Independent films and filmmakers provide a powerful voice in our media landscape. But along with that creative filming, there comes the challenging task that haunts every production: film funding. Behind every creative vision is the need for a meticulous and generous budget to make these projects happen. Funding for any project - no matter the scale - is a daunting undertaking, but luckily, there is a rich landscape of film grants for filmmakers and independent projects to support your vision.
In this post, we’re digging into where to find grants, how to apply, and the differences between grants and other types of funding.
Let’s get into it.
Film grants are resources given by organizations to support film production. Though grants for filmmakers are usually in the form of funding, they can also include services or equipment.
In the broader world of film funding grants, they offer support for a range of different types of productions. Some of the grants you’ll often see include documentary grants, short film grants, and even student film grants.
Whatever the scope of your project, there are definitely means to support your production among today’s broad landscape of grants for film projects.
Grants are just one option when finding film funding. In addition to grants, there are film fellowships and film labs.
With film fellowships, there is a much more involved relationship with the awarding body. Oftentimes, fellowship committee oversight will be ongoing throughout the project and also involve some sort of service for the organization.
Film labs focus more on providing mentorship and artistic support. Filmmakers are chosen to participate in labs throughout the writing, shooting, or editing process, which connect them with lab peers and mentors within the program. Funding can be included in labs, but the focus of these opportunities centers on support and networking.
In any film grant directory, you will often come across postings for these different forms of production support. Film funding and organization mentorship come in many forms, and it’s all about choosing what is right for you and your project.
You’ve got to be industrious about film funding when working in the world of independent filmmaking, and grants for film projects are a great way to support your vision.
In many ways, film grants mean money with the most freedom.
Most film grants won’t necessarily be enough to support your whole production, but they are a great way to round out your budget.
That’s because film grant funding does not need to be repaid.
Grants also provide you more control over how that money is spent. Although some grants have stipulations on how you use that funding (grants for media equipment, for the writing stage, for certain locations, etc.), most grants provide non restricted funds to be used at the production team’s discretion.
For many, grants for film projects provide funding with the least restrictions and most creative freedom.
Along with this funding, the awarding organization usually asks for recognition for supporting the film, as well as periodic updates during the stages of the production. These grants for filmmakers also come with a level of prestige and networking that can be beneficial to your shoot.
At the end of the day, as an independent filmmaker, how can you say no to free money with no (or few) strings attached?
There are a couple of things you’ll want to consider when you’re exploring grant opportunities.
Securing grants are already built into the usual pre-production stage of securing film funding. Once your project is at the stage where you can present a pitch and prospective budget, you have the materials needed to submit for a film production grant.
The biggest factor for you is their deadlines. And trust me, you can’t miss them.
Though some grants accept applicants on a rolling basis, most grants have hard deadlines for submission.
For your submission, most applications will need an artist statement, a treatment for your film, and a budget breakdown. Additionally, many applications ask for letters of recommendation.
Give yourself 4-5 months time to research and prepare your film grant application packet for at least the first couple of go rounds. This will give you time to properly prepare your materials, reach out to possible recommenders, and have everything submitted comfortably by the deadline.
The good news is that once you have one film grant application packet completed for a project, you’ll have most of the foundation for other grant applications with your budget and artist statement.
The timeline for film grant applications varies per organization. Final notification for film funding can be anywhere from four months up to a year. So when you’re looking through these film funding sites, be sure to choose grants whose timeline works with the scope of your project.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by an abundance of choices when looking at a long list of grants. What film production grants you qualify for and want to pursue will be determined by the scope of your project, film genre, and areas of interest. You’ll also want to consider the differences between non-profit, corporate, and government film funding.
Non-profit grants support artists and projects that reflect their mission. Their sources usually come from donations, foundations, and corporate contributions.
Corporate grants are usually sourced from their engagement and outreach budget. Again, you’ll usually find corporations supporting film grants and productions that cater to their interests.
Government grants are available at the federal, state, and local level. When pursuing government film funding, you will likely have to pair with a non-profit sponsor so as to be eligible as a for-profit production.
Once you delve into any list of film grants, you’ll then have to work out which grants’ parameters apply to the scope, length, and genre of your project.
Some of the more common parameters you’ll see with film grants include documentary grants, short film grants, feature film grants, and student film grants.
Within each of these categories, they break down into different specifications.
For narrative film grants, feature films are considered those longer than 90 minutes. Fiction short film grants are usually under 90 minutes. However, those parameters aren’t set in stone and vary depending on genre, especially for documentary grants. While fiction features are 90 minutes, documentary ones will often consider a feature to be 60 minutes.
