IFH 505: How To Shake The Film Investor Money Tree with Morrie Warshawski


Today, we are going to be talking all about one of my favorite topics; how to raise money to get our films made. I think every filmmaker wants to know how to make or get money for their films. But it becomes very challenging.

My guest is an expert fundraiser, film financing consultant, facilitator, and author, Morrie Warshawski. He’s facilitated a lot of fundraising throughout his 35 years career and has authored Shaking the Money Tree: The Art of Getting Grants and Donations for Film & Video, and The Fundraising Houseparty: How to Party with a Purpose and Raise Money for Your Cause. 

Shaking The Money Tree demystifies the art of fundraising for independent film and video projects for students, emerging, and seasoned media makers.

Morrie has assisted artists, filmmakers, and non-profit organizations with strategic planning, organizational development, and marketing across the entertainment and other sectors. Some of his clients are Habitat for Humanity, The National Endowment for the Arts, and Western States Arts Federation.

I really wanted to talk about the mistake filmmakers make when trying to fundraise. Morrie seemed like the right guy for the job and he delivered.

It was interesting learning that Morrie initially studied at USC in hopes of going into filmmaking but ended up majoring in English. And followed on with an MA in English and the graduate Writers Workshop at the University of Iowa. 

He started working with independent videographers and filmmakers through the Bay Area video coalition in San Francisco and that’s when he transitioned to fundraising.

Morrie was generous with knowledge bombs and tips we all need when it comes to fundraising.
He highlights in this interview how vital it is for filmmakers on the look for donors to have good comportment — the basis of presenting oneself to the world. Another component is, understanding why they’re doing the work and having a strong feeling that the work you’re making must be made. And lastly, understanding where your strengths lie, and how you can surround yourself with workarounds for your deficits.

Our conversation was pretty much enlightening and fun. Check the show notes for links to learn more about the work Morrie does and his books.

Get a notebook and pen to jolt down gems and enjoy my conversation with Morrie Warshawski.

Right-click here to download the MP3

Alex Ferrari 0:02
I like to welcome to the show Morrie Warshawski. How you doing, Morrie?

Morrie Warshawski 0:08
I'm good today. Thanks for having me.

Alex Ferrari 0:10
Thank you so much for being on the show. I truly appreciate it. We are going to be talking all about one of my favorite topics how to raise money to get our films made. I think every filmmaker wants to know how to make get money for their films. One of the biggest problems, the biggest problems I feel is finding money and then making money. Right? Because finding money is I've heard that from from finance, here's just like, finding the money is a lot easier than actually making the money after the movie is unlike recouping that money, it's been harder than finding the money. But it's two very important equations in our creative journey. But before we jump into that, how did you get started in the business?

Morrie Warshawski 0:57
Well, by accident, actually, I was. I taken a lot of film courses in college, I was at the University of Southern California, and I thought it'd be a film major, but ended up being an English major. Then I got an MA in English and went to the graduate Writers Workshop at the University of Iowa. And I taught for a while at USC in a interdisciplinary arts program. And then, through a bit of serendipity, I was invited to be an intern in the dance program at the National Endowment for the Arts. So I spent the summer with dancers. And when I got back to LA, I turned to my wife and said, I'm going to quit teaching and work with dancers. So we moved to Portland, Oregon, and I ran a dance company called Portland Dance Theater. And while I was there, I met up with people who ran the the media project in Portland. And it's not there anymore. But it was a nonprofit that specialized in working with independent filmmakers doing distribution. So picked up work by filmmakers, Indies, and distributed. And this was back in the day when video had just started, there really wasn't any video distribution. We were distributing 16 millimeter reels, to schools. And I worked there for two years now I got hired to run the Bay Area video coalition in San Francisco and spent three years there working with independent videographers and filmmakers. And that's where I cut my teeth and working with independent filmmakers. That's where I learned a lot about fundraising.

Alex Ferrari 2:43
So yeah, I can imagine the days of distribution back before before video was just basically just trying to sell 16 millimeter prints and 30. I still remember when I was in God, I was in first or second grade, they had a 35 millimeter print or 16 millimeter, I don't even know. It might have been a 35. But who knew that probably was a 16 of Superman of Superman one. And they played and they played it in the auditorium for everybody and everyone lost their mind. Yeah. I remember those days now. So you've obviously you've done a lot of fundraising. For filmmakers, what is the biggest mistake you see filmmakers make when trying to, you know, fundraise trying to get money from different different areas, which we'll go into a little bit, but what do you think their biggest mistake is?

Morrie Warshawski 3:33
Well, there are many mistakes. I'm not sure I can locate the biggest one. But I think if I had to locate one, it would be comportment, something I call comportment, okay, which is central to my work. And if I work with a filmmaker, one of the first things I do with them is talk to them and work on their comportment, how they present themselves to the world. The attitude that they bring to the work when they're fundraising, because, you know, I rarely meet a filmmaker who want wants to fundraise. Most of them. I mean, really, they don't fail because you wanted to fundraise.

Alex Ferrari 4:17
Nobody wants to fundraise. Nobody wants to distribute. They just want the fun, sexy stuff.

