This post was written by Polaris Banks.

In order to make my last short film, Reklaw, I participated in back-to-back clinical trials for eight years, living out of rental cars to save money. I also built an enormous set for the production mostly by myself, working every day for six months straight, and I served as the film's director, writer, producer, editor, colorist, stunt choreographer, foley artist, and played one of the main characters as well.

It was the definition of personal sacrifice and obsession to bring a vision to life. The 12-minute film ended up costing over $200,000 and screened at several prestigious festivals including SXSW and Fantasia, and won Best Thriller at HollyShorts.

In this article, I’ll be focusing mostly on unconventional funding, but if you’d like a more in-depth look at the production, I encourage you to check out this video.

The Riddle of Funding

When I attended SXSW to premiere Reklaw, all the filmmakers there asked each other the same question. “Where’d you get the money?”

Funding is the biggest dilemma on all our minds, but the only answers we’re ever given are specific to the individual.

“My father’s rich.” “I won a contest.” “My best friend owns a castle.” Well what if we didn’t win the cinematic lottery? What are we supposed to do? Give up and die?

And don’t say grants, pitching, and Kickstarters. Anyone who’s tried those knows they’re a complete crapshoot. What we need is a consistent way to greenlight ourselves.

Well, although most of us weren’t born rich or well-connected, we do have specific gifts that can be exploited. Mine are patience, resilience, and good health. Outside of filmmaking, those are all I have to offer, and I found a way to leverage them into raising $200,000. I don’t recommend you necessarily try my methods, but hopefully, I can inspire you to develop your own.

Reklaw_image_2Credit: Polaris Banks

Why Such a Big Budget for a Short? Are You Crazy?

Yeah, I guess. All I care about is making movies. If someone asked for my bucket list, it would just be an inventory of everything big budget directors get to do. Shoot on 35mm, work with movie stars, record an orchestra… These are my lifelong dreams, and I couldn’t bear to hang them on some executive maybe giving me the opportunity someday.

So I decided I was done compromising. Reklaw would be as close to theatrical quality as possible, but I couldn’t of course afford to make a $2 million 120-minute feature. So I divided by 10 and made a $200,000 12-minute short.

Reklaw_image_3Credit: Polaris Banks

Selling My Body to Science

Clinical trials changed my life. With the ability to make $300-$500 a day just by loafing around, I no longer saw financial decisions as amounts of money, they were amounts of time. “Can I afford those $5,000 lenses? Sure, that’s just two weeks in a study.” My prayers for creative freedom were answered.

We’ve all heard the legend of Robert Rodriguez. “He self-funded his first feature by volunteering for clinical trials! What a sacrifice for his art!”

But was he really putting himself in that much danger? No, I don’t think so. Just look up the top 30 most dangerous jobs in America. Research volunteer doesn’t even make the list, but cashier, crossing guard, and garbage collector do. I can give you the lowdown on why studies are actually pretty safe, but if you’re not interested in maybe volunteering, feel free to skip to the next section.

Reklaw_image_4'Reklaw'Credit: Polaris Banks

First, you’re usually only taking a small amount of the drug, like one pill a week. There are nurses right down the hall 24/7, and they’re monitoring your vitals constantly. When you do deal with a drug that’s legitimately first in humans, it’s already been through extensive animal trials. So if there was something in there that could seriously harm you, chances are they already caught it. I’ve been doing this for over eight years and almost never even feel side effects at all.

The real difficulties are the meals and the people. It gets tiring eating cafeteria food all day, and you’re often bunking with up to seven other participants. But if you can get past these minor inconveniences, it’s really quite a cushy gig. For more information, keeps a list of all phase 1 clinics in the U.S., and here are a few more tips if you’re curious:

  • Most are first-come, first-served. So ask the phone recruiter for the earliest screening possible.


