What You Need to Know About Film Grants in 2021
It takes a tremendous amount of money to make a film. Even a super low-budget project requires capital that most people don’t have as disposable income. For independent filmmakers, telling their story is often personal and passionate. Luckily, those awarding production grants are looking for just that in an emerging filmmaker. Who you are and the stories you need to tell can be a specific roadmap to gaining film grants. You simply need to know where to look and have a clear idea of what you need.
There are many different types of filmmaking grants and fellowships available to filmmakers. For example, if you are a young artist from an underserved community, the various grants, educational resources, and international fellowships offered by Filmmakers Without Borders, would be an excellent resource to gain funding as well as technical training, media literacy skills, and digital tools to support your creative role in society.
Most states have arts councils and some have resources available to encourage filming with grants, fellowships and tax incentives. For example, the Illinois Arts Council Agency provides everything from grants and fellowships for filmmakers for a specific project. They also support filmmakers with individual artist support grants which could simply give the artist the means to accept a professional opportunity.
In addition to non-profits and state-based grants, film festivals, and film institutes all have opportunities for funding. You’ll need to go through an application process to receive the film funds, and many grants require criteria that fits in within their specific mission. For example, the Loreen Arbus Disability Awareness Grant is a film completion grant for $7,500 for women filmmakers producing a film on physical or developmental disability issues. You’ll also notice with the Arbus grant, that it is specifically for film completion. Some films are a work in progress, but need additional resources to finish and a completion grant can help with that.
Types of Film Grants
Your search for film grants 2021 can be divided in two ways:
- Type of Grant
- Development Grant
- Production Grant
- Post-Production Grant
- Distribution Grant
- Type and Subject of Film
- Documentary Film Grants
- Narrative Film Grants
- Short Film Grants
- Television Film Grants / TV Writing Fellowships
- Women in Film Grants
- Student / Emerging Filmmaker Grants
Assemble has created comprehensive lists by type of film grants 2021 to kick start your search for funding. Use the resources provided to begin your quest for development, production, post-production and distribution production funds. Then target your own search tailored for your specific film and subject type to find additional resources. Think about the genre of your film, as well as the cause, which might have allies. Climate change, social justice, the gender, racial or religious identity of your characters are all factors that could contribute to interested angel investors or grant money.
Documentary Film Grants
Whether you are looking for funding for a documentary feature or a documentary short, there are many avenues for help. Here are ten places to start from development to distribution money.
- WorldView Project Development Fund - Projects should aim to promote better understanding of the developing world and highlight the challenges and importance for both developed and developing countries of reducing poverty.
- PBS: Open Call for Emerging Filmmakers - To further amplify the voices of emerging and diverse / BIPOC content creators across public media, PBS has issued an open call for proposals to support long and short form documentaries produced and created by diverse / BIPOC filmmakers that explore a broad range and collection of experiences, perspectives, and points of view.
- Catapult Film Fund - Catapult Film Fund provides development funding to documentary filmmakers who have a compelling story to tell, have secured access to their story, and are ready to shoot and edit a piece for production fundraising purposes.
- Film Independent Documentary Lab - Through a series of meetings and workshops, the Documentary Lab provides creative feedback and story notes to participating filmmakers, while helping them strategize for the completion, distribution and marketing of their films.
- California Documentary Project Grants - Supports the research and development and production stages of film, audio, and digital media projects that seek to document California in all its complexity. Projects should use the humanities to provide context, depth and perspective and reach and engage broad audiences through multiple means, including but not limited to radio and television broadcasts, podcasts, online distribution and interactive media.
- International Lab for Creative Documentary Production - The primary mission of EURODOC is the organization of a yearly training program for producers with a creative documentary project in the development stage. It is also open to professionals involved in the support of documentary film production.
- Sundance Institute Documentary Short Film Fund - Sundance prioritize films led by artists from historically underrepresented communities. Projects that focus on historically underrepresented communities must have a key creative from the community or with deep ties to the community in a power-holding position represented on the team.
- Paley Doc Pitch Competition - The Paley Center's DocPitch Competition offers a $5,000 grant from A&E Studios for an unfinished or work-in-progress documentary from an emerging filmmaker (someone with two or less credits for directing feature documentary films, whether or not those films have been released).
- Hot Docs Film Funds - Provides Canadian and international documentary projects with much-needed development, production and completion grants, as well as valuable professional development opportunities.
- iTVS Open Call - Get funding and support to complete your single nonfiction program for broadcast on public television—whether you’re an emerging filmmaker or a veteran producer.
Narrative Film Grants
Narrative film grants are given to fictionalized stories that are explored in longer form, usually over 90 minutes. Many of these grants are created to serve underrepresented communities and filmmakers in specific regions.
- Tribeca All Access - Provides funding, mentorship, and networking opportunities for entry- to mid-level filmmakers.
