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5 Things You Need to Know About Funding

By Minoti Vaishnav

You have an idea for a great documentary. You've done your preliminary research and are almost ready to get going. But you still need funds to start the filmmaking process. So what's the best way to get this process started, and what are the different types of funding grants you can apply for?

The participants on our recent panel Doc U: More Than Money—Getting Foundation Support for Your Doc, including the filmmakers from American Winter and funding experts from IDA and The Fledgling Fund, told us 5 things to keep in mind when seeking funding from foundations.

1. Develop a plan to execute your project.

For many members of the documentary filmmaking community, fiscal sponsorship is the first thing that comes to mind when it comes to funding their doc. Fiscal sponsorship is an arrangement in which a non-profit, (such as IDA), agrees to sponsor a project for the purpose of fundraising, and allows filmmakers to seek grants and solicit tax-deductible donations for their documentaries, with overall support and guidance from IDA.

But what is the best way to get fiscal sponsorship for your project? Amy Halpin, IDA's Program Manager for Fiscal Sponsorships, recommends having a clear execution plan. "Proposals submitted to the program go through a peer review. What we're basically looking for is feasibility. How feasible is your plan for your documentary and do you have a plan to execute your project?"

2. Have a post-completion funding plan.

Many filmmakers understand the need for funding when it comes to actually making the film. Equipment, time and travel all require funding so that your film can actually be completed. Although many filmmakers are aware about programs that offer pre-completion grants, the programs that offer post-completion grants for outreach are just as important.

"What happens after your film is completed?," asks Emily Verellen, Director or Programs and Communications at The Fledgling Fund. "Outreach is an important component for independent filmmakers."

The Fledgling Fund has two funding cycles per year, with each cycle giving out 20-30 grants of an average of $25,000 each. These grants are given out for outreach purposes and the organization works with filmmakers to hone their outreach and grant writing skills. Every good doc needs a good outreach plan once it is completed.

3. Never underestimate the importance of outreach.

After your film is complete, there can be opportunities for further funding just by reaching out to organizations that may be interested in the cause or subject of your film. This is one of the reasons why organizations such as The Fledgling Fund offer outreach grants—because a good outreach campaign can make or break a doc.

"We've had requests for over five hundred screenings because of our outreach efforts," says Harry Gantz, director of American Winter. Outreach for films opens up doors for filmmakers not just with funding, but also for getting the film out there.

4. Read the application requirements.

When applying for funding, always read the requirements of the grant you are applying for. Do you meet all the requirements? Is this the right grant for you?

While this may sound obvious, Emily Verellen of The Fledgling Fund explains that a number of applications the organization receives are rejected because they do not meet the requirements. "Always read the requirements," she advises. "It could save you a lot of time."

5. Find a good grant writer.

When it comes to documentary filmmaking, many times we always feel like we can do (and are doing) everything ourselves. However, when it comes to securing funding, director Harry Gantz explains that the most important thing is having a good grant writer—in this case, American Winter’s producer Devon Terrill. "Teamwork is important. While my brother Joe and I have been working on directing projects for years," Harry explained, "we needed someone with knowledge on grant writing. That's where Devon came in. She had written grants before."

Devon's grant writing skills secured the film with not only a grant from Working Films and The Fledgling Fund, but also an initial grant from The Paul Allen Foundation. The example of American Winter shows that someone with knowledge of grant and proposal writing could make all the difference for your film.