Self-described as "a covert underground operation started by a gentle 76-year-old man who just wanted to help give passionate filmmakers an opportunity to be heard," the Roy W. Dean Film and Video Grant is no ordinary endowment. The large majority of the winner's reward is not in the form of cash -- but if $30,000 in industry favors means anything to you, like getting your film's trailer edited by the trailer editor of The Usual Suspects, then read on.
Carole Dean, founder of the Roy W. Dean Grant, comes across as a diamond in the rough of the film financing landscape. Unlike most endowments which rarely let you get face time with anyone other than the newest staff member's high school intern, Dean is happy to talk on the phone with all applicants, even offering a free fifteen minute consultation about your film after she has reviewed your materials.
"The universe would never put you here with all of your talents, and not fund your film. You have to have the faith to know that the money is waiting for you, it's just in another place right now. You have to get it from somebody else's bank account into yours."
A lone human face in a sea of anonymous grant rejection letters can mean a lot -- and Dean is one of the friendliest faces you could find. The grant she created for filmmakers is an interesting one: $1,000 cash, as well as a slew of professional filmmaking partners donating their services, ranging from composing to legal advice, totaling around $30,000 in industry favors. The grant takes all types of films: features, shorts, docs, and combinations of media forms. If interested, you can apply here. Note: You must send a physical copy of your application, so factor that into your schedule. June 30th was the official deadline to apply for the grant (yep, that was yesterday), but Dean was kind enough to give NFS readers an extension until July 6th. That's a postmark deadline (and this is why we love Carole Dean): "Don't spend your money on FedEx," she writes. "Mail it."
We were fortunate enough to talk with Carole Dean herself about the history of the grant, the award package it offers, and the success stories of the winners. Check out the interview below.
NFS: What made you decide to found the Roy W. Dean Grant?
Carole: My father died in 1992 and I put something in Variety saying that he had crossed over, and I started getting all these phone calls from people saying that Roy Dean had funded their films. Feature films, short films -- they got raw stock for free. I was shocked. We didn't have computers in those days -- we did our returns by hand and Dad was a great mathematician, so when he was short on inventory, I just thought it was an accident.
But, one time I was going through my accounts receivable and I found a bill not to a major studio (which is who we sold to on 30-day terms,) but to an individual named Jamaa Fanaka. So I went downstairs and said, "Dad, who'd you give $10,000 in film stock to?" In the 70's, that's a lot of money. He said, "Carol, this kid is probably one of the best filmmakers in LA right now. It's his first film, and I just had to give him the film stock."
Jamaa went and shot Penitentiary, which was the first all-African American cast that I know of. He got the raw stock from us, and took the film to Delux to develop it, and of course he couldn't pay Delux either. But, they were smart enough to give him a room with an editing bed, and he edited it and sold it right out of their building, got the money, paid me, and bought himself a Rolls Royce. He was one of the best young emerging filmmakers of that time, and Dad took a chance and believed in him when no one else would.
When Dad died and I found out about how he had been giving raw stock away (Jamaa was only the tip of the iceberg) I decided to start a film grant in his honor, and I did in 1992. Actually this is our 21st year.
NFS: Yours seems like one of the most personal film grants out there. Would you agree with that characterization?
Thank you. We do keep it very personal; everybody that applies gets a free consultation -- you have that opportunity. Filmmakers are all alone working out there on their films. They send applications to grants and foundations to get money, and people say no, but they don't tell them why. It's frustrating and it shouldn't be that way. I will not send those horrid letters. I call everyone and I say, "You didn't win." One woman said "Oh, I didn't expect to win, I just wanted to get the consultation."
NFS: It's so important for filmmakers who are applying to dozens of grants to get a little bit of feedback along the way.
Yes it is, and you need to talk to someone who has taken the time to read every word, look at your trailer -- and believe me, I see over 500 a year, so I learned long ago to be very direct and honest with filmmakers. Trying to be kind and not tell them the major problems I see is unfair to filmmakers. Filmmakers are the greatest, most courageous people on earth, because they put their art out, and then when you criticise it, they say, "Oh, thank you so much," and they change it and come back the next year. I've seen two filmmakers win grants from their own perseverance, coming back three times. You never give up in this industry.
NFS: How many people normally apply for the Roy W. Dean Film grant?
Normally we have around 100. This year for the April [Spring] grant we had 165, which was the largest we've ever had. I'm sorry to say that only one person gets the grant. Now, I'm working on that. It just seems so unfair.
NFS: What does the winner receive?
We have the most wonderful group of donors in the world. They're all people in the industry who are highly skilled and care about filmmakers. One of the guys I have on the LA grant, and I have his equal on the NY grant, is Bill Woolery, the trailer editor. When you're making a film, the trailer is your money-maker. An editor is one thing. A trailer editor is a special breed. Bill Woolery did The Usual Suspects and E.T. -- there's a format to it, it moves, builds tension, has cue changes with music.
You really need to get a trailer editor like him, and we provide his services for our winner. Winners tell me that our grant provides the greatest group of industry contacts they could ever find. In New York we have some of the top companies including Silver Sound, Duart, along with the film attorney Bob Seigel and Edgewise. We have the top people across the country that really care about films -- 2 composers that donate your full score, including David Raiklen. We now have a gentleman who is a brilliant sales agent who will give free distribution advice, and tell you how to market your film. So it's a collection of the top people in the industry who are giving their services to you, as well as $1000 cash. I know it doesn't seem like a lot of cash, but when you add it all up it equals around $30,000. We're walking you in to the top drawer places and you come in with prestige, because you've won the grant.
