Nonprofit Film Financing

By Jon M. Garon
Gallagher, Callahan & Gartrell, PC

For guerrilla and digital filmmakers, nonprofit grants often go unnoticed. Many nonprofit organizations are willing to participate in independent film projects. Some invest in film as an art form regardless of content, while others support particular projects because they are interested in promoting the message of the filmmaker—this is particularly true for documentary film.

Another selling point of nonprofit investment in independent filmmaking is that the donors’ return on investment is guaranteed. Given the number of independent films that never recoup any of the investors’ principal, shrewd supporters may prefer the more general benefit provided by a charitable tax deduction than the unlikely chance that they will see an equivalent return on their investment. Moreover, the tax deduction occurs at the time of the donation, so the return is immediate and without risk. For first-time filmmakers, particularly documentary filmmakers, charitable support is a very legitimate way to enter the business.

For the filmmaker himself, a further benefit is the level of appreciation afforded by the sponsors. Nonprofits often recognize that most of the work done on an independent film is essentially volunteer time, donated to complete a worthwhile project. As a result, they may offer the filmmaker wide latitude and a great deal of respect.

A limitation on nonprofit fundraising is that the money is often quite modest. The donors may also lack any sophistication regarding the project, unlike sources connected with the film industry. When funds become available from industry sources, they may often lead to other opportunities to promote the film or to valuable connections essential to the casting or production of the project.

1. Sources for Nonprofit Film Financing

Organizations that provide resources to filmmakers include the Sundance Documentary Fund, assisting the development of documentaries on social issues; the Fund for Jewish Documentary Filmmaking, focusing on Jewish history and culture; the National Black Programming Consortium, focusing on films emanating from African American communities; the Astraea National Lesbian Action Foundation, addressing issues in the lesbian community; and many geographic programs, such as the New York State Council on the Arts, the Minnesota Independent Film Fund, the Pacific Pioneer Film Fund, and the Texas Filmmakers Production Fund.

The Paul Robeson Fund is typical of the documentary funding model. Grants ranging from $2,000 to $15,000 are provided for documentaries dealing with relevant social issues. Filmmakers must complete grant applications that detail the project and provide samples of their prior work.

In many other cases, a nonprofit organization may not specifically be looking to finance a film project, but rather to provide funds for community outreach, training, or other goals. If the film being developed pro-motes those goals, the film project may become a valuable investment for the organization.

2. Fiscal Sponsorships

Nonprofit organizations may raise money from private donors or from grant organizations to fund those who support their exempt charitable purpose. As charitable organizations, they do not pay federal income tax, and they allow their donors to receive a charitable deduction against personal tax obligations. These charities are often referred to by their IRS tax designation, as 501(c)(3) organizations.

A few 501(c)(3) organizations have the development of noncommercial film and video as their charitable purpose. Organizations such as the Independent Film Project (IFP), Film Arts, and others accept donor funds to promote film projects. Under the typical fiscal agency relationship, a filmmaker applies for fiscal sponsorship by providing information on the film project, the filmmakers, the budget, and the distribution strategy. If approved by the fiscal agent, that charity serves as the entity that receives the donations. The charity then provides the donated fees to the filmmaker. The fiscal agent typically charges a 5 to 10 percent fee for its services.

The filmmaker is responsible for careful financial accounting and for compliance with all applicable tax laws. For example, the donor cannot be given any financial interest in the film, because this would transform the charitable gift into a for-profit investment. Donors can be given tokens of appreciation, but if these gifts have any significant monetary value, then the donor must be informed of the value of the gift, and the donor must deduct that value from the value of the donation listed on her tax returns.

3. Partnership Projects and Agenda-Based Films

Fiscal sponsorships are not limited to arts organizations. Any 501(c)(3) organization may elect to serve as a film’s fiscal agent, provided the film meets its charitable purpose. For example, a charity dedicated to promoting the elimination of a particular rare disease may find that a documentary highlighting the devastating consequences of the disease would help promote awareness and encourage pharmaceutical research to find a cure. A filmmaker hoping to make such a documentary could enter into a relationship with that charity by which it served as the project’s fiscal agent.

