Say The Magic Words

Posted on by AshleeS

But what if those words just won’t come out the way you want them to?!

Working in the film and video industry, we know how important it is to secure funding for a project, and many times development money comes through the form of grants. I did an earlier post about where to look for grants and the kinds of projects different organizations support. Go on, scroll down a little if you’re interested.

Finding a grant that your project is eligible for is half the battle. The second half is putting together a killer proposal that ensures your project is at the top of the approvals pile. And that’s what I want to touch on in this post: grant writing. Yes, it’s a part of our job as filmmakers and producers that isn’t the most glamourous, but it’s as important a task as they come.

Here are some tips and tricks that I’ve learned over the years that have made the grant writing side of my job a lot easier:

1.) Your Program Officer is Your Best Friend: This is especially true when you’re new to the grant writing ‘scene’. Regardless of the kind of grant you’re going for, (federal, provincial, Telefilm, Canada Council,) there are people within those funding departments whose job it is to help you out. They will answer your questions, help you determine eligibility, give you tips on what requirements they’re looking for, review your rough draft and help you strengthen your proposal overall. They are invaluable, and no questions is too trivial.

2.) Keep Your Focus Clear….and your objective(s) simple. There’s no quicker way to get bogged down in the middle of a proposal when you realize that you’re promising too much. Despite the seemingly never-ending array of questions on the application, keep in mind that the grant selection committee members are people too….and they have to go through a LOT of material when making funding decisions. Therefore, a good tip is to always be clear and concise with the focus of your pitch and never have more than one or two project objectives . Any more than that and it becomes very hard to meet them all. The departments and agencies that hold the purse-strings know this and won’t fund a project with unrealistic deliverables.

3.) Make Like A Parrot: Believe it or not, when reviewing applications grant approval committees like to see their words and questions repeated back to them. This goes back to what I was talking about above: lots of material and applications to go through in not a lot of time. It’s no wonder bureaucratic brains go into meltdown. By seeing their words and questions repeated back to them in our answers, it makes it easy for program officers to identify which applicants have addressed the answers they’re looking for, rather than having to read through blocks of text for buried answers.


Q – Explain how your project meets the goals and objectives of the ‘Film Program’?

A – Our documentary meets the goals and objectives of the ‘Film Program’ in the following ways…..

4.) Don’t Be Afraid To Bring In The Big Guns: I’m talking about professional grant writers! Though grant writing is part of our job as producers, it’s not our only job and it takes a lot of practice to become skilled at it. This is where the services of a professional grant writer can come in handy in helping us draft a strong proposal. Yes, there are groups of immensely talented people out there whose sole job it is to write perfectly tailored grants and they’re invaluable people to have in your Rolodex. If you’re really stuck, have one look over your draft and give suggestions and edits.

5.) Break Out The Abacus: If the thought of numbers sends you running away screaming, you may want to find a support group in the Yellow Pages. (Don’t worry. I’ve been there too, and I won’t tell.) Because part of grant writing also means being able to draft and balance project budgets. The written portion of a grant application is only half of a whole. The other half is the budget. Without a realistic, well-balanced and solid budget, your project may not get funding despite your strong proposal or fantastic pitch. Or, the funding committee may come back to you ask that the budget be reworked or amended before a final decision is made. Always be aware of important things like union rates for professional cast and crew (ACTRA, Atlantic Federation of Musicians, Screen Actors Guild),  factoring in monies for contingency, nail down other sources of funding and make sure your budget vis a vis your project timeline is realistic. It also helps to sleep with a calculator under your pillow.

Happy writing!

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Not Just Another Talking Head

Posted on by AshleeS

“Excuse me, do you have a moment to tell us your thoughts on….?”

At some point, walking down a busy city street, we’ve all looked up at the sound of a question like this one, to see a camera pointed in our direction and a reporter with a microphone at the ready. Sometimes, we even stop to give our two cents on whatever the hot button issue of the day is before walking off and texting friends and family to keep an eye out for our cameo on the six-’o-clock news.

Whether we’ve spilled a wealth of information on the topic at hand to the nodding reporter, or shrugged our shoulders and moved along, what many of us may not realize is that the quality of the soundbyte hanging in the balance has everything to do with how the question is framed.

This is the fine art of the interview and it is an essential skill for anyone who uses video as a medium of communication, whether you have a background in journalism or are working as a behind-the-scenes researcher for a documentary film. Video is a medium that can provide us with visual story-telling at its best and knowing how to draw out the curves and lines of that narrative in well-constructed, insightful interviews can be the hook that holds your audience.

Here are some basic tips for building your interviewing skills and getting the most out of an interview subject:

- Do your research and know your topic. This allows you to frame questions that are going to be the most insightful and of interest to your viewers. They will also lead to the most detailed, meaningful answers from the person you are interviewing.

