Tracy Rector and Lou Karsen on location. Photo courtesy of Longhouse Media.

Looking for film funding? Tracy Rector and Lou Karsen have some advice. Examiner.com recently named the pair “Seattle’s best kept filmmaking secret”, which was a kind accolade, but quite surprising considering that their film projects have been shown on National PBS, Independent Lens, National Geographic, ImagineNative, and at Festival de Cannes. The duo is also the driving force behind Longhouse Media, a nine-year-old nonprofit organization that has produced hundreds of films, runs media programs in tribal schools, teaches after school workshops, administers adult training classes, and programs a film and panel series known as Indigenous Showcase at the Northwest Film Forum.

Karsen and Rector are currently working together to co-produce and co-direct Clearwater. This feature documentary is the cornerstone of a larger interactive work know as People of the Salish Sea, which Washington Filmworks (WF) committed funding assistance to last year through the Filmworks Innovation Lab. In fact, Clearwater is the first documentary to receive funding assistance from any of WF’s programs. You can follow the journey through several production diaries contributed by the Clearwater team for the WF blog.

Last month, the documentary rose to the top of a pool of 620 applicants to be awarded a prestigious grant from the Tribeca Film Institute through the Tribeca All Access (TAA) program. The TAA supports narrative and documentary projects in various stages of production.


Clearwater – Over a 650 mile canoe journey, Clearwater will explore the Coast Salish people’s intimate relationship to the Salish Sea. Their unique story is one of survival, adaptation and continual acceptance of an outside world. Set in the ancient waters of the Puget Sound, Clearwater is a non-fiction film about a community’s ability to transcend environmental, cultural and social changes without sacrificing a sacred way of life.


Considering their impressive filmmaking and grant fundraising track record, WF reached out to Tracy and Lou to see if they would share some of their secrets with others filmmakers.

In regards to writing grant applications for documentary films we have luckily had much success over the years. Funding has come from a variety of sources such as nonprofits, foundations, individual donors, government awards, and specific film oriented grants, as well. Some of the grant awards are cash and others are post production, mentoring, trainings, or rebates. All of them are helpful and lay the foundation for securing additional support.

  • Find a fiscal sponsor to go after grants that are only given to nonprofits. The fiscal sponsor will charge around 5% to 15% in administration fees. Always get a written contract with the potential fiscal sponsor and a copy of their federal 501(c)(3) award letter.
  • Think about your key messages and how they may relate to specific groups, for example: environmental, water, animal rights, social justice, etc. This will help you target grants that are meant to support projects that bring awareness to the topics that organizations want to address.
  • Prepare your information ahead of time, such as a synopsis, treatment, budget, crew list, bios, resumes and letters of support. Keep reviewing these between grant applications to fine-tune them. Update the supporting materials with the current verbiage and buzz words too.
  • Research the past recipients of the grant that you are applying to. Read through their projects to get an idea of what has already been done. Also, read through the granting organization’s website to better align your application with their goals.
  • Pay attention to grammar, spelling, punctuation and any other details. Check your math!
  • Always have other people read your application before sending in the final submission.
  • And never give up! Sometimes we’ve have had to apply for grants 3, 4, or 5 times before actually receiving funding.