Kathryn McCawley
May 5, 2022

12 Tips for Writing a Killer Film Proposal (For Grants)

Quick Find

Independent filmmaking comes with great freedom, but it also carries its own challenges. For one thing, securing funding isn’t a straight-forward process. When it comes to grants specifically, the process of finding, writing, and applying for them is even less so. 

While anyone can search the web for where and how to find grants, knowing how to write them will take much more than that. Learning how to write a proposal for a film project is a skill all its own. And with competitive applicants and grant committees looking for the highest caliber projects, filmmakers need to really hone this skill. 

So in this post, we’re giving away our top tips for writing a killer film grant proposal. 

Prepping your application

Before we talk about how to write a film proposal for grants, let’s start with the obvious. The pre-production of pre-production—prepping your application.

1. Make a list of all the grants that apply to you, get ready to apply to all of them, and organize everything 

You miss all the shots you don’t take. But you also need to take a lot of shots. Again, film grants are competitive, so your best bet is to find several that fit with the scope, genre, and values of your project. 

With each grant, you’ll be writing a film proposal for each application, and it’s easy to lose track of files, deadlines, and correspondences. Get organized. Put together a spreadsheet that accounts for due dates, file locations, contacts, and notes. 

Most grant applications are strict on deadlines, so be sure to have those locked down so a schedule slip-up doesn’t disqualify you.

2. Do your research and know your audience 

When you’re tackling a large number of applications, it’s easy to fall into a plug-and-chug template sourced from the Internet or your own brain. Just remember — these committees get tons of applicants. When they’re sifting through, it can be an immediate red flag to see the same old proposal. They’re easier to spot than you think. 

They want the highest caliber projects that reflect their organization and values and resonate with the individuals on the committee. 

Go the extra step. 

1. Research who is on these boards and what their background is. Networking is a key part of the entertainment industry. Depending on the case, it can be beneficial to reach out to these members or see if you have any close connections that can advocate for your project. 

2. Look at the previous winners of these grants. Again, it can be incredibly valuable to reach out to the folks who have successfully applied to these grants to better understand how to write a proposal for a film project for this particular organization. 

The more you know about your audience and what they’re looking for, the more likely you are to successfully shape your proposal. Yes, you can reuse parts of your proposal (like budgeting), but you should approach writing a film proposal for each grant application as distinct and catered to each organization. 

3. Get your budget down to the fine details

Yes, committees want to see compelling narratives, innovative projects, and shared perspectives. But these committees are also highly pragmatic. They want to see that funds will be used responsibly and that you already have your numbers ready. 

Getting your budget together likely is the most time-intensive and research-heavy part of your proposal. You’ll want to determine costs of crew and talent, equipment rental expenses, costs of shooting permits and other venue expenses. If you’ve already used Wrapbook, all of your previous payroll expenses will be housed in the software to refer back to–you can pull more precise numbers there. If you aren’t yet a user, keep in mind you can also easily export payroll expenses to your preferred budgeting software when it comes time to show actuals to the grant committee. Wrapbook integrates with accounting and budgeting tools used by most production companies and agencies. 

Creating your budget will be the toughest part initially, but when writing a film proposal for each of your applications, this will be the mainstay of your grant app that won’t need to change much. 

4. Get strong recommendations and have reliable names attached

Strong names and industry regulars go a long way in bringing legitimacy to your project. Most applications now require recommendations. Again, these grant committees want to see that you’re backed by someone whose judgment and background they trust. 

Even beyond recommendations, when you have cast or crew members who are known within the industry and sign onto your project, committees can see that your project has solid grounding and be a smart connection for their organization. Again, if using Wrapbook, take a screenshot of your digital crew list–you’ll be able to showcase who you’ve pulled in the past, and the relationships you’ve built.

Writing a Film Proposal

Now for the fun part. Let's dig into what to include when you actually write the application.

5. Know the elements of a film grant proposal

Each grant application will be different, but there is a general list of elements that you’ll want to have ready. 

As a baseline for your film, consider having: 

An Abstract 

A half to one-page summary of your film. 

Film Pitch & Treatment

The pitch that communicates the characters, stories, intent, and tone of your project. Can be one to several pages.

Artist Statement

Summary of your background, credentials, and vision. 

Audience

Who your film is targeting? Lay out the who as well as what your intended message to that audience is.

Format for showcasing your film’s style

The style and mood of your production. This can often take the form of a mood board, sizzle reel, or some kind of proof of concept.

Participants, Cast, Crew

The cast and crew of your film. For fiction films, these will be your actors. For documentary productions, it will be the subject or community your film is exploring.

Basic Production Outline, Schedule, or Timeline

A breakdown of each step of your production. While you may not know the exact dates and details just yet, lay out a basic timeline for your project and all of its moving parts. The more information you can provide, the more likely you’ll build trust with your potential funders. 

Budget Breakdown 

As mentioned above, get your budget as detailed as possible. The more you outline, the more inclined grant committees will trust you have project planning down to a science and will want to fund you. 

Attach Letters of Recommendation

We included this and the budget in the planning portion of this post, we also want to include it here. Equally important as anything else on this list, don’t forget to attach these names. It will increase your credibility and, therefore, your chances. 

For a more detailed breakdown of each of these elements, check out our articles, Producer’s Guide to Film Grants and Documentary Film Grants.

Some film applications may condense this information into one section, but you should have all of this information broken down so that you can bring it together according to the requirements. It’s better to be over prepared than scrambling each application. 

For most grant proposals, expect to have a film treatment, budget breakdown, and artist statement. 

6. Perfect your film treatment

Side-by-side with your budget breakdown as the key element of writing a film proposal is your film treatment. How to write a proposal for a film project in many ways is learning how to write the perfect film treatment. 

The film treatment is the primary document for understanding your film. It is a detailed plot summary that breaks down the characters, story points, and tone of the film. The treatment is your film’s finest distillation that will be the point of persuasion for grant committees. 

Of all your documents, this is where you should truly focus your writing, and don’t be afraid to bring in outside help.

7. Look for outside help and support

If you’re a seasoned pro at writing film proposals, feel free to ignore this step. But then again, a pair of fresh eyes never hurts. 

Whether it’s for your treatment or some other element of the project, consider getting support. Some production teams actually hire professionals whose entire job is to write grant proposals. Though, this will depend on the budget. If this isn’t an option, check in with someone who has done this before and see what they think.

While you don’t want to get caught up on the minutiae of what they say, if you’re showing it to an experienced network, you’ll likely discover insight to enhance your application, and might even see an old problem in a new way. 

What to Avoid When Writing a Film Proposal 

When you're putting together your proposal for a film project, be sure to avoid some of these common mistakes.

8. Follow the film grant application requirements

Stick to the script. 

Many of the grant committees are getting hundreds of applications. Provide the ancillary materials, check all your boxes, and don’t overstep the boundaries of their requirements. 

In a best case scenario, they will just ignore the extra material. Worst case, they disqualify your application. Some applications may explicitly state what will disqualify an applicant.

Other grant websites will even have film project proposal sample templates that give the exact layout, font, and order. 

But the most obvious requirement? 

Deadlines. 

Prep early. Add dates to the calendar. Keep close track of fast-approaching deadlines so you can ensure your material is collected, edited, and ready for submission on time.

9. Don’t apply to grants you’re not eligible for

Know the grants that are right for you and those that aren’t. You can waste tons of time applying for grants you’ll never receive based on the scope of your project, career stage, or project scale.

Many grants cater specifically to fiction or nonfiction grants. Within those categories, there are grants for short and feature films, which can often vary in length. 

Additionally, many grants focus on who is eligible for them. This can vary anywhere from a filmmaker's career stage, where they are based, or who they are representing. There are growing diversity grant initiatives that specifically cater to women, the LGBTQ+ community, and many persons and communities of color. 

These are all important elements to keep in mind when going through the grant application process. Do your research. Don’t waste unnecessary time applying to those you’re not eligible for.

10. Don’t apply to grants you don’t think you can win

This is a fine line. Grants are extremely competitive and you should apply to as many opportunities as you can. 

But time is valuable. 

If you overreach yourself with too many applications, you can fall prey to not tailoring each one the way you should. You can end up having a ton of mediocre applications that will never get funded, instead of a few really solid ones with a fighting chance. 

Be confident but realistic. 

Rank which grants are the most feasible for the scope of your project and the stage of your career so that you have the time to write the most competitive application.

Film Templates and Examples

If you want to get funding for a production, you are going to have to learn how to write a film proposal. But you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. 

11. Look at successful film proposals and treatments 

There are hundreds of successful film project proposal samples online.

In the age of the Internet, it’s easier than ever to find film treatments and film project proposal samples of our most beloved films. 

Here are some examples of successful fiction film treatments: 

As well as a sample of some nonfiction film treatments. 

Your network likely has successful film project proposal samples. 

Reach out to get more insight. 

Even better? 

If you have a relationship with previous grant winners, see if they can share their application with you.

12. Utilize online proposal template resources

In today’s modern age, there are plenty of both sample documentary proposal templates and fiction movie proposal templates online in the process of figuring out how to write a proposal for a film project.

Here are two examples of sites that provide basic proposal templates: 

Template.net film proposal templates

Examples.com film proposal templates

These documents can serve as a valuable starting point with your content and even your page layout (which is important!). 

In addition to the more universal templates you’ll find online, some grant applications will actually provide the layout they either suggest or even require for their application. When looking at these grant sites, make sure you look through all their pages that might have a template provided.

13. Avoid expensive payroll services

If you get your project funded, you’re going to need to pay people. Impress the committee and use a service that costs less than the standard production payroll company. 

Avoid choosing a payroll service that charges too much for what they do. Tons of incumbents and “industry staples” often slap digital interfaces on older technology and charge a hell of a lot for it. You’ll end up paying more money while wasting even more time tracking crew down for startwork and timecards. 

Wrapbook services union and non-union projects. But we won’t harp on our features here. Go write that grant application! But when you’re ready, check out the companies that switched to our digital-first solution to coordinate the chaos of production just a bit better. 

Wrapping up

Figuring out how to write a proposal for a film project can be a daunting task. But remember that there are plenty of resources online that can help you through that process. 

For free pitch decks and more insights on funding, be sure to check out our next post on How to Find Film Investors.

Disclaimer

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.

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About the Author

Kathryn McCawley

Kathryn is a Los Angeles-based artist-designer passionate about everything entertainment. As both an illustrator and writer, she is interested in how the two worlds meet through animation. You can frequently find her either at your local plant shop or zipping around on roller skates.

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