Financing independent projects has always been the hardest part of the job. Finding equity investors, applying for grants, joining industry groups and networks and attending “speed dating” events are all tried and true strategies. But there is another area that I think goes a bit under recognized – labs, institutes and fellowships. There are many of these, each with a distinct purpose, format and requirements that operate at particular times and places all around the world.
It’s helpful to think about these programs as a smart way to finance the development (and sometimes the production and post production) of your film. Apply to them early and often and utilize them to get your project made. Some are year-round programs, some occur over multiple weeks or long weekends. Do your research to see if the program is a good fit for you and if you are a good candidate for the program. If it is a good fit then APPLY. Regardless of the outcome, someone, somewhere affiliated with the program will have to read and consider your application. Even if you don’t get in this time around, you are now on someone’s radar. I’ve witnessed many emerging producers apply for some of the top institutes once and don’t get in, but the program begins to “track” the filmmaker and their work. Next time, they get “invited” to re-apply and don’t get in. But on the third try, they do! Never give up is the moral from that story.
Below are some of the labs, institutes and fellowships to consider for your next project (in alphabetical order):
Berlinale Talents Lab – The Talents Labs focus on the nitty-gritty of filmmaking. If you’re applying with a project, you can develop and present it at the Script Station, Doc Station, Short Form Station or Talent Project Market. All other Talents can look forward to taking part in Studios, practical workshops tailored to their specific needs and disciplines.
Cannes Cinefondation Atelier/Residence – In 2005, the Festival entrusted the Cinéfondation with the mission of organising the Atelier; the latest stage in its mission to support creativity. Since then, each year the Atelier has selected 15 feature film projects from around the world and invites their directors to the Festival de Cannes to link up with industry professionals. The filmmakers are selected based on the quality of their projects and that of their previous films, as well as the state of progress of their current financial plan. The programme gives them access to international funding and helps them accelerate the completion of their projects. Each year the Résidence plays host to twelve young directors working on their first or second feature film project, for two four-and-a-half month sessions. The organisation offers them a residency in central Paris, personalised support while writing their screenplay and a collective programme of meetings with film professionals.
Cine Qua Non Screenwriting Lab – Cine Qua Non Lab (CQNL) is a nonprofit organization based in Morelia, Mexico, and New York City, founded in 2010 with the mission of supporting independent cinema by providing a space for filmmakers to envision and develop their work and bringing them together to exchange ideas, share perspectives and find new opportunities for collaboration. CQNL supports independent film that has a global and humanistic sensibility, focuses on storytelling and holds residential workshops in English and Spanish in Tzintzuntzan, a small town in the state of Michoacán, Mexico, in a quiet natural retreat overlooking Lake Pátzcuaro. The Lab gives filmmakers from around the world the opportunity to work intensively on the development of their projects in a creative environment that provides not only incredible feedback, but also a lifelong community of like-minded artists. CQNL brings together a diverse group of filmmakers who have similar sensibilities about the kinds of films they want to make, the diversity will trigger new ideas, new formulas, and fresh perspectives for filmmaking.
Documentary Campus – provides European documentary producers with tailored training and advice on how to develop their film ideas, unlock funding and reach a large international audience. Through a combination of workshops, seminars and industry events, Documentary Campus introduces budding filmmakers to the international standards and rules of the documentary film game. The Masterschool are workshops for European directors and producers and the Crossing Borders are One-off workshops and pitching forums for Asian and European filmmakers. Campus Latino is a training program for experienced filmmakers from Latin America, the Campus Istanbul is a two day program program in Turkey and the MENA Programme is a training course for filmmakers from the Middle East and North Africa.
Film Fund Luxembourg – offers this support for audiovisual productions to be carried out by a Luxembourg registered film production company. The so called National Audiovisual Production Support (AFS) is a selective scheme which provides discretionary loans to producers to finance development and scriptwriting, distribution and production/coproduction for fiction, animation, documentaries, short films, transmedia and XR projects, repayable from the finished work’s receipts.
Film Independent – Filmmaker Labs are open to all filmmakers, regardless of background, level of education/training or previous accomplishment. Fellows receive year-round support, including access to the Film Independent Forum, Directors Close-Up and more. Directing Lab is a five-week program for directors prepping independent feature films. The Lab runs April through May. NOTE: the Directing Lab is on hiatus until further notice. Screenwriting Lab is a week-long workshop designed to provide individualized story and professional development for emerging screenwriters with a fiction feature screenplay. This full-time Lab takes place in April. Producing Lab is a week-long intensive designed to help creative independent producers develop their skills. This full-time Lab takes place in October. Documentary Lab is an in-depth, two-week program designed to help filmmakers who are currently in post-production on their feature-length documentary films. This full-time Lab takes place in March. Episodic Lab is a month-long workshop where Fellows gain the tools needed to revise and refine their pilots and navigate a changing industry landscape. This lab takes place in July. The Film Independent + CNN Docuseries Intensive is a is a three-day remote workshop that will give filmmakers the tools and access needed to develop and pitch their nonfiction series to potential collaborators. This Lab takes place in late September. Project Involve is Film Independent’s signature program that, for over 25 years, has helped filmmakers from communities underrepresented in entertainment hone skills, form partnerships and launch careers as successful working artists. Fast Track is a four-day film finance market where select fiction and nonfiction filmmakers pitch to top executives, financiers, agents and distributors. Global Media Makers is an innovative mentoring initiative that connects visual storytellers from around the world with leading U.S. entertainment professionals.
