Try as you might, it is impossible to spend $0 on a movie shoot, particularly a full-length story. Even if it's just money spent on gas in getting from one place to another for your shoot - you need to raise funds. Period. Shooting for your small business? Factor in the indirect costs. Look at the opportunity cost of devoting time to the video instead of your usual work. Every video costs money to make. I laugh when I hear folks say they made a “zero-budget” film. Even this book’s title is a farce. There is no such thing because every product or service can be broken up into direct, indirect, and opportunity costs, and even then, I’m simplifying the process. You’ll burn through at least one of these costs with any creative endeavor, not just film/video.
First, start reading entrepreneur.com. Commit 5 minutes a day. Start small. Learn how to lead. Find information on finances. I’ve been reading it daily for over 2 years now because film and business are two sides of the same coin if you really want to grow a as a filmmaker. But I don’t want to do the producer-y stuff. I get it. But a director is a leader, and a leader needs to know the nuts and bolts of the ship. Head on over to the Entrepreneur site or download their app. Browse their articles on crowdfunding. This can be done by way of a simple search on their site: "crowdfunding." Consider reading a related stub from the folks over at nofilmschool.com. Bottom line, there is a handful of new legislation about crowdfunding, so it's your responsibility to be informed. Remember, whatever money you pull in from crowdfunding needs to be treated as revenue.
But we need to pause and talk about revenue. Revenue? Now you’re getting all business-y on me again. Well, why do you think business folks got behind film very quickly in the early days? It’s because it’s a powerful medium for communicating. The director (you) is simply a piece of the puzzle. Your jigsaw puzzle has many other roles in it, even if you are filling all 27 of them. Consider this: do you have a house? A car? Do you have anything you can’t part with in a court of law? The retired businessmen and women in the Las Vegas Score chapter have a running joke: there are more lawyers in Vegas than in the entire country of Japan. Driving 5 minutes around town illustrates this. Billboards lurk around every corner like churches in the south, promising cash for accidents, injuries, and spilled coffee. So do a personal inventory. Do you want to risk losing your house? If not (can you hear the Billy Mays infomercial yet), then you need to incorporate as a business in your city and state, and let Uncle Sam know too while you’re at it. The reality is of course if you’re a small timer, your odds of running into a lawsuit are slim, but they do happen, else Glen Lerner wouldn’t have such a pearly white grin.
Read: bootstrapper... yes business... What? Did you really think filmmaking was just about storyboarding and coffee meetings? Buck up slugger. Sides, if you're already creating shorts, eventually, you're gonna get noticed, which means you'll do a heap of wedding videos, music videos, bigger gigs - you name it. Get paid, and get paid the right way with a bit of separation between you and your personal assets once the work starts rolling in or you set out to do a feature. We live in a broken world that’s in need of grace; unfortunately, we have folks who would love nothing more than to sue you over split hairs. So don’t panic. You can set up an LLC with your spouse or other trustworthy person. For those who have no idea what I’m talking about, it’s fairly simple actually. An LLC represents a limited liability company. They are the easiest form of a business to launch outside of the sole proprietorship. If you’re married, I recommend setting up an LLC with your spouse or going solo - you’re already married; you don’t need a 2nd partner. Now, if you're making a feature movie, hopefully you have a team in mind, and hopefully one of those teamsters is your closest confidant and best friend, so it may be worth exploring the idea of incorporating as a multi-member LLC (fancy talk for “more than one person in the business”). If you’re just running and gunning as a casual filmmaker or you already have the parent blessing (i.e. protection) of a business or a nonprofit (e.g. a church), then all this business jargon is optional. Fast forward as needed.
Here's a breakdown of how it would work for a bootstrapper in SLC, UT back in the summer of 2013. Every state is different. For Nevada, you have to start with the Silver Flume. But for Utah, it was (and may still be) a bit of running around.
1. Apply for an EIN (done through the IRS website). This is free - don't fall for the gimmicky sites that try to sell this feature to you.
2. Draft up articles of organization. Find a mentor who is running a successful LLC, and ask to be walked through this portion if needed and ask for a copy to model.
3. Go to the Chamber of Commerce located downtown, approx 2nd E and 3rd S - register your LLC with the state by paying about $70 and providing articles of organization. Again, this advice applies to Salt Lake City, certainly in the summer of 2013. In 2015, Nevada has a lot of infrastructure invested into their online portal Silver Flume so that you don’t have to burn gas to go bug a government John or Jane.
4. Go to the Business Office for your city and file for a home biz license, 'less of course you guys already have a dedicated office space to fire up your biz at (different for every city) - I went to South SLC 'cause that's where my apt was located. I've since moved and set up home base in West Valley City, UT followed by Las Vegas (twice) and then unincorporated Clark County (nameless parts in the Las Vegas valley).
5. Once all of this is done, you will need to open a biz checking account (which you can do at any bank or credit union - shop around) to make sure all the funds for your movie are not in your personal account (or anyone's), but in the business that is spearheading the project. I used the name “Prior Service Productions” from my time at film school with veterans from pretty much every branch of the military.
6. Bear in mind, by opening a biz, you are now a biz owner. That means taxes are involved at some point (which I'm still learning as well, and always will be - the IRS has more to say on this than Arlo Guthrie did about Alice’s Restaurant).