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Film: Grant writing made simple, or at least humane


by Manuel Mendoza 15 Apr 2008

Asking foundations or other grant-making organizations to help fund your movie can be an intimidating, mystifying process. The criteria tends to be slippery, and feedback about why you got rejected is rare. The Texas Filmmakers’ Production Fund is a refreshing exception. The Austin-based program, which has awarded $800,000 since 1996, sends artist services director Bryan […]

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Asking foundations or other grant-making organizations to help fund your movie can be an intimidating, mystifying process. The criteria tends to be slippery, and feedback about why you got rejected is rare. The Texas Filmmakers’ Production Fund is a refreshing exception.

The Austin-based program, which has awarded $800,000 since 1996, sends artist services director Bryan Poyser all over the state to teach filmmakers how to apply and then provides one-on-one advice in person or by phone before the June 2 application deadline. It also shares notes from the selection committee with unsuccessful applicants. The road show came to KERA last night.

Poyser walked the audience through the application, giving practical tips. If you’re submitting a letter of recommendation, for instance, “don’t make it from your mom unless she’s the head of Sony.” Sample proposals, including budgets, are available on the home page linked above.

A little background: Run by the Austin Film Society, the fund was started by director Richard Linklater in reaction to the drying up of regional grants from National Endowment for the Arts, according to Bart Weiss, who introduced Poyser and two-time grant-winner David Lowery at the workshop. Last year, the fund awarded $150,000 to 21 projects. The maximum is $25,000 per film.

To be eligible, filmmakers have to be residents of Texas for a year. That’s it. There’s no requirement to shoot in the state or to tell a Texas story. Short and feature-length narratives, documentaries, animation and experimental works are all welcome. The winning entries are announced in August on the fund’s website.

Another film grant program got a little airtime at the KERA workshop: the Texas Film and Video Grants from Texas Filmmakers, a Denton nonprofit that awards $3,000 annually (deadline is May 30) and puts on the Thin Line Film Fest. Other major grant-making organizations for indie films include ITVS (the Independent Television Service), the Sundance Institute and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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  • I think I’m missing something. Why doesn’t Brian Poser spend his time looking at movies, instead of teaching moviemakers how to apply for grants. Wouldn’t that cut half the processing mess down? If he simply asked the filmmaker the basic questions, couldn’t he decide on the spot or at least report back to some second level committee what he thinks? Why the runaround?
    Like much bureaucracy, I can only shake my head and wonder. And for some reason artists often have to go through such hoops to get grant or state money. That is why as an artist, I think the government and/or granters – should get out of the choosing great art game. Instead they should promote art centers that are open to the entire community. Then the community can decide what is worthy for support by giving all artists fair chance to show what they can do.
    The last thing any artist needs is to depend on some bureaucrats ability to spot talent!

  • Thanks to KERA and Manny Mendoza for helping us at the Austin Film Society get the word out about our grant program.

    To Mr. Hendricks, your comments reflect that you have not been on the giving end of a grant program before. While it would be fantastic if we could give money to every needy filmmaker, unfortunatly we don’t have enough for all of the worthy projects we will see applications for. There must be an application process, and a jury of filmmakers decides who gets what based on a variety of factors as shown in their applications. Bryan’s statewide informational tour is an attempt to ensure that applicants have all the information they need to submit a complete application that best showcases their ideas and production plan.

    There is a great article over at The Ranger Online by Sami Parman, “Workshop aims to help students get grants,” that highlights some of the issues our organization faces in disseminating these funds. Anyone with questions is welcome to contact us via austinfilm.org or at 512-322-0145 to get your questions answered.