How Keene State College film majors raise money for their projects

It’s never easy to ask people for money, especially if there’s no return date on the request.

For some Keene State College students, this plea is a major part of completing their degree and often doesn’t stop even after they graduate. This is the life of a typical film major. As imagined, making a movie is not cheap. The cost to just produce a major studio movie (without any elements of marketing) was $65 million in 2007, according to the financial website Investopedia.

Samantha Moore / Art Director

Samantha Moore / Art Director

The likelihood of a college student having a fraction of $65 million is unlikely. The likelihood of a college student having even $1,000 is unlikely. But student films are expected to be made, and most range in the thousands, so students have to devise a plan, or not graduate as a film major. They have to ask for funds.

One group of students has eight members asking for money towards their film, ‘The Mountain.’ The students used the crowdfunding website Indiegogo to raise funds for their film. On their page, they asked for $9,000 but only raised $5,027 online.

KSC junior and assistant director of the group Sarah Shufelt said the nice thing about Indiegogo is that you still get the money even if you don’t reach your goal.

Of the money raised, $2,000 of the funds raised went towards renting an entire hotel floor. Other funds went to food, lodging and travel reimbursement for the actors involved. “If we have any at the end, we donate it to festival circulation,” Shufelt said. This basically means the money is used to help sponsor films that want to be reviewed and critiqued for festivals.

Shufelt said it wasn’t that hard at first to get money. “It was fast at first. We got like $1,000 the first week, then it slowed down and the money trickled in slowly,” she explained.

She said she personally brought in around $1,000 from friends and family. “It’s really rewarding to know people wanted to provide help,” she said. Shufelt said their group did what others do, by offering rewards for different amounts of donations given. “If you gave $10, you got your name in the credits, if you gave $250, you could get a handwritten love letter from one of our directors,” she said.

Shufelt said this whole experience made her realize just how hard it is to make a movie. “In the real world, you have to push past the awkward phase of asking for help. This process made this me more comfortable realizing my reality,” she said.

Shufelt said if she had any advice for someone just getting into this process, they should plan ahead. “Things are really expensive, you have to plan carefully,” she said. Shufelt said it’s also about hooking people in, “You have to come up with a good trailer and really convince people. You really have to sell yourself.” She also said it’s important to support each other. “It’s not cheap, so if you can, support your fellow classmates,” she said.

More than a student’s responsibility 

One of her classmates is KSC senior and film major James Calnan III, who had support from a distant relative. “My grandfather’s brother is well off and we asked him for help. He gave me $1,000. I didn’t know if he was going to, but I had to ask,” he said. Calnan said him and the group of four people he’s with also with went out to ask local businesses for their help. “We didn’t have a lot of success with that,” he said. “It’s tough. It’s almost like a full-time job.”

He said part of this is because you have to have a good presentation set for the people you’re asking money from. “You have nothing to give them, so you have to impress them,” he said.

Calnan acknowledged that realizing this now helps for his future endeavors in film. But he was adamant that there’s only so much he can do. He brought up how many independent films don’t always do well, even if they’re better than the main-stream movies. He compared the critically acclaimed film ‘Moonlight’ to the new ‘Transformers Five’ movie out. “A lot of people didn’t go see it (Moonlight) because it’s not a big blockbuster film,” he said. “But they’ll see Transformers and that’s a tremendous piece of s—.”

He said as a society, we need to do our research to support the more independant films. “People go and see what’s advertised to them, they need to give other movies a chance,” he said.

Bringing class knowledge to the ‘reel’ world

KSC film lecturer Ted White said that in the real world, it’s still difficult making a movie. However, he said he doesn’t think this should discourage a student from their passion. “There’s not really any kind of film-making a person can do where fundraising is not part of the process. You’re either doing it very directly, if you’re making your own movie, but even if you’re being commissioned to make a film for somebody else, they had to raise the money as well, so  you’re associated with the process no matter what,” he said.

He also said being involved with a film doesn’t mean someone is set financially for life.  “A film, even a wonderful film, is over in six months, or a year or a couple of years maybe and then that’s that, you’re on the run again. You always need to begin again and either attach yourself to a project that’s already going or if you’re leading or heading up a project. Then you need to start that process over again,” he said. “You have to be very entrepreneurial. Projects don’t last forever.”

White said that while students are in school, it’s important for them to get used to asking for help since it likely won’t stop once they graduate. “In the future once they finished school, they would be looking at private charitable organization that are interested in the arts media and this could also include government funding like from the National Endowment for the Arts,” he said.

For the time being, White said there are also grants that can help in addition to crowd-funding. “What I have done successfully with a lot of students and what we just did with a student [recently] was go through the Center for Creative Inquiry at Keene State,” he said. “You submit an application describing your project and how much money you’ll need and if it’s well written and you’ve made your case for why you need the funds and what you’re going to do with them, then you can get money from the school.”

That student was KSC junior Colin Acker who received $400 to help with his filming project. “He got money to transfer some old films of his Dad’s that he had never seen. He didn’t even know what was on there. He was excited to get the money to uncover this time capsule,” White explained.

The power of asking for help

Acker is working on his film project all by himself. He acknowledged there are pros and cons to being by himself.  “Some pros are this is no power struggle with the direction of the film. I am free to make my own decisions without the burden of having to run every idea by someone else,” he said. “Some cons would be all the work. The pre-production, the filming, the editing, is done by me alone so it was difficult to set up some shots.” He also said he was solely responsible for any and all mistakes, however he said he’s learned from the process.  “[It’s] transformative and informative to help me self reflect on my own style of filmmaking,” he said.

KSC 2014 alumna Melissa Jellie graduated as a dual film and criminal justice major. She too went through the same ordeal of fundraising for a film. Jellie worked as the producer for her group’s film. “As producer of the film, it helped me learn a lot about managing money in terms of raising money through another source. We also learned that many people are excited to support the arts,” she said.

Jellie said she couldn’t quite remember how much money they raised, but thought it might have been around $3,000. She said if she had any advice to give, it would be to “Not stress about it, but also push it everywhere on the internet you can: Facebook, Twitter, post it on forums and groups.” She said she felt like she learned a great deal from this practice. “Knowing how to raise funds professionally is a very important skillfor the real film world,” she said. “People do it in all films, so learning how to be professional while asking for money is important.”

Dorothy England can be contacted at


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