Morrie Warshawski 4:22
That's right, yeah. But it's part and parcel of the work. So once you realize that you do have to have to do the fundraising. It's rare that the filmmaker enjoys it. You know, it's rarely an enjoyable process. So if you bring that kind of baggage with you to the fundraising process, it's a blockage to getting money. It's a huge blockage to getting money. So what I do is when I'm working with a filmmaker, I get them very centered in really understanding why they're doing the work and Why or whether or not it's important to do, because that's really like the bottom line, it's the basis for the fundraising is really having a strong feeling that the work you're making must be made. And that you must make it. If you can't find that, then I can't help you, then you should make one quick film and get the hell out of the business. So that's the first square. And then the second square is Who are you, and you understand who you are. And what your limitations on what your strengths are, it's really important to understand where your strengths lie, and how you can surround yourself with workarounds for your deficits. So I'd say that's, that's a huge, I guess I should have.

Alex Ferrari 5:59
It's always something. But so I agree with you. 100%. And you're right. I mean, I I crowdfunded my first feature, and I hated it. I hated it so much I not that it wasn't, it was successful. And I was able to fundraise for the movie, but it was just so I just don't like doing that kind of brand, that kind of work. I just, it's not for me. So my second film I financed myself, I was like, not, I'm just gonna, I'm just gonna, I can't, I can't, I didn't want, I need to do it as an experiment experience. And also, I could teach other people how I did and all that stuff, but I won't do it again. But do you find that there is a, I always find this with filmmakers, especially when they're looking for money, or they're looking for opportunity? Or if they feel that you can give them something in their journey, that that, that stink of desperation. It's it is it? Am I wrong? It's a huge problem, right?

Morrie Warshawski 6:57
You're right. And you cannot bring that stink of desperation to your work. Or it's, it's death. You're done. And nobody wants to be around someone who's desperate, right? So you have to understand that you have to put yourself in the shoes of the donor of the person who might want to help you. Pretend that you're them, and you're meeting you, and your compartment is on desperate by doing this, please give me the money. I'll do anything for them. No, no, no, no, no, it won't work, you have to bring a completely different attitude to it. And that's why the first three things I have filmmakers identified it for I help them fundraise is, number one, what are your core values? Because value, fundraising is actually a value laden proposition. What you're doing is you're trying to find people whose values overlay your values and the values of your project. And they're the ones who are most likely to want to support you. So you have to understand what your values are. And the values are your project. And you have to broadcast those strongly in your marketing, in the way you talk to people, and how you scan the environment for who you want to work with and what opportunities you want, and which opportunities you don't want. Because that will bring you money. And that will differ you away from money that's never going to come your way. And then the second thing I have every filmmaker do is write a mission statement. And the mission statement is I am doing this work because right, yeah, because that's what you're bringing to the conversation with a funder that makes you unique, they have to know that you have a backbone, that you're serious about the work that you're doing. You're not desperate, what you're saying to the funder is I'm bringing you an opportunity, you can come with me amplify your values in the world, do good in the world. And you'll feel great about it. Or you can ignore this opportunity, in which case I feel sorry for you

Alex Ferrari 9:18
But that's a position of that's a position of strength that you just laid out not the not the position of desperation, which is 99% of all filmmakers looking for money for their projects. And it's I mean, if anyone listening you just even if you if you're trying to go out with a guy or girl and either either one and you are just like on top of them and emailing them and and stalking them on Facebook, and trying to just like the sense of desperation. Nobody wants to be around that and I've tried to say that so many times. And that's not just with fundraising just like building relationships with people like you. It's a people thing you it's a people business, you need to build authentic relationships built on real values, like you said, in order for anything to happen, but if you start asking people, the second I meet you, hey, Morrie, I look, I'm looking for 50,000. For my project. I know you I just I just met you more than I am. But you fundraise the lot. I think you and I can work together, can I really need the money? Can you can you? Can you give it to me more?

Morrie Warshawski 10:20
Now, because, you know, when you're funding, you're saying you have to understand when, with when to approach the donor with the ask,

Alex Ferrari 10:30
and how do you do? So? Okay, so let's say how do you approach an individual donor? We'll talk about the other entities later, but it's specifically an individual owner, a donor? How do you build you know, build that relationship, do the outreach, and then start and because you don't do it, like right away? Like, how do you? How do you how do you build that kind of that gameplan that blueprint?