- Panavision New Filmmaker Program - Provides the use of Panavision film or digital camera packages to aspiring filmmakers of all kinds at little to no cost. And through their post production company Light Iron, they are also now offering the NFP post production grant.
- Screen Craft Film Fund - In addition to up to $30k in finishing funds, ScreenCraft and Bondit will provide continued support as you navigate production of your dream project.
- British Film Institute - The BFI provides funding for film and TV development and production, which includes international co-productions and completion funding.
- Austin Film Society Film Grants - In addition to grants for development, production, post-production, and distribution, AFS provides cash stipends to Texas filmmakers traveling to prestigious film festivals through its Travel Grant program.
- Jerome Foundation Film Grants - Production grants for specific projects of up to $30,000 for early career film, digital production and video directors based in New York City.
- Creative Capital Award in Film Funding - Creative Capital helps visionary artists in all disciplines build thriving careers. The selected artists receive the Creative Capital Award, which includes up to $50,000 in funding for new projects, as well as a wide range of counsel, career development, and networking opportunities to make their work come to life.
- Cinereach First Time Feature Filmmakers Fund - Grants geared toward supporting first time filmmakers and producers.
- Sundance Creative Producing Fellowship - The Producers Program encompasses a year-round support in the form of labs, fellowships, grants, and events focused on nurturing the next generation of independent producers as well as creating community and connection among producers.
- Sloan Distribution Grant - The Sloan Distribution Grant is a $50,000 grant awarded by Film Independent to a film that is entering its distribution phase. Eligible films must depict themes, stories and characters grounded in real science, technology or economics.
Short Film Grants
The short film is an excellent calling card to show your artistic promise. It is easier to gain financing for short film projects as the overall budget is much smaller than a feature and there are significant resources available for the taking.
- Roy W. Dean Short Film Grant - The Roy W. Dean Grant is available for short films, low budget independent features, documentaries, and web series. Budgets for the projects must be under $500,000.
- Davey Foundation - The Davey Foundation supports emerging filmmakers with financial grants (valued up to $5,000 each) and gear grants (valued at up to $10,000 each, provided by Film Exchange). Grantees also receive mentorship from experienced filmmakers.
- Shift Creative Fund - They offer funding for narrative short films, not documentary or feature-length projects. Their Winter, Spring, and Fall grants require scripts to be 15 pages or less. Summer animation grant requires film submissions to be 10 minutes or less.
- Claims Conference Film Grants - Recognizing the potential of film to reach large numbers of people and to educate and spark powerful discussions, the Claims Conference provides film grants as part of its ongoing support for Holocaust research, education and documentation.
- Oppenheimer New Filmmaker Grant Program - The Oppenheimer Cine Rental New Filmmaker Equipment Grant Program is a grant to support new filmmakers in producing their first serious film project. The grant awards the use of our Grant Program Arriflex 16SR2 camera package to senior and graduate thesis students and to independent filmmakers for a scheduled period of time.
- National Board of Canada Initiatives - For animated short filmmakers. It gives filmmakers a chance to create their first professional film within a vibrant and passionate community. The winner receives guidance from a producer and support from a team with rich and varied expertise.
- Frameline Completion Fund - Grants up to $5,000 are available for the completion of films that represent and reflect LGBTQ+ life in all its complexity and richness.
- Rooftop Film Filmmakers Fund - Various short films grant opportunities through cash or in-kind donations:
Television Film Grants and Writing Fellowships
TV is a rich landscape. Many outlets are providing resources and developing talent from within. Here is a stellar list to get you going.
Independent Lens - Provides documentary funding and co-production support so you can complete your nonfiction work in progress, then air it on public television.
Grant Center for Public Media - The Grant Center for Public Media is public broadcasting's premier source for grant seekers, providing a one-stop shop for funding opportunities tailored specifically for public broadcasting stations, along with related news, resources, and tools to help you make your case.
ABC / Disney Writing Program - The Writing Program is a highly selective, annual TV staffing program. The goal is to staff emerging and diverse television writers on DGE scripted series. Program Writers are contract employees of Disney for one year, or until they staff on a show, and receive mentorship, professional development, and unprecedented access to the company and its creative executives, producers, showrunners, and program alumni. One writer will receive the Eunetta T. Boone Comedy Writers Scholarship and special staffing consideration on a Disney Branded Television series.
HBO Access - Virtual writer’s fellowship. These program will run from mid-July 2021 through late January 2022. The first week will be a “boot camp” with multiple sessions over the course of three days. After that, attendees will meet 1– 2 times a week through January with a couple breaks for the holidays.
National Hispanic Media Coalition - Ten diverse Latinx writers nationwide are selected for a five-week intense writers lab. At the end of the program, these writers will have either a half-hour or hour long original series pilot, which they will pitch to Industry leaders, beginning with our partners at ABC & NBC. Over the 5-week duration writers work with a professional writing mentor, meet and speak with professional industry writers, and build a community of Latinx writers. The program is officially conducted virtually.
