Today we have an article on film grants by Grace Amodeo. Grace is a Program Coordinator at SHIFT and is the grant manager for the SHIFT Creative Fund, a film grant geared towards narrative short film projects.

So, you’ve got an idea for a film project. Maybe its a script you just finished, maybe its a project that’s been sitting in the back of your closet gathering dust for the past 3 years.

How do you get that project from words on a page to shots on the screen?

For many up-and-coming filmmakers, funding is the biggest hurdle to getting your project produced. You’ve got the idea, you know exactly how you want it to look, and you know how you are going to get it done – the only thing you don’t have is the money.

You may be considering starting a Kickstarter page or asking your great aunt for a loan, but there are far more viable solutions out there that don’t involve calling all your distant relations or asking friends for $5 contributions.

Head to Google and search for “Filmmaking Grants”. Go ahead, do it right now.

I bet you didn’t realize just how many opportunities there are out there for film funding. Companies, organizations, and nonprofits are offering so many avenues for filmmaking, all you need to do is find the one that’s right for you and send in a kick-ass application.

Whatever kind of project you are working on – feature film, documentary, short film, new media, animation – chances are there is a grant out there that is just right for you.

Now that you know where the funding is, here’s a handy how-to guide on the best way to get it!

film grants

1. Find a grant that is the right fit for you

Not all grants are created equal, and many are looking to support a very specific type of filmmaker or project. Read their materials, check out the company or nonprofit website, really try to understand who they are and why they are offering the grant.

If you can speak to their specific goals in offering the grant you are far more likely to get noticed by the judges.

Grant programs can get very specific. They are looking to support first-time female filmmakers in Southern California who are making a horror movie, for example. If that description fits you – goldmine!

film grants

2. It’s a numbers game

Even if you do find a grant that is the perfect fit for you, that does not mean you should apply to only one and leave it at that.

The reality is you are competing against hundreds of other filmmakers, and even if you think you are absolutely 100% perfect for a particular grant, you have to play the odds.

Find the grant you are perfect for, then find 10 more that you also might be a good fit for and apply to all of them. The more you apply to, the more chances you have of getting funding.

You can also use this as an opportunity to perfect your application – sometimes one grant will ask for something that you hadn’t thought of before, and could really enhance your proposal for future funding.

You learn as you go, so don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

film grants

3. Know your audience

Before you dive head-first into a grant application, take some time to learn about the group behind the grant. Check out their website, read some of their materials, get to know them a little bit.

Maybe they are a company looking to reach a new filmmaking audience, maybe they are a nonprofit hoping to spread a certain message, maybe they are a production company seeking talented new creators. The more you know about the grant and why it is being offered, the more you can speak to their specific wants and needs in your grant application.

film grants

4. Follow directions

No two grant applications are the same. Generally speaking, when you apply for a grant you are providing four basic pieces of information:

  • who (who you are, your history and experience),
  • what (the project itself),
  • how (the budgets, the schedules, the logistics of how you plan to pull this off), and
  • why (why is this project important, why should anyone care, why are you the one who needs to tell this story).

These are the basics, but some grants are far more interested in some pieces and far less interested in others. A grant focused on a certain social impact or issue is going to be heavily focused on the “why” of the project, whereas a grant hoping to support a rising star filmmaker may be more interested in the “who”.

Pay close attention to each specific application, read the instructions carefully, and give them what they want.

film grants

5. Prepare ahead of time

Many people far underestimate how extensive a grant application can be. It’s not usually something you can throw together in a day, it requires serious thought and planning.

The grant judges will want to know exactly how you plan to tackle each aspect of the project from pre-production through distribution. They will likely want to see budgets, schedules, and a well-thought-out plan.

Many grants will supply an application checklist or list of application questions on their website. Take a look at this as soon as you can. These things take time to put together, and you really want to be thoughtful about your answers.

The good news is, once you put together one grant application the next one will be much easier. A lot of the information you compile will be covered in future applications, but keep your eyes open for curveballs.

Each grant likes to throw in their own unique set of questions to fit their specific needs, so don’t assume you can write one application and submit that to 10 different grants.

film grants

6. Create a visual treatment

Film is a visual medium, and communicating the look, feel, and mood of a film using only written words on a page is near impossible. When pitching a film concept you should always, always, always come with visual aids.

Creating a visual treatment allows a person to take one look at the imagery and “get it”, they can make an instant association between the image on the screen and the feeling you are trying to evoke.

We stand on the shoulders of those that came before us, and pulling inspirational images from other works that share a similar style with your project is the best way to communicate a vision.

Create a “mood board” or “look book” for your project, share example links to communicate style, share location photos or casting boards if you’ve already gotten that far. Even if the grant doesn’t have a specific section for a visual treatment, upload it to the “additional materials” section or include it somewhere else in the grant process. It will go a very long way.

7. More than just a demo reel

I often get asked about demo reels vs. full length links to previous work – is one better than the other, and why might you need both? 

Demo reels and previous work links serve two very different purposes, and it is very important to provide both when showcasing yourself as a filmmaker.

Demo reels provide a quick snapshot into your style as a filmmaker, they show us the quantity and overall quality of a filmmaker’s work.

As a filmmaker, a sleek and professional demo reel can be your ticket into a lot of opportunities. Try to showcase as many different types of projects as possible and pick your “greatest hits” of shots, scenes, and moments to give the audience a general overview of your work.

But you simply cannot judge the merit of a filmmaker based on demo reel alone. A full-length piece of work (whether a completed feature film, short film, or even a music video) is necessary to get a well rounded picture.

How you use titles and editing, how you direct your actors, how you build tension and create story arc, how you sustain attention over a longer period of time. For these qualities, there is no substitute for full-length work.

8. Show your passion

Enthusiasm and excitement can sometimes be the difference between getting funding for your project and getting thrown in the “no” pile.

Imagine two identical grant applications – same script, same budget, same filmmaker with the same experience.

Filmmaker A gives everything the application asked for, but they give just the facts: here’s who I am, here’s what my project is about, here is how I plan to execute it, here is why it is important. Nothing wrong with that.

Filmmaker B does the same, but also talks about how excited they are to bring this film to life, how they can’t wait to jump in and get started, how they are the only person in the world who could tell this particular story.

Who would you choose? I think almost everyone would pick Filmmaker B.

A word of warning, though – don’t try to fake it. False enthusiasm is easy to spot, be genuine in your excitement and speak from the heart, it will come across in your application.

Film Grants – In Conclusion

There are people out there who want to help you get your project out of your head and onto the screen – you just have to know how to find them!

We hope you’ve found this article on film grants helpful. Have you received a film grant? Let us know how you did it (and any tips) in the comments below.

If you’ve got a short narrative film that needs funding, check out the SHIFT Creative Fund — offering three grants of up to $30,000 each. Applications close May 31st! https://shift.io/creativefund/