Morrie Warshawski 10:51
Well, you have to understand that there's a ladder involvement with any one can be individual could be a group, an organization, a funder Corporation, there's a ladder of involvement. And at the top of a ladder is, I am a rabid fan of yours, I love you, I will do anything for you, I will write you a check. I will beg my friends to give you money that's at the top of the ladder. At the bottom of the ladder is Who the hell are you? I don't know you? Why would I want to know you, right? And then there's all these steps in between. And what I tell my clients is be conscious of where you are in the ladder with anyone you are talking to. And what you want to do is you want to move people up the ladder of involvement and engagement. Only at a certain point in ladder, are you ready to make an ask for the month, and until then you're not ready. And that's why relationship building and community build are basic to this business. Now. That's what you should be doing all the time as, as you cast around your environment. Every time you write a letter. Every time you post something to social media, every time you decide which social media avenue to use. You have to say to yourself, how can I move people up the ladder of involvement? How can I make rabid fans? Because those that that's what pays off? 1,000%? So let's say that I wanted to get money from you? Well, the first thing I'd have to ask myself is why do I think that Alex would want to give me money? I don't know Alex, I've never met him. So I do research. I research Alex, I'll go to the internet. I'll Google Alex, I'll read your profile, I'll find out what your interests are. What I really want to find out is where have you given money before? Who have you given money to? Is my project going to be warm to you? Because they're going to contain something in it that you might want to help me with. But and then the second thing I want to ask is, what do I want from Alex? Um, I want money always want money. But maybe I want Alex's expertise. Right? Maybe what I could use from Alex is the use of his name as an advisor. Right? Maybe I want Alex so I could just pick his brain. So there's, maybe Alex has some equipment I could use, I want to borrow it for free or get it at a reduced but so this, you want to be strategic is what I'm saying? Right? And you have to bring that strategic attitude to every involvement with every person, it takes work. And research is at the basis of that. So once I've I've identified two things, one is what I want from you and what you're able to give. And the second thing is, what are your values? What are you interested in? Then the third thing I want to do is I want to see where are you on that ladder of involvement with. Right, and then I want to start drawing you in and it might be with sending in an email. It might be with becoming a follower of yours on Facebook. It might be with who casting that you follow me? It might be with my talking to a friend of yours, who's a friend of mine. To see if there would be an introduction does you're never that's very large. You're never more than three people away from anybody on Earth. Really, I mean six degrees of separation at the most but almost anybody you want to get to you can and like three stars on your friendships and if

Alex Ferrari 14:45
your name is Kevin Bacon even faster. No but so. So I completely understand your point too. But so sometimes your the approach that you're you're proposing is more of Have someone giving in supporting you, but there should be some sort of value you're providing them. And that value could be experienced that value could be hanging out with movie stars, that value could be financial that value could be, I'm bored with my life, and I just want to go do something cool that I've never done before. There's other things that you're presenting as well. So it's not just, what can you do for me, but it's also what I can do for you. Is that correct?

Morrie Warshawski 15:26
That's right. And I have to know that before I talk to you, right? If I can, if I don't, then there are ways to find that out like with you. But wouldn't be at a first meeting, ask, it might be at a first meeting lunch, or a phone call or whatever, I have to know what you the donor need from me? What do you really want? And can I provide that, and it's different with every donor, don't assume that every donor wants the same thing. So if I give you like two extremes of donors, there's the donor who I call an investor. And that person wants money. Right? Pure and simple. And if you can't give them an avenue towards a potential payback, they don't want to be with you. And then at the other end of the spectrum, there's a donor that just wants to feel good and let you do whatever you need to do. Because they want to see something good. And they don't want anything back. They don't want to remain anonymous, they don't even want their name on. And then there's everything in between. And most people and donors are in between somewhere. But those are the two Antipodes. And I have to understand where you are on that spectrum. Before I make the ask.

Alex Ferrari 16:47
Yeah, without question. So now that you have Okay, so let's say you're building this relationship, what are the elements of a perfect pitch? Like, how do you do that pitch, because that's a whole other I've have spoken about pitching extensively throughout my years on the show, and it is an art, it is an art and it's not for everybody. So if you if you don't know how to pitch, either learn or hire somebody and find someone who can actually pitch Well, if not, you're done.

Morrie Warshawski 17:16
So there's a lot to say about the pitch. The first thing I would say is, you must have a pitch.

Alex Ferrari 17:24
Step one.

Morrie Warshawski 17:27
And I don't care if you don't like pitching, know how to pitch yada, yada, yada, you as the filmmaker must have a pitch. And it must be no more than 20 seconds long. This is a this is a basic pitch that you must create. I'll tell you why in a second, you can have longer pitches. But the big pitch, the one that you must have is at least 1/22 pitch, often recommend that you have a couple of different short pitches, depending on where you are, who you're talking to. And it must be compelling. And the purpose of the pitches it needs to reveal your interest in if you are likely to be interested. Now remember, there's a whole universe of people who are never going to be interested. Forget them. What you're interested in is that small unit of people who are likely to be interested, and your job is to reel them in and make them want to talk to you and ask questions. The pitch is like such a powerful tool. It makes you money all the time. Because I mean, here's the typical situation. You're at the grocery store, Safeway, and you're in line waiting to pay for your goods. And it turns out the line is long. So you turn around to the person behind you, and you say, I'm always on the wrong line. Even if I'm at the shortest line, it ends up being the longest line. And the other person said, and this is actually a true story that happened in San Francisco at the Safeway in the morning, filming Tony Stark, right. So she's talking to this guy behind them. It's actually one of those places where single coda meet up, but at any rate, so she's, and she says them, you know, what I just said? And he says, Yeah, I can list all the time and always have to wait in line. And she says, damn, well, Woody, what do you do? And he says, Well, I'm in accounting. I'm an accountant. And he says, Well, what do you do? He says to her, what do you do? And she says, Well, I'm a filmmaker. How many times this has happened? You in the world, right? She says, I'm an independent filmic. He says, Oh, that's interesting. What what are you working on? Are you with me? He says to her, what are you working on? Now, if she doesn't have a pitch, she's, he's gonna blow that moment. Right? Turns out, this woman has a pitch, it's 20 seconds long. She's in the Safeway line, right? In about two minutes, she's going to be up there spending money and saying goodbye to this guy. He gives him his pitch. And he goes, Oh, my God, that is really an interesting project. Give me your card, I want to talk to you about it, right? Two weeks later, she gets $10,000. So the pitch isn't always going to get you the money. But if you don't have the pitch, it's not going to get you the money. It highly increases the likelihood of you're meeting the right people, and getting the right things that you need, you must have the pitch. Okay, so you ask how do you ask for the money? That's a whole? That's a little separate science.

