Programs Thu 11.7.2019

Managing Grant Expectations in a Tough Funding Landscape. Plus: Our Fall 2019 Funding Calendar!

It’s happened to all of us. We have a fantastic project, a top-notch creative team and a well-researched and presented application, but we still get knocked back for funding. Often, we turn inwards, lamenting: “What’s wrong with my film? Why didn’t they like it/me?”

If you’ve done everything in your ability to make your application as strong as possible, maybe it’s not about you or your project at all. Maybe it’s about them. Grant and funding entities are often subject to their own tight parameters that unfortunately limit them more than they’d like.  So here are some things to consider next time someone says, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

Once more into the breach…

You’re one drop in the applicant pool. There are hundreds—if not thousands—of people applying for the same opportunity you are. So even if your application is amazing, it’s already facing tough competition. Granting organizations only have access to so much funding to distribute each year, and they want to give it to people and projects they feel will use these limited funds wisely.

One Size Doesn’t Fit All. Each organization has their own mandates, so make sure you’ve done your research and, if it is a fit, that your application is specifically tailored to the organization’s requirements and addresses every question in detail. The fewer questions a funder has about the project and budget, the better!

Experience Level. Different grantors work with filmmakers at different stages in their careers, so it’s important to know what level of experience they’re looking for. Research past films they’ve supported to get a sense of the type of filmmakers they’ve offered funding to. If you’re earlier in your career, bringing on some more experienced team members or advisors could help strengthen your chances. It can also be helpful to go after a few smaller grants to get some first money in, which will give bigger funders confidence in your fundraising capabilities. Participating in labs, workshops, markets and competitions can also be helpful in building your filmmaker profile.

Be sure to do your homework!

Subject. Having a project based on a hot button, topical subject may also mean that there are numerous other people out there applying with similar projects. Not to say that there isn’t room for more than one film on a topic, but maybe the organization you’re applying to has already funded a similar project recently. Most funders—even if they do have a mandate on the type of project they can support—like to have a varied grants portfolio that reflects a breadth of film styles, subject matter and filmmakers. If you do share a subject with a successful previous recipient, or with another project in the landscape, take care to specifically highlight how your story differs and why you’re the one to tell it.

Funders need funding too. Organizations that provide funding do not magically generate money.  Often, they have other organizations and individuals that fund them, and that they must report to in terms of funded project outcomes and successes. When looking at projects, one consideration might be the way a film will reflect on the organization and its funders. Will the film expand social discourse in a healthy way? Does the project align with the values of that organization? Is it something that will garner them good exposure and illuminate their mission statement?

Keep Applying. Take some time to step back, take some down time and then re-examine your application. Maybe there’s something you missed. Or maybe you’ve got extra information now. Maybe you feel inspired to rewrite. Then reapply. Grantors do remember applicants—and an applicant who is steadily submitting applications shows a commitment to the progress of your work and builds awareness for you and your projects. Even if your project isn’t right for one funder, they might refer it to another funder who might be a better match.

And with all that in mind, here’s our… 2019 Fall/Winter Grants & Opportunities Calendar!

Film Independent

Directing Lab 2020 

Documentary Lab 2020 

Episodic Lab 2020

Narrative Opportunities

The Film Fund

The Film Fund provides funding of up to $10,000 per project for short films and has given over $21,000 to filmmakers to produce their independent short films—all based on writing one sentence. (Deadline: December 16)

SFFILM Rainin Grant

The SFFILM Rainin Grant program is the largest granting body for independent narrative feature films in the US. Grants support films that address social justice issues-the distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges-in a positive and meaningful way through plot, character, theme or setting and benefit the Bay Area filmmaking community in a professional and economic capacity. Awards are made to multiple projects twice a year, in the spring and fall, for screenwriting, development, and post-production. In addition to a cash grant of up to $25,000, recipients secure a 2-month residency at FilmHouse and benefit from SFFILM’s comprehensive and dynamic artist development programs. (Opens November 2019)

SFFILM Westridge Grant

The SFFILM Westridge Grant is a fund that supports US-based, independent narrative feature films in the screenwriting or development/packaging phase. Grants are awarded twice annually to projects that address social issues and pressing questions of our time through creative and original storytelling. The SFFILM Westridge Grant is open to US-based filmmakers whose stories take place in the United States. A total of $200,000 will be granted annually through this program, with four or five $20,000–$25,000 grants awarded in each spring and fall. (Opens November 2019)

