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Greasing the wheels of indie film projects

Panel offers tips on raising cash to put movies, videos on the screen

Posted: September 3, 2016 2:30 a.m.
Updated: September 3, 2016 2:30 a.m.
Nicole Micelli, left, and Leah Cevoli make a witty point during a panel discussion Wednesday on funding independent film and video productions at Santa Clarita City Hall. More than 30 filmmakers attended the event and heard tips on crowd-funding, using social media and accessing the media to promote film and TV projects. KATHARINE LOTZE/Signal. Nicole Micelli, left, and Leah Cevoli make a witty point during a panel discussion Wednesday on funding independent film and video productions at Santa Clarita City Hall. More than 30 filmmakers attended the event and heard tips on crowd-funding, using social media and accessing the media to promote film and TV projects. KATHARINE LOTZE/Signal.
Nicole Micelli, left, and Leah Cevoli make a witty point during a panel discussion Wednesday on funding independent film and video productions at Santa Clarita City Hall. More than 30 filmmakers attended the event and heard tips on crowd-funding, using social media and accessing the media to promote film and TV projects. KATHARINE LOTZE/Signal.
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Sooner or later, most novice filmmakers run up against a barrier that has put many a movie and video project on hold – money.

A panel discussion, “New Heights: Build an Audience, Fund Your Film,” designed to address filmmakers’ money woes, was presented Wednesday at Santa Clarita City Hall. A group of producers, filmmakers, actors and fundraisers spoke to an audience of mostly young Santa Clarita filmmakers about ways to get the money to bring their passion projects to the screen.

Tools of fundraising

The panelists had encouraging news for the group. Much of the same technology that makes filmmaking more accessible to all – the internet, social media and relatively cheap hardware – can also be harnessed to put more dollars in the kitty. But a film funding campaign still needs to deliver a potent message that grabs potential donors’ attention and persuades them to open their wallets.

“You’re going to have to be the town crier,” advised Leah Cevoli, a crowd-funding and social media consultant who has managed more than 40 film and video campaigns. She added that talking with prospective donors requires both confidence and a light touch. “Say (your project) is awesome, but be humble enough to say, ‘I need your help.’”

A big part of fundraising is simply getting up the courage to ask others for money. But apart from the cash it may bring it also helps build a filmmaker’s profile in the community.

“Asking people for money is an awesome way to let people know that you’re alive,” said Elizabeth Dell, a digital media producer. “It’s an opportunity to tell everyone what you’re up to, and it’s socially acceptable.”

While filmmakers might be more likely to ask friends, family and other filmmakers for support, money sometimes comes from unexpected places. Jennifer Fischer, a filmmaker, arts educator and film curator, said that you have to ask yourself where your community of support might be. She had written a blog aimed at mothers, and it turned out to be a resource for her filmmaking career – her readers wanted to pitch in.

“A lot of people wanted to help a mom make a movie,” she said. “I didn’t expect that.”

Going online

Whether shy or extroverted, filmmakers often find that the internet offers an outstanding opportunity to connect with others.

“I got on Facebook and friended everyone I know,” said Nicole Micelli, a writer, executive producer and fundraiser.  The positive response is often surprising. “People want other people to shine,” she said

Etta Devine, an actor, writer and filmmaker who raised more than $100,000 on crowd-funding site Kickstarter, says Facebook used to be the number one resource for contacting donors, but now it has fallen to number three. The top channel for fundraising – personal email – means that it’s important to build an email list of potential donors and send them personalized messages.

She added advice on using Twitter and other platforms like it – you can enlist your friends’ aid, but it’s a good idea to make it as easy as possible for them to lend a hand. “Don’t just ask them to tweet,” she said. “They won’t do it. You have to give them something to tweet.”

Video message

Often times, in order to get the money to make a movie you first have to make a shorter movie. Pitch videos, which are usually around three minutes long, tell potential donors about your project, and are another key fundraising tool. When done effectively, pitch videos give potential donors a clear picture of what the finished product will look and sound like, and will motivate them to lend financial support.

“They should excite, inspire and pull at someone’s heart strings,” said Cevoli. “If you can do all three, that’s awesome.”

That doesn’t mean that you have to spend a lot. With pitch videos, high-level production values and special effects are a lot less important than getting a clear message across. Dell said it’s best to have as many friends as possible watch your pitch video before putting it in front of potential benefactors. Your message must be brief and easy to understand.

“If they email back and say, ‘That was really cool. What’s it for?’ you have a problem,” she said.

Old school methods

Social media, blogging, podcasting and other electronic means of getting the word out are all useful in rounding up prospective donors. But old fashioned methods, such as tacking up promotional postcards on Laundromat bulletin boards need not be overlooked, either.

And one of the most important, and often overlooked, fundraising necessities is showing appreciation to those who toss money into the collection pot. “You need to thank them,” said Fischer. “We’re all busy people, but don’t slip on (saying) thank you.”

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