- Always ask open-ended questions. Why, how, what? This is probably the single most important piece of advice for reporters/videographers and starting out, it’s often the most overlooked. There’s nothing more detrimental to the quality of the story you are trying to tell than shutting down an interview by asking close-ended ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ questions. There’s also nothing more rewarding than opening that vein into the heart of a story through a strong line of questioning.  Here’s a great example from the Poynter Institute on the power of open-ended questions.

-Avoid leading and opinionated questions. As human beings our beliefs and opinions make up the framework of how we view the world and interact with others. As a reporter/videographer being able to set aside our own pretexts can be challenging but necessary to getting to the truth of a story and telling it the way it should be told. As interviewers we should never use a line of questioning to mold a story to coincide with our own assumptions and beliefs. Impartiality is key.

-Sometimes silence really is golden. Because really, what’s a story without someone there to listen to it? Again, the Poynter Institute sums it up best. Next time you’re conducting an interview and the person you’re speaking with finishes talking, don’t say anything….and see what happens. Nine times out of ten, as the silence spins out, your subject will start speaking again. And it’s usually in those moments where the gems lie.


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There’s A Tree For That, Right?

Posted on by AshleeS

I wish! But, actually no — there isn’t. And yes, I’m talking about money — that stuff that ‘makes the world go round’. For those of us in the independent film/video production industry we know how contingent funding is on the successful completion of a project.  Whether it’s a big budget film or a short PSA, without financial backing the cameras don’t roll.

Starting out in the industry it can be challenging to know where to look for money to get your film or video project off the ground.  Fear not. There are dozens of grant and funding programs available to launch your project off the ground or to supplement any private sponsorship as well.

Many government and private sector groups have annual or quarterly Requests for Proposals where groups and/or individuals can apply for funding. The kind of project you’re seeking funding for will determine which grant stream you should submit your application to. Film and video projects are usually broken down into a few categories such as Television/Theatrical, New Media and Corporate/Commercial.

Here is a breakdown of some of the most common funding sources:

Canada Council for the Arts

Canadian Media Fund

Film Nova Scotia

Independent Production Fund

For those producers who are looking for first or second broadcast windows for distribution of their film or TV series, most televisions stations offer programming envelopes for new ventures. Generally producers are required to submit a project synopsis, full treatment, shooting schedule and completed budget when seeking network development money and most application forms are downloadable online from the network website.

There is also a surprising amount of money available for video production ventures in the not-for-profit sector. As a make a difference video company, Pink Dog Productions often partners with charitable agencies to produce online web content, informational and educational video resources and public service announcements. Many provincial and federal government funding agencies issue Requests for Proposals to fund community initiatives that support their mandates. Very often the primary applicant must be a charitable organization, and video projects are a great way for groups to collaborate to raise awareness and make a difference in their communities.

Funders such as Citizenship and Immigration Canada, Status of Women Canada, the RCMP Foundation, and the NS Dept. of Tourism, Culture and Heritage to name a few, all offer funding programs that support a wide variety of national and community-based projects, in which the power of video can play a big role.

So yeah, in the costly world of film and video, production and development money definitely doesn’t grow on trees. But as you’ve seen here there are still many resources available to easily find it. You just have to be willing to shake the bushes.


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How to Make Great Video for the Net

Posted on by DawnHJ

Welcome to the Pink Dog Blog!  Because we are all about “making a difference”, we thought it would be good to share our knowledge about making great videos for online sites so that’s what this blog series is going to be about – mostly.

Of course we may digress.  But first maybe you need to know who “we” are.

Who is Pink Dog?

Pink Dog Productions is a make-a-difference video production company.  Our videos cover social issues as diverse as why Canada needs immigrants to how to avoid type-two diabetes. Our sister company is and we’ve learned a ton about online videos working with our super-geek partners.  Roberta Hancock comes from the high-rolling world of ad agencies where she handled accounts with the likes of Coke and Air Canada before she joined CBC.  She has won awards for much of her work including a Clio.  Dawn Harwood-Jones comes from a theatre and music background but worked twenty years at CBC as a producer and has also won several international awards. Including two from the New York Film and Television Festival.  Our third and newest partner is Sarah Wakely.  She also comes from a theatre background and stage-managed big productions in Toronto and out west.  Also contributing to this blog is Ashlee Starratt. Ashlee’s a journalist and graduate from King’s in Halifax.  But enough about us – you can read about us on our website.

How to make great videos for the web….

These days, anyone can shoot a video, but what makes a great video?  – pacing, framing, good writing, good lighting, good sound.  Those are the basics.


Let’s start with lighting. I assume you know not to shoot a subject in front of a window.  But did you know that an $18 hardware store work light can do wonders?  If you find it harsh, simply put some sheer white material in front of it and now you have a $1,000 chimera.  A chimera is a light camera people use to make people look gorgeous.  It is a light with a box of some sort around it and a semi opaque white diffuser over it.  This softens the light and makes any face less wrinkly, harsh etc.  That’s the tip for today.  I would love to get feedback on the kind of thing you would like to read about.

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