Unlike their European or Canadian counterparts, producers in the us must dig around to find financing from sources outside of the studios and broadcasters, as almost no public money is available.
As external sources of funding became harder to come by, many producers in the US have reacted by turning towards ‘angel investors’ – what some call private equity sources. Many find these angel investors by word-of-mouth, and then guard those names closely.
Without having a few angels of their own on speed dial, filmmakers will have to turn to research to uncover the pots of money that might be available to them. The Foundation Center offers a vast database of grants available to us filmmakers, and some serious scouting may result in finding a foundation or grant that suits the subject of your project. Savvy producers should note that foundations are looking beyond the film to its social impact, so it’s advisable to have an outreach plan when applying to funds.
The primary sources of documentary funding Stateside tend to be funds such as the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Ford Foundation. The Ford Foundation fund generally gives around the US$200,000 to $500,000 range. The MacArthur Foundation is moving towards digital initiatives, but funds projects in the same range as the Ford Foundation.
Another big player in the us industry is International Television Service (ITVS). Besides funding American producers, ITVS has an international fund for projects that have a broader appeal. Projects made using the international fund will broadcast on other us outlets besides PBS; this differs from the US ITVS fund, since those projects are exclusive to PBS. The maximum amount an international copro can get is $150,000. In exchange, ITVS gains us television rights for seven years, a coproduction credit and revenue share.
The Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program is also very beneficial to producers. Thanks to program director Cara Mertes, there’s an increase in the features of the program. Part of the program is the Documentary Fund, which has a total of $1.5 million available, up from $1 million.
Producers can gain $150,000 for their project if funded in all of the categories; there are two categories anyone can apply to (the development fund and the production and post production fund), and another three related to distribution that are accessible after the first two are approved. The second-stage grants are the engagement, impact and discretionary grants. Because Sundance’s program acts more like a foundation, they do not acquire rights or take a revenue share.
As well, Sundance recently announced a partnership with the Skoll Foundation to explore social entrepreneurship and film. They will provide $1.2 million in grants to fund the seeding, development and creation of new films.
The newly announced Tribeca-Gucci fund, with $80,000 in total to assign, is also a welcome sight (see sidebar).
Besides grants, there is always new opportunity on the cable front. For example, producers should note the re-launched cable station, Ovation. The station reappeared last June with delivery to a national audience. Ovation airs arts-based programs with a limited number of one-hour specials and short series for 2008.