By Greg Pak
In 1997 I received my very first grant — $2,010.08 from the Texas Filmmakers’ Production Fund for the completion of my short film “Mouse.”
Background and Strategy
The TFPF specifically gives grants to Texas filmmakers. I calculated the odds were fairly good — the TFPF had $50,000 to give away, which meant that up to 25 or 30 projects might get money. And if only Texas residents could apply, the number of applications would be fairly low.
At the time, I was a Texan attending graduate school at NYU. My eligibility was a stretch, but I had a Texas driver’s license and voter registration card, and much to my delight, staff members at the TFPF told me I could apply.
The application involved a one-page project description, a budget, a timeline, a list of project personnel, a resume, the screenplay, and, since I was applying for completion funding, a VHS dub of the work-in-progress.
I figured I had certain advantages. In particular, the application materials stressed that the TFPF was looking for projects which seemed likely to be completed. I had virtually finished “Mouse” — needing only the last dollars for negative cut, answer printing, and distribution. Also, I was able to submit a work-in-progress, which (assuming it was any good) would have a greater impact than the screenplay alone.
[For an article listing the actual projects chosen, click here]
I’ve subsequently met two of the TFPF panelists — both told me they were amused by my very detailed budget and to-the-penny request of $2,010.08. The message I get is that precision is good.
What follows in black text is the original Project Description I submitted to the TFPF for my “Mouse” application. [I’ve added comments in the blue, bracketed text.]
A 10 minute, 16mm color short film, “Mouse” tells the story of a young man trying to escape a conversation about pregnancy with his girlfriend by chasing a mouse around his apartment. [This is the simple one-line description of the film. The goal is to get the dramatic action of the film across in a single mouthful — and hopefully elicit a smile. At the very least, you want the reader to get a sense of the tone and the point of your film, answering that all-important question, “Why should I care?”]
I have several objectives in making “Mouse.” First, I want to find an entertaining way to dramatize the kind of everyday cowardice and miscommunication most of us wallow in from time to time. If couples chuckle, then get into fights after seeing the film, I think I’ll have succeeded. [The line about the couples fighting creates an image for people to latch onto. Very important, I think, particularly when writing about abstract ideas, to give people visual images or scenes to make things real.]
Second, I want to play with horror movie elements to give my domestic drama the kind of visceral impact it deserves. It’s been argued that horror movies are all about adolescent sex: our terror of our changing bodies, our fear of discovery, our dark urges toward taboo. “Mouse” plays with these terrors in miniature as our protagonist conflates his fear of the mouse with his fear of fathering a child. [This is the film theory part of the application, demonstrating that I know what I’m doing and have specific goals regarding tone and genre. It also may help set the stage for the panelists’ actual viewing of the work-in-progress.]
Finally, I want to depict Asian American characters in situations a wider audience wouldn’t immediately associate with Asian faces. As a Korean American filmmaker, I’ve made a number of films dealing with pretty obvious aspects of the Asian American experience (cross-generational conflicts and interracial dating, for example). I’ve been happy with the success of these films, but I’m also interested in giving audiences a chance to relate with Asian American characters in stories that on the surface have nothing to do with race. [Many grant-giving organizations like to support work that depicts underrepresented communities. The paragraph establishes “Mouse” as a multicultural film, and further attempts to distinguish it as a project which deals with race in an interestingly subtle way.]
A grant from the Texas Filmmakers’ Production Fund would guarantee the completion of “Mouse” post-production in time for festival submissions beginning in October, 1997. [This sentence explains how the money will be used and gets across the idea that the film actually will be completed.] My previous shorts, “Mr. Lee” and “Visiting Aunt Sue,” have done well on the festival circuit: “Mr. Lee” has won several awards, including a Student Finalist Award from the WorldFest Charleston and a Special Jury Citation from the Los Angeles Asian Pacific American Film & Video Festival. I’m hoping “Mouse” will do even better, ideally breaking into high profile venues like Sundance or the Toronto Short Film Festival. [Here I explain my goals for the project — and not-so-subtly work in reference to my previous successes at the same time.]
It’s worth noting that the project description above led to a grant from the TFPF, but failed to get me a FilmCore film grant. The lesson? Different organizations have different interests.
FilmCore supports underground, subversive work — the year I submitted “Mouse,” my friend Mike Kang won for his film “A Waiter Tomorrow,” which features a couple of sushi waiters gunning down their annoying customers. “Mouse” is positively tame in comparison.
But if I had to do it all over again, I’d still apply to both TFPF and FilmCore. You never know exactly how things will pan out — if I fit within the guidelines and have the time, I always try to submit to as many places as possible, increasing the odds that eventually I’ll get something from somewhere.
By Greg Pak