Because many aspiring filmmakers spend more time hoping to make films rather than actually filmmaking, the Roy W. Dean Film and Video Grant was created to give them the materials and tools to turn their concepts into reality.
‘We’re not about making films, we’re about making filmmakers,’ says Carole Dean, president of New York’s Studio Film and Tape, and founder of the grant that awards over US$40,000 in film supplies, equipment and facility usage to doc-makers.
Established in 1992, the grants are awarded three times a year (New York in February; Los Angeles in August; Chicago in November). An additional grant for video production is handed out in Los Angeles. A fifth is under consideration for Dallas, Texas.
The grants are open to anyone, even those without filmmaking experience. ‘This grant is for concepts and ideas,’ says Dean. ‘There are grants you can go to for finishing funds, but there are very few start-up grants.’ Projects, she explains, must be unique, make a contribution to society, and have a maximum budget of $300,000. Filmmakers are not restricted by geographical boundaries when applying, but because the grants consist of filmmaking supplies and services from regional companies, it makes logistical sense to apply locally.
Between three and five finalists are chosen for each grant from an average of 300 applicants per city. Judges base decisions on subject matter, experience, crew and a filmmaker’s passion for their idea. That passion is best demonstrated at the grant ceremony, during which finalists literally do a five-minute pitch in front of the judges and the audience. ‘The pitch allows the judges to see into the filmmaker’s heart and passion, and sometimes that will sway them,’ Dean says.
Different filmmakers have chosen to demonstrate their passion in different ways. When Mindy Pomper of Two Girls From Back East Productions made her pitch for a Dean Grant for Free a Man to Fight, a group of retired sixtysomething service women accompanied her on stage. Another finalist, making a film about Native Americans, brought Indian dancers on stage in order to help visualize what he was striving to do.
The Los Angeles incarnation of the grants also awards a `Townsend Tenacity Award,’ a cash prize given to a filmmaker to help pay off debt incurred while filmmaking. The award is named after Robert Townsend, who financed his first feature, Hollywood Shuffle, with his credit cards.
The Dean Grant receives widespread support from dozens of companies in the production community. Panasonic recently donated two weeks of use of its digital standard DVCPRO Professional Camcorder to all three grant locations. Maxell provided $3,000 in video stock. Other prominent donors include Studio Film & Tape (raw stock), Otto Nemenz International (camera rental), T&T Optical (titles and opticals), Hollywood Stage (stage rental), WRS Labs (film processing), Abel Cine Tech (equipment rental), The Screening Room (theater screening access) and Avid Technology (editing facilities). The makeup of the grant varies from city to city, based on participating donators.
Many previous grant winners have turned their films into successes. Free a Man to Fight was acquired by The History Channel. The 1999 winner, Claire Panke’s A Chance to Grow, is being funded by The Discovery Channel. The 1993 winner, Barbara Leibovitz’s Salvaged Lives, was sold to Discovery Channel. The 1995 winner, Ricki Stern’s In My Corner, aired on the PBS strand POV in 1999.
‘This grant is designed to show people who carry projects in their heart that it is possible to produce that film,’ says Dean. The grant is named after her father, a retired pastor who moved to California to assist Dean at her then-fledgling company, which often gave away raw stock to help struggling filmmakers make their films. When he passed away in 1992, she received numerous cards from people who said they would have never finished their projects if he hadn’t helped them. The grant is her way of keeping that spirit alive.