Film production grants are actually expanding beyond the traditional notion of film. With the emergence of new media storytelling, many organizations are now supporting storytelling that explores VR/AR, interactive storytelling, and more. If you’re worried that grants for filmmakers don’t quite fit a more experimental project, remember that “film funding” now encompasses a broader world, and there are resources available for you.
In every grant directory, you’ll also see an increasing amount of film funding meant to support diversity in the film industry. Funding for black filmmakers, POC, LGBTQ+, and women are expanding the creative voices within the industry. These much deserved grants for filmmakers are an excellent resource to pursue for both feature and short film funding.
Oftentimes, one of the largest anxieties with pursuing film funding is finding film grants in the first place. Luckily, there are plenty of film funding sites designed to make that process easier.
Some of the readily available directories include:
Outside of a more surface-level google search, you can also deep dive into different cultural institutions looking to support art and film funding.
Many museums and art institutions have artist funding and grants available each year. If you’re looking for grants for student filmmakers, look into your university and see if they have funding available for student work.
You can find film funding opportunities in many different places. But as a starting point, there are directories and lists outlining the ample resources available to independent filmmakers.
We’ve chosen a list of grants with some deadlines fast approaching, while others come up throughout the year. We recommend checking the databases regularly and scouring the internet for opportunities when you can. This is by no means an exhaustive list.
For more opportunities, regularly check these sites or the database above.
The film grant application process can vary slightly based on the grant, but there’s a usual set of requirements that you’ll need for your application process.
Film grants are a competitive process. Remember that there are many filmmakers out there looking for the same opportunities. Keep track of your deadlines. Put together a spreadsheet that accounts for your due dates, requirements, and file locations.
It can also be useful to reach out to previous applicants or members of the board to get an idea of what these organizations are looking for. Remember that much of the filmmaking world is networking, so it’s important to factor that into your film grant application process.
Once you get your broader application organization down, you’ll need to prepare your application package.
Application usually includes:
Artist statements are like the grant application cover letter. They are both an introduction to you and your project as well as a way to craft a persuasive narrative. In your statement, introduce you and your background and then outline your project, the inspiration behind it, and how you plan to accomplish your project. Artist statements are usually 1-2 pages.
Film treatments are an integral part of selling your film and serve as a persuasive summary used to market your film. In 1-2 pages, your pitch should outline your film plot, story beats, and key sequences while also communicating the film’s tone.
Luckily with your film treatment, it can be used across all of your different film grant applications.
Production budgets will be key to succeeding with these film grant opportunities. These organizations want to support filmmakers, but they also want to ensure that the funding is going to responsible use.
With your budgeting sheet, you should include above-the-line costs, production costs, and post-production costs. Remember that the more outlined your budget is, the more likely these committees will trust your project planning and want to fund you.
Letters of recommendation are becoming a key part of most applications. With your letter of recommendation, it should come from an established figure within film, specifically your field. The more connected they are, the more credibility you’ll have to your project. For your recommendation letters, factor in plenty of time for your recommenders so that you don’t have to rush them at a moment’s notice.
In addition to these elements, many applicants include a mood board and even a proof of concept.
Mood boards are usually short slide shows of different inspiration images. They don’t need to be complex and often include images from other films, but they help communicate the tone of the piece and give the committee a better view of your film.
A proof of concept takes this a step further— this involves putting together a short clip capturing the mood of the film. Proof of concepts can also be known as a sizzle reel.
Proof of concepts can sometimes be more complex and actually include a scene that you and your team has shot so as to show what the film might look like. Sometimes, they are as simple as a film version of the mood board, where an editor puts together scenes and a soundtrack that might be inspiring.
For example, Taika Waititi’s proof of concept for Thor: Ragnarok. For his sizzle reel, he took together clips from films he wanted to emulate over Led Zeppelin’s "Immigrant Song" (which ended up being a key part of the movie).
And of course, every film grant will be different. You’ll want to make sure that every application caters to that funder’s ask. But luckily, you should be able to rework most of your apps.
Look at your applications closely, adhere to deadlines, and make every section as clear and professional as possible.
Film grants are a key way to keep the world of independent filmmaking alive. Here at Wrapbook, our team comes from the world of production, so we know the challenges that come along with film funding and want to make sure those projects come to fruition.
For more on film grants, check out 12 Tips for Writing a Killer Film Grant Proposal.
At Wrapbook, we pride ourselves on providing outstanding free resources to producers and their crews, but this post is for informational purposes only as of the date above. The content on our website is not intended to provide and should not be relied on for legal, accounting, or tax advice. You should consult with your own legal, accounting, or tax advisors to determine how this general information may apply to your specific circumstances.