Funding Sources for Aspiring Wildlife Filmmakers

Since starting to publish articles on this blog, we realised that there is a lot of interest about wildlife film-making. Many of the articles already published, are about filming techniques or possible careers in the wildlife film-making industry. However, the big question in the minds of many aspiring wildlife film makers is: How to find funding sources to fund a filming project? Therefore, from many years’ experience in this competitive field, I compiled this article to help you guys out.

Ok, after the big idea, you are smashed with question number 2 – Where is the money to fund this coming from. This is the stumbling block for most aspiring wildlife filmmakers as they set out in their quest to turn their creative vision into a reality. Most established wildlife film producers will set-up meetings and pitch sessions with Discovery channel executives – it is an understandable reality that commissioning editors would rather work with the tried and tested compared to the new kid on the block (e.g. you).

But, before you get to disheartened and go apply for that job at Wallmart, there are sources of funds for aspiring wildlife and documentary filmmakers to tap into and allow them to get their vision made. Here, I outline 7 sources of funds that you can explore when trying to turn your vision into a show.

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Again, this may be a slight cheat to you, but money is money and some parents have put away a few extra bucks for their children’s future. If you are sure this is the film that you need to make, and you are committed to the production, then pitch to your parents and friends. But, a word of warning, you only have one family. Make the repayment plan very clear and stick to it. Also, if you do manage to pay the parents back (with a little interest) then they will be more likely to reinvest the money with you for your next big film!


Crowd funding is a recent development, where platforms for groups of small individual investors come together and fund a bigger project. The most renowned crowd funding platform for films is kickstarter, and a number of excellent documentaries have being realised due to the small investment of a lot of individuals.


Corporations are always moving and finding new ways to reach their target customers. One of these avenues is to sponsor documentaries that will be viewed by their niche clientele. If your program has a very clear audience, then identify the corporations that supply products and services to this community and hit them up for sponsorship.


Ok, this doesn’t really count, as the whole purpose of this article is to find sources of funds outside your own. But do not turn your nose up at the idea of self-funding your first production. Better yet, only self-fund a three minute sizzle reel of your show and then take this to the film festival circuit and enter it into an open pitching or speed pitching session, where the commissioning editors can’t miss you.

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Ok, when was the last time you found yourself idly chatting to a billionaire at the local pub…? Probably never, but many of the world’s ultra-rich are putting bigger and bigger percentages of their profits into causes that they believe in and for many of these a cause driven documentary, that is similar to their personal interest, is a worthy investment. How to find them, forget about the individual and find the trust they have set up.


This is a relatively new phenomenon, and has arisen from the need for financial and contractual specialists to help guide new aspiring filmmakers. Funding agents specialise in sourcing funding for projects likely to succeed and then aiding in safe guarding the clients (you) interests through developing the various contracts required by a broadcaster, distributor or investor.


We already mentioned the difficulty for aspiring wildlife film makers to gain access to the inner offices of the big commissioning editors. But this does not mean that their money is off the table! Enter a show runner. A show runner is an independent production company with a long history of performance for a given broadcaster. Since the broadcaster trusts this company to produce viable deliverables, they can pair you with the production company and commission your program. Yes you will lose a lot, but you will also have you program made and shown on a major network. Great stepping stone to bigger things.

And that’s a quick 7 sources to get you going on your filming project. Remember, that with any investment made into you or your project, comes great responsibility – the responsibility to make the best wildlife film ever!

Ryan Johnson Shark Scientist

Blogger Profile - Ryan Johnson

Ryan is a well known wildlife film maker and shark biologist located in MosselBay, South Africa. His work is highlighted as researcher, television host, camera operator and scientist on shark and marine documentaries for international broadcastors including National Geographic Network.

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