Nuts, bolts, hot tips, and road-tested information from Holly Million for indie filmmakers raising money

Tag Archives: guidelines

Funder Feature: Cinereach

Hey, filmmakers! How often do you hear about new film-specific funding opportunities? Not often these days.

Well here is a relatively new funding opportunity you need to check out. And it comes in three flavors: Cinereach Grants & Awards, The Reach Film Fellowship, and Cinereach Productions.

Cinereach is now accepting letters of inquiry and sample work for their winter grant cycle. The deadline is December 1, 2009, and they will request full proposals from select projects in January. Each year Cinereach grants over $500,000 to well-crafted feature films that depict underrepresented perspectives, resonate across international boundaries, and spark dialogue. Grants usually range from $5,000 – $50,000 and are awarded to films at any stage.

Cinereach was created in 2006 by young filmmakers, philanthropists, and entrepreneurs to champion vital stories, artfully told. The young nonprofit facilitates the creation of films that challenge, excite, innovate, offer new perspectives and inspire action. Cinereach has awarded well over $2.5 million in grants and achievement awards to more than 40 feature films.

Recent Cinereach funding recipients include October Country, a new documentary by Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher, which won Best American Documentary at Silverdocs and Entre Nos a fiction film by Paola Mendoza and Gloria La Morte, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival.

For more information, visit the Cinereach website. And good luck! Let me know how it goes.

In fundraising solidarity,
Holly Million

(Lightning photo by Mark Coldren)

Funder Feature: Sundance Documentary Fund

Hey, documentarians! One advantage you have is an ability to present your film as a “mission-driven, social-benefit project.” In other words, your film’s gonna change the WORLD! Narrative filmmakers have a harder case to make in that realm (although not impossible, as I’ve done it before), so most grants go to docs. Here’s a marquee grant that all social-message docs should take a look at: The Sundance Documentary Fund.

Back in the day, the Sundance Documentary Fund used to be the Soros Documentary Fund. This is a very competitive grant. You really need to have all of your ducks in a row before you attempt this one. Even better, there are two funds, one for Development, and the other for Work-in-Progress. So if you can snag the Development grant, you know that increases your chances of grabbing the Work-in-Progress grant. Work-in-Progress covers films in production or post-production. Almost nobody funds production anymore, it seems. Which is why they say, “For everything else, there’s VISA.” But here is a rare exception.

The Development Fund gives grants up to $15,000, and the Work-in-Progress gives grants up to $75,000, although most grants fall in the $20,000 to $50,000 range. There is a checklist of application materials available online. As with most competitive grants, for which hundreds if not thousands of filmmakers are applying, you need to have outstanding ideas that are clearly and compellingly communicated, a solid team, a solid plan, and for the work-in-progress grant, a kick-ass trailer that blows their socks into the next county.

I recommend forming your own “review panel” to read your application and critique it before you send it off. If you want to enlist more public commentary, you can do what filmmaker Brad Lichtenstein did and post your Sundance Documentary Fund application online, on your blog, soliciting input from random strangers. You know what they say about the kindness of strangers.

In fundraising solidarity,
Holly Million

(Photo by Andrea Schafthuizen)

The Malcolm X School of Fundraising

I am a graduate and proud alumna of the Malcolm X School of Fundraising. The motto of my alma mater? “Raise the funds by any means necessary.” By any means necessary, you say? As in lie? Cheat? Steal? No, silly! It’s never necessary to become a lawless madman or madwoman in order to raise funds. However, you do need to play the game to win. And that sometimes means bending the rules, not breaking them. There are some key ways this credo comes into play when an indie filmmaker is applying to foundations for grants.

One prime example is the foundation that insists you have to submit a treatment for a film you have not yet shot. A good example is the National Endowment for the Humanities. How can you describe your film if you have not yet shot it? Tricky, right? Nope. Write it up. Fake it. Write the most brilliant, detailed treatment ever submitted. Is that what’s going to end up on film? Probably not. Does the funder know that? Not! Are they going to insist that you submit a big, shiny, flowery, glorious treatment that gives a shot-by-shot description of what they’re going to see in the final product? Yep. Fake it to make it.

Many foundations now refuse fiscally sponsored projects but allow partnerships where one partner has its own 501c3 status. I had a situation where I wanted to apply for a grant from a foundation that had this rule. And they were pretty damn emphatic about it. We had already established a fiscal sponsorship with another production company that had its own 501c3. To make this proposal legit, we signed a separate agreement creating a partnership solely for the purpose of this one grant. We submitted the application under their 501c3. And we got $60,000. Our partner got the same fee they would have gotten as our fiscal sponsor. If I had played by the rules rather than playing the game to win, I would not have been eligible to apply for that grant.

Are there other such examples? Myriad examples! Your job is to sleuth out the hidden truth behind the written guidelines, the real agenda behind what the website says, the actual facts of what they’re looking to fund but can’t say because of politics. Become cunning. It’s the only way to win the funding game.

For more tips about playing the game to win, visit The Money Couch Internet radio show on, or read my Fear-Free Fundraising column on