An Approach to Independent 3D Animation Production
Bachelor of Arts in Design (with 1st Class Honours)
Part 1 - Theoretical Research
Chapter 4 - Funding a Film or Animation Project
4.1 Introduction - The Funding and Financing of a Film or Animation Project
If an animator or film-maker is not able to fully develop and complete a project through self-funding alone, there are a number of different options available to gain financial assistance in the creation of a project. Each type of financial support depends on various factors such as the nature of the production, genre, theme, subject matter, style, and at what point the film-maker is along the production process. These factors determine what type financial and logistic support a film-maker will need to acquire, and to what extent. Also these factors determine what processes and methodology a film-maker will have to undertake in the application and acquisition of this support.
For instance there is a large difference between gaining financial support from a local funding body to finish off a single short film, than it is to gain financial and logistic support for the production of an entire animated series. Subject matters investigated in this chapter include a description of funding bodies and the types of funding schemes they offer, and an investigation of the processes and requirements an independent animator would expect to go through in the acquisition of funding money for a project from such a body.
The next chapter; Chapter 5: Selling a Film or Animation Concept, is directly related to this chapter, investigating the possible options and pathways available to an animator once they have a concept that is ready to be evolved into a physical form.
4.2 Funding Bodies
4.2.1 Who are the Funding Bodies?
In an interview with domain expert Alan Thompson (2002), he described film agencies and funding bodies as usually publicly funded agencies that offer consultancy and advice to film-makers, and offer various funding, loan and investment schemes to assist and support film-makers with their film projects. He stated almost all the funding bodies receive their money from the government and their main reason for being is to help build and develop the film industry and the arts in their particular area.
An example of one such agency is Screenwest, who's funding process will be covered in section 4.3; Case Study: An Example of the Funding Process. ScreenWest is a Western Australian government agency who acquire their funding money from the Lotteries Commission of Western Australia, which according to their documentation 'provides over $2 million each year' (ScreenWest 2002a, [Online]). The following information is an overview of the agency:
ScreenWest is Western Australia's film funding and development agency dedicated to the growth and promotion of film and television activity in this State. We aim to provide leadership, support and services to advance Western Australia as an internationally recognized centre for screen production (Screenwest 2003, [Online]).
Also described in ScreenWest's documentation, is the purpose of their funding schemes, which provides an insight into the purpose of funding bodies in general:
ScreenWest's funding and support programmes are designed to: Foster the development and production of quality, marketable film and television projects; Extend the creative and professional development of Western Australia's film and television program makers; Promote Western Australian screen culture (ScreenWest 2002a, [Online]).
Other examples of various film agencies that offer funding schemes include The Film & Television Institute (FTI) also situated in Western Australia, Film Victoria situated interstate, and national bodies Australian Film Finance Corporation (FFC) and The Australian Film Commission (AFC).
4.2.2 Types of Film Funding offered by Funding Bodies
As described in the opening section, the type and extent of the financial and logistic support a film-maker receives will depend on the nature of the production, genre, and at what point the film-maker is along in the production process. These are important factors, as the various funding loans offered by funding bodies, are very often divided along these lines, each differing in application, availability, rounds offered per year, purpose, requirements and processes the film-maker must undertake in the acquisition of such support.
Different funding agencies will also fund different types of projects, and prioritise certain types of projects as Thompson (2002) suggests. For instance a film-maker seeking funding for a series on a educative documentary on Australian indigenous issues would attempt to acquire support from a body devoted and interested in the work, for instance SBS Independent, rather that a body that focuses on purely entertainment material for commercial output.
The above can be better understood by undertaking an investigation of the types of funding schemes offered by a funding body. In this case, examples will be displayed from the variety of funding programs ScreenWest offers film-makers. ScreenWest (2002b, [Online]), briefly describes its funding priorities in the following statement:
ScreenWest's priorities for project funding are in the areas of drama (including children's and animated drama) and documentary. Projects can be either series or one-off programs but must be designed for theatrical release or television transmission and normally be at least a commercial half hour in duration. Preference is given to projects involving Western Australian writers, directors and/or producers (ScreenWest 2002b, [Online]).
In 2002, according to ScreenWest's documentation, which is available though the agency's offices and website, they offered ten different types of funding grants. Each of which has a different priority, scope and purpose that catered for specific genres and the certain stage the of the production process the film-maker was situated at. The funding grants offered by ScreenWest in 2002 are listed below, in most cases their names reflecting on the funding priority (ScreenWest 2002c, [Online]):
- Project Development Loans
- Project Marketing Grants
- Production Funding
- Producer Enterprise Packages
- Filmex & Filmex Post-Production Grants*
- New Screen Writers
- New Docs
- Practitioner Development Travel
- Professional Placements
- Special Events
Visit the ScreenWest website; http://www.screenwest.com.au, for a full overview and description of each of these funding programs.
