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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