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How Do You Fund a Short Film? (Taking a Risk)

Photo: Gabriel Hummel

There’s is nothing more risky than making a film.  If you’re doing it for the money, ha!  Film is probably one of the worst investments you can make… from a financial point of view.  But if you’re investing in talent, a dream, then we find ourselves on the same page.

Today, we’re reflecting on what we’ve learned so far– thrown into the deep end– picking things up as quickly as we can.

We try to answer the question:  How do you fund a short film?

From the Canadian perspective anyway.

Having interned and worked way too much for feature production companies in Toronto, I have a pretty good idea how feature film financing works in this country, but short film funding… is something new to me.  At least, funding a short film outside of film school.

If you’re familiar with the film or television funding system in Canada, you know that we depend completely on government funds to make up the majority of financing for our projects.  Producers apply– also known as application hell– and a few select projects are chosen every term to receive Development, Production, Marketing, or Completion funding– depending on what you’ve applied for.  It’s very much a “wait-and-let’s-see” system.  And how these government funders decided on which projects to back… probably could be its own thread.  But let’s not get into that.

Short films aren’t really any different.  Depending on what province or region you are in Canada, there are different initiatives, funds, and grants offered by arts councils and organizations.  You apply for them in the way you would for feature film or television funding– though, on a much smaller scale and budget.

But like these larger productions, if you’re lucky enough to get even a small grant, you’re usually still stuck with a hole in your budget.  In features, you’d have to find “gap financing.”  Maybe a bank loan.  Other investors.  This is why co-productions are so popular, but bring with them their own issues of creative control, depending if you’re a majority or minority stakeholder, for lack of a better term.

For a short film, chances are… your “gap financing” is exactly what you can pull out of your own pocket.  Your savings.  Or from the new-ish way of funding… CROWDFUNDING.  Which is when a group (crowd) of people, or unique investors, come together to offer a little bit of funding each, so that in the end, the whole is enough to accomplish your fundraising goal.  Some filmmakers have had great success with it.  But you work hard for every penny, and you need to have a tough skin.

So, where does our film, LITTLE MISS JIHAD, stand in all of this?

We were lucky enough to win the pitch competition in the Emerging Category of the 2011 Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival.  What comes with it… is fantastic support.  A little bit financial.  A little bit services-in-kind.  But it’s not as much as people think.  If you look closely at what’s being offered, you can come up with a real number value to the prize.  Now compare that to the fact that this will be a 12 minute film.

What do you think the budget is per minute of screen time?

Let me tell you, it ain’t cheap.

But I knew that, going into this process.  I knew that I would likely be sinking my savings into this project.  And because this is a short film, I am never going to see a dime of it back again.

So why am I doing this?

Why does any filmmaker make a film?  We’re frakkin’ nuts.

But no, the truth is… it’s an investment in emerging talent.  Not even for myself, because I’m pretty sure making a short film, means shit for my writing career.  But that’s okay.  If this is all that I walk away with, at the end of it all, a produced piece of work… then I’d consider that a pretty damn fine swan song out of this industry.

For a short film, you really don’t make anything from distribution– we’re talking dimes here.  You certainly won’t make money on the festival circuit.  Sure, if it’s any good, and we hope it will be, you might qualify for a prize or two, but anything monetary, goes back to recouping your debt.  I have no illusions.  A film like this will never break even.  EVER.  Its 12 minutes long.  Do the math.  I certainly have!

So we’ve applied to grants, but we have no idea if we’ll get anything– see, the “wait-and-let’s-see” system that we adore here– and if we do, we wouldn’t likely get the maximum we’ve asked for.  I can hope.  But we don’t know.  And we won’t know until right before we shoot.  So we’re going forward anyway.  We’re taking a shot in the dark.

The only other option is “soft money” or private investors.  But that will always come with strings attached.

Thankfully, we have our lovely supporters who have helped us raised an amazing 35% of our $6000 goal towards paying our Crew & Cast.   You’ll notice that for our Crowdfunding Campaign, not a dime is going towards our Production or Post-Production costs.  It’s not even going to the casting/audition costs.  These funds are going directly to our people.

Why?  Why do something like that?!

Sure, it’s a lot more work for me.  It’s a lot– to ask your friends, family, and strangers for money.  But for those who know me personally, know that I spent the better part of almost two years working and interning for free.  If I could write a book, I would so name it, “How to Lose Your Soul in 9 Internships.”  Hey, never say never.

It’s because I believe wholeheartedly that by not paying people, you undermine the whole system.  The next generation of talent.  And I’m probably pissing off everybody I’ve ever interned with by saying that.  But it’s the truth.  If you don’t pay people, even a small something, we will all bugger off and leave this Godforsaken industry.

Hell, I still might.

So yeah, I want to pay people.  Sue me.

But I asked for help, because I, personally, am on the hook for the Production and Post-Production costs of my film.  Especially if the grants don’t come through.  These are my savings.  Gone.  And why should my Cast & Crew go down with the ship?  If I do leave this industry, I want to go out knowing that I helped people.  Not hurt them.

I want to help people fulfill their potential and dreams.  Even it’s only for 12 minutes.

Complete arrogance and hubris.  I know.  How dare I.

In short, how do you fund a short film?

You beg, borrow, and steal.  And then beg some more.

Hey, it’s film.  It’s risky.

And maybe that’s why it’s exciting.

Thanks for taking the risk with us!

About littlemissjihadfilm

When 10-year-old, Afghani-American, Sally Khan, discovers that the father she never knew disappeared on September 11, 2001, she becomes convinced that he is a terrorist. Now if she could only figure out what that means! LITTLE MISS JIHAD is a dark comedy, yes, comedy, about faith, tolerance, and a child's imagination running away with her.

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