Mar 23, 2017
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Indie Champion Carole Dean
by Don Schwartz
As director From the Heart Productions, Carole Dean is one of the Bay Area's most revered film angels. photo: courtesy C. Dean
Founder and director of
From the Heart Productions
, the non-profit that administers The Roy W. Dean Media Grants, Carole Dean has been supporting independent filmmakers to the tune of more than two million dollars to date, in funds, products and services.
Dean's second edition of her must-have resource for filmmakers, "The Art of Film Funding: Alternative Financing Concepts" has just been published. This greatly expanded edition includes information on distribution; fundraising strategies and tactics; information on music rights, fair use, and clearances; understanding contracts; budgeting; money-saving tips; transmedia; crowd funding; and a resource guide which includes a long list of potential funders.
This is a perfect time to honor and celebrate the contributions to our ever-growing independent film worlds by Carole Dean, who was born and raised in Dallas, Texas. I've taken advantage of this time by speaking with Dean and quelling my curiosity about how she became such a steadfast and successful supporter of filmmakers.
Although she doesn't own a registered trademark on the motivation that makes a filmmaker make a film—the laser-like, all-consuming focus on the production of the film – Dean is number one in the passionate intensity and unwavering consistency with which she supports this crucial focus. And as you'll read, Dean is someone who walks her talk.
There's more to From the Heart Productions' granting process than meets the eye. In addition to an elaborate selection process designed to optimize fairness and to reflect the Foundation's values, potential applicants may receive feedback on their film application directly from Dean prior to their formal submission or afterwards.
When I learned about From the Heart's generous support, I remembered the story about her father Roy sneaking film stock to aspiring filmmakers. Clearly a contagious spirit of support runs in the family. We talked by phone in late June.
How did you come to value this kind of focus on the filmmaking process?
You know I always say that one of the greatest assets for a filmmaker is their focus. I believe you can have anything you want, but you have to totally focus on it.
As a kid growing up, I loved memory and I used memory hooks in my mind to remember things. When I was 12 years-old and my sister was three, [my] mother sent me to the store. I would use my memory hooks to remember the grocery list. But this day she said, 'I have over a dozen things so you must write it down.' I said 'No, I can remember everything.' So she called out this long list of things.
So I took my sister, walked to the store, got everything on her list and came home. I was so excited that she was going to be thrilled with my memory, [but] as she was taking things out of the sack, she started looking in the other room.
I said, 'Mother, I have everything, I didn't forget a thing.' And she said, 'Okay, but I'm just kinda worried. Where's your sister?' And Don, my sister was still at the grocery store because I forgot her. She was not on the list.
And so, my saying to filmmakers is 'Focus, focus, but don't forget your sister.'
When did you first discover your interest in movies?
Well, my earliest memory is when I was four years old. I remember sitting in my girlfriend's house. We were trading movie magazines. And she had one that I wanted, and she didn't want to trade for my magazine. I remember thinking 'I'm not leaving this house without that magazine.
[Laughing] How can I get it?' And all these things are going through my mind about what can I give her that will make her release that magazine. And when I left, I had the magazine. I'd offered to take her to the movies.
What brought you out to California, and into the film world?
I was still living in Dallas, and working for an air freight airline as a rate and tariff clerk. And they decided to move their office from Texas to Los Angeles. I wanted that job, and I got it.
They moved me to Tujunga—a dismal place. I mean they rolled up the sidewalks at nine o'clock at night, and there I am, in my early twenties, and thought I was going to be near Hollywood and movies.
One day someone asked me for a date. They took me to Hollywood, and that was it. The romance started, my love of Hollywood started from that day on. I went in the office the next day and said, 'I'm moving to Hollywood.' And that was it. I never looked back.
What did you do in Hollywood?
I lived in Hollywood, and got a job in downtown L.A., in accounts payable, as a clerk, but within two months I was in charge of all the money.
The universe seems to always put me in charge of large amounts of money. So, I had a lot of fun paying bills, and I discovered this was a good job because people were offering me tickets— 'just get my bills paid on time.'
