10 Insights to Keep in Mind When Applying for Filmmaking Grants
Before you fill out your next filmmaking grant application, take a look at these tips and insights into what reviewers are looking for.
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Having recently covered the SXSW film festival in-depth for PremiumBeat, I discovered a very unsurprising trend when speaking to filmmakers about their budgets. The majority of films in competition received some sort of filmmaking grant support — either in hard cash or in-kind donations of camera gear, filmstock, or other resources.
After attending a workshop hosted by the Austin Film Society for their statewide filmmaking grants, I gathered the following insights that should help filmmakers improve their chances of winning grant funding.
Grants are Meant to Help Up-and-Coming Filmmakers
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Perhaps the biggest point is the grant reviewers’ earnestness (in this case, as a state-sponsored non-profit) in supporting unknown and up-and-coming filmmakers. They’re not there to be gatekeepers; rather, they’re supporters — they just have their own sets of rules to follow, and the applications help ensure they realize their investments.
Application Comes from Principal Filmmaker
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While you can and should obviously solicit as much help as possible on your grant applications, at the end of the day, the reviewers want to see that your application comes from the principal filmmaker — usually the person who is most responsible for guiding the project from start to finish. This is often the director. Authenticity trumps presentability in this case (but shoot for both).
Applications Change Hands Often
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This was an interesting insight, and other grant review processes may differ slightly, but for the AFS process, every application gets reviewed by at least two people (and a third to confirm if the first two give low marks). After initial reviews, a pool of candidates go before a panel of experts where merits get argued and final grant decisions get made.
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As I mentioned above, grant reviewers want to find talented filmmakers to support; however, their biggest concern is that their money will be as useful as possible. Their biggest fear is that they’ll grant money to a project that doesn’t come to fruition — which, in turn, would mean that money gets wasted when it could have helped another filmmaker achieve his or her dream. With that in mind, at every turn of your application, your goal is to prove a 100% guarantee of completing your project.
As such, after reviewing many past grant recipients, it’s clear that grants very often go to projects looking for specific funds for post-production and other elements on the tail end of the production cycle. Why? Simply because there’s more confidence that the money is going to projects that are more likely to see completion and succeed.
Don’t Lowball Yourself
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This was also an interesting realization — grant reviewers are not looking for bargains. If you have an ambitious project and lowball yourself and your crew, that might appear to reviewers like a recipe for disaster. Instead, they look for proposed scope, budgets, and timelines that may be ambitious but, at the end of the day, look feasible.
Control the Viewing Experience
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Many grant applications will allow you to share either clips of a project (if you’re already in production) or relevant sample clips from past or similar works. As these applications may quickly change hands many times, it’s important to “control the viewing experience” of these clips. Reviewers might view your clips without reading your entire application, so if you’re showing concept art or clips without color grading, put explanatory notes on the screen.
(Bonus tip: if you, as the director, don’t have many samples to share but, say, your DP has a great reel, then share that and explain the relevance).
Show How The Grant Will Help
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It’s important that you outline exactly how the requested funds will help your production. If you’re working on a $100,000 project, it might be a stretch to explain how a $5,000 grant would help — especially if you can’t show where the rest of your funds would come from. Knowing an exact number, where that money (or in-kind resource) will go, and how that will help your overall production is key.
Include Letters of Support if you Can
Similar to applying for a job, having references or letters of support is a great way to demonstrate accountability, subject knowledge, and your ability to finish projects. Look to mentors, college professors, or clients who know your skills and character and are willing to write short-but-specific letters of support.
Read Guidelines, FAQs, and Supporting Materials
Finally, the most important of them all — Read. Every. Thing. Read the guidelines, read the FAQs, read any available supporting materials. There may be samples and past winners’ submissions available to review — read those. Read the mission statements and about sections of the website. There’s no excuse for missing information by not thoroughly reviewing what is available.
In the case of the AFS grants, and for many others, there is often an opportunity to have your application reviewed before applying, as well as after grants have been announced (if yours is not chosen). This could honestly be your most valuable resource, as you’ll get genuine feedback on which sections are strong and which need improvement.
For more tips about filmmaking grants and production, check out some of these resources: