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Desktop Documentaries: From Grants to Crowdfunding and Gear: Tips for the Budget-Conscious Filmmaker

09 November 2016

Desktop documentaries have only become a thing in the last few years as a a result of advancements in technology. While there was once a mystery surrounding how films were shot, edited and produced, now, even a budgeted filmmaker can make high-quality films. In fact, one of the star films of the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, Tangerine, was shot on an iPhone 5s, with an app that cost only $8. So fear not. Here are some tips for the filmmaker with a tight budget.


Sure, the new iPhone is several steps up from the iPhone that "Tangerine" was shot on a couple years ago, but you'll likely need some kind of funding, especially if this project encompasses days, weeks or months of your time. Grants are commonly overlooked by artists as they assume far too many people enter to win them, but most grants are largely anonymous, such as the Southern Documentary Fund In-the-Works Program and the IFP Independent Documentary Lab. Examples of well-written grants can be found online. When you apply for grants you'll find that it makes you think about your project in new and more comprehensive ways, so the benefit may be twofold.


You can also use crowd funding if a grant seems out of reach. Websites like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo let you build a campaign, offer perks and rewards to backers and plan out your timeline for your project. This is also where your team comes in. Whether family, friends or some hired hands, you'll need help, and before you start your campaign you should know where that help is coming from. Estimate costs as well. Take into consideration how much your production will cost. The more exact and transparent you are with the money that people pledge, the more likely people are to fund your project. A public relations plan is also crucial. How will anyone pledge that much needed cash if they don't hear about you? Never underestimate word of mouth, but make use of social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter too.


While you can tell a story that tugs at the heartstrings of the audience with a camera like the 12MP one found in the iPhone 7 Plus, it doesn't mean you have to. It's a solid option, but you can also rent professional equipment for bargain prices. Sites like ShareGrid have created communities for sharing equipment. Think of it like a peer-to-peer rental market place. Filmmakers can securely rent cameras, recording equipment and more, to and from each other, without risk. Right now, ShareGrid is a closed community and all members are screened before they are approved. Once approved there is a list of release forms; these include damage waivers and different insurances.

ShareGrid is a wonderful tool for independent filmmakers, but it's not the only one. Brick and mortar rental shops for filmmakers have long been a staple of the industry. If you don't trust a community like ShareGrid, or if there simply isn't a rental location in the city you live in, there are rental shops like, among others, that rent top of the line gear like RED cameras, Panasonic and even those as small as GoPros.

Tangerine Film Page

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