Funding Opportunities for Filmmakers

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"Obviously you were put here to make these art pieces for us. Always know that you are loved for that"

Carole Dean, From the Heart Productions, Oxnard, CA

Creative filmmakers and documentary makers often rely on grants and other sources of funding for their projects. Many grants require nonprofit status. It is hard to survive as a nonprofit, so some production companies develop nonprofit subsidiaries in order to qualify for grants. For example, Leslie Kussman of Aquarius Productions in Medfield, Massachusetts, created Solstice Films, an organization separate from her for-profit company that allows her to qualify as a nonprofit for documentary grants.

Fortunately, nonprofit status isn't always necessary and many other funding opportunities exist for filmmakers.

One such funding source is presided over by Carole Dean—the Roy W. Dean Grants, an in-kind services grant for film and documentary makers from around the globe, so named to honor her late father. In addition to supervising the grant and running her production company, Carole is author of The Art of Funding Your Film and hosts many workshops on the topic. She is the ultimate guru on chasing dollars to finance productions.

When I spoke to Carole she was in New Zealand, a place she frequents often to support filmmakers and screenwriters through her grant offerings. Warm, spiritual, and compassionate, her advice is always encouraging and positive. Through her research she has discovered that there is more money than ever available for filmmakers, despite the myths or uncertain economic trends.

"When you hear that some division of government or an arts group has cut its funding, that can cause a very negative perception," warns Carole. "And yet I would say that every time that happens, at the same time there are three, four, or dozens of new companies starting up that have grants available. It may not be as easy to get $100,000 or $50,000 from one place anymore, but you can get the $5,000 and $10,000 grants from a lot of small places. You need to be realistic about how much time it's going to take to get your funding and that means allowing yourself several months for research. In my book I listed one search engine with ten thousand funding places. Think how much time it would take you to get through that alone! It's the work you need to do to find those $5,000 to $10,000 grants that's time consuming."

Before you start seeking the dollars for your dream project, here's what Carole says you should always do.

"I really recommend that filmmakers do an outline that says they're going to raise X dollars. And I suggest they break their project into three sections-pre-production and research, production, and post. At the beginning you really need to focus on the first third. How much money do you need and when do you need it by? You have to have a mindset with total faith. You cannot carry baggage around in your mind when looking for money or when planning your production needs. You have to be totally confident and realistic."

Carole has reviewed thousands of proposals for the Roy W. Dean grants so she has an eye for what differentiates those she is interested in supporting.

"I like to look at a photo of the filmmaker while I read the proposal," says Carole. "Not necessarily a photo of you with a camera on your shoulder, but just of a picture of who you are so we can see a look in your eyes that tells us how committed you are to spending three years to make this film. Secondly, what is your connection to this film? If you're working on an Alzheimer's project, did your grandfather have Alzheimer's? If you have found a man whose life you want to document, what's so special about the man and why are you the one that needs to tell the story? Answering those questions at the front of your application will allow your funder to know why you are willing to devote so much time to the project. Your personal drive for telling the story is really the basis of the film, so it needs to be explained early on.

"Another thing is that filmmakers get so involved in the technology—I'm going to shoot on this or that camera and they forget that filmmakers are storytellers. I want to know the story. Don't forget that part. And in telling me your story, I want visuals. I want you to relate the story in a way I can visualize it on film. In my book I had some examples about taking a statement, such as 'seventy-six thousand Americans lost their lives in World War II.' Turn that around into 'these soldiers are now lying in shallow, make-shift graves, rusting wrecks and battlefields thousands of miles from home' and you provide the images we need to follow your vision."

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