Alex Ferrari 21:09
Right? Right. Well, so alright, so before we get to that, so just for everyone's listening, it's like, it's the equivalent of being a painter and having a brush, and paint increases, the likelihood of you actually painting something, you might have the canvas, you don't have the brush in the paint, it just increases the chances of you actually ever painting anything. So that's a bit so.

Morrie Warshawski 21:33
So what I'm trying to say on a big metal level, is you are trying every moment of your life as a filmmaker, to increase the likelihood of success for you your film, fundraising, and distribution. That's why you want to be strategic. You want your comportment to work for you. You want everything in your environment to piggyback and work for you. So you need to be conscious about all of those elements. And when you are they pay off?

Alex Ferrari 22:10
Without question. So then how do you Okay, so now you have the pitch for the project, but how do you ask for the money.

Morrie Warshawski 22:18
So the first thing is, you have to know that the donor is ready for your pitch. So they have to be on that ladder of involvement somewhere where they're written, and it can't be like a cold call. The second thing is, if you are really bad at pitching you, you are allowed to bring someone with you for the ask who's good at it. So that's a good thing for a filmmaker to know if you're a very, very introverted filmmaker, who stutters, or whatever, you can bring someone with you to the ask if it's appropriate. So sometimes I'll have a tag team go in, which is really strong. But let's say you're going by yourself. The first thing is, you know that they're ready. The second thing, very important. What am I going to ask for? You must have a specific thing, or a specific amount of money that you will ask for. That's part of the equation of the pitch. You don't want to go in and say I need support. How much can you give?

Alex Ferrari 23:27
Oh, no, big mistake,

Morrie Warshawski 23:29
right? Well, I need support. I'll take anything it could get. Oh, no, no, you need to research and know, what their comfort zone of giving is. Find out how much they've given to other things in the world. Quite often, it's a big surprise. You never want you never want to ask for less than their comfort zone. That's a mistake you are allowed to ask for above their comfort zone. If you ask below, let's say I'm the donor. Remember that donors are experts at donating. They get pitched all the time. So while you're pitching them in what's going through their mind, put yourself in their shoes? Well, the first thing they're saying is how good is this guy pitching? Oh, he's asking me for $500 he doesn't know that I could give 50,000 right, that's going through their mind. So you want to know their comfort zone of giving before? Yes. So the typical rhythm of the ask if all of those things are in place on by the way, you'd like to control the environment where the as capitals. So quite often you have to go to their environment. Sometimes, I mean, the best scenarios if they come to your environment. If you have a studio and they come to your studio, that's my favorite place to ask is your environment, because they see you and you have control. And then there's everything in between, like restaurants, which I'm not fond of, because of the noise problem and privacy.

Alex Ferrari 25:20
So um, so let me ask you, though, so when you're asking for money for a film, there is some legal things you have to have in place like a ppm and all that kind of stuff, or is that not true?

Morrie Warshawski 25:34
Well, what are you asking for? If you're asking for a donation, different attacks a dipole donation, then either you have to have your own nonprofit Are you have to have another nonprofit that's working for you. Right? Right, a fiscal sponsor, a fiscal sponsor, to give the money through. And there are many good ones around the country, they usually take a small percentage, anywhere from 3% to 10%, I think is high 3% is very low, most of them will last like six or 7%. Sometimes you can get one for free, if they're a nonprofit that loves you and loves the project, sometimes, but fiscal sponsor something else we can talk about. So when you're making the ask, if you're asking for a donation or nonprofit charitable donation, then you must have a fiscal sponsor. If you're asking for an investment, then that's not really a donation, that's different. And then you must have a legal structure that's ready to accept that money somewhere. And LLC or blah, blah, blah. But there is something in between, which is like a no interest or low interest loan. Right? Sometimes you ask for for that. And then you don't need a legal structure. But you do need to have a lawyer on your team. And you have to have an instrument that's ready to accept the money, or don't make the ask.

Alex Ferrari 27:04
Right. Right. Because if they're, you know, if I'm like, hey, just write a check out to Alex, that's probably not a good idea. That opens you up personally to a lot of liability, it could open up, it could be a bad, bad thing. So you write an LLC, if you have a corporation, you could do it through that. But I would have created an LLC for the project regardless just to protect yourself and your assets.

