Indie producer Ted Hope is settling into his new home at the San Francisco Film Society. And he's excited about being able to give grants to filmmakers. "One of the reasons I came to the Film Society was that we've given away close to $2 million in the last few years in artist grants," he says, delighted to be announcing the next round of 13 finalists (listed below) vying for $300,000. Three winners will be announced in December. "It's so rare to give artists grants. I never knew about these grants as a producer. I want filmmakers to know about them."
Point is, with the help of this level of funding, indie filmmakers don't have to give away control of their projects. So Hope wants industry folks to apply for these grants, "as opposed to going out and shopping around to different financeers," he says. "So somebody else controls the IP (intellectual property). Now that can get avoided."
Ray Tintori landed a $50,000 Filmmaking Grant to write a script for six months; all he had to do was relocate to San Francisco. For finalist "The Undeniable Charm of Sloppy Unruh" the SFFS gave writer/director Mario de la Vega the opportunity to workshop his script with actors Kyle Chandler, John Hawkes and Amy Ryan.
Three prior grant recipients went all the way to Sundance : 2011 mideast gay romance "Circumstance" and 2012 New Orleans Fox Searchlight pick-up "Beasts of the Southern Wild" and teen lesbian coming of age story "Mosquita y Mari."
Hope is expecting some of this year's group to wind up there as well. "It's a nice ride," he says.
The Kenneth Rainin Foundation led by board president Jennifer Rainin supports many programs including the SFFS/KRF Filmmaking Grant, Off the Page and FilmHouse. In 2008 they committed $3 million over five years.
According to Australian producer-turned-SFFS-exec Michele Turnure-Salleo, director of Filmmaker360, the SFFS’s comprehensive and dynamic filmmaker services program, the film society gives a number of different grants a year, upwards of $700,000. The only other film grant-giver on this scale is New York's Cinereach, which gives out about $500,000 a year.
Turnure-Salleo often supports the same projects multiple times. They not only give grants, but have a film house residency program with from six months to a year of at a free production office in a 5000-square-foot space. And for Off the Page they bring actors and writer directors together to workshop scripts, to see if they're interested in working with each other.
"We get to know them quite early," says Turnure-Salleo, who looks at each project individually "to see how to help that filmmaker, that project and their team, make that film and have a sustainable career."
Grant finalist Ryan Coogler's film "Fruitvale" workshopped with SFFS-chosen actors Michael B. Jordan and Melanie Diaz; they later landed a $100,000 production grant. Coogler shot the film with those actors and Octavia Spencer in July; it's in post.
The 13 finalists are more than usual, Turnure-Salleo admits: "It's usually more like ten. It was a little challenging this time because the quality of applicant was extraordinarily high. Which is exciting and challenging. We obviously want to support as many people as we can. A number of finalists we supported previously, gave money at an earlier phase, and supported through one of our programs."
One thing she noted: "People are shooting on film–at least three, both 16 and 35 mm." She also has noticed the role of the creative producer in the development of the projects. "We have as much engagement with the producers as we do the writer-directors," she says. "We do a lot of personal outreach. It's an unusual system: we provide feedback on the synopsis before they apply. We give feedback even to those who are not finalists. We are always looking for ways to engage with the filmmaker. Each time someone new comes my way, maybe we do not support them that round, maybe down the road. It is mindblowing how many more people are reaching out."
"One of the goals with the grant moneys is to uplift the Bay Area economically and professionally," adds Turnure-Salleo. "That can happen in many different ways. We are looking for people to engage with the Bay Area somehow through the making of film. 'Beasts' was not shot here, but did post here. We'll give $35,000 (individual) and $50,000 (writer or producer) for the screenwriting grant; you have to move here to write."
This year's 167 submission was the most they've had to date. They have specific criteria:
Projects must explore—through plot, character, theme or setting—human and civil rights, discrimination, gender and sexual identity and other social issues of our time in order to qualify. Additionally, the grants support projects by filmmakers from anywhere in the world that will have a significant economic or professional impact on the Bay Area filmmaking community. The total amount disbursed from 2009 to 2013 will reach nearly $2.5 million. Winners of the fall 2012 SFFS/KRF Grants will be announced in early December.
Ryan Coogler, Fruitvale, postproduction
Fruitvale is the true story of Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old Bay Area resident who crosses paths with friends, enemies, family and strangers on the last day of 2008. This project was previously supported by a SFFS/KRF Filmmaking Grant for production, and Coogler participated in Filmmaker360’s Off the Page script workshop program with actors Melonie Diaz and Michael B. Jordan in the spring of 2012.
Destin Cretton and Asher Goldstein, Short Term 12, postproduction
An acutely observed portrait of a foster care facility for at risk teenagers. Told with immediacy, uncanny accuracy, and almost no sentimentality, Short Term 12 is a story both of the children who live at the home—and of the staff members who care for them.
