Documentary films can be expensive to produce. Whether you are an amateur or a professional, the costs of filming, editing and distributing the project can rise with the intensity of the subject matter. Documentarians can apply for a wide range of grants to help offset production costs. Funders consider several common factors before issuing grants for documentaries.
Many foundations target grants to cover a certain subject matter. Before submitting an application, review previous grant winners' projects. The way the subject matter is presented in each documentary can give you an idea of how your information should be presented. Avoid the urge to make your documentary concept sound too different from the previous winners. Otherwise, your documentary may appear beyond the scope of what the organization is searching for. Mention how your perspective is different, but clearly state how the theme is in line with what the organization is looking for.
Grant cycles vary from organization to organization. Keeping a calendar of documentary grant deadlines can help you ensure a timely application. Rarely are extensions given since the grant cycles flow with the organization's fiscal year. Receiving grant money from major organizations and foundations is a slow process. The application period can last several months along with another 6 to 12 months to review a winner. Some grants have no deadline and accept applications on a rolling basis.
The International Documentary Association maintains a comprehensive list of general documentary grants on their website. You can use this list to begin your search for documentary funding. Local television stations are also a viable option for funding your documentary. For example, PBS offers funding to film projects that meet the station's content priorities. When soliciting funding, tailor your documentary proposal to incorporate the content priorities of the broadcast station you are pursuing to increase your chances of success.
Documentary film grants are not exclusive to experienced documentarians. If you have little experience producing or directing documentaries, you may still qualify for a documentary film grant with exceptional work samples. Shoot a few minutes of your intended documentary as a sample to include with your application. If you have won awards for your documentaries in the past, include this information on your application, even if it was through an amateur contest. Explain how your current documentary addresses the mission of the grantmaking organization. Illustrating how your current project provides value in the marketplace helps to make your application stand out amongst the competition.