Morrie Warshawski 27:29
Absolutely. That's kind of bottom line. Good basic advice. Always create that structure. Yeah. So to get back to the ask, do you want to Yes, continue, continue. So let's say I'm coming to your office, Alex's office. So the rhythm of the ask is, I'll sit down, and I don't want to begin by asking, I want to spend just a couple of minutes being friendly. It's what I call ice break time. So I should be ready to ask you or engage you in some kind of icebreaker. Now, the best scenario is we know each other, I've already talked to you before. So I might come in and say, Wow, the weather's great. And oh, by the way, how's your family, you know, is your son son still playing softball, blah, blah, blah, something to break the ice. If God forbid, you go in, and you've never met the person before, and you don't want to know much about them, which I never recommend. But let's say that happens, I might look around the room for a queue. And the queue might be pictures of your family, that might be a fish up on the wall. So I know that your official person will talk about the any thing to like break the ice. So you break the ice. But the rule of ice breaking is don't do it too long. Because that's unprofessional. You'll get a feel for when it's time to get into the ask. So when the ice break is over, then you say, then you'll talk about the project. You'll give your pitch. You don't want to make it too long. You don't want to bore the donor. Ideally, they already have something in front of them about the project. So you talk a little about the project, and then you ask them if they have any questions. Now, the rule for the questions is let that go on. As long as the donor wants to make it happen. Now it's in, it's in their court. If they're interested in they're asking, let them ask whatever they have to ask. But at some point, you'll know that the time to talk about the project is over. And now you must make now you must make a direct ask for the money. And the direct ask has like a little equation to it a little formula. The first part of the formula is I have to look you straight in the eyes. Very important. Don't be looking down. Don't be looking over here. Don't be shy about it, you have to look them right in the eye. And then you have to say, Well, I know that you don't have any more questions about it about the product. I know that you're interested, we both know how important this project is. I'd like to ask you for a donation of $10,000 that I will use for post production. Period. Okay, so you ask for a specific thing and a specific amount. And then the next rule, and it's a huge, important inviolable rule for the ask is shut up. And the rule is, use zip up. And the next person to talk losers, it's not going to be you. That moment, or moments of silence can be very awkward and hard for you. You don't want to interrupt by going, No, but if you need more, Ryan, is that no, no, no, no, no, no, you the next person to talk is the donor. Let them sit back as much time as they need whatever your job now is to shut up and not say anything. And they will say something next, and they have like three paths they can follow the first path, the one you're hoping for is I'm going to write you that check right now. I love this project, not only I'm gonna write this check, I'm gonna tell my friends, I have to give us My name all over it, blah, blah, blah, you're hoping that will happen. The second scenario is they say, you know, I'm going to need a little more time to think. Now, if they go down that path, which is not unusual, then you still have, Oh, I'm sorry. For path number one, if they say they want to give close the deal. Find out when and how they want to give you the money, or the stocks or whatever. Make sure they understand your fiscal sponsor interface or the legalities, whatever. Get that all straight. If they go down the second path, which is maybe, then you still need to close you say, I understand completely. What information can I give you?

Do you need to talk to other people? How much time do you want? And the donor will say, you know, I'm really busy right now, how about two weeks? And you'll say fine? Should I call you? Should I email you? Or do you want me to come back? Should we set up an appointment, you must close the time and date that that maybe will get resolved. Okay. So remember that most of the time, if you've really done your homework, and you've done your relationship building, one of those first two scenarios is going to happen. But there is a third scenario, the one you'd all like you're unhappy about. And that is they say, you know, this project isn't for me. I just can't help you at this time. So you have to not take it personally, which is very difficult. And what you need to do is understand more about the rejection. Don't be mad about it. Accept it. Don't never, never argue about never, this is a big mistake. And I see filmmakers make this mistake all the time. They get rejected by a funder for instance, or call the funder up and say, How dare you?

Alex Ferrari 33:45
But you know who I am? You know, I

Morrie Warshawski 33:47
am this project should have never do that. So let's say they say no, then you plot it will say, Well, can you give me a little more information about your hesitancy or difficulty running this project? Just for my own information? And thank you for your time do you want to stay in? Can I keep sending information about the project? Or can I keep you on my mailing list? Something like that. And then you leave. Always, always follow up with a thank you note or thank you email for their time. Even if they say no. And that's the ask.

Alex Ferrari 34:28
And that is the very cool now in your book. You were talking about house parties. And I found that very interesting. What is the fundraising house party because when I think of house party, I think of the 90s and kid and play but that's just my generation. So what what kind of house parties are you talking about?

Morrie Warshawski 34:50
Well by this markets, it's the Bible on house parties. Okay, I'm I'm shocked that you don't know that house parties because they become really, really Popular. I'll tell you how I got into this to house party. Well, first of all the history of house parties goes back to politics. Politicians have been doing house parties since the days of Socrates, interesting. Oh, yeah, that's how they raised a lot of their money. But when I was working at the Bay Area video coalition, I felt met a filmmaker who was in their editing one day, and I said, How are you getting money for this project? She said, I have house parties, that you do what I asked for. And she explained to me, the root of it, besides the house parties, and then I got crazy about them because they work. If you do them, right, they always work. That's what I love about the house party. But there's a big provides on that is, you must do them, right. But very simply, people get invited to someone's home. And usually it's not your home. And they get asked for money, and they give money, and then they go home, you take the money with you. That's like, a real quick encapsulation. But

Alex Ferrari 36:09
what do you love? So what value are you providing for them at this house party? I'm assuming it's a party. So there's music and there's food and other things like that? Or you literally just it's a Tupperware party? And instead of selling Tupperware, you're getting money? How does that work?

