The Aperture Film Grant

When and why did the Aperture Film Grant come into being?
I [Lewis] was raising money to shoot my own short film, and I thought that doing so under a nonprofit umbrella would make the process easier. This did not turn out to be the case, but a friend, Eric Taras, suggested that a nonprofit would be a good vehicle for raising money for other people and creating a permanent corporation.

The driving philosophy behind Aperture is . . .
To promote creativity, diversity, and excellence in short film.

What percentage of your overall funding goes towards film or video projects?
One hundred percent.

How many media awards are given out each year?
One grant is awarded to a documentary or narrative submission.

What is the average size of a grant? Are the same amounts given year after year or does that depend on your resources?
We award $10,000 each year.

What’s the ratio of applicants to recipients?
On average it’s 400 to one.

What are the restrictions on applicants’ qualifications (e.g., ethnicity, geography, medium)?
The grant is open to U.S. residents over the age of 21. Narrative applicants are required to shoot 16mm, while documentary applicants may shoot 16mm or video. Budgets for either cannot exceed $20,000.

Does Aperture fund projects at various stages of production (e.g., script , development, production, distribution, etc.)? What is the time frame within which the funds must be used?
We finance projects from pre-production through post-production. We do not provide finishing funds. Our funding must be used within six months of our awarding the grant.

How many artists have you funded since your inception?
We have supported three filmmakers since inception: Cinque Northern (Still Waters); Josh Marston (Bus to Queens); and Tracy Seretean (Big Mama). Those films (two narratives and one documentary) have gone on to many festivals, with the documentary (Big Mama) ending up a finalist for ITVS funding to be expanded into long-form doc.

Do you offer your winning filmmakers any additional support on their projects either in the production or distribution phases?
At the moment, the only additional support we can afford to offer is emotional! But Eastman Kodak offers $1,000 in products and also hosts and promotes Aperture’s annual screening at their campus in Hollywood.

Explain your funding cycle and deadlines.
This year’s deadline for narrative screenplays and documentary proposals is September 30th. By November 30th we will inform all applicants of the finalists. The Aperture Finalists are required to submit tapes of prior work, the budget, the proposed shooting schedule, resumes for the director and the cinematographer, a cast and crew list, and our completed questionnaire. We will announce our year 2000 Aperture winner by March 1.

Who are your program officers or administrators?
Leslie Nia Lewis, president and director; Eric Taras, treasurer and director; Glenn Farr, vice president and director; and Leslie Rabb, secretary and director.

Who makes the awards decisions? Can you name any panelists from prior years?
Decisions are made by the Board of Directors. We consult the Board of Advisors (comprised of Joe Berlinger, Charles Burnett, Angela De Joseph, Frank Chindamo, Jim Jarmusch, John Sayles, Bruce Sinofsky, Jesse Weathington, and Glenn Farr) on finalists and winners.

What advice do you have for media artists in putting forth a strong application?
Follow instructions. Submit entries in standard screenplay format and do not exceed the page limit (which for us is 30 pages, max.). For documentaries, convey your project visually and stylistically as well as in terms of theme.

What is the most common mistake applicants make?
No matter how brilliant your submission is, if you can’t get it from pre-production through post for $20,000 or less, we cannot award you the grant. A lot of projects have come through based on costly or unobtainable music or stock footage, or which have a large number of actors and locations. We encourage creativity and originality—just be aware of what you can and cannot do for $20,000.

Briefly, what is your perspective on the lifespan of the short film in the independent film market today? Why should filmmakers continue to make shorts?
I don’t think “should” is the right word. Some filmmakers will make shorts because they love them and they excel in the form. In this country, it is a hard form to finance. Filmmakers, producers, and distributors have to seek every possible venue: on flights, on cable and public television, on the Internet, and maybe even preceding features like in the old days. And there are smart distributors like Big Film Shorts [] who are packaging and selling shorts anthologies on video.
Short films are rediscovered and reviewed as tastes and fashions change. I just met the actress who starred in the world’s highest grossing short film, Hardware Wars, which is now being sold, rented, and viewed again because of The Phantom Menace. The life of a short film could definitely be lengthened by good marketing.

What would people most be surprised to learn about Aperture and/or its founders?
How much work it is. And that I’m still raising money to shoot my own short film!

Other foundations or grantmaking organizations you admire.
Film Arts Foundation, the Paul Robeson Fund, P.O.V.

Famous last words:
Persist if you love it. Never quit.

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