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May 5, 2023

Filmmaking requires Fundraising

by Tony Gapastione

I posted this on my personal site (www.tonygapastione.com) in November 2021 after finishing production of my feature film: Last Chance Charlene, but there’s always a need to talk about money.

Don’t like talking about money? Well, you better start liking it if you want to be a filmmaker.

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I often have people ask me for tips on how to have successful crowdfunding campaigns and how to raise money to make movies. I wish I could meet one on one for free with each person to “pick my brain.” —-but I can’t. And maybe we should retire that phrase because those whose “brains are picked” can often feel used. We should get better at building relationships and being mutually beneficial to our creative friends. THAT SAID… I am available for consulting and coaching. If you’d like to hire me, reach out.

But if you want my free advice here you go:

After making four successfully crowd-funded short films for years and raising enough money to make one feature film (with two more features in development, one that we have raised over $300,000 and counting)… I’m putting down my thoughts so I can share this link for those who ask.

QUICK RECAP.

My first film I ever had fundraising experience with was a short in 2011. I co-wrote, produced and acted in it. It was called Tester. I raised $1380 (I was going after $900, so that felt pretty good). I did a couple of other shorts too for under a few grand but in 2014, I raised $40,000 to do 1440 and Counting and then in 2016 raised $57,000 for Neighbor. Including my feature film, Last Chance Charlene and my other feature film 33 Days, (still raising), my current film funding totals over $500,000.

That’s a lot of money.

In hindsight…I probably could have made MORE FEATURE FILMS with all the dough raised for all my short films but for me it was a great experience that resulted in some great films in which I’m very proud to share with the world.

This was how I learned to make films, by MAKING films. That’s the price some people pay to go to film school. So I’m happy to say my film school was making films. The experience was invaluable. And I’m so glad for all those who supported me, my vision, and my journey. Thank you to all the executive producers and donors. There’s not a lot of them, but they

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Now on to what I learned in hopes to help others find success.

First of all.

There are so many GREAT resources out there.  Google them, watch and listen! Utilize them. I’ll share a few here.

#1-Indie-gogo put out this great list of 8 stats that make for a successful fundraising campaign. I won’t repeat any of them in this blog, so make sure you read the blog now! (IE: Short time frame is key, get a good Video, give updates, etc).

#3- Filmmaker and STAGE 32 CEO wrote a great book on CROWDSOURCING. Money is CRUCIAL in filmmaking but you also NEED a great CREW to collaborate with to bring your stories to life.

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OK. Now on to my personal 2 cents.

My best advice to someone fundraising for a film project (or anything for that matter) are these two things: 

It’s ALL about your relationships and your vision (and are you willing to make sacrifices to see it come alive?).

I’ll say it a different way, it’s all about who you know (and know well) and if they like you, and if your passion for what you’re doing is energizing, electric, and worth buying into (literally).

If you’re not cuckoo for cocoa puffs, over the moon excited about your movie, why would anyone else want to be?

You have to BLEED enthusiasm and passion to get your film made. You have to be willing to give up sleep, money, and friends to see it happen. It takes a lot of hours to get a movie produced. Hours you could be spending asleep, working out, and doing those fun escape room things with your friends.

Are you willing to give that up?

Are you willing to RSVP no to your co-workers bachelor party? You might have to. Are you OK with five hours sleep a night? (I prefer ten, but hey—the hustle is real). Are you OK seeing friends a little less because you’re scheduling meetings and working late into the night writing your movie, and editing your pitch video? 

Because you’ll have to do things like that to get movies made, especially if you start later in life like me (and have a full time job, a marriage and three kids).

But even if you’re single, it’s hard.

What I mean is, it takes SACRIFICE. The money doesn’t just fall from the sky once you post your Kickstarter or Indie-Go Go campaign, or my now favorite : SEED & SPARK. (Find the best one that’s right for you!).

I’m not saying you have to give up friendships and ignore people, I mean, if you want to make a movie, you don’t have a lot of time to “hang out” and shoot the breeze with friends on a Friday night. If you’re like me, you’ll be up late most nights writing, dreaming, and planning for your visions to come to life. Friendships are key in this time for support and partnership, but some friends won’t get it and therefore won’t be a part of the picture, sadly.

You have to be intentional. DO NOT THINK you will meet your goal just by BEGGING people on your social media. Please don’t do that. That’s so ineffective. All of us on social media see hundreds of people asking for money. Ignore. Pass. Bye.

No one cares. Asking EVERYONE is ASKING NO ONE. What does that mean? Just posting on Facebook: Will you give me money for my film? —DOES.NOT.WORK.

You have to be personal. You have to be relational. You have to be specific.

And this requires A. LOT. OF. TIME.

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When I did my first campaign, I totally under estimated the amount of work. And I started with a plan, a good plan, so I thought. But you have to work that plan and keep the momentum going for all four weeks of your campaign. (I did a thirty day Kickstarter).

So…make a list of your friends, your family, your neighbors, your former teachers, your parent’s friends, your co-workers, your pastors…tell them IT’S COMING.  Tell them you need them. Tell them you want to make a coffee date with them..and then PITCH the hell out of them! Share your passion. Tell them how excited you are that THEY can be a part of this something BIG you are about to give birth to…(to weirdly descriptive? Yes! Well, it’s kinda true. Making movies is messy and awkward, like becoming a parent, and I love it.

My first film I had 162 people give me my $40,000. (That’s about $308 per person. But most people gave $25-$100. It’s the generous amazing ones that blessed me with $5,000 each. I had a small handful of them. Completely surprised and blessed me).