Morrie Warshawski 36:25
Well, the first thing is, everyone who comes to the party knows that they are going to be asked for money. Important. Very important. It's a mistake to send out an invitation and not let people know they're going to be asking for money. That's a huge mistake. Okay. So the great thing about sending out an invitation that says to the person we're throwing, and it's usually got not coming from the filmmaker, it's coming from a friend of the filmic. Ideally, someone has already donated to the filmmaker, and they're inviting their friends. They're saying to their friends, here's a project I'm crazy about. I love this filmmaker, Alex, I'm going to have him over to my house, so that you can learn about about this project, bring your checkbook, your credit card, and cash. Right. So that's why it's important that you send out invitations to three or four times as many people as you'd like to have at the party. And typically like to have a party with 10 to 20 people. So you invite 80 people, but most of them don't want to come because you're gonna ask them for money. Well, the beauty of that is they're not coming to the party, and they were never going to give you money. Right? Exactly. You feel them up. And the corollary is the important corollary is, everyone who does come to the party knows that they're going to be asked for money. They're bringing their checkbook, they're bringing, they're bringing their credit cards. And that means if you do the party right correctly, 70% of the people who come will give you money.

Alex Ferrari 38:11
So how do you do it? Right? What is that? You said that a few times already? So what is the right way to do it?

Morrie Warshawski 38:18
Well, the first right way is you have to have a good host, person who's going to throw the party. The second right way is the host puts together a little invitation to have their friends. The third right way is you send out the right invitation, be it an invite, or, or a physical limitation. The fourth thing is the implementation must have an RSVP that allows the person to give you money without coming. So there are some people who just can't come but they want to donate before the party even happens, you're going to make money. Okay, so that's part A before you go to the party. The second part is the party itself. The big rule is it must be someone's domicile where they live. Not a factory, not a fancy office, not a restaurant, a house, an apartment, a tent, a yard, wherever the person lives. Because the significance of crossing the threshold into your private space is so strong. It can't be replicated in any other environment. It says to people right away, I'm really invested. And that's why I'm allowing you to come in my house and keep your shoes on get the floors dirty. Okay, so you want that to happen. You have to prepare the host. And the host has to be ready to at the very least, invite everyone and welcome Then when they show up, at the most, it's great if the host will make the ask that night and I'll talk about the rhythm of the party. So the party begins, people show up. And you must have some kind of food, but not a dinner. Not a sit down dinner, it's got to be food that people can put on a plate a week with their hands and walk around and mingle. And you have to be ready to juice the mingling. You might have alcoholic beverages, but not hard liquor. Right? depends on where you are and what the environment is and who's coming. But I would allow some alcohol but not hard liquor, maybe some wine, most hosts don't like to have red wine, because people are going to spill it. yada, yada, yada. So you want the food to be ready. Now, typically, the host will pay for the food, but sometimes you have to pay. Right? Okay, so whatever. So you got the food, you let people mingle, you allow enough time for for people to show up late. And Part two is you must have a place in the house prepare for people to sit down and have a formal presentation. So you gather all the people together in the room, and then you have a formal presentation. And there are three parts to the formal presentation. You have to do all this or you won't get the money. But if you did, right, right, the first part is the host welcomes everyone. The host has to say, I'm so excited, they have to show enthusiasm. And the other thing they must do is they must let people know that they've made a donation. Why would I want to donate if you haven't done it? Right, they can smell that a mile away. So they must let people know that that's part one is the host. The second part is you the filmmaker act do have a role in this. And you're the filmmaker have to get up in front of the audience. And you must have a very short demo reel. A sample of the project. And it's got to be like, pretty brief, like three to seven minutes as a nice timeframe. You don't want to show too much. But the key. My favorite, my ideal clip is one that makes people cry. Or one that brings up some kind of emotion. I guarantee if you can make people cry at a house party, you don't even need to ask for money, they'll start throwing. But if you don't have that kind of sample, at least something that teases people, tweaks their interest, gets them to want to see more.

Alex Ferrari 43:05
Yeah. And that could be still a stills presentation, something that is explaining, you know, concept, our interviews, if it's a documentary, things like just something that could get them like, you know, just deal with what their bill, if you will, whether,

