Lots of people have been asking us that recently. Here’s our long, rambly answer.
This is a memory we like to dig up once in a while. Sweltering day. No wind. The two of us standing on Pantai Kelapa – the embassy row – in Dili. Sweating like pigs, trying our best to avoid angry guard dogs. We were halfway through filming Passabe, and had nearly run out of cash. So we did what we never thought we would ever have to do. We typed up a proposal, and went knocking on embassy doors. All afternoon.
Would you be interested in funding a film about truth and reconciliation? No response from the Irish, or the Australians, or the Kiwis, or the Japanese, or Koreans, or… god knows who else. But a few days later, the British called us back. They invited us over for a chat. Asked about our film. And told us to go back and type up another proposal. Then, after weeks of to-ing and fro-ing, they gave us a grant. It wasn’t a huge sum. But it was a useful sum. And we were able to continue our work.
That afternoon in Dili pretty much showed us what to expect of this whole indie filmmaking thing. Beyond the creativity and the adventures, and the hundreds of hours of post-production, beyond falling sick in remote places and meeting strange and wonderful people, beyond all that, is the hard hard work that goes into fundraising. It is an art. And it requires a thick hide. And research. And a willingness to take rejection.
We’re not great fundraisers. But for what it’s worth, here are a few things we’ve learnt:
1. Prepare a budget and be realistic. Don’t know how to put one together? Find out. No one’s going to take you seriously otherwise.
2. Appeal to the grantor’s interests. The UK government had a fund called the Conflict Prevention Pool. Passabe was about peace-building in a post-conflict community. Perfect fit. It made sense for them to fund us.
3. For crying out loud, don’t give everyone the same pitch. Is the grantor an arts foundation, or a government institution, or an NGO with a specific agenda? You don’t have to change the vision for your film, but you can rewrite bits of your pitch so the grantor realizes that what you hope to achieve is in line with his organization’s objectives.
4. For us at least, a series of small grants is better than one big commission from a TV station. Sure, securing the grants take more time, but you get to keep editorial control and crucially, the rights to your film. If you decide to work with a TV station, try and find a commissioning editor you enjoy collaborating with. In Singapore, horror stories abound about commissioning editors who feel they have to take over the projects they oversee in order to justify their fat pay packets. The result – plenty of wailing and gnashing of teeth, endless hours in post-production and a half-baked film.
5. You’re never going get rich. Get used to it and don’t complain. Ideally, someone will give you lots of money to make the film you’re dying to make. Realistically, that’s not going to happen. Documentary makers are the poorer, less glamorous cousins of feature film directors. We already have too much fun doing what we do. And we don’t have to deal with prima donnas. It would be obscene if god forbid, we’re paid loads as well.
6. Show them you’re serious. No one’s going to give money to an unknown entity. We spent a good six months trying to raise funds for Passabe but no one wanted to invest in a couple of rookies. It was only after we started filming that money started coming in. Maybe our funders only took us seriously when they realized we were really going to make something. Our last and biggest grant was from the Sundance Institute Documentary Fund. And that only came through after we’d finish our first rough cut.
So there you have it, the answer to how we do it.
Honestly though, loads of people are better than us at this indie thing. They’re the ones who manage to raise a lot more money, the ones whose films go to major festivals and get picked up by broadcasters and cinema distributors. We’re not those people. We’re still learning. When we grow up, we hope to be.