My second film was a bigger ask of $50,00 (which ended up being about $57,000). It came from 122 people. Do that math. That’s about $400+ a person.

I am a social media monster and habitual texter…100%. I love the quickness of sending message where I don’t have to do small talk. I’m over small talk. I rarely talk on the phone with people anymore unless they are my family and wanting to fund MY projects or BraveMaker. When someone calls me I think it’s super important— like an emergency ER visit or they are hanging off a cliff somewhere.

But I will break this personal code to raise funds.

BUT Let me say this again. You WILL NOT raise your money if you ONLY POST ON FACEBOOK, TWITTER and INSTAGRAM. You will use these mediums (a lot) but you have to talking with people face to face. Yes email, text are great but YES CALL PEOPLE. ON THE PHONE. And thanks to Covid, everyone uses Zoom!


If you are the producer or the director will have to work harder than everyone else to raise funds for a project (and it can be very lonely).

Don’t expect anyone else to care about your film as much as you. I often found myself disappointed that others weren’t working as hard as I thought I was to raise the money, but I had to accept that everyone couldn’t match my enthusiasm. It as an unhealthy expectation to have. When I released it, I was able to focus better and work harder. I’ve seen one too many producers/writers/directors get lost in complaints and excuses when trying to launch their film because they spend all their time ordering others around to do their work or expecting their team to bring the money in. Usually it comes down to that one person who is seen as the leader of the film who does the most work.I’ve started a new mandate on my film projects that anyone who wants to be a producer has to join me in the raising of funds. I just don’t hand out those credits anymore.

In the end it all comes down to your ability (and your producing team) to woo people into your story,  your passion, and ability to make the money back (if it’s a feature).

If it’s a short (which never makes money back), your donors have to know WHY they should give to your film.

When I look back at my fundraising efforts, it really came down to people believing in ME. 80% of all my funds came from people who knew me personally (friends, family, community, neighbors)and wanted to support me. The stories I was telling were important and some donors gave because they themselves were passionate about social justice issues, but the majority of my supporters gave because they wanted to support ME and the believed in my passion, my vision, and wanted to support the story that I wanted to tell. That’s amazing!? 10-20% of my donors came from friends of friends, or friends of family, but they were few and far between.

And for that I am so grateful for the people who gave me a shot, who believed in me,  and who gave so generously. Now I am making my way into FEATURE FILMMAKING and it’s a whole new experience.

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Here’s some of my fundraising videos if you want to see how I told the story.

This is the first one I ever did and you can see the quality is REALLY poor but it did the job! I acted and produced this piece. It was quite the learning experience on how to make a film.

Tester (2011 $1380)

I loved doing the 1440 video. This was my first foray into writing and directing. I wanted to re-create the story a bit (and it radically changed from this pitch video to production) to give our donors a little proof of concept. I did all these videos with my friends and community. It was a great experience working with actress Loretta Devine and I made a life-long friend and creative partner in actor Jeremy Ray Valdez. This short gave me the drive and passion to go full time into filmmaking.

1440 and Counting (2014, $40,936)

I couldn’t wait to make another film after 1440 and Counting. The unique thing about NEIGHBOR was that I partnered with a great non-profit in my city, THE REDWOOD CITY PARKS AND ARTS FOUNDATION, and they allowed me to raise my funds as my fiscal sponsor which enabled every donor to get a tax deduction. This was HUGE. I also used a different platform called CROWD-RISE which took less of a cut than Kickstarter because I was working with a non-profit.

Neighbor (2016, $57,349)

The last film I did was SELF.IE. My friend Lydia and I set out to raise $3000 and we used SEED & SPARK which has become my favorite. They are very film friendly (they only fundraise for films unlike Kickstarter which does inventions, books, music, etc)  and they super supportive.  Based on what I learned doing bigger crews and larger budgets I didn’t want to wait to make another film. I was very encouraged to do something with a skeleton crew and do it as cheaply as I could.  It has a different look and a different feel.

Self.I.E (2017, $3,175)

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Last Chance Charlene (2021) ($70,000 and still fundraising)

My first feature film which in Post-Production as of 2021, took a lot out of me. I felt super alone in this endeavor. I learned a lot. So many things I will do different in my next feature film endeavor—but the biggest thing I learned here about fundraising is to share your heart with purpose and passion. I couldn’t have made this film with out my good, college friend Karah, who happened to see my plea on Instagram and she simply commented on my INSTAGRAM post, next thing I knew, she became my executive producer. I am still learning to change my mindset when it comes to asking for money. See it as a partnership, offering a gift to those that see your value and decide to join you. Don’t beg. Don’t be be desperate. You have to be incredibly optimistic. I choose to be overly, sometimes to a fault. Some might call it delusional. You have to ask every day. I see so many filmmakers unwiling to ask. If you’re afraid of getting rejected, you’ll never make a film.

and finally…

33 Days ($300,000+)

Total=$320, 840 and still rising.

I hope this is all very helpful to you!

As of 2023, I have three short films in all sorts of production phases and have now moved into raising funds for one my feature films.

If anyone has some other ideas I should add here, let me know! Tweet me or INSTA me.

@tonygapastione

LastChance+CharlenePoster

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Tony Gapastione

Tony Gapastione is a screenwriter/producer and director living in Redwood City, California. He founded and executive directs BraveMaker, a 501c3 nonprofit arts charity dedicated to educate, entertain and create community experiences around justice, diversity and inclusion. He and his wife Wendy have three daughters, one labradoodle and two guinea pigs...all of which end up in his movies in some way. His first feature film, "Last Chance Charlene" will be on VOD, February 2023. Connect with him on Instagram: @tonygapastione
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