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Read Hank and Jilann’s Sundance Film Festival blog,

written as they went through the rollercoaster experience of premiering a film at this world-renown documentary film competition for the first time.

 

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Adventures in Fundraising #1: Making Contact

When looking for funding from a foundation or granting organization, one of the first things I try to do is get a contact person. This can save me time in the long run, because once I get a live person on the phone, I can run the idea by them to see if they are at all interested. If they are not, well too bad, but I have also saved myself a lot of time by not having to fill out a potentially colossal grant application. But sometimes just getting to that live person can be the hardest part—its an exercise in persistence and perhaps a little cleverness.

Recently I was trying to get through to a Public Television station's liaison for their funding program.  So first I called the general number of the station and spoke with the receptionist. I told her I was trying to get in touch with the person who supervised their funding program. That wasn't enough for her to go on, so with other phone lines ringing in the background, I quickly explained that I was an indie doc producer with a film idea that took place in their state and I was interested in speaking with someone about my project. She promptly put me on hold (I think you can tell where this is going....)

When she got back with me with a 'who are you holding for' I could tell I was barking up the wrong tree. Nevertheless I gave my pitch again, and it was met with the stonewall “that they do not allow producers to speak with anyone at the station before submitting a project”. If I wanted to speak with anyone, it would have to be her, and could I hold. I did hold, but as I was wondering why I was still on the line, I was disconnected. 'Technical malfunction' I reassured myself, and went on to the next item on my to-do list, noting to myself that I would try another day, and hope for a different receptionist.

And a few days later I did try again, but this time with a slightly different approach—I was no longer the needy doc filmmaker with hat in hand standing on the fundraising corner with the sign of 'Will Shoot for Peanuts'. No more nice guy—I was going to sound authoritative, proactive and necessary. I called the general number again, but this time I just asked for the liaisons name and number. It must have been something about my tone, or perhaps the secretary was having a better day, because she gave me that info, and shot me thru to voicemail. Knowing I probably would not get a call back, I hung up and called a few hours later—the direct line.

And got a voice. A helpful voice. A truthful voice. A voice that cut through the crap, and gave me the hard truth.

The truth is that this public television station was doing very little funding of outside productions any longer—with the economic downturn there was very little money for it. Still, she said I should submit since she liked the idea, and because one never knows—someone on the review committee may know of another funding source, for example. OK, great, but I began to wonder to myself that if my chances were so slim, would it be worth it to submit an application that could take me days? So I asked her—she seemed so up front and since I had her on the line, why not:  'What about the 19 questions that their web site asks producers to address in their submission?'

“Garbage,” she said.  “Just send what you have, that would be enough.”

So I will.  I will just submit what I have written up, and hope for the best. And in this process I have saved myself some grief by suffering only a little. Try to get a contact to help you cut through the red tape, and get to the truth.  It will save you time, and could save you a bunch of heartache.