David Licata is a filmmaker and writer. His short film Tango Octogenario was broadcast on cable and PBS stations across the country. It screened at New Directors/New Films, the Tribeca Film Festival, and dozens of festivals from Yokahama to Krakow. David has received grants from NYSCA, the Puffin Foundation, the Yip Harburg Foundation, and Dance Films Association, and fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, the Ucross Foundation, and others. David’s writing has appeared in numerous literary journals and two anthologies. His latest film, A Life’s Work, a documentary he’s worked on for 15 years, will have its official World Premiere at the 19th Annual Kansas International Film Festival in November 2019.