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3 Reasons to Apply for a Film Independent Grant

The independent film world has long been the playground for new voices in cinema, and this year is no different. Film Independent, in addition to spotlighting films with its Spirit Awards, also supplies filmmakers with the means to make movies in the first place with its grant program.

Each year three $25,000 grants—the Producers Award, the Someone to Watch Award, and the Truer Than Fiction Award—are given to narrative and documentary filmmakers, as well as producers, to help further their creative projects.

“The cash grants provide critical support to filmmakers at a time in their careers when it’s most needed,” Film Independent President Josh Welsh tells Backstage. “It’s important to us that the grants are unrestricted, so filmmakers are able to use them to fund new films or fund old ones or simply pay their bills so they can keep working.”

This year’s awardees include the directors of the movie “H.,” Rania Attieh and Daniel Garcia, who won the Someone to Watch Award; Chris Ohlson, who was given the Producers Award, tailored to emerging producers able to realize the full scope of a director’s vision on a shoestring budget; and Dan Krauss, who received the documentary Truer Than Fiction Award.

“We’re really looking for emerging talent,” says Welsh, who adds that he’s excited about this year’s group. “We want people who have a body of work but aren’t well-known, haven’t gotten a ton of press or have distribution deals, and are on the early side of their career.” According to Welsh, candidates for the grants are chosen by recommendations from the indie film community. The Film Independent committee then reaches out to filmmakers and asks them to present and speak to their work—an often overlooked but critical aspect of the independent filmmaking process, says Welsh, who helps oversee grant submissions, fundraising for the nonprofit, education programs, and a staff of about 45.

“Know how to talk about your work in a compelling way,” he advises. “That’s something you can hone because when you’re applying for a grant—this happens mainly in the documentary space—oftentimes the language you use in your application is the same you’ll use when you’re submitting to festivals or looking for distribution or investors. That language to talk about your film—why it’s compelling and why people should watch—put a lot of work into that, because you’ll be using it later on.”

Welsh notes how competitive the grant application field is, encouraging filmmakers to “bring their A-game” when applying, because landing one could give an emerging filmmaker the needed edge over competition already getting attention. “We generally don’t give these grants to the filmmaker who came out of Sundance last year and who everyone’s talking about,” says Welsh. “That’s what the Spirit Awards are all about: new filmmakers who have unique voices.”

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