Funding for Short Films

At the end of the day, there are only two sources of funding for your project. Grant money or your money. Assuming the decision is to obtain grant aid, then the script and budget mentioned in previous articles should be cleaned up, ready for submission. Do not overestimate or underestimate the budget. It should be the amount of money it will take to produce the film, and not a penny more or less. There is nothing worse than a grant-funded film running out of money due to poor planning. It is also very hard if not impossible to obtain grant money if you have a track record of not completing projects.

To apply for a grant or short film finance of one sort or another, you must first apply to the agency or authority and request an application form and guidelines. Read the guidelines very carefully. Every funding agency has a different aim or purpose. Don’t bother sending your mini Die Hard project to an organization trying to encourage less violence in cinema. Try to see it from their point of view. Understand what it is they are trying to achieve by bankrolling short films, and tailor your application to address their requirements.

The usual grant application will have several components. First and foremost, the script or treatment. Try to avoid sending a treatment if possible, because no treatment can ever do justice to the completed project. Remember to stay within format guidelines. A sure sign of a neophyte scriptwriter is a script printed in some arcane but colourful printer font. The idea here is to create an impression of someone who has made many films in the past, rather than someone who decided to make a film the previous night, after watching Short Cuts on TV. Next, in order of merit, is the budget. This is the real key to telling whether or not you know anything about filmmaking. If there is something in the budget which stands out as being erroneous, then provide a footnote to that effect. For example, mentioning in the script that the lead character always listens to Michael Jackson records is one thing, but a music synchronization allocation in the budget of fifty pounds will raise more than just a few eyebrows. A signed copy of the letter from Michael saying that you can use his music gratis et ad nauseum will suffice. Likewise, any special arrangements with labs and facilities houses should be documented or footnoted to show that the budgetary figures aren’t just optimistic.

With the two main pieces out of the way, the next document includes a synopsis and style breakdown, biographies, casting information, etc. First off, a synopsis should be approximately five sentences describing the film. A good synopsis will make the reader want to see the script. Often, it can be very difficult to create a synopsis, and this is a strong indicator that either the project is too unfocused, or the production team haven’t come to terms with it yet. Either way, spend the time rereading the script, and imagining the final film, until the synopsis becomes readily apparent. The shooting style should describe how the film will look and feel on the screen. Does the camera flow smoothly, or is the film cut quite starkly? While it is good to talk about colour ranges or tonal qualities of the film, it isn’t worth listing off Kodak catalog numbers, or special lab processing. It can sometimes be helpful to name other films of a certain similar style, but don’t expect the reader to know of these films.

Now for the biography. The purpose of a biography is to introduce the various people to the funding agency. It is not a thumbnail CV, although it should list relevant experience. Where you went to primary school is of little consequence unless it has some bearing on the film. Avoid the temptation to say too much. Mention relevant college course work, previous (completed) films, as well as any favourable press comments. You should include a biography for the lead cast members, as well as all the key production personnel. If anyone has an award or two on their mantlepiece, mention that. Only if it is relevant, of course! If you have a show reel, then include it. Finally, list any other details which pertain to the production, such as planned locations, sets, props, etc. You will also find that each agency has slightly differing requirements. You will need to tailor the package for each application. Failure to do this may bias the reader. Now that it is ready, send the package to each agency, and being the arduous waiting process.

If your project isn’t entirely funded by an organization such as RTE, it is also possible to add to the coffers through sponsorship. The concern here is that in certain cases (such as television funding), the primary funding agency will object to one or all of the sponsors. This should be investigated ahead of time. Sponsorship can simply mean the use of a restaurant or bar during off-hours for some location shooting (thus saving on sets and sound stages), film short-ends from major production companies, food during the production, or even cold, hard cash. People are only too eager to help the budding filmmaker make a film, as can be seen by the list of companies in the “Thanks To” section of many a short film. Try to approach companies and individuals who haven’t been “tapped” already. Check the end credits of other short films for ideas. That exotic location need not seem as unrealistic if the national airline were to donate a few seats on an otherwise half-empty flight. You won’t know until you ask.

Finding funding for a short film is not easy. If it were, everyone would make films. The key is to keep trying. Above all, don’t lose heart. It is easy to become despondant when grant agency after grant agency rejects your proposal. Are you happy with the package? Does the script need another rewrite? Is the budget too unrealistic? Maybe the film you are trying to make is outside the remit of most agencies. In which case, you need to ask yourself are you going to continue with that project or find one which is fundable. The old artistic versus commercial argument raises its ugly head.