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How do you make ends meet?

This is a question we’re often asked when people learn we choose not to take conventional film funding routes and make most of our films free to view. It’s a big subject for us and the ethics around how we fund our lives and our business have been deeply thought about.

In 2022 we’ve launched Community Supported Filmmaking, creating a fundraising base on Open Collective, an online platform for receiving and distributing collective funding with transparency as a core ethic. You can read all about this in the blog post we wrote with the launch of our campaign to be fully audience funded by the end of 2024.

How are funds used?

If you’re considering donating to Happen Films, you’re probably interested to know how your money will be used. Is the way we run Happen Films aligned with the messages in our films? Or do we spend it on fancy cameras, nights on the town, and weekend trips to tropical islands? 🙂 With our move to Open Collective, in time the majority of funds raised will be transparently collected and distributed from within that platform. Some will still come through our Store and other avenues, and many of our expenses will be paid directly from our bank.

So in summary, our major costs are the usual ones for a film production house, with the less usual element that we prioritse buying film gear secondhand (except for batteries and hard drives). The conflict between our films’ messages and the high energy/mining/waste involved in creating the gear we use is not lost on us and each purchase is thoughtfully made. (If you’re in film yourself and have a geeky interest in the gear we use, we’ve added the list on the FAQs page.)

Choosing a relatively simple lifestyle means we don’t need to fund a great deal beyond the necessities. We pay ourselves a good wage whenever the business can afford it and it’s a priority for us to pay our contractors and colleagues a very good hourly rate. In 2020 we committed to two paid employees working a few hours each a week.

The rest of our costs, outside of film production itself, go to platforms that enable the maintenance of this website, cloud file storage, subscriptions for editing and other post-production programmes and music libraries, and of course accountancy programme and fees, gear insurance, and general home office costs. It all inevitably mounts up, even when you think of your business as tiny!

In total, our monthly outgoings come to between NZ$7000 and $10,000, not counting film production, where each film has a separate budget – you can get a sense of the costs of making films from our budgets on the Open Collective platform. Usually NZ$10–15,000 for a short film and we’ve spent between NZ$40–65,000 for longer-form films. We haven’t made a properly budgeted feature film yet (both A Simpler Way and Living the Change were made predominantly from smelly oily rags!).


We want to live in a world in which all of Earth’s creatures can thrive in the way they’re meant to. At present this feels far from the reality of the world we live in but we live our lives in a way that ensures we’re contributing to making it possible. We’re white, middle class, educated, and a great deal of privilege and responsibility comes with those things. We were both born in a country that was colonised by our ancestors (Australia) and we now live in a country that was colonised by our ancestors (Aotearoa New Zealand).

We don’t believe colonisation ended sometime in the past – we see that it continues around us and that we can easily play a part in its continuation if we’re thoughtless enough. We’re committed to being good Treaty partners here in Aotearoa and allies to indigenous cultures wherever we go, and we have much to learn for that commitment to be in action. Part of the learning is understanding whose stories it’s appropriate for us to tell and how to tell them respectfully. This is a constant work in progress.

We came to filmmaking with a mission to share stories that contribute to creating a new narrative for humanity to live by. It’s profoundly important to us, but it’s not a mission that sits above our drive to create beautiful, engaging films – it’s on a par with it.

Our lifestyle is very much aligned with the message we share in our films: we strive to be very low waste (oh for zero one day!); we keep long-distance travel, and in particular flying, to a bare minimum; we grow as much of our own food as possible; and we prioritise buying secondhand and/or local for pretty much everything except our underwear 🙂 We strive to be useful and connected members of our community and we support initiatives and movements that promote a move towards energy descent and a degrowth economy. (We’ll be adding blog posts this year on our thinking regarding those subjects.) We’ve moved to Open Collective to fundraise for our films because we want to role model trust, openness, and transparency in all that we do – we believe they’re critical elements in a viable future for humanity.

We welcome your questions about Happen Films, whatever they might be. Please feel free to be in touch!

Photos by Wild Feet Productions