Short On Funds, Never Short On Ideas

by Brenda Danker

Producing your first short documentary film may seem like a tall order. Especially, when you face obstacles in the funding department. However, where you are short on experience, expertise and funds you should never be short on ideas on how to manage and raise funds for your documentary film. Here are the top three ways to make the funds you have go a long way:

1. Work with inexpensive equipment and crew
Start by taking the time to forge relationships with the existing community of documentary filmmakers and crew members. One of the ways to do this is to help out in documentary productions in any capacity possible. At the same time, familiarize yourself with the equipment by putting in the long hours of learning and practising technical skills. You need to learn how to use a video camera, basic lighting equipment and microphones. You may consider buying a basic camera kit and microphone as a long-term investment for that future Sundance film you are going to make!

After 3 to 6 months, you should know some highly skilled crew members who are serious about their craft and care about the story you are developing in your film. The two key crew members essential to a documentary production are a cameraman and editor. Find a cameraman and editor who will collaborate with you for a minimal fee.

Given the dedication and work you have put in to be technically competent, you may want to consider filming the documentary yourself with borrowed, rented or your own equipment.

2. Shoot less days with a skeleton crew
The more you shoot, the more days are required, which results in a higher cost. Plan the number of shoot days that are needed to tell the story, and are manageable on your budget. A personal and impactful story is a good start for your first short documentary film. This type of film usually needs less shoot days with a small crew.

On each shoot day, aim to have a full day (6 – 8 hours) of filming. This allows you to maximize the rental of equipment and hiring of the crew. You should also pare down your crew to a skeleton crew. For example, for a straightforward documentary with minimal shot movements, you only need a cameraman and a sound recordist.

3. Run a successful crowd funding campaign
Crowd funding has proved to be a very successful way to fund short documentaries. Start by getting the support from the people you know and get them excited about your project. You may also want to make personal connections with people who care about the issues explored in your story. They can contribute to your film, and can help to promote your crowd funding campaign.

These are just some of the things first-time filmmakers do when making a documentary on a small budget. However, there are many other innovative ways being adopted while filming on a shoestring budget. When making a budgetary choice, film maker Sean Baker shot his film Tangerine entirely on an iPhone 5S. The iPhone-film concept works for Baker as he embraced its filming advantages and disadvantages. The film Tangerine premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this year. With the evolution of technology and new ways of working, it is increasingly possible for creative and talented individuals to produce their very first film on a small budget.

**Brenda Danker is an educator and media producer whose wide range of works cover social issues specifically affecting women, youth, and the marginalised. She lectures at Sunway University and is currently researching the impact of visual activism in Malaysia. She is also the Production Consultant to Freedom Film Fest.