The filmmaker would be responsible for attracting new donations to the charity earmarked for the documentary, and the charity would be responsible for assuring that the tax and reporting obligations were fully met. The agreement should provide for the filmmaker’s salary, whether paid up front or deferred, and also stipulate that any donations in excess of the production and distribution costs be retained by the charity. The charity may charge a small fee to cover the expenses it incurs. The filmmaker retains the ownership of the film and its copyright, and all revenue from the film.

Even without becoming a fiscal agent, a nonprofit may serve as a conduit for additional funds donated by supporters of the film project. For example, if a church were willing to sponsor a production based on the life of one of its former pastors, the church would probably provide a modest grant toward the production costs (and perhaps provide the use of the church without charge as a shooting location). In addition, the church could collect funds for the film project from other donors. So long as the payments were consistent with the charitable purpose of the organization, a nonprofit could choose to use its resources to underwrite the film project.

4. Accounting and Accountability of Nonprofit Film Financing

As mentioned above, the fiscal agent is responsible for ensuring that the film project’s fundraising meets its tax obligations. If the fiscal agent is a film arts charity, it will likely have little or no control over the content of the film. (Non-arts charities are likely to participate as fiscal agents only in those situations where the charity and filmmaker have agreed in general terms about the content.) To meet IRS regulations, however, the fiscal agent must have a legal right to control the project, to assure that the funds are used in a manner consistent with the agreed-upon budget and that financial record keeping and reporting occurs properly. Charities with ongoing fiscal agency programs will have operational guidelines that the filmmaker must agree to follow. The filmmaker remains responsible for any liabilities of the production.

The film company does not itself become a 501(c)(3) charity. Instead, it should receive an annual tax form from the fiscal agent identifying the funds donated to it. Since the amount should be offset by the costs of production, there should be no taxes owed on these payments. If the film company is a sole proprietorship, however, and the budget includes the filmmaker’s salary, then this will constitute personal income to the filmmaker.

This is part of a series of book excerpts from Independent Filmmaking, The Law & Business Guide for Financing, Shooting & Distributing Independent & Digital Films designed as an introduction to the many legal issues involved in the filmmaking process.

Unlocking The Power of Story Within You

by James Bonnet

What is the source of our creativity? How can we communicate with that source and use it to unlock the natural storyteller that resides in us all?

Carl Jung called the source of our creativity the collective unconscious. Joseph Campbell, in his book ‘Hero With a Thousand Faces,’ called it the world naval. Religions call it God or the Holy Spirit. George Lucas called the positive aspect the Force. In my book, ‘Stealing Fire from the Gods,’ I call it the creative unconscious, the hidden truth, or the self. Here I will call it the inner creative self. You can call it anything you like. What it actually is, or what you choose to call it, doesn’t matter — it is the source of all of the higher intelligence and hidden wisdom we possess. It plays a major role in storymaking; and when we’re creating stories, it helps to be aware of it. If you learn how to ask your self the right questions and use the right techniques, it can be an ultimate creative partner and will consistently and persistently supply you with the answers and help that you need.

The key to all of this is your feelings. Feelings are at the threshold between the conscious and the unconscious worlds, and while playing with your creative ideas, the positive and negative intuitive feelings you are experiencing are important messages from your inner creative self. If you learn how to read these feelings, then playing with your creative ideas becomes a direct means of contact. Getting in touch with your feelings is getting in touch with your self. Getting in touch with your self through your feelings is the heart and soul of the creative process. And it is the key to unlocking the power of story within you.

Three important resources participate in this collaboration: your knowledge, your imagination, and your technique.

Your knowledge is the special understanding you possess of your art. It’s what you know about story. It’s what you need to know to become a master storymaker. The special knowledge I teach in my book is the Golden Paradigm, which is my story model.

Without this or some other sophisticated story model as a point of reference, it’s difficult to get effective cooperation and support from your inner creative self. Without this unconscious cooperation and support you can’t get that vital inner wisdom programmed into your stories and they won’t have any real power or meaning. The better your story model, the more of this vital information you can access. The more information you can access, the better your story.