The other thing we do with the 30 finalists, is that we put it online so they can use the link for marketing and public relations, and I give them quotes for the films, and I also will send emails to any of my donors that they want to use and make a plea for them.
NFS: Tell me about your From The Heart Productions Fiscal Sponsorship.
Let's say you have a short and you're raising $30,000. Now donors can give that money to From the Heart Productions and get an immediate tax write-off, and you pay 5% for the check. Plus you get the benefit of working with our staff to help you create your fundraising campaign. We throw fundraising parties and help you create strategic alliances. Indiegogo allows films to route through a fiscal sponsor and we are #3 highest-grossing company on their list.
We take you on two to three months in advance and we teach you how to create your keywords, find your market -- it's out there, I don't care what kind a movie you have -- there are fans waiting for you online and around the country. It's a matter of finding them. My article, Do It With Others, is about how to find and attach and engage your audience while you're making your film. The key here is that these people are your money; they will donate to your campaign, and they will come back and buy the DVD or the download. People who give money online want to be part of something greater themselves, so you give them credit and you treat them personally to thank them.
NFS: How does one get fiscal sponsorship through From the Heart Productions?
Just send us an email with a couple of paragraphs about your film, and we review it and get back to you. We are looking for emerging filmmakers and we love low-budget features. We just opened our grant to low-budget (less than $500,000) features a few years ago, and we haven't had one win yet. So we're looking for good shorts and features, and we want to help you raise money on Indiegogo.
NFS: Is there any type of application you are looking to see more of?
We are interested in compelling stories. If you look at our past funded films, you'll see Heist: Who Stole The American Dream? which has had theatrical releases and done very well.
The funny thing is that the director had applied for a lot of grants and they all turned him down. He sent an application to me and I called him immediately and said, "This is one of the most important films being made this year." After he finished the film, the grants which had rejected him called him back to suggest he apply again. He said, "Where were you when I needed you?" That's what we love -- we love to support independent emerging filmmakers who have talent. We'll take them from ground zero all the way up to wherever they can go.
NFS: What are the most common mistakes made in the applications that you see most often?
Number one -- when we ask about distribution, people say they will take their film to film festivals. Now, I have taught at a lot of festivals and I know that distributors are really only present at the top fests. The rest of the people are family and retirees, and that's not what we're looking for. We want you to come up with a comprehensive distribution plan. I want you to give me an outline of how you are going to identify, catch and engage your market, and how you are going to make money. I want you to have a career -- just making the film is only half of it, we want to see you get money back. It's an investment we're making into a person's life, and we take this very seriously.
One of the first women who won my grant was Barbara Leibovitz, the sister of Annie Leibovitz -- She went on to create her own Leibovitz-Hellman Production Company, and she makes 5 or 6 documentaries a year. She's a highly paid professional documentary filmmaker. That's what I want to see, and the same if you're a feature filmmaker -- we want to see you out there wheeling and dealing with the top dogs.
NFS: Are you looking for filmmakers to highlight strategies they will use to attract distributors, or are you looking for self-distribution plans in your applications?
I think the filmmakers these days have the greatest opportunities we've ever had, with all of the opportunities for self-distribution. That's number one, knowing that you can do it yourself. Once you've got 20,000 names on your email database, people will look at that and give you distribution based simply on your database. Today's distributors say, "Show me your market, and then I'll talk to you."
There was a winner last year in the New York area I wanted to mention -- it's Susan Mitchell with Running Wild, and she has been winning awards all over the country. She premiered at Slamdance and the theatrical release of her documentary is coming up in October in New York and LA.
Tell us why you are doing the story. We want to know. What is your connection? Sometimes that will tell us that you'll be there through thick and thin, that you will finish the film because your heart is in it. Put your heart on the paper -- don't be afraid.
NFS: What is the range of budgets for films that you've funded?
I've been doing this for twenty-one years, so a budget from a long time ago won't make any sense now. But I did put a ceiling of $500,000 as the highest budget I would take, because $30,000 out of a $200,000 budget walks you into all these top companies where, if you're really a good producer, you will get not only what's in the grant, but a reduced rate for the rest of your production. You can cut your costs considerably, and you can now run around town telling people which companies did your sound and your edit, and that becomes part of your sales pitch. $30,000 for a $200,000 film gets you started, so that's why I set up the ceiling. The highest budget so far has run around $350,000 or $400,000. We've helped several films with very low budgets as well, $20,000-$30,000, and they've done very well with their films. I help winning filmmakers with their pitch proposals and paperwork to secure the rest of the funding, because it is a business. I have to move a lot of filmmakers from art to business.
NFS: On average in your experience, where does the lion's share of a film's profit come from?
For documentaries, your biggest money is television -- foreign and domestic, and then VOD, Amazon, iTunes, etc. Then you have semi-theatrical, which is where you gather people together to arrange screenings in certain cities. That's why you want to make sure you get zip codes with your website's email list.
NFS: Do you have any words of wisdom for future grantees?
Carole Dean and Roy W. Dean Judge Lee Lew Lee
You were born at the third most important time in the history of man. First we had the alphabet, then the printing press, and now we have the digital revolution. The universe would never put you here with all of your talents, and not fund your film. You have to have the faith to know that the money is waiting for you, it's just in another place right now. You have to get it from somebody else's bank account into yours. Never give up. Keep the faith on a daily basis.
Thank you to Carole Dean for sitting down to chat with us about her experience and advice to applicants. Again, NFS readers have a special extension on the application deadline for the Roy W. Dean Film and Video Grant. If you're interested, remember to get your materials in the mail by July 6th -- you can find the grant application form here.