  • Some facilities like Celerion and PPD give you “priority status” if you’re an alternate, meaning you’re guaranteed to dose in the next one.
  • Take a blood builder multivitamin like Hema-Plex before and after check-ins to make sure you pass your labs.
  • You can’t smoke or drink during most trials. So be prepared to clear that out of your system.
  • The majority of studies need a BMI of 18-30.
  • A 30-day washout period is required between enrollments. Facilities with VCT (Verified Clinical Trials) track your check-ins to make sure you comply, but not every company uses it.

That Car Life

Even at the high wages studies pay, it was still going to take me years and years to save the amount I needed. So I decided to cut my spending down as much as possible, starting with housing. Since I’d mostly be living at the clinics, I just rented cars in whichever city I was in and lowered the back seats to make a bed. I usually slept in front of Planet Fitness because they never close and have showers to rinse off in, and since I didn’t have a refrigerator to store food, I ate out of cans or got drive-thru.

To offset the cost of renting, I delivered for Uber Eats and Postmates all day, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. I was determined to become a money-generating machine. It was an obsession. I didn’t even get haircuts. A few more tips on sleeping in cars:

  • If it’s too hot or cold outside, running the air conditioning all night doesn’t burn that much gas.
  • Use your earplugs and sleep mask to keep from being woken up by passing cars and people.
  • Lay with your head in the trunk to feel more protected and attract less attention.

Reklaw_image_6'Reklaw'Credit: Polaris Banks

Racking Up Debt, Lots of Debt

I realized the idle time spent in studies would be perfect for post production. So I decided to take a break halfway through fundraising to build the set and shoot principal photography. This would mean having to cover the missing money in the meantime, though.

So I hopped on to make a list of all the credit cards that would probably accept me, but every time you apply, it hurts your chances of getting another one. So I clicked on as many submit buttons as I could before they caught on. The majority of the cards I received only had a $1,000 limit, but the final American Express miraculously granted me $8,000. So I thought I’d been saved.

But as the first day of shooting approached, it became clear that it wouldn’t be nearly enough. So I finally did the thing I’d been dreading the most this whole time, asking my friends and family for money. Seeing the extremes I was willing to go to though gave them confidence I’d be able to pay them back, and most were more than happy to help after seeing just how much I’d sacrificed myself.

Reklaw_image_7Credit: Polaris Banks

No Filmmaker Can Escape Crowdfunding

But after the escalating costs of post-production, festival fees, COVID, and so many other unforeseen setbacks, I’m sorry to say that I haven’t been able to pay everyone back yet. So it was finally time to try the other avenue I’d been desperately avoiding… Indiegogo. There are tons of articles detailing how to create a compelling campaign. So I’ll just focus on my main takeaway from the experience—direct messaging is everything.

I tried posting and email blasting and buying ads, but all of it was ignored. The only method that consistently converted to donations was just messaging people and asking them point-blank to please give. All the social media platforms have limits on how many cold DMs you can send, though. So I did 100 people per day per platform to keep from getting banned, eventually totaling around 7,500. It’s an absolutely exhausting grind, but it at least gave me some control over who saw my content.

Reklaw_image_8Credit: Polaris Banks

So Was Derailing Your Entire Life for a 12-Minute Short… Worth It?

Honestly, yeah. I see filmmaking as more of a lifestyle. Some people surf every day, I pick at my movie. It’s my hobby, my work, and my vacation all in one. It doesn’t matter if I work on one film for 10 years or 10 films for one year each. As long as I’m making what I want to make and growing with each project, I’m happy.

But would I recommend it to others? God, no! This was my own little personal odyssey I had to go on for some reason, and now that I have a great work sample that went to SXSW out of it, I’m looking for investors from here on out. However, I would recommend that everyone take at least one big swing in their lifetime to try to break out. You don’t have to live out of your car and build a set all by yourself, but extreme outcomes come from extreme measures. Don’t be afraid to try your hardest. It’s always worth it.

To conclude, I gotta plug my crowdfunding campaign. (I’m sure the No Film School reader base understands.) We still haven’t reached our goal with less than two weeks left. So please consider becoming a supporter if you can.

Reklaw was picked up by Continuance Pictures for development into a feature.