The second resource, the imagination is the ‘image’ making function. It is the staging area, the place where creative activity takes place. And it is the process that transforms the raw energy of the unconscious into visual images and metaphors.

The third resource, technique, is the conscious function, the method of working that helps you achieve the desired result. The imagination brings the raw material to the surface and the conscious technique helps to fashion that raw material into a powerful metaphor that makes a psychological connection.

There are six creative techniques that can help facilitate the collaboration between you and your inner creative self — probing the fascination, comparing and selecting, modeling, conjuring, testing and problem solving.

~~ Probing the Fascination
By fascination I mean any idea or visual image that has strong feelings attached to it. It could be anything that gets your juices going and inspires you to create a story. By probing the fascination, I mean working with that fascination creatively. You experience it, explore it, romance it. You plug it into your imagination in ways that create other images and ideas, the same as you do when you elaborate or give details and structure to a fantasy or daydream. You translate feelings into visual images and use your imagination to bring more raw, unconscious, story-relevant material to the surface.

The important thing is to engage your feelings because that puts you in touch with your inner creative self and the energy behind those images. And when you’re in touch with your feelings you’re in touch with your self. You use the fascination as a point of contact with your self and you translate feelings into metaphors.

~~ Comparing and Selecting
When you probe a fascination, you will generate much more raw material than you need. The idea here is to keep the ideas that have the strongest positive feelings attached to them and put aside the rest. Get rid of everything you can and continue to work with the few most powerful ideas. The artistic tools operating here are the tendency to remember what makes a strong impression and to forget what leaves you cold. Using that as a guide, just keep the ideas that haunt you, the ones you can’t forget. In other words, respect the ideas that have power. The stronger the feelings associated with an idea, the more hidden truth it contains.

~~ Modeling
In the third technique, modeling, you examine the emotionally charged images you’ve selected and begin identifying and associating them with the archetypes of the story model. You listen to the feelings associated with these images and realize that this is the holdfast, this is the state of misfortune, this is the hero, these are the people who lure the hero into the adventure, this is the marvelous element, this event is part of the crisis, and so on.

The model helps to facilitate communication with your inner creative self, and when you use the model as a reference, you create metaphors that make a psychological connection and a syntax that reveals the hidden truth. All of which will be confirmed by your feelings and add power to your story.

~~ Conjuring
In the fourth creative technique, conjuring, you take the emerging metaphors and evolve them into more and more powerful examples of the archetypes. When you conjure, you are playing with the developing characters, powers and events and trying them in a hundred different combinations, like Edison inventing his light bulb. He tried one hundred and twenty-seven different filaments before he found the right one, tungsten.

Here again, you are…
- listening to your feelings and trying to discover the most pleasing patterns and potent combinations;
- rearranging things trying to evolve them into more and more powerful metaphors. The artistic tools at work here are analysis and recombination, exaggeration and miniaturization, idealization and vilification;
- taking things apart and trying this character and scene here and that character and incident there;
- changing the relationships, altering the relative sizes and strengths and making the positive things better and the negative things worse; and
- keeping in constant touch with your feelings and wait for the inner creative self to send you insights and signals.

Every creative playing or conjuring is a question to your self. You are in effect asking your self: Is it like this? The feeling response you get is your answer. And you keep playing with the creative ideas until they come out just right, until they really work.

When you start working with words on paper or a computer screen instead of just images in your head, you continue with this same evolutionary process — revising, editing, rearranging, rewriting. These are all forms of conjuring. It’s what the creative process is all about.

~~ Testing and Problem Solving
The fifth and sixth creative techniques are testing and problem solving. After you’ve worked up the whole model, then you test the model by walking through it to see how it feels.

To do this, you…
- walk through the selection of scenes you’ve sketched, just to get a sense of how it feels;
- take it a beat at a time, being as sensitive as you can to your own response. If something doesn’t feel right, then you work on that problem;
- take it apart and try something else;
- change the characters, shift scenes around, etc.; and
- replace some of the first ideas and walk through it again.

