It's a no.

An insight for anyone who has recently received an email that contains the word “unfortunately” or heard the phrase “best of luck”.

12 September 2016
Kristin Irving
By Kristin Irving
Kristin Irving is a Development Executive at the BFI Film Fund. Prior to joining the BFI she worked in development for Academy-Award winning production company Portobello Pictures and the film development financier Cascade Pictures.

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a blonde woman looks into a Polaroid camera
Boogie Nights (1997)
Public funding can be an elusive beast. Competition is high, the application process can be confusing and feedback hard to come by. Of course, dealing with rejection is an integral part of working in a creative industry. JK Rowling famously collected her rejection letters as she was writing HARRY POTTER, Stephen King impaled his on a spike. Recently the first page of Fox’s coverage surfaced on a first draft of PT Anderson’s BOOGIE NIGHTS: – it was a pass
 
The right project reaching the right person at the right time is a mysterious and unreliable alchemy. Because it is a collective endeavour, film perhaps more than any other creative medium depends on this magic. As a filmmaker, getting used to hearing no is part of the job. It’s never (usually) pleasurable, but it might also be the best spur to make your project better.
 
Here are 6 top tips to help you on your way towards a sucessful application.
 
Issa Rae
The Mis-Adventures of Awkward Black Girl (2012)
 
Guidelines are your friend
Filling out an application might be a chore but it can be an invaluable exercise that forces you to clarify your intentions about your project and articulate why it is important. Try to relate how you have presented your project back to what the priorities of the fund are, as set out by the application guidelines. Decisions are made based on these priorities so if you assessed your own project, would you fund you? A negative decision can be an opportunity to step back and identify what makes your project stand out and what might be holding it back. 
 
Do your research 
Which projects have been awarded in the past and who are the creative teams behind them? Researching and even reaching out to successful applicants could be an instructive way to identify what might help you strengthen your own projects. What assessors are looking for, and the quality of the competition can decide a lot that is naturally out of your hands. But the process isn’t totally arbitrary and success isn’t down to just luck – learning from what has worked in the past will help you decide – and explain – why your project is the right fit for a particular funding scheme.   
 
Creative thinking
Thankfully, public funding isn’t the only way to get your project made. Just because one person or organisation said no, that doesn’t mean everyone else will. Assessors and selection committees do make mistakes and gems can slip through the net. All that means is that the projects that get made have a lot of hustling and a lot of creative thinking behind them. Finding £4,000 for a short is great training for finding £400,000 for your first feature. Winner of the BAFTA for Best Short Film last year, OPERATOR, didn’t have public funding but did raise finance from the Fire Brigades Union alongside a crowdfunding campaign. Issa Rae’s hilarious MISADVENTURES OF AWKWARD BLACK GIRL began life as a zero-budget web series asking for donations and eventually led to investment from Pharrell Williams and an upcoming show on HBO. 
 
a woman wearing a phone headset
Operator (2015)
 
Making it better 
Screenwriters often talk about finding “the note behind the note” when they get unhelpful script demands from studio executives. Just because an exec can’t effectively communicate what the concern actually is, there is probably still a problem that could be found and fixed. Looking at all the feedback you can get on the project, are there similar questions that keep coming up? Getting turned down for funding could be any one of a multitude of reasons – the taste of the assessors, or more accomplished competition, or the project not falling into the priorities of that particular fund. But digging into the root of any superficial concerns about the project could be helpful to get closer to the best version of the film that you want to make.  
 
No doesn’t mean never
The next best outcome of applying for funding is getting your name or project on the industry radar. Depending on how far you've got in the application process, you might be able to ask for specific feedback on why your application was declined. But even if that’s not possible, you are always able to politely reach out to ask general questions about the priorities of the initiative and how decisions are made. Establishing a friendly relationship early on can be helpful for the next time around, as long as you are careful not to pester anyone. How you handle rejection can say a lot about your chances for future success. 
 
Next time around…
The application form is the first way we engage with you and your project, so your goal is really to make the assessors excited about the potential and want to meet you. Be specific in your passions and thoughtful about why you believe in the project. There is no secret formula or clandestine club that decides how one project or person gets chosen over another. It’s really about knowing who you are as a filmmaker and using that knowledge to clearly express your artistic vision is and why you are able to realise that vision.