Friday, September 11, 2009

DC Shorts opens with workshops for newbie and low budget filmmakers

Today DC Shorts sponsored some free workshops for newbie filmmakers at Landmark E Street Cinema in downtown Washington DC (across the street from the FBI Building).

Sonia Feigenbaum gave a talk on how to apply for grants with the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The basic URL link is here although the Aug. 2009 deadline for 2010 projects has passed.

Grants can be considered for films “in the humanities” that present multiple points of view and that do their best to present academic expertise in the humanities subject area.

Advocacy films cannot be funded (or even considered for funding). For example, a film telling people not to drink and drive or text and drive cannot be funded, but a film showing the history of MADD might be suitable, because it is informative and not political advocacy as such.

From the floor, I asked if “don’t ask don’t tell” and “online reputation defense” could be “humanities” subjects, and she said most definitely yes, as long as they were developed in an educational fashion, presenting all points of view from credible (and preferably academic) sources on the relevant issues (like “unit cohesion” or, say, controlled industry or academic studies on how employers check the online presence of applicants (probably a sociology dissertation subject).

She differentiated between academic and professional sources, as suitable, and other journalists, as not sufficient in themselves (like a book likely written by a professional journalist) unless backed up by actual academic research and findings.

She also said that it is very helpful (almost mandatory) to have a fiscal sponsor, which will usually be a non-profit or 501c3. In some cases, filmmakers might be able to instantiate themselves as 501c3’s. There are some sponsors like The Center for Independent Documentary (link), “Women in Film and Video” (link) and the “DC Film Alliance” (link) connected to DC Shorts.

You can apply multiple times over the years for grants, and short films can get grants, although few apply.

At 1 PM Kelley Baker, filmmaker from Portland, OR and founder of “Angry Filmmaker” (link) gave a presentation of “Making an Extremely Low Budget Feature.” He mentioned networking with others and making friends as among the best filmmaker behaviors. It’s important to have insurance and to feed actors and crew, but often many will take deferred compensation. You can write scripts in such a way as to tell as story with lower cost. For example, consider cross-country running instead of wind sprints at Beijing or car chases. You can deal to film at appropriate times, as on weekends and in the winter, when crews are more available and some public properties like schools are available.

With regard to insurance, Baker mentioned that it is better to work with an agent with whom one has a personal/business "relationship" rather than buy it on the Net. There is a place for insurance agents and "salesmen" after all, ironically, in his world.

Baker showed is 7-minute short, “Stolen Toyota”, which does consist mostly of talking heads outdoors (talking about loss of their cars to theft), and he says it has indirectly made him some money. But his “Birddog” led to a long fight with the IRS, and he advises filmmakers not to run up credit card bills (so does Suze Orman in her smackdowns).

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