IFP series: How to fund your documentary by Louise Rosen


A few days ago I found an up-to-date article by Oakley Anderson-Moore via NoFilmSchool about how to fund a documentary.  As many of you may know, I am in the process of making my own first documentary The Land of Spirits  and our crew is about to launch a Kickstarter campaign in one month. So, for me this post was in just the right time and at the right place. I would like to share several ideas suggested by Louise Rosen that I found the most valuable, together with my own thoughts on the topic “how to fund a documentary”.

Think visually

First thing that Louise Rosen pointed out was to include a description of visual elements in your pitch or press release.  These one or two paragraphs will help you express your visual choices and techniques. So, for those who will judge your work it is important to know how exactly you’re going to approach your cinematic story. These experts will also want to be sure that you’re thinking visually and professionally before shooting.

Find a strong team to work with

If you’re just starting out and nobody knows you in the industry, it is better to find a professional cinematographer (D.P) and one or even a few producers to be on-board. According to Louise, if you have ambitious distribution plans and are considering to submit your doc to aspiring filmmaker’s labs later in the process, it is crucial to have at least strong visuals. Otherwise, it is difficult to compete with other projects and you won’t be able to stand out of the main crowd.  In order to find collaborators, join professional communities for professional filmmakers online. Use Shooting people, Mandy or other professional networks like D-Word or  Documentarians group in Linkedin. I named only a few but it is a good starting point to find people with whom you may collaborate. General advice: try to be active in social media (Facebook, Twitter, Google+) in order to establish a good online presence and be noticeable.

More about social media presence

For an independent filmmaker it seems pretty obvious to be able to manage  several skills that all go far beyond pure filmmaking.  In order to get a career rolling, many filmmakers consider creating their own blogs where they talk about filmmaking, they also create Youtube or Vimeo channels or make tutorials and podcasts, not to mention webpages with creative reels.

So, think in this direction and consider to invest some time to build your future audience. You may also consider to create a free blog for your current documentary project using wordpress or blogger account where your will create a space for your audience to hang out. You may ask your friend or professional journalist to publish an interview with you in this blog. By doing this, you’ll bring more authority to your project . Later in the process, you may consider to upload behind the scenes, recent news from the shooting location and so on.


Think in small increments. Start with a small goal using crowdfunding platforms such as Kickstarter or Indigogo and then make up a plan for more financial revenues. Louise suggests to search for local grants and awards, micro grants from non-profits and other organizations that are somehow relevant to the topic of your documentary. Also, consider asking for help from state art, humanities councils, service grants or private investors (fiscal sponsors).

Maybe the topic of your documentary is somehow related to education, e.g. science, history or anthropology. In this case, you can contact educational institutions and tell them about your project and possibly they will be interested in signing a contract with you for  future distribution or investing some money in your film. To be affiliated with university or other educational systems might be a great chance for an independent filmmaker.

Professional development 

Look for local documentary festivals around you. Then think bigger and look for festivals with conferences, such as Sundance Film Festival documentary panel, Documentary Campus Open Training or Silver Doc’s conference. Consider attending these events and networking with people. Print out materials about your documentary and try to make some buzz about your project within the community, even before you start shooting. You will be amazed how many new ideas you can get about distribution, publicity and available markets. Do not loose this chance!

Focus on Editorial and Marketplaces

A very good tip from Louise , in my opinion, was to go to pitch events as an observer, especially if you’ve never done any pitches before and your location is far away from the industry markets. During pitch events such as HotDoc’s film festival, The Good Pitch, IDFA Forum and others, you can see a lot of examples on how other filmmakers are doing their pitches, critique them and become familiar with the format. Next year, when it will be time for you to present your own pitch, you will be much more confident in your endeavors.

In addition, you may consider going to Independent Film Week ,  Real Screen Summit and other events (Louise gives much longer list) where you can meet some industry marketers and distributors.

I covered just a few ideas. For full version, watch the Youtube video below (amazingly for free) and you will learn more ideas about funding a documentary from the expert from Maine, Louise Rosen.

And tell us what do you think about Louise’s presentation elaborated with my own ideas in the comment section below.



About zinasemenova

Russian filmmaker and blogger at filmcareer.wordpress.com


  1. Pingback: Tell Me Something: Creative Advice from Documentarians | WINTER FILM AWARDS

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