Later, when I was dating a guy who was a filmmaker he took me on the set one night, and I watched them when they reloaded the camera. They would say 'cut' to a scene and the cameraman would say 'reloading,' and they would take the film and reload it, put in a new 1000 foot roll.
So I asked, 'what do you do with those little ol' short-ends?' And he said, 'For goodness sake, Carole, you know, that's like trash!' 'Oh, my gosh,' I said, 'That piece you took off was about 400 feet long.' 'Yes, but we don't want it. We're not going to load it up tomorrow; we're going to send it to the camera department.'
So, I said, 'You mean there's a lot of that?' 'Oh, there's millions of feet of that.' I said, 'I think I can sell that.' 'No. No one will ever buy raw stock that doesn't come direct from Kodak,' was his answer. 'Well, I'm gonna give it a try.'
"So, fast forward, I'm now married to a cameraman, who is a very frugal Irishman, and I have this burning desire to build my own business. I'm at home, I have a baby now, she's crawling on the floor, and I have to have something creative. So, I'm begging him to let me buy and sell short-ends.
So, he said, 'Take $20 from the grocery money and see what you can do.' And I did. I used that to go to the library, photostat all the phone books for L.A. and surrounding cities, to get the addresses of all the production companies. I rented a typewriter, bought stamps, envelopes, and hand-wrote 250 letters.
And I got one phone call from an animator, and he bought the first short-ends from me, and I didn't have one piece of film. But I made the sale. I didn't have any money either, but that didn't matter.
I got all dressed up and went to Columbia Pictures, got in there, got to talk to the man who was in charge of the film department. And after about 30 minutes of chatting about current movies and the state-of-the-art, I told him I wanted to buy 3,000 feet of film, and I could pay him two cents a foot. That's a $60 check.
He started laughing. I said, 'No, I'm really serious. I'm going to start this little business, and I promise you I'll be back, and I'll buy every foot of film you have.' And he said, 'Carole, you can't sell this stuff. Please.' So, I wasn't going to leave 'til he gave me the film. And he did.
I sold 2,000 feet, but I had bought three, so I put my profit into my inventory, cleaned the cans, ran to the animator, sold it, and I never looked back.
I did go back to Columbia, I did buy every foot of film they had, and I created relationships with Universal, Paramount, Warner Bros – most had never sold short-ends before. They had sold the ends for silver, but they did not want the liability of selling them for re-use. So, I signed an agreement to take them as-is.
And then I learned how to test the film, created ways to measure what each little link was – I developed a whole system. I started buying and selling film and having a wonderful life. One major factor of my success was that I never doubted that I could do it. This is what I teach filmmakers. Know what you want, and keep that vision, and make a demand from the universe and never look back.
When and where and how did the idea of the Foundation come up?
My father [Roy] worked with me. He'd lived in Dallas, and was retired from the Baptist Church. I asked him to move to California because my business was taking off. In fact, I had a New York office, and LA office, and I was even perforating and slitting film that I bought from government surplus. I had a large organization going, and he said, 'Yes.'
This was in the early '70s. So, I made him Vice President of the company. Believe me I offered him every job in the company, but he wanted to wait on customers at the counter. He loved the interaction with filmmakers. If you bought a 100 feet of film, Don, or a 100,000 feet, he gave you the same time and concern, and we couldn't believe how much people loved him.
We always had a shortage in our inventory. Now I'm really good with math, and so is my father, and he kept the film inventory. And I knew something was going on, but I couldn't prove it. So, one month we were exactly ten thousand feet short of 16 mm; so I said, 'Dad, there's a box somewhere that you forgot to count'. And he said, 'No, I didn't forget to count it, actually, I gave it to a filmmaker.' 'Oh, my god, how could you do that?'
Because he knew the hardest part of making a film was finding the money to buy the expensive raw stock. Once you had that, you could rent a camera and get it shot and into the lab. Then you had to find the money to pay for it, but you have a film.
