Often times, there is a very noticeable trend with successful documentary films: they all get the same big grants. A combination of ITVS, Just Films, MacArthur Foundation, Cinereach, Fledgling, Chicken and Egg, and others. Not only are these films funded, but they are seen – at top tier film festivals, on television and sometimes in theaters. How does this happen?You need a great story, and a great pitch. None of these films would be successful if they weren’t telling an interesting or important story. The pitch for your film has to be ultimately engaging and well written, otherwise you don’t have a chance. You have to be able to be very clear about your story, your audience, and your goals.
No one buys if it isn’t already sold. Once you get one of these large grants, it’s easier to get others because your project is now a known quantity. If Just Films is has enough confidence in you to fork over a large sum, it will probably instill confidence in other organizations. You also become part of the larger conversation about independent film. Your project is talked about, and you float to the top easier. Getting grants is challenging, but getting that first big grant is the hardest part.
One door opens another which opens another. Consider that many of these large granting entities are very well connected and also be funding festivals and programming. For instance, both Cinereach and Ford Foundation support Sundance. “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” which was produced by Cinereach premiered at Sundance. “My Peristroika” also premiered there, and received funds from Just Films which is a program of the Ford Foundation. Both films went on to have very successful theatrical runs. It’s not a guarantee that if you get one of these grants, you will have a top tier premiere and a theatrical run, but there is evidence that supports a trend.
Even if you can self finance or locating private money to finance your film you should apply for grants if you are eligible. Because grants not just fund projects, they open doors. Here’s a link to a great list by www.nofilmschool.com that highlights many of the grants that are out there for filmmakers. In case you loose track of the link, I’ve pinned it to the Largesse pinterest board, where I am putting together resources for filmmakers.