Ted Hope, Franklin Leonard
Ted Hope, Franklin Leonard

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: