For visual journalists, the act of grant writing may recall unsettling memories of academic proposals. But, the art of grant writing is similar to producing a compelling pitch. It answers: Who, what, where , when, why and how?
Before you apply:
Read the instructions. You need to provide an answer for every phrase in the grant instructions. It depends on their mission is and what they are looking for, but everything should be addressed in your proposal.
Before beginning the process to seek funding for documentaries, it helps to:
Determine your target audience. Who are the people most likely to be interested in seeing your film and most likely to contribute funding?
Begin as much of the process for filming as possible; investors want to see commitment.
A good proposal stems from a great story. The best proposals are those to which the reviewers respond: I should have thought of that.
If you don’t qualify, don’t apply.
Elements to include in your proposal:
1. A defined character: You should have access to A character who has already agreed to let you in their lives.
2. Access: You must have to ability to shoot your character several times. You may not know the outcome of your story when you apply for the grant, but you need to show that you can deliver. Securing access will assure the funder that you are capable of success.
3. Story: Know what your story is and how your story is going to be different from others. A topic and issue is not a story. You want deliver an important idea that addresses a significant issue.
4. Relevance: Look at who’s doing similar work, what have the organization or foundation already funded? What is their mission this year? Because it changes every year. The films they funded last year are not going to be the films they fund this year. Also, you want to explain how your film will advance the funder’s mission.
5. Budget: Itemize what proportion of the grant is going to research, salaries, production and travel. The more detail you add, the better it shows that you are thinking through the grant and the budget. Foundations do look at this. A lot of beginning filmmakers think that if they pay themselves nothing, it will increase their chances of getting the grant. It doesn’t. You should also factor in the amount of money you are going to need to live on, eat and pay your cell phone bill. Creating a budget shows that you have a reasonable plan, and a detailed plan to achieve it.
[CV Note: Check out the ITVC budget form]
It’s a good idea to have a 3-7 minute pitch reel that shows who your characters are, your shooting style and purpose.
Special thanks to June Cross, a veteran doc filmmaker, who contributed her expertise to this post.