Film London Funding – Film London offers a wide range of funding opportunities for people within the screen industries, ranging from the BFI NETWORK that provides assistance and support for new filmmakers to Film Hub London to support film exhibitors. FLAMIN also provides numerous opportunities for artist moving image funding and the Production Finance Market is an annual two-day financing event for film that focuses on feature film projects, including animation and feature documentaries that encourages new business relationships by attaching international sales companies and securing various forms of investments in companies and film projects.The New Talent strand is for feature projects with budgets below €1m and includes pitch training and project mentoring as part of its program.
The Gotham Labs – work to ensure that talented emerging voices receive the support, resources, and industry exposure necessary to reach audiences and industry decision makers. Creators in the areas of Fiction filmmaking, Documentary filmmaking, TV-Series and Audio content meet multiple times in the year including pitching their project at The Gotham Project Market in September. At The Gotham Project Market, Lab Fellows are set up with curated meetings with festival programmers, sales and talent agents, distributors, and other industry professionals that can move their projects and careers forward.
International Documentary Association – The IDA offers several funds including the Pare Lorentz Documentary Fund supports feature-length documentary films that reflect the spirit and nature of legendary documentary filmmaker Pare Lorentz’s work. The IDA Enterprise Documentary Fund provides production and development funds to feature-length documentary films taking on in-depth explorations of original, contemporary stories and integrating journalistic practice into the filmmaking process. In addition to funds, grantees will receive additional resources and expertise tailored to the needs of the project.
Israel Film Fund – The Isreal Film Fund support is given to full length Israeli films of no less than 80 minutes long, intended primarily for cinema release. The average budget of an Israeli Feature Film is between $500,000 to $1,000,000. The Fund can invest up to 2/3 (two thirds) of the approved budget. Israeli producers, directors, scriptwriters with a proven professional background, who are Israeli citizens or permanent residents as defined in the “New Cinema Law”. The Israel Film Fund encourages co-productions with International partners who are welcome to apply and submit projects with an Israeli producer.
Istanbul Foundation Meetings on the Bridge – Meetings on the Bridge is a co-production, training and networking platform that brings producers, directors and scriptwriters from Turkey and its neighbouring countries together with international film professionals in Turkey. It provides an opportunity to filmmakers from Turkey and its neighbouring countries to present their new feature film projects and films in post-production for the first time, as well as aiming for creating a platform for artistic and financial collaborations. Following group works and individual meetings on developing projects at trainings, the filmmakers take the first steps towards future collaborations and continuous exchange of information at the workshops. There are Film Development workshop awards and trainings, Neighbors Platform awards, Work in Progress awards, Short Film & Trailer workshops and a German-Turkish co-development fund.
Locarno Open Doors Hub & Lab – Open Doors began in 2002 and pursues a trio of objectives. Firstly, its aim is to draw the attention of industry professionals and the international audience towards directors and films from countries in the South and East of the world. Secondly, to create optimal conditions for realizing and disseminating their feature film projects via a platform for discussion and professional exchange, linking with their counterparts in Europe and elsewhere as potential partners. Lastly, to contribute to the development of a local and regional independent filmmaking scene, and to connect their industry representatives with a global network of international peers. This threefold effort is complemented by a program of promotional initiatives and professional training workshops in the region, selected in close cooperation with local players.
Marcie Bloom Fellowship in Film – The Gotham Marcie Bloom Fellowship in Film was created in order to provide mentorship and community to four to five New York City Filmmakers each year. During their fellowship year (starting in September), the Fellows will meet with Marcie once a month at her Upper West Side apartment. These monthly gatherings (eight to ten in total) will involve guests (directors, writers, distribution professionals, producers, festival programmers, members of the media, etc.) and general community building. In addition, the Fellowship will provide support and direction for the young people entering the film world. Along with the highly prized networking opportunities the Fellowship will provide, it will also allow the Fellows to further develop their particular areas of interest within the film industry – be it development, screenwriting, production, distribution, advertising, marketing or publicity – in an intimate, creative and supportive environment.