Morrie Warshawski 43:24
yeah, and so the extreme is you haven't actually started shooting and all you have is like still a storyboard or whatever, right. And the other extreme is, you're getting ready for post production you actually do to have like a professional sample, something in between. But the point is, get them involved, get them engaged. And your next role is you have to open the floor for questions, people are going to want to ask you things you hope you're desiring that. So and the rule here is, you don't want it to go too long. But you want to let people have their say, and ask whatever they want. And then the next part is, you're going to have someone who's going to make the ask. That person has to be prepared or ready to do the ask. Ideally, it's the host. But let's say the host is uncomfortable asking their friends for money during you will say fine, who's coming to the party? Who can we get to make the ask that night. And again, it must be someone who is going to give you money either that night or has already given you money. And the other important thing is that person has to be credible with the crowd that's there that night. So that's why you would like a homogeneous group and not a heterogeneous group. And that's why you have a lot of different pass parties, because you don't want people in the room at different socio economic level. If you don't want someone in the room who could only give you 50 bucks next to someone who could give you $50,000, you have to make sure that the room is in the same confort zone of giving. It's really awkward if that's not true. And that will control the level of your ask that night, by the way. And, oh, the other thing you have to have ready is a card that people can fill out to give you money. And on that card, you'd like levels that are appropriate for the people that were there that night. But at any rate, the the next being important part of the house party is someone has to get stand up and ask for money. And they have to be very direct, not namby pamby and this is another big mistake that people make. They don't ask for money. They'll throw a party and just talk about the people see the pledge cards and get by the end of the day. I've seen that happen, doesn't work. Someone has to get up. Everybody knows why they're there. They have to get up and say on there, the person who decides when the talking period q&a is over, they get up and say, Alex, okay, I think that's enough talking, everybody here knows why we're here. If they don't already love your project, they should leave already. They're crazy. Look, you are all my friends. George, how long we known each other. Sam, thank you for coming in, I look, let's get real, this project is only going to get made and must get made. By the way. If we can raise $50,000 tonight, to get it to the next level. Let's do the math there. 20 people in here, we need to add $50,000. That's going to be what is that 5000. I can't do the math real quick. I am hoping I'm expecting each of you to give at least that much tonight. And if you can't, I want you to talk to me. Let me know why. Otherwise, you got a pledge card in front of you. We will take cash tonight. If you carry that much. We'll take your personal check, we'll definitely take credit cards, if you want to give us your stocks and bonds, we'll work out a way to do that. Please go to your heart. And then I want you to go to your checkbook and your pocket in your pocket book. And give as much as you can. Thank you for coming tonight. And then you got to be ready to take money you got to have you got to have pens and pencils, I went to a party once where there weren't enough pens or pencils for the pledge card. They lost money and pledge cards you have to be people have people ready with little baskets to take whatever. And then people mingle a little bit more The party is over, but the party is not over. Because there's one more important thing you must do. You have to send a thank you note to everyone. You have to be sure that you've sealed the deal for people who want to give, make that happen. And it might be an investment party or giving party a dinner party, whatever, that's ready. But the third thing and the very important thing is anyone who came but didn't give you money must be contact. And the ideal contact is from the host or the person who made the ask.

But I might have to be you. And it has to be very present pleasant, friendly call, like maybe a week to 10 days later saying thank you so much for coming to the party. Did you enjoy it? How did you feel about it? I noticed that we didn't get a pledge card back from you. My days ask, Are you intending to give? Right? If you do that, you will get 30% more money than you raise that evening. So if you got $10,000 in pledges that evening, you'll raise another 3000 with your phone calls. And that's it.

Alex Ferrari 49:01
It's It's It's a, it seems like a I mean, you're in there. I mean, this is the I mean, what you've just described, and especially from the hosts, like I expect all of you to do this, this and this. And it's you can't do that by yourself. You need a host you need someone who has an emotional connection with with the people in the room, who they trust and things like that. So it's not like a cold, a cold ass. It's a very warm, very, very warm ask. And if you do any other Yeah, and if you do multiple, you could do 234 or five of them, depending on the network of people that you have his friends. You could you could you could easily raise the money that you need. I mean, obviously depending on how big your budget is, but relatively speaking, you could definitely raise good I see that and you wrote what was the name of the book that you wrote about that?

Morrie Warshawski 49:53
Well, oddly enough, it's called the fundraising house party.

Alex Ferrari 49:57
I've really never I've never heard of this. I've I can't believe I've never heard of this concept of, because I mean, I've heard of candle parties, Tupperware parties, you know, all you know, makeup parties, all these kind of parties that you know, you go there knowing that they're going to sell you makeup or candles or Tupperware. But I never thought about it for fundraising, but I guess it works. And it makes perfect sense that politicians have been using it for years.

Morrie Warshawski 50:25
Yeah. And in fact, you know, I got an email about three months ago from Vivian Kleiman, filmmaker, an indie filmmaker, she just finished a really good documentary. And she, because of COVID, she started doing zoom parties, zoom house parties. So I would love to get the a little more about the details of it. But the long and the short of it is you still find a host. And they do a zoom meeting and make an ask over zoom.

Alex Ferrari 51:00
That's Yeah, did you set up a website for them to just here, click here and donate here. And I guess that's in the second edition, you'll be you'll do the second edition of that book. With zoom,

Morrie Warshawski 51:11
retires. Ready to take money automatically. And you do need a website that will take credit cards on home, I did not need to tell people this. But yeah, you need to be able to accept money electronically and over the internet. make it really easy for folks.

Alex Ferrari 51:30
Right? I mean, you can get a square image right then and there, or PayPal, swiper for credit cards at the party. But you should also have a website ready to accept credit card payments, you know, personal checks you could do and all that kind of stuff. Yeah, it's, again, you should have an LLC set up and bank account set up for that LLC to accept all this money. So it's not going directly to, you know, Alex?

