Dialog Box


How To Assess A Documentary Proposal


Donating to an Australian documentary need not be overwhelming or prohibitively expensive. The key elements of a documentary proposal will largely be the same as any traditional proposal a foundation receives from a charitable organisation. A foundation will need to examine what the film is about, the project's aims and objectives, why the film is being made, who is making the film, how the film's success and effectiveness will be measured, and the budget and timeframe of the film project.

Below are some explanations of the elements of a documentary that a foundation needs to consider in a submission for funding.

Read More in Guides for Evaluating Projects

The Size of the Grant


Like existing grants in the philanthropic world, a project may be funded by a number of foundations over a period of time. Cost should not be a barrier as a foundation, individual or corporate donor does not have to fund the entire documentary project alone. In the examples from the USA, there are multiple funding sources throughout each project (see Trembling Before G-d in Case Studies). Some of the larger foundations experienced in funding films will often give significant amounts and potentially fund the entire documentary's budget. Other foundations might give smaller grants, funding particular aspects of the production. These smaller amounts can make a great difference to a filmmaker: at the beginning when he/she is struggling to get a project off the ground; at the next stage of production or towards the end, when the filmmaker needs to get the project finished and marketed. Donating smaller grants can also provide a donor the flexibility to make other grants as the project develops.

Staged support can be given, for example, across the life of a project, through research, production and post-production. Sustaining a relationship in a community for an extended period of time allows for more substantial long-term projects requiring time spent with people to build trust, rapport and ongoing relationships. A long-term supported project provides a deeper and more meaningful relationship, ultimately creating a more sustained impact (see Hurt and Knot at Home in Case Studies on the Documentary Australia Foundation website).

Film Budgets Vary


The budgets of documentary films vary from a few thousand dollars to over a million dollars. This depends on many factors: the length of a film for example, whether or not it is intended for broadcast, whether the documentary is made on film or video, the size and experience of the crew, locations and other costs such as archival footage or music, in addition to the size and outreach of the educational program.

It is important to remember the perception that documentary films are costly should not hinder the desire to make a grant. Grants can be made in stages targeted to a specific phase of production or made for the outreach and educational campaign of a finished film.

What Kind of Grants Can Be Made?


We believe a grant to a documentary should be treated the same as any other grant in the gift-giving portfolio of a foundation or individual. Just like a traditional grant to a charity, the donation can be made for all or a part of the project. The donor can be the sole donor, or equally be part of a team of several donors (including a mix of private and government funders).

Supporting a filmmaker's capacity to develop a number of projects is another recommended way to give. This can enable a filmmaker to work across a number of related areas simultaneously, to develop projects and create resources that reach beyond the linear documentary, reaching out to audiences and raising awareness in different ways connecting to different aspects of need, engagement and training. This may involve developing websites, educational kits, building community relationships and involvement. It also reduces the risk as the grant is not tied to one specific project but to a program of ideas consisting of a range of outcomes, including documentary, education and online initiatives.

Grants for Stages of Production


The production of a documentary film happens in stages, including:

  • Development
  • Production
  • Post Production
  • Marketing & Distribution
  • Educational and Outreach

Different benefits and risks result from funding each stage. It can be rewarding to be involved in the funding of the entire film, but also effective to fund documentaries in stages.

Here is an outline of each stage of production:

1.  Development Funding


Following a film through from development to completion is rewarding, but this presents a higher level of risk. Development funding is often called 'seed funding'. Seed funding occurs when a project is still a developing idea. This type of funding helps a documentary film gain its initial momentum. When a project is being developed, a filmmaker writes a proposal outlining its parameters. The filmmaker will often make a trailer to show potential funders some visual material, characters or locations and generate interest in the idea. Various costs are associated with these processes.

Funding at the development stage may help a filmmaker with costs resulting from creating a showreel or trailer. It might help a filmmaker with research or travel costs helping refine the original idea.

Funding at this stage is more risky, as some projects never get off the ground, but when they do it can be more satisfying to have involvment from the outset. Research is crucial to the success and benefits of every project. 

If no-one was prepared to fund at the development stage, many valuable and innovative projects would never be anything more than an idea. Research is the area that can profoundly determine and target an audience, define community interest and prove a project's relevance and potential impact. If total funding is given for the documentary the donor can at least "guarantee" that the film will be made.

2.  Production Funding


Production funding refers to the stage where a film has moved beyond development and is actually being filmed. 

The expenses at this shooting stage include equipment, crew, location costs, editing equipment, access to and use of archival footage and music rights. Donors may give an amount covering a specific aspect of these production costs or they may elect to give a more general grant. Donors may request to see footage to assess the ongoing direction of the project and then choose to be involved in funding subsequent stages. Joining forces with other foundations to support a project at this more expensive stage shares the risks amongst like-minded philanthropists and ensures the project receives the funding it needs to achieve its goals.

3.  Post-production 


Post-production is the time spent on editing the film or video. It takes the project from the shoot (the raw material) to the screen and includes editing, creating the soundtrack, music composition, sound mix, picture grade, titles and effects. At this stage, assistance may be sought to complete the project, offering the grantmaker the opportunity to close the gap and allow the documentary to be fully realised.

4.  Marketing and Distribution


Distribution is the process through which a film reaches its audience. This could include a television broadcast, cinema or festival release and a DVD that is marketed and distributed as widely as possible according to a marketing strategy. Promotional material, website, stills, CDs, flyers, posters, electronic and paper press kits are created during this stage.

5.  Educational and Outreach Funding


This is the most accessible stage to support a documentary. It is extremely valuable to develop extensive outreach strategies and this is an opportunity for a foundation to add value to their aims, increase their effectiveness and support the sustainability of an issue. For a foundation, educational strategies are identifiable and easy to assess because the documentary is complete, making the outreach plan concrete. Outreach and educational strategies focus on schools, libraries, universities, community and affiliated groups. They also involve internet strategies to enhance access to the work. Educational kits targeted at curriculum areas and distributed to teachers and students assist a documentary's relevance in the classroom. The more effort committed to education and outreach, the more visible the objectives, making it easier the effectiveness of the grant easier to measure. 


NEXT: How to Make a Grant






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