Spending

How 3 indie filmmakers were able to achieve their dreams without going broke

Lisa Ferber@lisaferber
Twenty/20

The Sundance Film Festival's mid-September deadline "serves as the unofficial start of festival submission season, quickly followed by deadlines for SXSW and Tribeca," according to Indiewire. Getting in is a stretch goal. Sundance received 13,468 submissions to consider for its 2018 festival and accepted approximately 200 — just shy of 1.5%.

But creating your own festival-worthy indie film isn't an unusual dream. Kickstarter alone lists 71,616 projects in progress under its film and video category.

These three independent filmmakers knew it would cost a bundle to get their projects made and promoted, so they found smart ways to keep costs low and raise the money they needed. Here's how they were able to pursue their passion projects without going broke.

They tapped into their networks

The filmmaker: Bryan Enk

The film: "The Moose Head Over the Mantel"

The strategy: Enk, coproducer of award-winning feature film "The Moose Head Over the Mantel" (available on digital, DVD, and Blu-ray), funded his $85,000 project by combining his own money with contributions from private investors and two coproducers, and by crowdfunding on Indiegogo and Seed&Spark.

Enk suggests other filmmakers can apply for grants on sites such as Creative Capital and Film Independent.

"The Moose Head Over the Mantel"
Courtesy Inappropriate Films

He saved money by tapping into his network. "We needed a moose head, and it's thousands of dollars, and a friend had a friend who had a taxidermist friend who let us have it for $250 for the whole run of the film," says Enk. So before you spend money on a pricey prop you'll only need for the shoot, check if anyone you know happens to have one, and then thank them in the credits.

The big expenses: While you may find fab thrift store costumes, skimping on sound could severely lower the quality of your film. "Sound is really the blood of the whole thing," says Enk. "We had two sound recorders and they gave us a friendship rate in 2015 of $250 per day, and one of them has recently gotten a lot more work and he's now at $850."

They planned for behind-the-scenes expenses

The filmmaker: Julia Elaine Mills

The film: "Watch Room"

The strategy: Mills, head producer of the short film "Watch Room," which premiered at the Oscar-qualifying Cleveland International Film Festival, says to estimate at the very least $70,000 for a feature, even with freebies. The cost of her short is $75,000 and growing.

"Watch Room"
Courtesy Nick Walker

Passing the hat can help: "Even if it's small, 100 people donating $50 is $5,000 right there." Still, she notes, you will probably need to reach beyond your personal network. She found financial aid online via New York Angel Investors.

Mills also estimates she saved about $2,000 on "Watch Room" by way of product placement deals.

The big expenses: "One thing everyone forgets about, especially when filming a feature with 4K resolution, is hard drives. You're going to spend thousands on them, at about $200 each." One feature documentary she worked on required more than 30 drives to save the film, she says, plus back-up hard drives.

They attracted funders using the glamour of filmmaking

The filmmaker: Serena Dykman

The film: "Nana"

The strategy: Dykman, producer of award-winning film "Nana" (available on iTunes and Amazon), set up a Kickstarter, which earned her $40,000 to fund a small portion of postproduction. Dykman notes that investors respond to the glamour of film: "There is something magical about the film industry that people who are not in it dream to be in it. Show them they can be part of what wouldn't exist without them. And make sure to deliver."

"Nana"
Courtesy Serena Dykman/Dyamant Pictures

You can tell your tale even without a big budget. "Ultimately, what people will come out with is the story. Has it touched them, has it made them laugh, has it made them cry, has it made them look at their own lives differently. It's about human connection," says Dykman.

The big expenses: You'll need to pay for festival submission fees ($45 to $80 a pop), color correction, a digital cinema package (DCP) at around $1,000 to $1,500, and more. Otherwise, Dykman says, the costs can be manageable: "All you have is dailies on a hard drive. You end up editing yourself, and you don't have money to send to festivals or fly there and hire a PR person."

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