How to get your short film funded

Actionable advice to help secure funding for your next short film.



Craft Author: Doug Turner
Doug Turner

One of the biggest hurdles that stop bringing creative video ideas to life comes down to one question: how do I get my film funded?

Whether it's to purchase equipment, hire help, pay for travel or locations, most big video projects come with a price tag. In this article, we'll share some actionable advice that takes you from movie concept all the way through to funding. 

Doug Turner is Craft's video producer and the mastermind of a short documentary called The Wake. His vision for The Wake was going to cost over $10,000 but using the method below he was able to get funding and equipment from Fujifilm to help support the project. Introducing Doug…

Learn how to get your creative video project funded in this webinar:

1. Have a Creative Project

This might sound obvious, but this resonates throughout the entire process. Creativity is a really intangible asset to have, sometimes it can be hard to realize that your idea is creative, and other times you might think you’ve got an idea only to find someone else has done the exact same thing.

Creative and Unique are two different things

I’ve seen lots of people throughout my career in marketing and working on creative projects, deterred by the fact that the subject matter has been covered before.

It’s important to remember that it is incredibly rare for something to be 100% unique.

Rather than trying to find something uncovered, I try to find a new way of looking at or sharing something.

With The Wake, I was researching heritage industries in the UK, and found a short documentary on Bally Philp, a fisherman in Scotland. Watching this documentary which spoke about the politics of fishing in Scotland I felt a really strong urge to understand how Bally felt about the job his ancestors did being wiped out by environmental destruction.

There’s always a new way of looking at something, and a story within a story. 

Where to find creative ideas

There’s really no easy answer to this, but I will say, pursuing something that you have a deep interest or passion for is incredibly helpful. This is going to be a job or a career and you want to be able to be motivated by the subject. However mundane it may seem to others, nowadays there’s an audience for pretty much anything, who will be able to access your work.

2. Learn to Communicate your project

The most important, and sometimes the hardest part of any pre-production in a project is learning how to communicate it to others.

Everything that’s in your head, the excitement at having unearthed something, the prospects of the way you want to express it, a lot of that is going to sound like nonsense to people if you can’t find a way to communicate it.

Write it down. Before anything else.

Before you do too much research or look for who might want to help you make your vision a reality, sit down and write down your idea. You can do it in Craft, or do it with a pen and paper, whatever works best for you.

This can be an exercise in stream of consciousness; try to write down everything without interrupting yourself to see if it makes sense. You’re not going to share this version of your project with anyone, so don’t worry about what you write.

Having your first idea written down to view whenever helps you make sure you keep the core value of your creative project. 

Now, it's time for research! 

Spend time learning about everything around your project: 

  • Is it a historical problem? 
  • When did it start? 
  • Why did it start? 
  • Who started it? 
  • Who is still involved? 

For each of these, ask why 5 times to dig deeper into each one. This is a technique famously used by Toyota to find defects, but it helps you get to the root cause of your subject matter. 

This is the time to acquire as much second-hand knowledge as possible. It's important to start learning about your subject matter as well as you can. As part of your project you will inevitably be working with people who are living a certain experience, you don’t appear completely clueless.


Revisit that document from earlier

Now you can go back through your original idea. Some factors will probably have to change as the project develops, and that’s okay. You’re turning it into something that is closer to the truth, which is a good thing!

Refine this document into a proposal, add links to research, quotes, and photos. As much information as you can possibly pack into one document.


Now turn that huge, deep document into a single paragraph

This is often the hardest part of the job: taking something that you’ve spent so much time on and have so much excitement behind and reducing it to two or three sentences.

You just have to remember that you’re trying to get money for this. These couple of sentences are the first, and unfortunately often the only thing people will read. Make it stick.

A traditional Scottish fisherman faces the trials of keeping his craft alive in the face of unstoppable overfishing and the breakdown of the local ecosystem. While the world outside of the Scottish Islands debates ferociously on British Independence on the fish market, Bally Philp’s community struggles with the reality of their situation and how to continue on for their own children.

If you can’t cut it down to a paragraph, sometimes even a single sentence, then people aren’t going to feel that you have enough grasp on the subject matter to put money behind you. 

Doug Turner - director of The Wake documentary in Skye

3. Research the marketplace for your project

It can seem daunting to figure out who to ask and where to go when you’re trying to get funding. I’ve felt often, in periods of low confidence, that people would never trust me enough to even give me $20, let alone the $14,000 I needed.

When starting out there are lots of options. While in the end, we made a direct partnership with a brand, that came through failing to win a grant from them, failing to get funding from the Arts Council in Scotland, and dozens of other options that didn’t come to fruition.

Know what funding sources want

Understanding what your potential funding sources are looking for is imperative to being successful. More than anything, if you can bring them a solid proposal for the finished product and what they will benefit from it, you're far more likely to be taken seriously.

If you’re applying for a grant, research previous recipients of the grant and what their projects involved. If you’re reaching out directly to a group or brand, try to understand who their brand wants to be connected with. If your story is not their story, then you’ll be wasting both of your time.

It can be tempting to just pitch to whoever, even if you’re not a great fit. In many cases, it’s actually detrimental to your project and can ruin potential future relationships.

4. Pitch Personally

Pitching is like applying for a job, only worse because you’re asking to be your own boss and be trusted to provide a piece of work that is inherently subjective. Too many times people running grants and funds will receive the following message

“I am a photographer, I went to Egypt once and took some photos, but if you gave me x amount of money and x amount of support, I’ll go and take great pictures.” 

When pitching, you’re not just selling the idea of a story, but of yourself telling that story.

Film Treatment Template
Get inspiration from Doug's Film Treatment Template

Why are you the best person in the world right now to be on this journey? Do you have the right connections to your subject matter to be able to discover the real core of the story? Do you have the relevant skills and personal history to bring all corners of it to life?

You have to get this across in your pitch. I always include a section in my pitches about myself, but also my team. It is really hard to find the right people to work on a creative project and anyone thinking about giving you their resources will respect and appreciate it if you have the right people already on board. Sell that.

5. Don’t Stop! Do what you can.

I started thinking about the project that eventually became The Wake in March 2020. It wasn’t until April 2022 that we secured 70% of the funding for it. In the weeks between interviews for funding and getting the results of those interviews I had been out on Bally’s fishing boat for two days with my cinematographer Edoardo, interviewed him on camera, and pieced together a proof of concept video to show anyone who got back to me.

This approach worked on a few levels. The first was personal, I wanted to see what we could do ourselves without external support.

Secondly, we had a proof of concept, we had something visual to show people to really make them feel our vision.

The third reason was the main tactic, we decided to prove to the people who were considering giving us money, that we were serious and would do the work. Whatever the response from potential supporters was, I wanted to make sure they knew we were serious about this.

That worked. Fujifilm rejected us for their GFX grant and I almost missed the email that came right after that rejection asking me if I was free for a call.

From that call, we got 70% of the funding, which was enough to start shooting. Rather than wait for the rest of the funding we started filming and began making progress with the project. It took another 6 months to get the rest of the last 30% of the funding required. 


Bring your ideas to life

Since then, I've helped other creators find funding for their projects using the method above. It takes work, commitment, time, and effort, but if you can align your creative idea with the needs and mission of a funding source, and communicate that effectively, you stand a chance! 

Want more help with your video project? 

These templates are based on the real templates I used coordinating The Wake