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Produce Your Own Film

Contributed By Kenna McHugh

Another enterprising way to break into the film industry is to produce your own film. It is not a simple task like getting a job as a PA and working your way up. It is quite a burden to take on such a project. The blessing is that once your film is done, you have your calling card, and a product to display your commitment to a career in film.

Once you decide to produce, you have to get the wherewithal to make your movie. A film grant is the best way, but not always the easiest way to get your funds. Yet, it is doable if you know the basic principles in applying for a grant.

Film grants can be awarded as money, room and board, equipment, film, screenwriting, music, producing, directing and/or a combination of all aspects of filmmaking.

Each endower has criteria for qualifying for their grant. The Roy W. Dean Grant Foundation, for example, awards 4 grants at $40,000 each of goods and services including film and video stock, equipment rental, post production services, expendables, and more. The criterion for the grant is to produce a documentary that inspires and benefits society. So far 8 projects have been completed under the Roy W. Dean Grant Foundation. One project, Free a Man to Fight, uncovers hidden stories of woman veterans in WWII, which went on to air on the History Channel. Another project, Salvaged Lives, is a compelling drama on a rehabilitation program which trains prison inmates to become deep-sea divers.

I met up with Carole Dean, who created the Roy W. Dean Grant Foundation in honor of her late father, Roy W. Dean. He had loved listening to filmmakers talk about their projects so much so that he started to fund their films. Unbeknownst to even his daughter, he started his own documentary and independent film funding program.

Carole and I arranged a Question and Answer interview discussing the Roy W. Dean Grant Foundation and the process of finding and applying for a film grant.

Kenna: You have an interesting story about how you broke into the film business.

Carole: I started buying film left over from production in 1968. I just arrived here from Texas, and I used my mini skirt and long legs to get into Universal, Columbia and other studios. I talked the studios into selling me those little ol' short ends you really don’t want, and I created a multi-million dollar a year business buying and selling short ends. I helped many filmmakers get started in the film world and so did my father. He was giving away short ends to documentary filmmakers behind my back. He was a retired Baptist assistant pastor who went from “keep the faith” to “God helps those who help themselves.” He began donating to people who really needed help with completing their education or who had important films to produce. In 1992 when he past away these grants were named after him for his love of documentary filmmakers.

Kenna: What is the purpose of grants?

Carole: In my opinion, grants were designed to level the playing field. There are those who seem to be able to get funding, like Ken Burns, for anything they want. There are others who don’t have the money to get into a film school, yet they are talented filmmakers and need help. Our grant creates filmmakers as well as films. We awarded Lee Lew Lee a grant and he says it enabled him to get future funding and create his magnificent film All Power to the People now showing on Starz. Then, we awarded Barbara Liebovitz a grant for her first film. She is now happily married and making documentaries for a living.

Kenna: Someone who has never applied for a grant: What is the first thing to consider or know?

Carole: One of the first things grant readers look for is passion and connection to the project. We have seen thousands of applications and we know that the most important ingredient in a proposal is the person’s passion for the project. This is what will still be there 3 years from now as it may take that long to finish the film.

Next month, I will finish my interview with Carole Dean where she will discuss what qualifies someone or a group for a grant, what is the theory behind honoring grants and is there such a thing as “easy” grants to get.

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