Mayor’s Office of Media & Entertainment – Women’s Fund programs – MOME offers three programs focused on support for women filmmakers. NYC Women’s Fund for Media, Music and Theatre is a $5 million program that provides funds to complete projects by, for, or about all who identify as women. MOME Finance Lab provides filmmakers with projects by, for or about women the opportunity to sharpen their pitching skills and meet film financiers. Women-identified filmmakers have the opportunity to deliver pitches for their projects to the industry’s leading financial backers.
Nantucket Film Festival Screenwriters Colony – provides a one-month residency program with mentorship for feature screenwriters in October and for episodic comedy screenwriters in June each year
Provincetown Film Institute Women Filmmaker Residency Program – this program allows established women-identifying filmmakers from around the world who have had films in PIFF the opportunity to work in Provincetown during the off-season alongside other artists and writers who use the solitude of the outer Cape Cod area as inspiration for their work. The Program offers one week or two consecutive-week residencies in Provincetown that includes a small travel stipend, lodging, and roundtrip travel from Boston to Provincetown. Residents can have uninterrupted time to work on any current project or choose to engage with the vibrant community of Provincetown for the exchange of ideas, skills, and experiences. Applications are open year round and available to any filmmaker who has previous had their work exhibited at the Provincetown Film Festival.
Rawi Screenwriters Lab – is an annual five-day screenplay development workshop aimed at independent Arab screenwriters working on their first or second narrative feature screenplays. Screenwriters joining the lab will be experience one-on-one mentoring sessions with internationally acclaimed screenwriters (Rawi’s Creative Advisors) from all over the world. The emphasis of the lab is to develop the writer’s individual voice as a storyteller. Advisors and fellows will engage in an in-depth dialogue about the craft of screenwriting and rewriting process, as well as the fellows’ individual visions for their stories. Each year, fellows and advisors work intensively for five days on their feature narrative screenplays. Each fellow will have several one-on-one story sessions with the lab’s creative advisors. The advisors’ guidance ranges from improving the fellow’s technique as a screenwriter, to life lessons and practical suggestions to be explored in their next draft. Emphasis is placed on each fellow’s individual voice and story.
Roy W. Dean Film Grants – Created in 1991 by From the Heart Productions, the Roy W. Dean Film Grants fund independent feature films, documentaries, web series, and short films with budgets of $500,000 or less that are unique and make a contribution to society that, without its help, might otherwise never get made. There are three Roy W. Dean Film Grants available each year for documentaries, narrative features, web series, and short films. One for Spring, Summer, and Fall. Beginning in 2021, there will also be one Roy W. Dean Short Film Grant which is exclusively for narrative short films.
Sarajevo Cinelink Co-Production Market – presents about 15 hand-picked feature-length fiction projects currently in development and financing to around 70 select international professionals in a series of prearranged one-on-one meetings. Projects originate from Southeast Europe and several guest regions. Professionals are mainly producers, funders and sales agents coming from more than 25 countries, primarily from Southeast Europe and the major European territories.
Sundance Institute Collective – Sundance has a long-established and extensive collective of programs to support filmmakers and storytellers. They include Sundance Institute Grants and Funds that cover the areas of documentary film, feature film, film music, new frontier, indigenous, theater, creative producing, episodic, ignite, women at sundance and outreach & inclusion, the Catalyst Forum, the Women in Film Financing and Strategy Intensive and additional Funding opportunities.
Toronto Film Festival programs – TIFF provides several talent development programs: The TIFF Filmmaker Lab which supports 20 Canadian and international directors with professional development experience and an introduction to the global community of filmmaking. Over a four-day period, participants have the opportunity to interact with and learn from internationally acclaimed filmmakers and guests. The Micki Moore Residency was established for women who are outstanding Canadian feature-film screenwriters to elevate and support talent. Each year, one writer will be provided with the opportunity to work and be mentored in the heart of Toronto’s dynamic downtown district, so they may develop their feature-film screenplay. The Writers’ Studio which offers a space for screenwriters to consolidate skills, exchange ideas, and discuss challenges, all within a collaborative five-day intensive lab at TIFF Bell Lightbox. For the first time in 2021 TIFF invited international screenwriters to apply. and the Talent Accelerator which provides year-round mentorship to a select group of women who are emerging producers, directors, and screenwriters in Canada.
Turtle Land Cove Foundation – offers a working residency for motivated woman to pursue their professional, educational and/or artistic goals away from the distractions of daily life. Turkey Land Cove (TLC) provides a quiet home on Martha’s Vineyard to achieve progress towards a defined goal, complete a project, and/or develop tools to propel women’s lives in a new direction. They offer three sessions a year, two for new applicants and one session for returning alumni.
Venice Production Bridge – This is a suite of programs offered during the Venice Film Festival that include the Venice Gap-Financing Market, the Book Adaptation Rights Market, and Final Cut in Venice.