When he died, I put a notice in Variety that he had crossed over, and I got so many phone calls and letters saying things like, 'I would never have graduated from UCLA or USC without your father. Because he gave me the raw stock I needed,' or, 'he gave me 35mm, told me where to sell it, and then to come back and buy my 16mm from him at a student discount.' He had all these creative ways of funding filmmakers.
Before my father died I went to India, to visit Sai Baba, and by chance I got to sit in the first row. And as Baba walked around the corner of the building, my whole heart opened, it just exploded. I've never been the same. He told me to start a non-profit called From the Heart Productions. 'What is the purpose of this company?' I asked. 'You'll know later,' [he said].
So, I come home and find my father's not well. I'm taking care of him and I start the non-profit, and then my father dies 4 months later, in 1992. Shortly after he dies, I know what I'm supposed to do.
I woke up one morning and I heard 'From the Heart Productions is a grant, and you're going to give money to filmmakers, and go out on the street and raise money and goods and services.' And I said, 'No. I'm not going to do it. I don't want to be out on the street begging for donations.'
The same day I had lunch with my public relations man, whom I adored, and I always did everything he said. And we sat down to lunch and he said, 'You know, Carole, I woke up this morning and I had a brilliant idea. I want you to start the Roy Dean Film Grant.' And I said, 'No, I already heard this in my mind, and I don't know how to do it.'
His name was Keith, and he said, 'Carole, I'll walk you through it. Here's what we'll do: You go to your office, you look on your desk, you're going to find some letter from someone who wants to make a film and is asking you for raw stock. You're going to give that to him.'
I said, 'You're reading my mind, I have a filmmaker looking for three thousand dollars worth of film for a story of the Hopi Indians.' Keith said, 'That will be your first grant. And then we'll go one step at a time, and we'll build this.' And we did. That's how it was born."
To make an understatement, that's quite a story. Carole, I want to go to the book. What year was it first published?
I wrote the book in 2003, and published it myself. And every day I did this little thing saying 'I love my publisher, I love my publisher.' And honest-to-heaven, Michael Wiese called me and said, 'Carole, somebody handed me your book and we want to publish it.' I said, 'Great.' So Michael Wiese published what I call my second edition as his first edition. And now it's in its third re-write, because our industry changes – daily.
Carole, would you give me just some basic information about the Foundation's work?
Yes. We raise goods and services and money for filmmakers. We are looking for films that are unique and make a contribution to society. We really like films with strong characters, or exposés. We like to bring little-known information to light. We want to support films that might otherwise never be made.
For example, one year there was a film called "
". When we read the [grant] application I knew it would have trouble getting funded because it was so unique. It was about an art theft in America.
Amazingly enough, Rebecca Dreyfus won the grant, and the judges said the same thing—that that film would probably not win many grants, and it could really use ours. And it did need us, and from that award Rebecca created a brilliant film that received support from Court TV; and then she turned around and made another version of the film, and sold it to PBS.
We receive about 500 grant applications a year, and out of that approve three. We grant close to a total of hundred thousand dollars annually. We are honored to work on films that are sorely needed and will make a major contribution to society.
What is your vision of the Foundation's future?
I want to raise more cash. We have never gone after grants, as a funding organization ourselves, and I think we should. I want us to support more filmmakers through fiscal sponsorship. Because since film funding is my forté, I find that I really love working with filmmakers by helping them create their pitch and by improving their proposal. Right now they send me their proposals before submitting their formal application to grants, and I give them help in reviewing it. This personal relationship is very rewarding.
I like to help filmmakers all the way through marketing and distribution. There is a new job called 'a producer of distribution and marketing'. It's too much for the filmmakers to do themselves; they need to bring someone on to do that. So, they have to recognize when they start making any film that they may have to do the distribution and marketing themselves. And once they come to that realization, then from day one they are searching for their market, and communicating with their market – so that their film has much more possibility for success than creating the film and taking it to a film festival in the hopes of finding a distributor. I think those days are gone, and I want to be part of the new world of online marketing and distribution."
Thanks Carole, for this time, and, of course, for all your work on behalf of filmmakers.
Posted on Aug 13, 2012 - 11:29 AM