NBC Writers Lab - Classes concentrate on creating exceptional material to enhance their portfolio, and understanding the dynamics of pitching oneself in the television industry. Writers are given the chance to interact with industry players ranging from network executives to show runners to agents and receive valuable feedback on their work and pitch style. Writing assignments on a NBCUniversal television show may be available after successful completion of the program but are not a guarantee.
- Asia TV Forum - Engage with top Asian buyers and network with influential industry players to promote and distribute content within the world's fastest growing market. Generate leads, inquiries and buzz before and after the event with AFT's online directory.
Sesame Street Writer’s Room - Sesame Workshop Writers’ Room is a writing fellowship from the creators of Sesame Street. They’re looking for fresh new writing talent from underrepresented racial backgrounds. Emerging storytellers who are selected to join the Writers’ Room will receive hands-on writing experience guided by Sesame Street veterans and other media industry leaders. Each participant will develop and write a pilot script for their own original kids concept.
Warner Bros Television Workshop - Every year, the Workshop selects up to eight participants out of more than 2,500 submissions and exposes them to Warner Bros. Television’s top writers and executives, all with the ultimate goal of earning them a staff position on a Warner Bros.-produced television show. The Warner Bros. Television Writers’ Workshop consists of three components, all geared towards preparing the writer for a successful career in television writing.
Women in Film Grants
Women had a banner year in 2020 with a record number of women in the director’s chair of the top 100 grossing films. That number was 16 percent. Better than 12 percent the year before, but come on! Many opportunities in the film industry are working to level the playing field. Here are five of them.
- Nancy Malone Marketing and Promotion Grant - This grant will award $5,000 to a recently completed—or currently being completed—dramatic feature film directed by a woman. First-time, US-based dramatic feature filmmakers are eligible. Films co-directed by a woman and a man are not eligible.
- WIFD ARRI Camera Course Grant - WIFD ARRI Grant provides an opportunity for a member to attend The ARRI Certified User Training for Camera Systems course.
- Carolyn’s First Decade Fund - A grant of up to $500 to be used for professional training related to career advancement in film/video. This money can be spent on one or more courses selected by the award recipient and completed within one year of the award. The monies will be paid directly to the institution(s) offering the chosen course(s).
- Women Make Movies - The Women Make Movies Production Assistance Program was established in 1988 to develop and support women producing independent media. The Program fulfills this mission by offering support services including fiscal sponsorship, individualized consultations, workshops, networking and more.
Women in Film Finishing Fund - Promising women-directed films are awarded grants enabling them to complete production, going on to gain distribution and win top awards.
Student / Emerging Film Grants
You have to begin somewhere and there are ways and means to get it done.
- The Caucus - To assist worthy students in completing their student thesis film, TV program, video or interactive projects. The award will provide completion money after other means of fundraising have been exhausted. This program is intended to combat the lack of diversity in content and creative people in our industry.
- UFVA Carole Fielding Grant - An applicant must be a student (undergraduate/graduate) at the time the application is made. A faculty member who is an active member of the University Film & Video Association must sponsor the applicant.
- Dance Films Grant - Provides funding that is crucial to all stages of film production. Whether you need to write a script, pay for a location, or secure an editing suite, their production support can help you get started and get closer to finishing your film. Production grant applications are only open to DFA members.
- OTV Fellows - Identifies and supports indie filmmaking professionals within the OTV community to support the development of a new project. Designed for emerging writers and directors, the Fellows program trains talented artists in the fundamentals of project and career development, preparing them to launch careers in the industry.
- Orchard Project - The Orchard Project (OP) is a preeminent artistic development laboratory and accelerator for creators of performance and dramatic stories. Through programs in New York City, Saratoga Springs and online, the Orchard Project inclusively supports and empowers dramatic storytellers from the United States and around the world.
Film Grants vs. Fiscal Sponsorship
You may be focused on filmmaker grants for your independent film, but you could be leaving an important resource by the wayside. A fiscal sponsorship is another useful tool to gain a film grant.
Fiscal Sponsorship is used primarily when a film or media project wants to secure funding from individual, foundation, government or corporate sources that only give grants or resources to nonprofit organizations with IRS tax-exempt status. To be considered exempt, an organization must hold a current 501(c)(3) certificate from the IRS. Rather than attempt to secure tax-exempt status, individual filmmakers may contract with a fiscal sponsor to extend tax-exempt status to that specific project. In other words, the non-profit acts like an umbrella. You as the filmmaker use the nonprofit's tax exempt status to accept in-kind or monetary donations which subsidise your film budget.
Film Grants Wrap Up and Resources
The money is out there for like minded projects. Knowing what you have and what you need is key. Being able to reach out to the right organizations that will put you in touch with the right people and programs for your needs is essential.
Here are some additional resources that will help you make those connections.
- Women In Film
- International Documentary Association
- American Film Institute
- Director's Guild of America
- Writer's Guild of America
- Producer's Guild of America