* Highlighted is Filmex & Filmex Post-Production Grants, as the next section, section 4.3 Case Study: An Example of the Funding Process, records and details the processes an animator would undergo in the acquisition of a ScreenWest Filmex Post-Production Grant.
4.2.3 Important Notes and Tips on Funding
When applying for any type of funding, experienced Perth animator Alan Thompson made it clear that a track record in the industry, for example having credited work on films and/or entry into film festivals, is a very important factor in determining if you receive the funding money or not. He believes a film-maker stands a much better chance of success if the funding body know who the applicant is. The animator's chances of funding success also increases if the animator can meet face-to-face with the funding people to clarify the project and iron out any potential problems beforehand.
These points are important to Thompson, as he states that a film-maker applying should use any edge they have to lure the funding bodies over their competitors, other film-makers applying for the same funding money. This he said is due to the fact that there are more applications than actual funding money go round. Alan also made the point that it seems the funding system rewards people that are in less need of its help.
4.3 Case Study: An Example of the Funding Process
One way to better understand the full funding process is to conduct a case study on the processes and methodology a film-maker undergoes when applying and receiving funding money for a project.
This section details the processes undertaken by experienced award-winning Perth animator Alan Thompson when he applied for post-production funding money through a ScreenWest Filmex Post-Production Grant, for his 3D animated short film The Kitchen Wastes (1999), which is an episode from his series Wild Room. It is important to note that this scenario could represent any animator who applies for this type of post-production funding money in order to complete their 3D animated short-film project. For example, the scenario could represent a pilot episode such as Lech, Czech & Rus.
The information discussed in this section was initially presented in the second case study completed for the Honours unit Design Practicum 495. The information within the case study was collected from telephone interviews, face-to-face interviews, e-mail correspondence, the animator's documents, and information displayed on the animator's website. Entitled Independent Animated Short Film Processes: The Kitchen Wastes: A Case Study on the Creation of an Independent Animated Short Film, it overviews the animation process Alan Thompson undertook in the creation the film The Kitchen Wastes, detailing his concept development, production methodology, acquisition of funding money and final outcomes. This case study is included in the Appendices. See Appendix 3: The Kitchen Wastes: A Case Study on the Creation of an Independent Animated Short Film.
4.3.1 The Film and Series Subject Overview
To fully understand the various stages of the funding process Alan Thompson encountered, it is useful to give an overview of the animated film and series in question.
The Wild Room Series Overview:
The Kitchen Wastes is a 3D animated short film that is part of the animated series Wild Room. The series includes thirteen, six-minute animations that combine live-action filming, 3D animation, and stop-motion animation. On his website; http://www.warpedtime.com, pitch document and flyer, Alan Thompson describes the series in the following way:
Wild Room is a series of comedy docu-dramas, documentaries, dramatic recreations and animated biographies set in the natural biosphere that we are intimately connected with; our own homes. Paralleling the epics of exploration, discovery, tragedy and adventure that have taken place all over the planet Earth, Wild Room is set in the equally diverse environments of the different rooms of an average suburban house (Thompson 1999a, [Online]).
The target audience of the series, as pitched to the funding bodies, is that it is suitable for a family audience but particularly targeted to an older cult audience. But Thompson says that the real target audience was really himself. During the first e-mail interview, I asked Alan Thompson what he wished to aim for with the Wild Room series. He replied 'To explore a series of ideas revolving around the genre of documentaries juxtaposed with the real world in which we live. Actually, to make a lot of really excruciating jokes'.
The Kitchen Wastes Episode Overview:
The Kitchen Wastes is the second completed episode to be created in the Wild Room series. The first episode in the series is the award-winning (won awards in the 5th FTI WA Film and Video Festival) student film The Desktop Jungle, which is also the film from which the idea of the series derived.