The most important thing here is to face all the problems and negative feelings directly. If something is wrong, take it apart and try something else. Storymaking is mostly confronting and solving problems. The more problems and negative feelings you confront and resolve, the better your work is going to be. Any problems left unsolved at the end of the day you can sleep on. More often than not, the problems will be resolved when you wake up in the morning.

Throughout this process you are working with your feelings. Your feelings are helping you make all of the necessary decisions. Everything you do creatively, every change, every thought, every new selection has a feeling connotation. It will either feel good or bad and you will make your decisions accordingly.

Trial and error, as always, is the key. Just keep working and let your feelings guide you through the process. Until you get to the end, everything is only a temporary reference point to help lead you to other more powerful ideas. You just keep exploring and conjuring, and listening to your feelings, waiting for something really powerful to emerge. Then you start probing these new, more fascinating ideas until even more powerful fascinations come forth. Eventually you’ll strike gold.

The acid test is always ‘what works.’ If you create a character, an action, or a marvelous element that contains hidden truth, you will get a confirmation, a feeling that it ‘works.’ The more conjuring you do, the more writing and rewriting you do, the more confirmations you will experience. The more confirmations you experience, the more hidden truth you will incorporate into your story and the more power it will have. This is how you tease the truth to the surface, and this is how you unlock the power of story within you.

James Bonnet was elected twice to the Board of Directors of the Writer’s Guild of America and has written or acted in more than 40 television shows and features. The radical new ideas about story in his book ‘Stealing Fire from the Gods: A Dynamic New Story Model For Writers And Filmmakers‘ are having a major impact on writers in all media.

Source with permission: The Writers Store

Writing Dialogue: Subtext Speaks

by Penny Penniston

The dialogue scene you’re struggling with? Take the page, crumple it into a paper ball and throw it into the trash can across the room. If you can make the shot, then you instinctively understand everything you need to know in order to write subtext.

Making the shot requires an unconscious set of calculations. You can’t just throw the paper ball in a straight line. You must take into account all of the other forces that will be acting on the ball as it flies across the room: the pull of gravity, the friction of the air, the breeze from the ceiling fan. You give the ball a powerful toss up to the left, the ceiling fan breeze bends it in a slight arc to the right, gravity pulls the ball down, the friction from the air slows the ball’s forward motion, and the ball drops into the waste basket – a perfect shot.

In each moment of the ball’s flight, multiple forces act upon it. The sum of all of those forces determines the ball’s path. A good wastepaper basketball player understands this. He knows that there’s not just one force at work, there are many. He makes an assessment of all of those forces when taking the shot.

Screenwriters make a similar assessment when writing dialogue. With each line, we take into account all of the forces acting upon a character.

The most dominant force is the goal. Every screenwriting book you’ll ever read talks about the importance of giving your character a goal. Different books will call it by different names (the goal, the want, the overwhelming need, the action, the agenda, etc.) but the basic idea is universal. Every character needs to pursue something – something specific.

Goals are certainly important. A character without a goal is like a piece of paper blowing randomly in the wind. It might look pretty, but it’s not going anywhere. When we give our character a goal, we launch her in a particular direction. Like the paper ball headed for the basket, our character is on a clear path.

But, that goal is not the only force acting upon the character, it is simply the most dominant. Like the fan breeze that bends the path of the paper ball, other forces will bend the behavior of a character. This is the source of subtext.

Characters with one and only one force acting upon them have no subtext in their dialogue. Consider the following line:

SAM: Bernice, I’d like to have sex with you. Your breasts look amazing in that dress and I think we should just get a hotel room and go at it.

Sam has a clear goal. He wants to sleep with Bernice. With no other force acting upon him, with no awareness of the need to negotiate any other issue, he can just state his intentions clearly. But let’s imagine that there are other forces acting upon Sam. Try rewriting the line to reflect the following combinations of forces.

• Sam wants to sleep with Bernice, but he also needs to make sure he doesn’t offend her.
• Sam wants to sleep with Bernice, but he also needs to make sure that he doesn’t offend her AND he’s also afraid of being rejected.
• Sam wants to sleep with Bernice, but he also needs to make sure that he doesn’t offend her, and he’s also afraid of being rejected, BUT he wants to make sure she doesn’t notice that he’s afraid of being rejected.