Documentary Opportunities

Catapult Film Fund 

Catapult Film Fund provides development funding, up to $20,000, to documentary filmmakers who have a strong story to tell, have secured access, and are ready to create a fundraising piece to help unlock critical production funding. The fund enables filmmakers to develop their projects to the next level, at the early stage when funding is hard to find. Catapult supports powerful and moving storytelling, by filmmakers with a strong voice across a broad spectrum of subject matter. (Rolling Deadline)

Hot Docs Ted Rogers Fund

In June 2016, Hot Docs and the Rogers Foundation founded the $1-million Hot Docs Ted Rogers Fund to support Canadian documentary filmmakers. Over the coming 10 years, production grants will be distributed to Canadian documentary filmmakers. Up to $20,000 will be granted to three or four projects each year. (Deadline: November 13)

IDFA Bertha Fund

The IDFA Bertha Fund supports independent, critical, and artistic voices from Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and parts of Eastern Europe (IBF regions), with the aim of stimulating and empowering the creative documentary sector in these regions. The IDFA Bertha Fund offers funding for documentary filmmakers in a number of categories, including project development, production and post-production, international co-production and distribution. Amounts vary per funding stream. (Deadline: December 10)

The Miller/Packan Film Fund

Provides grants to feature-length non-fiction projects that address social issues and inspire others and supports filmmaking in advanced development (up to $15,000), production and post-production stages (up to $25,000). At the highest level, the Fund’s subject categories are Education, the Environment and Civics. (Deadline: November 15)

NEH Short Documentaries Grant

The National Endowment for the Humanities Short Documentaries program supports documentary films up to 30 minutes. Films must be grounded in humanities scholarship. The Short Documentaries program can support single films or a series of thematically related short films addressing significant figures, events or ideas. Programs may be intended for regional or national distribution, via broadcast, festivals and/or online distribution. Up to $250,000 awarded. (Deadline: January 15, 2020)

The Rogovy Foundation Focus Grant

Provides $10,000 in development funding for specific documentary film topics selected by The Rogovy Foundation. Goal is to encourage awareness, debate and solutions on issues identified as ripe for further discussion. (Deadline: Rolling)

Screen Australia Documentary Development Program

Screen Australia’s Documentary Development program provides funding to assist documentary filmmakers and projects written and directed by Australian citizens or residents. Up to $30,000. (Deadline: December 13)

Whicker Awards

The Film and TV Funding Whicker Award is awarded annually to an emerging filmmaker from anywhere in the world with the most promising pitch for a director-led documentary which fulfils the core criteria detailed as detailed on the Whicker Awards website. With a main award worth £80,000 and a runner-up contribution of £15,000, The Whickers Film and TV Funding Award is one of the most significant documentary awards in the world. (Applications open October 15)

Documentary and Narrative Opportunities

Cinereach Film Grants

Cinereach develops, produces, finances, and supports feature-length fiction, nonfiction and hybrid films crafted for the big screen. They look for projects—at any stage—that create deep and lasting impressions through story, character, or cinematic approach. They seek to work with both unknown and established filmmakers who may face creative, financial or systemic obstacles to realizing ambitious visions. Their films range widely in content and style. (Rolling Deadline)

Filmmakers Without Borders

Filmmakers Without Borders (FWB) supports independent filmmakers around the world via grants and other funding initiatives. Supported projects include narrative films, documentary films, and new media projects that align with themes of social justice, empowerment, and cultural exchange. Development: up to $1000. Production: up to $5000. Post: up to $2500. Film Festival Applications: up to $500. (Deadline: January 1)


JustFilms awards grants to independent film, documentaries and media projects that examine social justice issues, with a focus on inequality. Grants are distributed in two areas: social justice storytelling and 21st-century infrastructure. (Rolling Deadline)

LEF Foundation

The goal of LEF New England is to fund the work of independent documentary film and video artists in the region, and to broaden recognition and support for their work, both locally and nationally. It also supports programs that highlight the rich history and ongoing legacy of innovation within New England’s independent film community. Pre-production: $5000. Production: $15,000. Post: $25,000. (January 31)


Follow Film Independent…