How to make a strong API – Feature Films application

Manager – Production Investment, Cathy Rodda, shares her tips.

With the deadline for the Assigned Production Investment – Feature Films program fast approaching (7 January 2019), our Manager – Production Investment, Cathy Rodda, shares her tips for making a strong application that will stand out.

We get the lowdown on what Film Victoria is looking for in a feature film and an application for funding, when is the right time to submit  your project, and where you can seek advice  before clicking ‘submit’ on your application.

 

What makes a good API – Feature Films application?

What we look for in an application is a project that is ready, both creatively and financially, and one that fully addresses the assessment criteria and provides all the materials requested.

What makes a project “ready”?

Creatively, the script needs to be in good shape and close to the final shooting script, with a clear director’s vision and a team that can deliver on that vision and for the budget.

Financially, it needs to have an accurate and achievable finance plan and key budget elements in place. Is there a distributor and/or sales agent? Are they putting up an advance (Distribution guarantee/ or Marketing guarantee (DG or MG)), how much, and have they provided sales estimates? Is their advance cast contingent and is that cast in place? Film Victoria can put in 3-10% of the Victorian spend, which means we’re generally a minority investor, so we need to know the other financing partners are lining up. We’re more likely to be last in than first, and if Screen Australia and/or Melbourne International Film Festival are included in the finance plan, it’s preferable that applications to them go through around the same time.

What are some areas that you think could be improved by applicants, generally, to make their application stronger?

Strong creative materials. It’s not enough in the current market to have a good script; it needs to be a great script with interesting, well rounded characters and a clearly defined audience. Feature documentaries can provide a treatment rather than a script, but this needs to be thorough and compelling – a five page outline is not enough. The team’s creative vision for the film also needs to be articulated, including a director’s vision statement, not just about their approach to the story, characters and themes, but also the visual look, feel and tone of the film, perhaps supported by a mood board, sizzle reel or proof of concept.

Producers need to think in terms of the business plan for the film. It needs to be budgeted at a level commensurate with anticipated returns. The level of market attachment (DG or MG) is important. You’ll find a waterfall template on our website to plug in your sales estimates to see just how much money is likely to be returned to investors.

Who should apply for funding and what stage should their project be at?

The applicant needs to be an Australian production company. They don’t have to be Victorian but the benefit to Victoria is a key consideration in our assessment. Projects need to be ready but should not be starting pre-production until after the decision date (4 April 2019 for this round). If they do, they may be eligible to receive completion funding.

What projects are eligible for Completion Funding?

General eligibility is the same for all API projects. For completion funding applications we require two additional items: a rough cut of the film and a completion budget. Ideally, we like a full Screen Australia A-Z budget with additional columns for Victorian spend, completion budget (yet to be spent at time of application) and completion Victorian spend. Bear in mind we can put in up to 10% of the completion Victorian spend.

What is Film Victoria looking for in a feature film?

Film Victoria is looking to support high quality, diverse and engaging films that have significant benefit to Victoria and that reach audiences in Australia and internationally.

Quality is about the strength and distinctiveness of the idea/script/treatment. We also consider how the subject content/storylines and selection of cast, key creatives and crew (confirmed or planned) encompass gender equality, diversity and inclusiveness.

Reaching audiences is reflected to some extent by the level of market interest. If market commitment is low, e.g. a low or no DG, then we need to see a clear marketing strategy on who the audience is and how they will be engaged.

The benefit to Victoria includes economic benefit - through spend, jobs and employing and developing Victorian talent - and cultural benefit - through seeing Victoria on screen and telling stories anchored in this state.  

Potential applicants are strongly advised to read Film Victoria’s program guidelines in detail, including eligibility and assessment criteria.

Who should applicants seek advice from before submitting an application?

Potential applicants are asked to talk to one of our production investment team before applying. Andrew Wiseman, Production Executive, is our main documentary exec, whilst Alicia Brown, Production Executive, and I are across all types. We like to see a script and finance plan in advance to see if we feel the project is ready enough to come in, bearing in mind there is a $500 application fee.

 

Commonly asked questions

Why is the feature film deadline earlier than the TV deadline?

We’ve found that feature film projects benefit from a greater discussion around the creative so we call for feature applications earlier to enable us to schedule creative meetings with the team.

What is the creative meeting and who needs to attend?

The creative meeting is held 2-3 weeks after the deadline. Producer, Director and Writer are expected to attend, in person or via Skype or phone. The aim of this meeting is for the creative team to address any questions regarding the script and to further articulate their vision for the film. There are usually three Film Victoria representatives in the room, including our development exec and a member of our Evaluation and Advisory Committee (EAC).  From time-to-time the meeting will help us realise that the project is not ready and we recommend further work on the script. For projects that are ready, the Film Victoria team reports back to the EAC which makes recommendations on projects to the Board.

Do completion projects need to have a creative meeting?

Yes

What is market attachment?

Market attachment is usually a distributor and/or sales agent that is committed to selling your film.

What if I don’t have a distributor or sales agent?

You need to have market attachment to be eligible for funding and the level of their support is an assessment consideration. Films with budgets under $1.5m may be eligible without a distributor or sales agent if they have a strong business case for an alternate distribution strategy – discuss with a production executive before applying.

 

Find out more about Film Victoria’s API – Feature Films program on our website and sign up to our e-news to stay up to date with call outs, deadlines and funding announcements. 

 

Image: Acute Misfortune received API – Feature Films funding and had its premiere at Melbourne International Film Festival in 2018.