There are many books and Internet resources on creating proposals for film projects but a common mistake is to submit a "final" proposal carte blanche to a variety of funding sources without paying attention to application guidelines. Each funding source is looking for specific information they want to see addressed, so time must be given to alter and adhere your proposal to meet these guidelines.
"You'd be surprised how many people send me proposals and say 'I'm going to send this to fifty granters,' " says Carole. "I say 'No, no, don't do that! You have to read the Web sites.' The worst thing that a person applying for a grant can do is not read the guidelines because it means that you're in a hurry, you don't want to take the time, or you're not focused. Granters know when you've not read their guidelines."
While it takes time to tailor a proposal to each specific granter or sponsor, it is important to search for multiple opportunities rather than pin your hopes in one place. Hundreds, if not thousands, of filmmakers may apply for the same grant, so there is a strong likelihood of rejection, especially with the larger funding sources. Rejection is not a sign of failure but a chance to learn and improve, especially if the funding source provides feedback, as many do. Carole Dean personally telephones Roy W. Dean grant applicants who have not made the final cut. I've had a few such calls from Carole myself and felt more uplifted than deterred as a result, as she acknowledged the relevance of my projects while offering constructive suggestions for improvement.
"I have never sent letters," says Carole. "I'll admit sometimes it takes a bottle of wine to make those phone calls because I get so emotional and I always feel so bad about having to say no. I'll set aside two weeks and two to three hours a day to take phone calls. I will go over the application with the filmmakers and give them a private consultation on how to improve their application. I feel if we're going to say no, we should darned sure explain why we said no or what a filmmaker can do to improve it."
Although proposals vary depending on funding guidelines, there are some general components that are typically included:
1. Story synopsis
2. Program structure and style (the creative approach)
3. Relevance of the project (why this story needs to be told)
4. Production budget
5. Plans for marketing and distribution
6. The production team (bios on the key players)
7. Pertinent articles or resources (supporting the relevance of the project)
For example, the following is a proposal for a documentary I created called Touched by a Mentor, about the importance of mentoring for youth. This proposal was chosen as a finalist in the 2003 Roy W. Dean LA Video Grant. For this submission, a budget was not required so is not included in the sample. As Carole suggested, always read the funding guidelines and follow them!
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