How to Get Funding for a Documentary

Documentaries are stories of what’s around us. They elicit the desire to change the world and challenge your worldview and your entire perspective. Documentaries can also help you see parts of the world and humanity you otherwise wouldn’t have exposure to.

It’s important to work to create a compelling documentary, but it can also be an expensive project, particularly if you’re traveling to shoot it.

The following are some ways you can source and secure funding to create a documentary with the potential to change the world.


If you want to fund your film project, one of the first places you should start looking is grants. There are a lot of grant programs for filmmakers and also fellowships. These include everything from government grants and nonprofit grants to grants from film festivals and film institutes.

A lot of the grants from the government are lottery-based, while outside of that filmmaking, grant programs tend to be merit-based.

If you’re trying to get a merit-based grant, there’s typically an application process, and you have to meet very specific criteria. Many grant programs will be geared toward a particular population, such as women, documentary filmmakers or first-time filmmakers. You can also get grants for different stages of the process, for example, a production grant or one for distribution.

If you’re applying for grants and submitting proposals, you should treat those like a project in and of themselves.

There’s something called fiscal sponsorship to be aware of us well. With fiscal sponsorship, there’s a contract where you would partner with a nonprofit to get tax-exempt status for your project. Then, when you have tax-exempt status, it can help improve your eligibility for tax-deductible donations and grants.


Some people decide to crowdfund a movie project. It’s relatively common among independent filmmakers.

When you crowdfund, you’re using public fundraising. You choose a platform where you’re going to market your project and receive funding. You’ll then set a goal, so make sure you know your budget before doing this.

From there, you’ll need to create a pitch that will resonate and be compelling for your potential donors. You might create a very short script outlining who you are and why you’re making your film.

Before you try to crowdfund a project, do some research. Make sure you’re fairly straightforward on what your budget needs to be and take a look at projects similar to yours on crowdfunding platforms to see if what you’re asking for is somewhat in line with their campaigns.

Private Investors

You can secure funding from private investors, but it requires work.

You need to be well-versed in things like production, marketing and financing. This work you put in upfront will ultimately benefit your film as well.

Remember when you’re contacting investors that they don’t necessarily care about your passion for a project. They want to know what’s in it for them. What can you say to them that’s going to compel them to write you a big check?

Every contact also needs to show that you take investors seriously. You value your time, you’ve done the work, and you have something ready to show them in the form of a proposal that shows the value of your project from their perspective.

You need to show that you have skin in the game too. For example, be ready to show that you’ve put in the effort to secure other types of funding.

Investing in a film is very high-risk, so private investment tends to make up a small amount of film financing overall.

Take Advantage of Tax Incentives

Tax incentives are available in the U.S. and Canada if you shoot parts of your film in certain areas. The idea is to promote tourism in that place where you’re filming or perhaps housing your crew. Tax incentives don’t have to be paid back. They’re not available until after you finish the production and you’re filing taxes, however.

Product Placement

Some filmmakers will finance their projects partially through product placement. With product placement, you might agree to include certain brands or items in your film. Then, you might in exchange for that, receive direct financing or free products.

Keep in mind that for a documentary, it’s tough to make this approach work.

Finally, another option may be to get a more traditional loan. Usually, a loan is only given to a filmmaker if other funding is also in place to serve as gap funding. If you don’t earn enough to repay the loan, you may be personally on the hook.

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