Fund Raising and Proposals

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        Foundations and Corporations

        Most independent American filmmakers I know who work in documentaries raise their funds through applications to local arts councils and foundations. These foundations have, in fact, become the chief sources of independent film financing in the last few years. Broadly speaking, these agencies are divided into federal, state, and private funding bodies. Generally, government agencies tend to fund research and preproduction, while private organizations are more inclined to give completion monies. Sometimes you will go back to the same source more than once, the first time to cover research and development, the second time for production.

        The big hitters among the granting bodies are the Rockefeller, Ford, MacArthur, and Guggenheim foundations, the American Film Institute, the New York Council for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Funding is intensely competitive and dozens of applicants are turned down for every grant awarded. For example, Barbara Kopple was turned down again and again while trying to fund Harlan County, which eventually went on to win an Oscar.

        You should note that most state humanities commissions work hand in hand with the National Endowment for the Humanities. Similarly, most state or city arts councils work closely with the National Endowment for the Arts.

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