MONEY FOR YOUR MOVIE! (MAYBE)
Look at this face, ladies and gentlemen. This is the face of U.S. government support for indie film.
Now in the literal sense, that’s my face. Last month, I acted in a short called “A-1 Quality Entertainment.,” made as part of the Connecticut Film Industry Training Program, a workforce development program that trains Connecticut residents to work as crew members in the film and television industry. The film was the “final exam” for the trainees, and they all worked as assistant directors, camera assistants, script supervisors, and all the other vital crew positions on a movie.
But in the metaphorical sense, that picture fits – when it comes to support for indie film, government in the U.S. is just clowning around. Support for the arts in general, and film in particular, really isn’t up to par of other countries, even for microbudget projects. And while I think there is a way to get financial help from Uncle Sam (which I’ll explain), we need to start thinking a little differently.
Federal support for the arts is there, though indie film tends to be overlooked. When you peer through the latest round of visual arts grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, film festivals around the country received support, but nowhere in that list is a program that helps independent filmmakers get their films into production. At the state level, Connecticut, New Mexico and Michigan offer workforce development programs to train residents in the industry, but those tend to focus on bigger films, with the goal of employing state residents on multi-million dollar features coming in from Hollywood, rather than nurturing native storytelling talent.
So where does that leave American indies? In a tough spot, unfortunately. We don’t value artistic endeavor as highly as other countries, so those trying to become artists don’t get much help. (Think of a parent arguing with their kid: “You can’t chase this dream, you need to find a steady career!”) But if you’re proactive, adaptable, and a bit of a detective, there is a way to communicate with those in government that, while not guaranteed to get you money, might spur them to look at you favorably.
Step 1: Stop Speaking Like a Starving Artist
Have you ever found yourself defending your work as art, as a meaningful contribution to the cultural conversation? If you want to find government money, don’t ever talk like that again. People in government are hardwired completely different than artists. They deal in numbers, they deal in statistics, and they respond to certain terms:
Economic development: Government wants to encourage job growth, commercial and industrial development within its borders. People often think of those jobs as full time jobs with benefits, but your movie could provide them too. Even if they’re unpaid, your movie could provide experience for people who want to get into the film business. And everything you buy for your film contributes to the economic development in your area: every fillup of your gas tank, every meal for your crew, every set of batteries for your microphones. If you buy it, it’s economic development.
Workforce development: Remember the Film Industry Training Program I mentioned up top? That’s a program that trains residents of a state to become employees in a growth industry, the film industry. States and cities often run programs like this to help support an industry they want to cultivate. Could be film, could be digital media, could be “digital arts,” but by making your movie, you’re offering a chance to help develop an industry in your city or state.
Tourism: Any time you visit somewhere on a vacation, you spend money on hotels, meals, souvenirs, and trips to local hot spots. That’s tourism, and for many cities and states, it’s a big business. Making your movie can help your local area in two ways: not only will you be showcasing the beauty and geography of the area, but you’ll also be creating something that will continue to show off the area, possibly bringing new people into the area as a result of watching the movie.
Education: Yes, I know you know what education means. But you can talk about your movie in that context, because you will be providing chances for learning! Think about if you brought local high school kids in to work on your film as unpaid P.A.s. Now, not only are you getting free help, you’re also helping your area’s educational system by giving high school kids work opportunities.
Look at how much you can offer your government! And all you had to do was figure out the right keywords.
Step 2: Find Uncle Sam’s Correct Cousins
So now you know what words will catch your government’s ear. But before you can get your masterpiece bankrolled, you need to find out who’s got the means to help you. This means looking at your city, county, and state governments, and determining who to approach for financial help.
At each level, you can usually find a Director of Economic Development, or an Economic Development Commission, who is in charge of promoting economic development, and who usually has some sort of budget to support programs that do. There might also be a Tourism division (in Connecticut, it’s called Culture and Tourism, but names may vary), and they often also have budgets devoted to promoting travel to their area. Workforce development departments could be a little harder to find sometimes (they might be under a Labor department, or economic development office), but they might have money for training programs. And of course, departments of education exist in every state, and most counties and towns, and they have budgets that might have room to help a small film project.
Step 3: Get Politically Active
Once you can talk the talk, and you know whose ear to bend, it’s time for shoe leather. Go out and meet these people. Tell them about your project, and how much making it could benefit their local area. It’s key to make sure these people know how THEY can be helped by your film. It’s no different than talking with an investor, only their investment will be for the good of their community. You might find out there’s money available to actually help underwrite your film, through an economic development grant, or a tourism program. Or you might find out there are other programs currently available that could help in other ways, like promotion, or nonprofit sponsorship (where a nonprofit filters money people give you for your film into tax-deductible donations). In any case, you’ll find out if your government can help you in the grueling process of getting your film made.
The one thing we should never forget is that by making films for tiny sums of money, we can provide something that can make a huge difference in our community – for an attractive price. That’s something government is always looking for, and if you can tell that to the right officials in yours, they might be able to help you create your next masterpiece.
Marty Lang is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Film, Video and Interactive Media at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut. He wrote and directed his first feature film, Rising Star, in October 2010, and it is currently in post-production. He is also the Assistant Director of the Connecticut Film Industry Training Program. He loves traveling, UConn basketball, and pugs. Follow him on Twitter, too!