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How To Fund a Documentary Using Grants, Investors and Donations

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    No documentary can be made without money. That's why it's important to know the different sources that are available to fund it. We show you what's available from grants to foundations to individuals.

    Video Transcript

    There are few challenges in the world as hard to overcome as funding for a documentary. So like any big project, the best way to get it accomplished is to take it one step at a time. Because of this, knowing where to find funding sources for your documentary is an important first step to making sure your documentary story gets told.

    Today's fundraising climate is both complex and extremely competitive. Even so, there is still money out there – it just takes knowledge of where to find it. In order to help you, we will be taking a look at when and how to use government grants, private foundations, corporations, individuals, and investors so that you can successfully fund your documentary.

    One of the biggest sources of funding for documentaries are government grants. With sources like the National Endowment for the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Humanities, either federal or local government can contribute enough money to cover all or most of your budget. That being said, writing grants isn't an easy task. In fact, some grants can be more thorough and taxing than a college dissertation. Not to worry though. If your verbal skills don't extend much further than hello, there are many professional grant writers who can do the work for you for a fee. Also, many producers, which can be found at local media art clubs, have experience in writing grants already and could help you to write one. This approach has the added benefit of lending credibility to the project if the producer you choose has a long track record of films. Even so, if you feel up to the task of writing your own government grant, there are many great resources that can help get you started. The Foundation Center and the National Science Foundation have a reference guide for proposal writing just to name a few. However, knowing that it can be very difficult to get a grant from a federal endowment, you should also think about applying for grants from your local or state arts and humanities councils. Oftentimes, these councils are more forgiving in the application process and can be easier to get since the pool of applicants is much smaller. You can find applications for grants on websites such as the International Documentary Association and the Independent Feature Project.

    Another great source of funding comes from private foundations. Private foundations like the Sundance Documentary Fund, The Jerome Foundation, The Ford Foundation, and the MacArthur Foundation, are constantly seeking great documentary ideas to be a part of. Of course, with any grant or fund, it is imperative to know who the target audience for your film will be. This is usually the people who are most likely to be interested in your film's subject matter. This is important because most foundations donate to very specific types of documentaries. In this way, researching foundations can be very helpful. Try to find their mission statement and previous films that they financed to see if your subject matter will be a fit for them. This way you can be sure that you will share the message they want to promote to the audience they need. The Foundations Online directory and the Film Arts Foundation in San Francisco are great places to go for information on active foundations.

    One of the newest ways to get a documentary funded is by using internet marketing websites. Since there are literally thousands of other documentary enthusiasts out there who have also been frustrated with the complexities of fundraising, websites have been created to help good documentaries meet with the right kinds of fundraising sources. These websites, like Indie-Go-Go, allow you to post part or all of your project on their site where investors can look at it and contribute. Additionally, it can also be a good idea to have your own website where you can post photos from some of the footage of your documentary and get people excited about your film. This method works especially well when you want to quickly show those you meet a sample of your work.

    Lastly, you can also get your documentary financed by individuals. Though they often won't have a lot of money to give, if you can get a lot of family, friends, or investors to contribute to your idea, it can quickly add up. Of course the best way to find individuals that may be interested in funding your documentary is by going to special interest groups and start networking. If you don't know where to find one in your area, MeetUp.com has a great website that lists the time and place of a variety of groups meeting in your area.


    Though finding funding for a documentary takes considerable effort, there are many public and private funding options available. So finding the right government grant, private foundation, or individual to fund your documentary is not only essential to making your dream a reality but can easily be done as well.