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October 26, 2018

Applying for support can be daunting and mystifying for any filmmaker or team, but especially so if you’re working on your first feature-length fiction or nonfiction film.

That’s why I want to pull the curtain back on some of the most common points of confusion first-timers mention to us. Cinereach does seriously consider projects from first-time directors who submit compelling applications. If that’s the position you find yourself in, this post is for you. I hope it helps you approach the process with more insight and less apprehension.

1. Do I need to Submit a Budget?

While it is optional to provide a budget when you apply for Cinereach support, it’s generally a smart move to include one as a first-time filmmaker. A budget helps us get the scope of what you’re making and see that you’re thinking realistically about financing and executing your vision. Submitting a budget with your proposal does not mean you’re committed to that specific number forever. It can be a working document that evolves as your project does, too.

As for what your budget amount should be, there are no hard and fast rules, but it makes sense to keep a first film within a reasonably contained scope that is attainable for you to raise as a first-timer. It’s also important that your budget matches the scale of the proposed project.

If you are putting together a budget, even one that is more of an estimated overview, it can be immensely valuable to tap into a producer’s perspective. A producer can help you generate a realistic and appropriate budget for your proposal, which can add to the persuasiveness of your application. If you don’t have a producer formally attached to your project, perhaps you can seek consultation from one in your immediate or extended network. We suggest asking someone who is relatively new to the field, but has some solid experience under their belt (rather than someone working at a very high experience level with little time to spare).

2. How do I submit prior work if this will be my first film?

It’s not impossible to garner support for a first feature without showing material from the current project or a previous work sample, but without either, your uphill battle can be steeper. If you have shot anything at all, including a music video or short film, these can be incredibly helpful in providing a foundation for us to understand what the worlds you create look and sound like, and how you make use of limited resources. You’re proposing to make a film, so what you show us is weighted more heavily than written portions of your application.

In lieu of sample work, if you’re making a fiction project, a strong script paired with a solid lookbook or mood reel for the project can help us envision your project beyond the confines of the written word. Nobody expects sample footage from a narrative feature that hasn’t been shot yet, so these are viable alternatives. If you’ve already shot your film and you’re seeking support for post-production, it is essential that you include footage with your application.

Production timelines for documentaries often tend to be more spread out, so it is not unreasonable for a prospective funder to expect that you will have done at least some initial filming as you began exploring the world of your project. An early scene (even if it may not make the final cut) can demonstrate what’s special about the story you’re pursuing and the unique access and approach you’re taking. Great early footage can make an application compelling, regardless of the experience level of the filmmaker.

You may want to check out this earlier post for more detail on types of reference material that can contribute to the effectiveness of your application.

3. Should I call or email Cinereach about my submission?

Self-advocacy is crucial to getting an independent film funded and made, but the Cinereach staff appreciates when applicants demonstrate respect for our submission process. When we receive a call from a filmmaker who wants to describe their project and asks us whether to submit or not, we will almost always answer the same thing: the best way to find out if your project is a fit for Cinereach is to submit an application, which allows us to conduct a thorough and thoughtful review.

Persistence is an important quality to cultivate as well, but we try to discourage filmmakers from calling to ask about submission status. We give careful consideration to each application we receive but unfortunately are not able to field all individual follow-ups. If you are troubleshooting a technical application problem, you can address that through the help system within the application platform.

In a general sense, it is a great idea for filmmakers to meet and build authentic relationships with decision-makers in the industry, which takes time and cultivation, and often comes from making, and collaborating on, great work over time. Emailing or cold calling is no substitute for that and does not increase the chances that your submission will be funded.

After you’ve submitted, if you receive a declination email, stating that Cinereach is not offering its support at this time, we, unfortunately, can’t encourage you to contact Cinereach to request feedback. We receive a very high volume of submissions that keep us extremely busy and limit our time to field calls. I want to assure you, though, not to be discouraged. Film funding is tremendously competitive, with limited resources available in comparison to demand and the number of worthy projects seeking support. Financing your first film and building your career is a long game that one application doesn’t make or break. You can and should continue to seek other resources while making your pitch materials stronger all the time. As your project advances closer to completion, it may make sense for you to apply to Cinereach again later.

As more questions come to us, we’ll continue posting advice here on our blog. You can see past installments of this submission advice column here.

Meredith Duff

As Filmmaker Outreach Coordinator, Meredith manages project submission and review processes at Cinereach and works alongside the Outreach and Creative Direction Team to identify emerging storytellers and content for the organization to support. Before joining Cinereach, she was an agent trainee at ICM Partners working within the Motion Picture Literary department as well as the International Film Department. Prior to ICM, Meredith was an assistant digital planner at Zenith Media.