Funder FAQ: Roy W. Dean Film & Video Grants

Carole Dean, founder of the the Roy W. Dean Film & Video Grants and From the Heart Productions, talks with The Independent about her foundation.

What are the Roy Dean Film & Video grants?

These grants are designed to support documentary and independent filmmakers by giving them the goods and services to get their films off the ground.

There are four grants: a New York video grant, a Los Angeles film grant, a Los Angeles video grant, and an editing grant. The Los Angeles film grant was created when we really did shoot films on film but now if you are shooting in video you can apply for either.

[You can also apply regardless of where you live.]

What’s the typical size of a grant?

It varies from grant to grant but I try to keep [the net worth] between $30,000-$40,000.

When, how, and why did the foundation come into being?

I started this in 1992 because I was selling raw [film] stock and I could give it away. I went to my friends in the industry and found lights and cameras and cinematographers and people who would donate their time or give major discounts or cash incentives in the form of goods and services to the filmmaker. I’ve found that it’s been a wonderful journey for me and for the grant because we’ve both grown together.

What do you mean by goods and services? Who are your donors?

We have about 85 donors for the three film and video grants. One of our donors, Edgewise Media [in Anaheim], gives $500 in videotape, computer supplies and anything that they sell. Another donor, a trailer editor in California, gives $1,300 off of a trailer edit. I give a monthly consultation for a year, and we have well-known composers who will provide music and score on three of our grants. We have voice-over services, website creation, reduction in legal fees from Mark Litwak and Hal “Corky” Kessler and on and on.

For the editing grant, Fortitude Editorial [in Hollywood] offers its services for two months to a feature or a documentary that needs to be edited.

What’s the most valuable part of the grant?

The most important part of the grant is not so much all of the free stuff you get but the connections. In our industry, who you know makes a difference, so when you go and meet Ayres D’Cunha at Analogue Digital International, and he gives you $1,500 in editing, you now have a friend. He will never forget you and he will always be there for you and in the future. When you’re doing another film you can go sit down and talk to him about your project and work out a new plan with him.

It’s the people that you meet in this industry that I feel are one of the greatest assets from the grant.

Do you find it more helpful to filmmakers to give goods and services away than money?

It’s what I’ve been able to acquire. Now, I’m not giving up on money — there is no cash at the moment — but what is so important about this grant is that this may be the future of funding because it’s always easier to get someone to say, “Yes I’ll give you $1,500 worth of editing,” than to say, “Yes, I’ll put $1,500 into your film.”

What I do for the donors in return is promote their company through my website. I think the future through the next two or three years during these financial times is going to be trade and barter. As a community of filmmakers, we have to work together to get our films made.

Have the grants been affected by the economic downturn?

Slightly, but not a lot — people who were in business yesterday are gone today or they are downsizing. So far we’ve still got 80 percent of our donors and those who still will be here are the strong ones and they are the ones I need to be connected to.

How successful have past winners of the grants been?

The filmmakers that win my grant usually win another grant right afterwards. It’s something in the energy of winning a grant that tells the filmmaker that you’re on the right path, we respect you, you’re talented and your film has value, keep at it. Accordingly, we’ve been very lucky to have an exceptionally high percentage of the films that we have funded through the grant go on to be successful. About 80 percent of the films are successfully complete and 75 percent of the films are completed and distributed through cable, foreign distribution, and other channels.

What’s the most memorable film or video your foundation supported?

We have The Flute Player, which was shown on PBS, about a man who returns to Cambodia after being separated from his parents during the Khmer Rouge. There’s also Stolen, which was on Court TV and PBS — the story of the lost Vermeer and the largest art theft in the United States ever; Changing Face of Harlem and Lilllie and Leander: A Legacy of Violence are two more; also Women at War about the forgotten female veterans of the Gulf War.

Do you only support nonfiction films and documentaries?

No, we have we just changed our grant format and we will take independent feature films with budgets under $500,000.

Are there any restrictions on who can apply for the grant?

No.

What is the criteria for applying?

I support films that are unique and make a contribution to society — you will find that theme in all my films. For example, Billy Luther, who studied with me, went on to make Miss Navajo, shown on PBS, about the beauty contest that on a Navajo reservation. It is not about wearing bathing suits but about killing sheep and making fry bread and building fires, practical things.

We want films that have a $500,000 budget and under and we want compelling characters or little-known stories. We encourage emerging filmmakers.

What do you mean by “make a contribution to society?”

I mean a film that has lasting value, something that you might say has a long shelf life that records a historical moment in time to show us how things worked during that period and brings information to light. Also, stories about people who are astonishing and compelling characters in whom we can find our own heroes, an average everyday person who does extraordinary things.

What do you look out for most when deciding what project to support?

I look for the filmmaker’s passion: Will you be there in three years or as long as it takes to make the film? What is your connection to the film and why are you making this film? Are you truly dedicated?

How does the decision-making process work?

We work in rounds. Usually within 45 days we will have our first cut on the website and that might be 30 people. Then from the first cut, we go down to the top 15, then to the top 10, and the top five. The top five go off to the final group of judges who will choose the winner. We usually have the results within three or four months from the end of the deadline.

Who are the judges?

They include Barnara Trent, Academy Award winner for Panama Deception; Jilann Spitzmiller, former grantee for Shakespeare Behind Bars and Homeland; and Lee Lew-Lee, former grantee for All Power To The People.

What’s the typical time to start applying?

The New York grant has a postmarked deadline of April 30th, the Los Angeles film and video grants have a postmarked deadline of June 30th and the deadline for the editorial grant is July 31st .

What is an absolute no-no in an application?

The biggest mistake filmmakers make in their application is they give me the history, the need, what equipment they’re using and they do not give me enough story. Start with the story, write three engaging paragraphs and knock me off my seat and then tell me the rest. Some filmmakers say they want to send a message and I tell them that Mr. Warner said, “If you want to send a message go to Western Union.” If you want to make a film, tell me a story.

Any parting words?

I want to encourage filmmakers to recognize that most people who run grants are in the process of giving awards — many of them are not filmmakers — they are not in the trenches but they highly respect you as filmmakers. We know what you go through and we know how talented you are so never feel intimidated. In fact, we are the ones that should feel intimidated from your many brilliant talents. If you don’t win, it’s a good connection and it’s a good opportunity to find out what you can do to improve your film. And make your motto: Never give up.

Learn more about the Roy W. Dean Film & Video grants here.

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