In 1970, a young British director Michael Grigsby made one of the first films about veterans returning home from the Vietnam war – the critically acclaimed and award winning I Was a Soldier.
The film focused on David, Dennis, and Lamar, three young soldiers recently returned from combat, as they tried to readjust to life back home in the heartlands of Texas, after a year on the frontline.
Some 40 years after the film’s first release, the documentary film has been hailed as “…a classic” by Sight & Sound. Although it’s now old enough to be viewed as history, it retains its relevance as it poignantly echoes the experiences of those men and women struggling to reclaim their lives in the aftermath of Iraq and the current war in Afghanistan.
The director, Michael Grigsby, recently teamed up with producer Rebekah Tolley to revisit the stories of those once young Americans. Now aged, and scarred by lives lived far too brutally far too young, they share a sense of understanding with those returning from the frontline today. Their story is told in a new film We Went to War.
In forty years the funding landscape has changed enormously. I Was a Soldier was made for Granada Television in an era when films could be pitched with one sentence and funded by one broadcaster. One glance at the credits of We Went to War shows just how different things are today.
Film Agency for Wales was one of several funders of We Went to War. Film agencies can be a great source of funding for documentaries, but they have strict funding criteria. For example, the director or producer must live and/or work in a certain geographical region, or a certain proportion of the film must be filmed in a particular location or a percentage of the overall budget spent there.
Film Agency for Wales are interested in helping Welsh talent, so will support Welsh-born and based directors, producers and writers. As Rebekah Tolley is Welsh, she qualified. She also benefited from partnering with an experienced director, who has a proven track record, which made supporting her as a nascent producer less of a risk. As their remit is to support Welsh talent, it didn’t matter to them that the film was shot in Texas.
If you are planning a film that has a Welsh story but you aren’t Welsh you still might be able access funding by partnering with a Welsh producer.
According to Keith Potter, Head of Production for Film Agency for Wales, the best way to approach them is with a good treatment. This should clearly outline the idea in 6-8 pages, explaining why you what to tell this particular story and what you hope to include, including the main protagonists, central themes and why this documentary deserves to a feature-length film (they are more interested in supporting 80-minute films than 52-minute TV programmes). It’s also helpful to include biographies of the key crew – a new director supported by an experienced executive producer would be treated seriously – and where possible examples of the director’s work to illustrate their visual style.
Teaser tapes don’t need to be a specific length, says Keith, but they need to have some kind of ‘soul’, introduce the characters in a way that we would want to spend 90-minutes in their company, demonstrate what the film is about and why this is a new story worth telling.
We Went to War was an easy sell:
Film Agency for Wales aims to help develop around 12 projects annually (from 100 applications) and co-finance three feature-length films. Feature-length documentaries are likely to attract awards of £50,000 to £75,000. You can find out more about development and funding opportunities for Welsh producers and writers at the Film Agency for Wales website.
Learn more about different kinds of funders, including film funds, in Give Me the Money and I’ll Shoot!: Finance Your Factual TV/Film Project