How does each combination of forces bend the writing of the line of dialogue?

In an attempt to create subtext, bad writers simply cut words. They fill their scripts with empty pauses and hope that those pauses suggest meaning. True subtext comes from addition, not subtraction. True subtext comes from weaving multiple dramatic forces into the words that you have, not from merely cutting the words that you don’t need.

A good line of dialogue manifests of the sum of all of the forces acting upon a character at a particular moment. When two or more forces converge on a single line of dialogue, that line of dialogue must bend to reflect it. Therefore, subtext is not the result of something being left unspoken. Subtext is the result of so many facets of something being spoken in one line, that the weaker aspects get almost, but not quite, lost in the larger trajectory of the line.

Try the wastepaper basket shot in front of a friend. Ask him to describe it. Will he describe the bend from the breeze of the fan? Will he describe the friction of the air against the paper ball? Probably not. If he thought about it, he’d realize that those things are there. But most likely, he will not focus on them at first glance. Subtext works in the same way. It is not immediately apparent, but it still bends the path of the line. You still need to be aware of it in order to make the shot.

Writing Exercises (Adapted from my book, Talk the Talk: A Dialogue Workshop for Scriptwriters)

Script Analysis Exercise

(Note: Beginning writing groups should do this exercise with a produced film. Intermediate and advanced writers have the option of bringing in their own scripts for discussion.)

Have the group watch the same film or read the same screenplay.

Select one of the central characters. Have each member of the group select a different line of dialogue from that character. After group members select a line, they will present an analysis of that line. In the analysis, they should answer the following questions:

1. What is the context for this line? What is happening in the script at this moment?
2. Describe each force (both external and internal) acting on the character in this moment.
3. Which of those forces are strongest? Which are weakest?
4. How did the line of dialogue reflect the balance of those forces?
5. Are there any forces at work that were not reflected in the line? In the line of dialogue, did the author miss an opportunity to convey the full range of forces acting upon the character?

For Discussion:

1. After each presentation, have the group weigh in with its perspective. Does the group agree with the analysis? Is there any disagreement? Was anything left out?
2. After everyone has presented, compare and contrast the forces acting on the character at different moments of the script. How are they similar? How are they different? How do the changes in forces reflect the plot of the script?

Dialogue Writing Exercise

Start with the following two lines of dialogue:

CHARACTER A: I’m going to the store.

CHARACTER B: Get some milk while you’re there.

Rewrite Character A’s line three times. Each time, add an additional force acting on Character A. You may choose whatever forces you’d like.

Rewrite Character B’s line three times. Each time, add an additional force acting on Character B. You may choose whatever forces you’d like.

Take the last line of the Character A and B rewrites. Use those lines as the first two lines of a 1-2 page dialogue between the two characters. Try to keep the initial forces consistent through the entire dialogue.

For Discussion:

Read each dialogue out loud.

1. Have the group try to identify the forces acting upon each character.

2. How did different combinations of starting forces lead to creating different character personalities, different relationships and different scenes?

3. What lines or sections popped out as having the most subtext? How did those lines or sections reflect the sum of all the forces acting upon the character(s) in that moment?

4. For each dialogue, discuss whether or not the forces stayed consistent over the course of the whole scene? If not, when did they change?

5. If the author changed the combination of forces over the course of the dialogue, have the author discuss why that happened. Why wasn’t he able to maintain the consistency of the forces?

Solo Exercise

Brainstorm a list of things that a character might want from another person. Begin the description of each force with the phrase “From another person, my character wants…”

Here’s a small sample set:

• From another person, my character wants the keys to the car.
• From another person, my character wants respect.
• From another person, my character wants an accomplice in crime.
• From another person, my character wants adoration.
• From another person, my character wants to be left alone.

Write each force down on an individual index card. Try to come up with at least fifteen different cards.

