Best Ways to Secure Documentary Funding

Best Ways to Secure Documentary Funding

Now you have decided to produce your documentary. But like all film productions, you need cash to realize your film.

There are many ways to get money to make your film. One is getting it from your savings, which isn’t a great idea if you don’t have much money to save.

The other tactic is to seek help from friends and family.  Another way is to find investors for your film or you could try getting some sponsors to defray expenses.

Another popular avenue for independent filmmakers is to secure a film grant. There are so many grants for filmmakers, especially those engaged in documentary filmmaking.

The Ultimate Film Grants List for Every Filmmaker


There are many film grants which are being offered all over the world. Each country has a production grant provided by governments or by private organizations.

Great Britain has its British Film Institute (BFI) which gives grants for development (Development Fund), actual production (Production fund), and completing your film (Completion Fund) these are funded by the National Lottery to support aspiring filmmakers.

Screen Australia offers funding to support the development, production, and marketing of Australian films.

In France, a portion of box office revenues is allocated to fund upcoming films and includes those created by independent filmmakers and first-time productions. The funds are handled by the state’s CNC (National Center for Cinema).

In South Korea, the KOFIC or the Korean Film Council provides different funding programs for filmmakers in the different aspects of realizing their films from development, production, and marketing.

Canada has the National Film Board of Canada Filmmaker Assistance Program that helps Canadian filmmakers develop, shoot and complete their films.

In the United States, there is the Film Independent Project Involve by Film Independent, a non-profit organization that champions independent filmmakers. Project Involve supports emerging filmmakers from communities that are underrepresented in film and entertainment.

Moving Picture Institute based in New York has filmmaking grants for those who would use the medium of film in pushing for MPI’s advocacy, which is promoting human freedom through film.

The Heart Productions’ a company based in Oxnard, California started as Studio Film and Tape, a company that brought leftover film stock from film companies and sold them to independent filmmakers.

The owner Carole Dean saw the struggles of independent filmmakers in producing their films despite the lack of resources. She caught her father Roy W. Dean giving away a film to one filmmaker. And instead of getting mad, she created the Roy Dean Film grants which provide film grants of about $30,000 in cash and services to unique and excellent films.

Documentary Film Grants for Independent Filmmakers Find funding for your film!

Documentary funding opportunities also abound as there are non-profit organizations and government agencies that offer much-needed film grants for independent documentary filmmakers.

The California Documentary Film Grant by the non-profit organization California Humanities is a competitive grant program that supports documentary film, audio, and digital media productions about California.

The Film Independent Documentary Lab is designed to help documentary filmmakers in the post-production phase of their documentaries. The Documentary Lab provides creative feedback and story notes to participants while helping them strategize for the completion, distribution, and marketing of their documentary films.

The Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival is the largest of its kind in North America. Based in Toronto it offers grants to documentary filmmakers. The Ted Rogers Fund is given to Canadian documentary projects. While their Hot Docs-Blue Ice Docs Fund (HDBID) is a fund for filmmakers who live and work on the African continent.

In 2002 the Sundance Institute Documentary Fund was established to support nonfiction filmmakers around the world. The Sundance Documentary fund offers (non-recoupable) support for nonfiction projects that continue to elevate and advance cultural dialogue and break new ground in creativity and innovation.

Another Canadian organization the Alter Cine Foundation provides a grant of 10,000 Canadian dollars to documentary filmmakers from all over the world.

The AFAC (Arab Fund for Arts and Culture) has an AFAC documentary program that provides grants provide annual grants of up to US$ 10,000 for development grants US$ 20,000 for short and medium-length documentaries, US$ 50,000 for feature lengths and it has post-production grants of US$ 25,000 for feature-length films, US$ 10,000 for short and medium length documentaries.

The AFAC documentary program supports submissions of feature-length documentary projects as well as short and medium-length documentaries which are in development, production, or post-production phases.

These are just among the many sources of documentary grants which will provide resources for the different aspects of the processes of creating your documentary from providing research and development funding, production, and post-production to marketing and distribution.

Learn faster with your peers

Some documentary grant programs offer labs or a series of workshops and meetings where you are joined by fellow nonfiction filmmakers in learning to develop and enhance your film.

There is the two-week documentary lab of Film Independent org. There are multiple workshops and sessions with guest speakers, established documentary directors, institutional funders, legal professionals, festival programmers, and distributors.

The Fellows are paired with an experienced Creative Advisor who can provide one-on-one support and insight as they ready their projects for release. The Lab’s finale is a final pitch event that offers further opportunities for individualized feedback and discussion with industry executives.

The four-week Yamagata Documentary Dojo is an in-residence program hosted in the city of Yamagata, in northern Japan. Fellows which are Asian filmmakers are provided with an idyllic retreat that allows them to rework their documentaries with fresh and new perspectives. the Dojo starts with a four-day workshop.

Which grants are you qualified for?

You can view the requirements for the grants on their websites. During the film grant application, you can read the list of qualifications for availing of their grants. Some grants are regional specific such as the California Documentary Production Film Grant which is for California documentaries.

Others have thematic or must support their advocacies such as the Moving Picture Institute.