Morrie Warshawski 51:56
Yeah, you know, the thing about being an indie filmmaker is you spend 80% of your time doing business.

Alex Ferrari 52:03
It's, you're absolutely right. And I always tell people, like, you know, you, this is the only art form where you spent three years to work for three months, at best case scenarios, to make the movie you want to do yeah, like to make your movie in a narrative scenario. Most independent films don't have the luxury of three months. And they have six weeks, if at all, you know, to make their movie so you work two years, just to get to that point. And then you're done shooting, and then it's just the post production process. And then you're back. It's a business selling it, distributing it marketing it. It's not like a it's not like painting or songwriting. You know, you can write a song today, if you're if you are painting or draw something today or paint something today. It is a it's a brutal art form. Because it's expensive. Yeah. It's one of the most expensive art forms on the planet. No, no, I

Morrie Warshawski 52:56
think after opera after opera, yeah.

Alex Ferrari 52:59
After opera and architecture.

Morrie Warshawski 53:02
Well, architecture is an art form. Yeah, yes. That's true. But it's out there in the top five, let's

Alex Ferrari 53:11
there's no question. Yeah. And you also need a lot of people, you can't you can't do it on your own. You need a lot of people to know,

Morrie Warshawski 53:18
you know, and that's very, very important because independent filmmakers No, no, no, no, no interdependent, you must, you must have two types of communities. One is a tight community right around you, that's going to help you, your team, very important. You don't want to be isolated. And then the other community is like the larger community, the ecology of groups, people, organizations, funders, bla bla bla, that want to be with you they want to have make the work in and use the work. amplify the work. That's why a big part of your job now is creating and nurturing your community.

Alex Ferrari 54:05
And can you before we go, can you tell me a little bit about your daughter's new film big Sonya because I saw the trailer it looks amazing, and that you use some of these techniques to raise money.

Morrie Warshawski 54:16
Oh, yeah. She's read my book many times. I was an advisor on the project. It's hilarious to see her doing documentary film because when she grew up as a kid, this is like the last thing on her mind. And her history of how she got into film is really, really interesting. But I would encourage people to go to her website about the film big Sonia SLN. And it's big Sonia calm learn about the film. I have many, many fundraising stories about big Sonia. Not only fundraising for pre production, production and post production, but fundraising for distribution community out Reach. She is still fundraising today. And the film came out three years ago. interest and it took seven years to fundraise and make the film. We're into like your 10 or 11 on this film, folks. Yeah, that's what it takes. Yeah, but I've got like dozens and dozens of stories. I'll tell you an interesting story recently was we're fundraising now for a community out What? Are you all familiar with the show or project? Yeah, of course, yeah. To show our project that USC Spielberg's project, they have this new thing they started a year ago, well, where they do intensive interviews with a survivor of the Holocaust. And they create a 3d and or hologram version of the person. So that later on, you can interact with them in real time. They asked them like 1000 questions they stored and computers, blah, blah, blah. So we're fundraising now to complete that project. So one of the things I tell my filmmakers is that marketing is fundraising. Public Relations is fundraising. So two weeks ago, an article showed up in a newspaper about this project. And a day later, Leah's fiscal sponsor in in Seattle, Oregon, the Northwest film project, called her up and said, Well, we just got this donation $4,000. Do you know who it's for? It was this woman who ran about the project got excited want to see that? But I wrote out a check immediately for it. So the kernel of that is there a lot of lessons in that, and they have to do with comportment marketing, pitching, the whole range of things. But you're always doing that you're always trying to be strategic and always trying to make it happen.

Alex Ferrari 56:56
And one last question, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Morrie Warshawski 57:04
Oh, self awareness? That's an easy one to answer. That's why comportment is the big word in my work now, self awareness, understanding who I am really, what my real core values are, why I'm doing this work. Whether or not I should be doing it is really important to me. And the other thing was, how do I come across to people? That was a big lesson for me to learn and it changed my work dramatically. Understanding that and it shapes everything.

Alex Ferrari 57:42
And where can people will buy your book shaking the money tree?

Morrie Warshawski 57:46
Oh, well, the best places to come to my website. warshawsky comm w AR sh awsk.com. You can buy them directly from me, and I'll even autograph them. Or of course, you can go to Amazon. So they're available on Amazon as well.

Alex Ferrari 58:07
Maury, thank you so much for being on the show. And thank you for writing this book. I think it's a book that many if not all filmmakers need to read at one point or another in their careers until obviously they're loaded and filthy rich and they can sell finance their things or, or just call up Mr. Spielberg and go Steve, I got a project can you fund it for me? until those days come? I think we're going to be needing these tools for a long time. So I appreciate you for you being on the show, my friend. Thank you.

Morrie Warshawski 58:34
My pleasure. Take care. Adios.


  • Morrie Warshawski – Website
  • Shaking the Money Tree, 3rd Edition: The Art of Getting Grants and Donations for Film and Video – Amazon
  • The Fundraising Houseparty 2nd Edition: How to Party with a Purpose and Raise Money for Your Cause – Amazon


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