Once you have made your index cards, draw three cards out of the hat. This will be the mix of forces acting upon Character A. Choose one to be the dominant force. The others will be weaker forces.

Draw three more cards out of the hat. This will be the mix of forces acting upon Character B. Choose one to be the dominant force. The others will be weaker forces.

Write a 2-4 page scene between Character A and Character B. Look for opportunities for the forces to come into conflict with each other, even within the same line. Look for opportunities to use the conflicting forces to create subtext.

As an ongoing writer’s work-out, keep adding to your index card file and repeat this exercise on a regular basis. As you get better at the exercise, try drawing more cards out of the hat to add additional forces into each character.

Penny Penniston is a Chicago playwright and screenwriter. Her screenplay, Love is Brilliant, won the Sloan prize at the 2005 Tribeca Film Festival. Her stage play, Spin, will have its world premiere in April in Chicago with Theater Wit. She has taught dramatic writing at Northwestern University and guest lectured on screenwriting at DePaul University. Her book, Talk the Talk: A Dialogue Workshop for Scriptwriters, was recently published by Michael Wiese Productions.

Source with permission: The Writers Store

James Cameron on TEDTalks

James Cameron’s big-budget (and even bigger-grossing) films create an unreal world all their own. In this personal talk, he reveals his childhood fascination with the fantastic — from reading science fiction to deep-sea diving — and how it ultimately drove the success of his blockbuster hits “Aliens,” “The Terminator,” “Titanic” and “Avatar.”

Recommended by IQ Member Margo VIA: TEDtalksDirector

FilmFellas Cast Four: The Artistic Wedding

The filmmakers discuss the definition of wedding filmmaking and the artistic expression of producing avant-garde wedding films. Along with the pressures of one-take, 12-hour shoots, they discuss the true realities of capturing the moments of that perfect day.

Steve Weiss (Director; Zacuto, FilmFellas)
Joe Simon (Filmmaker)
John Goolsby (Wedding Film Producer)
Kristen* (Couture Wedding Filmmaker)

Webisode 15: One Take

The series opens up with the cast defining the new genre of wedding filmmakeing and quickly moves to artistic interpretation and filmmaking style.

Webisode 16: Same Day Edit

The Fellas discuss teh challenge of same day edits, including viewing the film at the reception and producing DVD copes for guests. Next they cover the average cost of booking and shooting on film.

Webisode 17: Artistic Vision

The cast discuss using 2-4 cameras and the difficulty of hiring a crew who will maintian the artistic vision for the film. Next they elaborate on creating heirloom pieces by documenting life events.

Webisode 18: Changing the Game

The FilmFellas discuss the versatility of wedding filmmaking and the choice of shooting with video or film. Next, the talk about how new technology and the Canon 5D Mkii is changing the game.

Webisode 19: The Biz

Cast 4 series wraps up with an overview of the wedding filmmaking industry, social networking, blogging and how to face challenges of staying true as a filmmaker while creating a thriving business.

Dedo Workshop – Lighting an Interview

German cinematographer Dedo Weigert, inventor of Dedolights, presented a series of lighting workshops at Abel Cine Tech. In this 10-minute excerpt from his master class in lighting technique, he demonstrates how to uses a five-piece lighting kit for an interview set-up. He shows how to use key light, kicker, back light, background and fill lights to achieve the desired effect.

Cinematographer Style – Lighting

Below are a couple excepts from the amazing documentary Cinematographer Style. With 110 masterfully edited interviews of celebrated cinematographers from around the world, CINEMATOGRAPHER STYLE creates a collective narrative about the process and progress of filmmaking. The distinguished group of artists including Vittorio Storaro, ASC, AIC (Apocalypse Now), Roger Deakins, ASC, BSC (No Country for Old Men), and Gordon Willis ASC (The Godfather) discuss their various backgrounds, their dreams and struggles, and, most importantly, the passion they have for their craft. Venturing further into the psyche of each cinematographer, this documentary traces how style and technique evolve, culminating in the new technological possibilities and pitfalls of the future. In the end, these diverse artists are united by one thing: a love of the moving image.

Part 1

Part 2

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