Film funding

Film funding

By Miriam Zendle 18/11/10

In the second article of our funding series, independent filmmaker Katharine Round discusses “big issue” funding and why you shouldn’t be afraid of the occasional corporation. You can also check out our funding microsite for a full list of funding organisations......

I always wanted to make documentaries, so I did a degree in Broadcasting and Politics at Leeds University. When I graduated, I freelanced in mainstream TV for a decade, working my way up from researcher to producer. A couple of years ago, I decided I really wanted to make more challenging films and started wdorking as an independent filmmaker, financing my projects outside of the mainstream, which is becoming quite common these days.

My first big project was The Great Drag Race, about 10 men with prostate cancer. The disease kills as many men as breast cancer kills women, so they wanted to raise awareness in a unique way – by learning to become drag queens! Funding-wise, the producer started by drawing up a list of causes that might be interested. It was really hard to finance, but the money that got us started was a £10,000 grant from the Wellcome Trust, who are amazing. They have rounds of funding for arts projects that helps people appreciate science. They fund things you wouldn’t imagine. It’s tough to get the money in the first place, but they are very approachable – and they like to do things that are broad. We also received money from individuals, as well as the Graham Fulford Trust and the Prostate Cancer Research Foundation.

My current project is The Spirit Level, an adaptation of a book by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett about how social research shows that all social issues can be linked to the level of inequality in society, which is quite a radical statement to make. At the moment, we’re looking at who might be interested in putting money into that – the Equality Trust, for instance, which is funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, or other institutions that fight to reduce poverty and inequality. Filmmaking these days does tend to be more about big issues – when you’re getting people to put money into something, it’s usually something they passionately believe in.

A lot of corporations fund films (for instance, Black Gold and The End of the Line) because they like to have outreach campaigns associated with them. In some respects, the film is part of a broader strategy. The End of the Line, which my executive producer Christopher Hird worked on, was a film about overfishing, which had a sustainable fishing campaign linked in through Waitrose, who invested in the film and helped with publicity, which was beneficial for both sides. If a corporation has similar ambitions to you and wants to support your cause, see the positive side and don’t be afraid.

Bodies like BritDoc fund projects outside the mainstream, like Black Gold and Afghan Star. They’re heavily linked in with Channel 4, so they get projects off the ground that wouldn’t be commissioned otherwise. People also finance projects through international broadcasters – I’ve spoken to Dutch and German commissioning editors while at Sheffield Doc/Fest. With projects that have a global reach, think about getting foreign investors involved, especially because TV channels don’t have that much money and don’t always put in all the funding, especially for documentary films.

In terms of a business strategy, making a documentary is one of the worst things you can do, because you’re not going to make lots of money from it, but if you want to make something that means something to you, it’s a great thing to do. At the end of the day, there’s no easy funding answer – you just have to tailor your strategy for each project around the film itself.


Katharine Round was talking to Miriam Zendle.

Katharine runs Doc Heads, a bimonthly night for documentary filmmakers.

Read our articles about theatre funding, visual arts funding and crowdfunding.

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