Set in the kitchen, the film is about 'an expedition of old-time clothes pegs that embark on a glorious but ultimately doomed expedition to climb the refrigerator' (Thompson 1999a, [Online]). On the episode treatment pages in both his website and pitch document, which can be viewed in the full case study appendices, Alan Thompson describes the episode as:
A documentary of adventure and exploration in the old 'British Empire' mould. Some old-style wooden clothes pegs (who accompanied Hillary on his accent of Everest) decide to mount their own expedition to climb the 'fridge'. The Kitchen Wastes is shot in the style of a 1950's documentary, complete with 'archival' footage, staged drama and a 'cliff-hanger at the end of every reel'. Cliches are borrowed freely from Mountaineering quests, Antarctic odysseys and the odd Conan-Doyle novel. Obstacles in the adventurers' path include 'Yeti' bottle openers, a 'Volcanic' oven and the freezing 'Freezer' (Thompson 1999b, [Online]).
4.3.2 The Kitchen Wastes Independent Production Overview
Alan Thompson started the independent self-funded production on The Kitchen Wastes in the winter of 1998, after previous attempts at acquiring funding for the film and the Wild Room series as a whole were unsuccessful. This was due to the fact that the films did not match the funding bodies guidelines, specifically for the stop-motion animation. By the end of 1998, after almost six months of work he had completed a rough cut of the film with an early soundtrack. The next stage for Alan Thompson was to seek the financial assistance that would assist him to fully finish the film. With The Kitchen Wastes film being almost completed, Alan Thompson had a better chance of success in pitching the project to a funding body in order to acquire the funding money.
4.3.3 The Type of Funding Grant
As mentioned in the section; 4.2.2 Types of Film Funding offered by Funding Bodies, funding bodies offer a variety of different grants for film-makers, depending at which stage a film project is at. The most relevant type of funding scheme available to Alan Thompson was a post-production grant as he had already completed the production phases of his film in a self-funded manner. In 1999, Alan Thompson applied for a ScreenWest Filmex Post-Production Grant, in order to complete The Kitchen Wastes. ScreenWest (2002, [Online]), according to its 2002 Funding Program documentation describes the scheme in the following manner:
Filmex & Filmex Post-Production Grants
Purpose and Scope:
This scheme is designed to showcase the work of newer filmmakers, particularly Directors, by offering a limited number of post-production grants of up to $7,500 to cover the completion costs of self-funded projects. These projects can be up to 50 minutes in length and in any variety of genres, including drama, documentary, animation, experimental work and those involving New Image Technologies.
The aim of the grant is to enable selected projects to be completed to the point where they can be actively distributed. This may include expenses such as lab costs to take a film project through to release print, additional sound post costs to enable a video to be professionally mixed, the purchase of music copyright or actors' clearances to ensure the film can be commercially exploited, or dubbing, tape costs, postage, festival entry fees, and/or minimal promotional expenses to ensure the film can be widely promoted to broadcasters, distributors and festivals.
Closing Dates for these programs in 2002:
Friday 14th June (Filmex Post)
Friday 28th June (Filmex)
Visit the ScreenWest website; http://www.screenwest.com.au, for a more in depth description of this particular funding scheme.
It is worthy to note that the ScreenWest Filmex Post Guidelines' premise in 2002 has not changed from its 1999 documentation. This funding scheme was ideal for Alan Thompson as it's designed to 'cover the completion costs of self-funded projects' and 'enable selected projects to be completed to the point where they can be actively distributed' (ScreenWest Direct Funding Program Guidelines 1999, p. 6.3). The $7,500 grant would include covering the costs of the creation of a broadcast-quality soundtrack for the film, and entry into film festivals.
4.3.4 Funding Application Requirements
As an applicant for the ScreenWest Filmex Post-Production grant, Alan Thompson was required to submit an application form, which he downloaded from the ScreenWest website. The application form briefly covers applicant, project and funding details. Alan also budgeted the project on the designated space on the application form to show the funding body where all the money will go.
Other documents required along with the application form included a detailed synopsis explaining everything in the story, CV's, and a Stylistic Approach / Director's Statement. Alan was also required to submit a full final draft script, which he created specifically for the application. In a face-to-face interview conducted on Friday the 12th of April 2002, relating to the final draft script, Alan Thompson mentioned that parts of the application was strange to him. This was due to the fact that even though he had already completed the film, he had to go back and produce things that he would have done before the film had even existed. The final draft script used was in the standard Australian script format that all the Australian film funding bodies use. See Appendix 3: The Kitchen Wastes: A Case Study on the Creation of an Independent Animated Short Film - Final Draft Script (case study Appendix 08). Along with the documentation, a VHS videotape of the film with a rough soundtrack was also required by ScreenWest.