Documentary Film Grants Available

There are many available documentary film grants aside from those listed above you can search online for many nonfiction film grants. There are grant-funding organizations and government institutions out there.

If you are keen on creating your documentary films then looking for film grants is a giant step in realizing your project.

Learn How To Create Money-Winning Proposals

A film proposal is usually a two-page document to pitch your idea to prospective investors or funders. It states what your film is all about and how much it costs.

A film proposal is divided into parts:

LOGLINE– Tells what your script is all about. Here is an example, the logline for the documentary David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet

“One man has seen more of the natural world than any other. This unique feature documentary is his witness statement.”

The logline must detail the concept of your film in one concise yet creative sentence that must capture the curiosity and interest of the prospective investor or supporter.

PRODUCTION DETAILS- The running time, language, location, and country of origin.

GENRE– Tells us what is the genre of the film.

UNIQUE SALES PROPOSITION– Tell us why your film is special as compared to others in the same genre.

BUDGET TOP SHEET– This shows the proposed expenses and income of your film.

 What to prepare for documentary film grant applications

For documentary film applications mostly require the following:

  • Abstract
  • Film Treatment
  • Audience
  • Film Style or approach
  • Principal participants (communities and advisors),
  • Production outline,
  • Budget Breakdown

Some grant-giving bodies also need an Artist Statement, that introduces yourself to the funders. it states who you are, your background, your credentials, and why you are doing the project.

Many film grants also seek letters of recommendation that will help solidify your credibility.

Diversity in film

Another great way of attracting interest in your documentary film project is through espousing diversity in film. There are no shortage of supporters and funders for those filmmakers who represent women, LGBTQ+ community, persons of color, indigenous peoples.

There is no shortage of supporters and funders for those filmmakers who represent women, the LGBTQ+ community, persons of color, and indigenous peoples.

In Canada, filmmakers can look to government-backed initiatives for feature documentary film projects. Telefilm Canada provides $3 million a year in production financing support to those filmmakers from indigenous communities.

The Astrea Lesbian Foundation for Justice has funding programs that support queer women in film.

There are many other documentary grants out there that support greater representation of marginalized and other minority sectors.

Tips in How to Put a Documentary Proposal Together

To write an effective proposal for documentary grants you must first know your intended audience, the story structure of your film, and your financial needs.

Always remember, the most important factor in having a successful documentary proposal is to have a controlling idea, this is the central hypothesis of your film; it is the main question that will be tested in your documentary. This is more precise than the documentary theme because it will be explored and tested in the film.

An example of a controlling idea is when you are making a documentary about a former criminal offender who is released from prison and starting a new life. The controlling idea would be “The community and family will play a key role in the successful transition of the former offender into his life as a free man.” And the theme would be about hope and second chances.

During the project proposal, the controlling idea must be very clear. It must be expressed directly and compellingly.

You must be passionate and motivated in your proposal. There must be an emotional connection between your proposal and the funder. It must show that this documentary must be told NOW and not tomorrow.

Here are the essential elements of a documentary proposal

  • Approach and Strategy
  • Logline
  • Controlling Idea
  • Story Synopsis
  • The protagonists/characters
  • Style of your documentary
  • Images
  • Rights and access to characters and topics
  • Plan of work/Time-frame
  • Distribution Plan

Write a film treatment

A film treatment is a persuasive summarization of your documentary project. This is used to market your project film. It must be brief around 1 to 2 pages. And it must contain the plot, story beats, and key sequences. This is a very important piece in your application. You must nail this part.

Budget your film

In budgeting your film consider this following factors:

  • Add costs for your pre-production and post production crew fees
  • Add costs for your shooting crew fees
  • Expenses during pre-production and post production (meals, accommodations, transport)
  • Location expenses
  • Production Design expenses (props, wardrobes)
  • Studio Rental and related expenses
  • Equipment Rental
  • Talent Fees

Create a moodboard

A mood board is very important for your documentary film. It is a key visual element to inform the various crew or departments of the look and feel of the film as well as the inclusion of various elements such as cast, characters, location, and cinematography.

Moodboard template for film

You can create a mood board by commissioning an artist. If you are running tight with the budget there are digital apps that have free templates. For example, Canva has a template for making a mood board. Other apps include Studiobinder, Pinterest, GoMoodBoard.

First-time filmmakers

For first-time filmmakers creating creative documentary films can be a daunting task. Particularly if you are trying to source additional funding resources to finance your project. Take time to research online the various resources out there that can help you find documentary grants.

Download your FREE Moodboard Template

If you want to download a free mood board template, many online sites have free downloadable mood board templates. You can find it on Pinterest and Canva.

How to budget a script breakdown

Film budgeting is a difficult yet very exciting phase of pre-production. It will test your creative mettle.

First thing is to make a shooting schedule. How many pages are you planning to shoot for a day? Big-budget Hollywood films would shoot one page for one day, and a low-budgeted indie will shoot 10 pages per day.

A script breakdown will help you plan as you budget each scene. You can download a script breakdown sheet to transform this into a film budget.

Have an idea of what to make? Submit your idea to Alamo pictures