It suddenly dawned on me that although I’m always excited to post deadlines for film grant opportunities, it might be helpful for folks to hear from someone who’s actually won something. That someone is Darius Clark Monroe, a talented NYC filmmaker with Texas roots. He is currently in post-production on an autobiographical feature documentary titled “Evolution of a Criminal”. The project has received support from multiple organizations including Austin Film Society, Cinereach, Tribeca and IFP. A big thank you again to Darius for sharing his insight on navigating the world of film grants. — Christina B.
|Official synopsis: “Deep in the heart of Texas, what begins as an innocent tale of family, sacrifice, and financial hardship quickly escalates into a true-crime thriller. Fusing together compelling interviews, striking re-enactments, and home video, we are forced to ask ourselves how a 16 year-old honor roll student evolved into a bank robber.”|
A simple Google search of “Darius Clark Monroe Evolution doc” tells quite the film grant journey. Congrats! How did you approach submitting “Evolution of a Criminal” to grant organizations?
Darius: In 2007, when I began production on EOAC (Evolution of a Criminal), I was naïve about the grant process. I didn’t know where to start and once I finally decided to apply, I underestimated how much work was involved and how much time was required. Many applications were left unfinished due to poor time management. After feeling overwhelmed and a bit lost, I focused on grant organizations that shared similar themes as those covered in the film. Location was also an important factor. In EOAC, we tell a very personal story, but a story that takes place in Texas. So that’s where I started my search, in the Lone Star State.
The first grant I applied for was the Texas Filmmakers Production Fund grant, currently the Austin Film Society (AFS) grant. The grant required you to be a resident of Texas, which I was, and the application process was pretty straightforward. Filmmaker Bryan Poyser, an AFS representative at the time, toured the state, hosting “how-to-apply” info sessions about the TFPF grant. And if one was unable to make an info session, the information was available online! I had zero excuses. I had to apply.
These info sessions were extremely beneficial for a novice grant applicant such as myself. It’s easy for filmmakers to forget that grant organizations want to give you money. They want to support good work. But they’re not going to hand it to you. In addition to following the rules, one must be industrious and persistent.
When you begin this grant process, let your film and its subject matter guide you. Don’t cast a wide net initially. Start with your core themes, location, and of course, subject matter.
What are three things new filmmakers might be surprised to learn about the grant process?
Darius: That’s a tough question, because I’m still learning, still somewhat new, I guess. One of the biggest misconceptions new filmmakers have is that all grants are geared toward social justice films. That’s not true. Yes, many organizations fund projects that cover social justice topics the world over, but that has less to do with favoritism and more to do with form. The documentary medium lends itself to those subjects, disproportionately so, but organizations are open to myriad ideas and concepts. They’re always looking for stories being told in new and inventive ways, especially stories that defy the boundaries and expectations of what a documentary can be.
Filmmakers might be surprised to learn that not all grant organizations take a long time to disburse funds. If one applies to a large grant organization, one should expect a longer wait. Many niche organizations have a much shorter turn around time due to a smaller number of applications. If you’re in need of funds sooner than later, which is often the case, don’t just pay attention to the grant application deadline, find out when funds would be released (if awarded a grant).
I stated earlier that grant organizations want to give you money, they want to support work that shows promise, but they don’t have the time to look over applications that are incomplete. I’m not sure if this is a surprise to new filmmakers, but many applications are discarded because the filmmaker did not follow instructions. Every grant application is different. By following the proper instructions, you’ll give yourself a leg up in what will be a very competitive process. You’d be shocked to learn how many filmmakers miss out on potential funds because they didn’t type out the correct address, adhere to a specific word count, or provide a complete answer to a question.
Does the process get any easier after you win your first grant?
Darius: Yes and no. It depends. You learn from doing. The more you apply, the better you’ll be at navigating this process. Once awarded a grant, it doesn’t mean that the road gets easier. You just know what steps it took to secure that specific grant. Subject matter is always subjective. You can’t control how someone will respond to your topic. The goal is to ensure that your application is strong and you’ve followed instructions, leaving the subjective aspect of this process to fate. What’s great is that once you’re awarded a grant, you’ll meet people who will recommend your project to another grant organization. Again, the overall purpose of these organizations is to help you complete the film and get it out to the world.
Number one piece of advice for folks hoping to make themselves and their projects really stand out?
Darius: You’ve sort of answered your own question in a way. Folks hoping to make themselves and their projects really stand out should do just that…make them stand out! Filmmakers must not forget that the visual aspect of this medium begins on paper. When one submits a proposal or grant application, the reader should be fully immersed in a cinematic experience. An application does not have to be flowery, but it should provide the reader with a clear idea of the subject matter, how it looks, and what it feels like. A dry application is a boring application. Allow the storyteller in you to take over, seducing the reader, creating a thirst and desire to see your project.
Free money is great (of course), but are there any other rewards to this route of funding as opposed to Kickstarter or IndieGoGo?
Darius: Kickstarter and IndieGoGo are great. Most filmmakers fund their projects by cobbling together grants, private equity funds, and usually one or two Kickstarter and/or IndieGoGo campaigns. I would say the single biggest reward that grants provide, outside of funding, is the continued support. From Cinereach, to the Sundance Institute, Tribeca Film Institute, Austin Film Society, to Ford Foundation, and many others, these esteemed organizations are set up to provide funding and FILMMAKER SUPPORT. They have a vested interest in reviewing rough cuts, hosting work-in-progress screenings, advising filmmakers, new and old, about the ever changing distribution models and opportunities, providing endless advice/feedback whether it concern one’s budget, festival strategy, partnerships or community outreach. Kickstarter and IndieGoGo provide funds as well as increase audience awareness, but grant organizations provide a tried and true support system that spans not just the length of one’s film run, but the career of the filmmaker. That’s priceless.
For more “Evolution of a Criminal” updates:
Have you ever applied or thought about applying for a film grant? Any questions for Darius about his experience so far?