4.3.5 The Assessment Process
Once Alan Thompson was ready, he dropped off the documents along with a VHS video of the rough cut of The Kitchen Wastes at the front desk of ScreenWest within the due date. Two weeks later he received a receipt from ScreenWest stating that they had received his documents and they were assessing them. Thompson (2002) stated that an assessment initially takes place by an assessor who looks at the various applicants and weeds out the obvious rejects. The assessor may contact the applicant for additional information and changes at this time. The ScreenWest board then views the applications that were initially accepted. This committee then finally approves the projects that should receive the funding grants. Alan Thompson received a phonecall and a letter from ScreenWest, stating that the application was successful, but that certain changes had to be made to the project.
4.3.6 Compromises and Changes
To satisfy the demands of ScreenWest, Alan had to revise the script. This was the compromise he had to make to get the film finished. This was quite unfortunate due to the fact that Alan had a different idea for the soundtrack. ScreenWest wanted the script to be changed slightly so that all the peg characters would be talking, and they also requested that they wanted extra narration to be added. Alan made a very important point that the people who will be dealing with the applications for funding money are not visual people, they're writers, so a strong script is imperative.
4.3.7 The Successful Application and The Use of the Funding Money
The long bid to acquire the post-production funding money was ultimately successful for Alan Thompson. He received a funding production report along with an obligation grant agreement from ScreenWest. See Appendix 3: The Kitchen Wastes: A Case Study on the Creation of an Independent Animated Short Film - Post-Production Grant Agreement (case study Appendix 09).
The post-production money Alan Thompson received was approximately $7000. Of this, only $4000 covered actual post-production work. This included film mastering in an editing suite, recording of the music, sound mixing of the music, voices, narration and sound effects by a sound designer/engineer, digital film transfer, creation of the film cinema-quality Dolby surround sound mix, and final film transfer. The remaining money was to cover the costs of things such as marketing, entry into film festivals, postage, printing, film prints, VHS video tapes, dubs and CD's etc.
4.3.8 The Completion of the Film
After the completion of the film, The Kitchen Wastes was entered into a number of film festivals, most notably the St. Kilda film festival in Melbourne and the Stuttgart Animation Film Festival in Germany. One of goals of the ScreenWest Filmex Post-Production grant was to give films, such as Alan Thompson's, exposure. The entrance cost of Alan's film into the various film festivals, which he listed and budgeted beforehand on the application, was paid for by the grant. The completed The Kitchen Wastes film was also screened in Singapore on the country's major network Singapore Television, as a children's series, as did The Desktop Jungle, the first episode in the Wild Room series. Alan has also received a letter of interest from SBS Television in Australia.
See Appendix 3: The Kitchen Wastes: A Case Study on the Creation of an Independent Animated Short Film, for a more detailed investigation of the whole project.
4.4 The Problems with Funding
A problem faced by a film-maker associated with the acquisition of funding money is the certain degree of creative control the funding bodies have over their work, in some cases effecting the intended final outcome of their project. This can be illustrated in the case of The Kitchen Wastes.
The one regret Alan Thompson had with the final outcome of the film, was the change to the soundtrack he implemented to satisfy the demands of ScreenWest. In hindsight, Alan would have preferred the soundtrack to be 'quieter', with the sound effects and music playing a larger part, rather than the narration and voice-overs. But in order to finish the film, the revision of the script was the compromise Alan Thompson had to make.
Alan Thompson states that he will not be trying to acquire funding to produce the rest of the Wild Room series, instead producing individual episodes himself from time to time. The reason for this is due to the fact that technology has advanced to the point where he does not need to apply for funding and deal with all the compromises that it requires.
See Appendix 2: Paradigm Shift in the Animation Process - Changes in the Post-Production Stages and Funding, detailing the possible future of funding, in respect to the advancement accessibility and affordability of technology.
In investigating funding bodies, it can be seen that one of there roles is to help animators and film-makers with their projects, offering advice and a variety of funding schemes that cater for various disciplines, production types and production stages. Identified were the factors that determine if an animator or film-maker will receive the funding money or not, the processes they must undergo, and requirements they must meet.
By giving an insight into the processes an independent animator might go through in the acquisition of financial support from such as body, it can be concluded that there are both positives and negative aspects of the funding process. Funding bodies offer obvious benefits to a film-maker such as financial support for the completion of a film and entry into film festivals. With the positives, a film-maker must also take into account the negatives of funding, such as dealing with the compromises that may arise due to the funding bodies apparent degree of creative control over a film-maker's project.
This chapter along with Chapter 5: Selling a Film or Animation Concept, directly relates to the practical component of the Honours project worked on, as described in part 2 of the dissertation; The Self-Reflective Case Study. This is due to the fact that the 3D animated pilot and series concept has the possibly of being pitched and sold in real life to an interested party in the future.