Mario de la Vega, The Undeniable Charm of Sloppy Unruh, preproduction
A charming rogue returns to his Texas hometown and turns it upside down, seducing the ladies, dazzling the populace and running for sheriff against the corrupt incumbent—who happens to be his jealous younger brother. De la Vega participated in Filmmaker360’s Off the Page script workshop program with actors Kyle Chandler, John Hawkes and Amy Ryan in the summer of 2012.
Mark Decena, The Flower and the Bee, screenwriting
The Flower and the Bee is a quirky dramedy about a nine-year-old botanist and his sidekick girlfriend, a budding entomologist, who upon discovering a thriving bee colony in an abandoned barrio lot, transform the orphaned half acre into a community garden. When the Archdiocese decides to sell the land off to a developer, the battle to save a garden becomes a questioning of their faith, and a struggle to save a community. For more information visit kontentfilms.com.
Eric Escobar, The East County, screenwriting
Dale Ryan is a desperate and broke real estate hustler. While chasing down a lead, he discovers two children abandoned in an empty house. Shockingly they are the kids of his long-lost friend who has a connection to a lucrative property development. With his eye on the real estate, Dale volunteers to look after the children. After the parents’ missing minivan is found, Dale uncovers a web of corruption implicating people closest to him. This project was previously supported by a SFFS/KRF Filmmaking Grant for screenwriting in the fall of 2011.
Daniel Grove and Reza Sixo Safai, A Better Place Than This, screenwriting
A happy-go-lucky prison guard, Para Dastur’s charismatic demeanor hides a grim truth: he is Singapore Changi Prison’s resident hangman. Not simply an anonymous executioner, Dastur consoles the condemned, helping them come to terms with their fate. But when a young Australian girl is placed on death row his convictions are challenged and his world is turned upside down. For more information visit vimeo.com/38964286.
Aurora Guerrero, Los Valientes (The Brave Ones), screenwriting
Struggling to find work and recover from a break-up, Felix, a gay undocumented Mexican, leaves San Francisco for a small town in Pennsylvania where his sister promises steady work and the comfort of family. But once there, alienated by the town’s newly proposed anti-immigration law and forced into silence regarding his sexuality, Felix finds unexpected solace in the company of one person: his sister’s husband. Guerrero’s previous project Mosquita y Mari was supported by a SFFS/KRF Filmmaking Grant for postproduction in the spring of 2011.
Jonah Markowitz, Start at the End, screenwriting
Start at The End is a character-driven drama that explores the similarities between the family we are born into and the one that we create. The story begins with a tragic accident that results in a gay couple becoming caretakers of their teenage niece and nephew. As grief catapults all four onto seemingly individual paths of despair and discovery, the inherent bond of family contains these journeys into one that is shared.
Chris Mason Johnson, Test, postproduction
Frankie is the newest, skinniest and most mocked member of San Francisco’s exciting new contemporary ballet company. The year is 1985. As lurid headlines threaten a gay quarantine, Frankie navigates a world full of risk that is also, now and then, full of promise. This project was previously supported by a SFFS/KRF Filmmaking Grant for production in the fall of 2011, and Johnson’s previous project Skirt was supported by a SFFS/KRF Filmmaking Grant for screenwriting in the fall of 2010. For more information visit TestTheFilm.com.
Gerard McMurray, Riders, screenwriting
A group of rogue police officers known as the Riders terrorizes black residents in West Oakland, CA by making false arrests, violently assaulting residents, and committing a myriad of other civil rights violations. Ultimately, a 23-year-old rookie cop becomes entangled in the corruption and has to face a difficult decision between his obligation to the brotherhood of police and his own sense of morality.
Michael Tully and George Rush, Ping Pong Summer, postproduction
It’s the mid-1980s. Radical Miracle is a shy teenager who lives in Maryland and loves two things: rap music and table tennis. When Rad relocates to the beachside community of Ocean City, the most epic summer of his life begins. In addition to falling in love, he realizes his dream of becoming a ping pong champion. For more information visit facebook.com/pingpongsummer.
Diane Weipert and Cynthia Kane, Boyle Heights, screenwriting
Boyle Heights tells the story of a young Mexican woman who was forcibly sterilized at USC County Hospital in LA, a whistleblowing intern who risks his career to expose the hospital’s social Darwinist policies, and the way their separate but parallel struggles helped bring about the 1978 federal class action lawsuit, Madrigal vs. Quilligan.
Susan Youssef and Man Kit Lam, Marjoun and the Flying Headscarf, screenwriting
With her father imprisoned on dubious terrorism-related charges, a Lebanese American teenager in Arkansas searches for identity in a headscarf and a motorcycle. This feature project is an extension of the short by the same name that screened at the Sundance Film Festival in 2006, and is the first narrative feature that explores coming of age into the hijab. For more information visit forbiddentowander.com.