PRODUCTION TIPS: Production Incentives for the Low Budget Filmmaker

Filmmakers have a frustrating love/hate relationship with money; they love spending it and hate the stress of getting it. The frustration is understandable as filmmaking is one of the most expensive art forms to pursue. In many other countries, filmmaking is not a purely capitalist enterprise. Instead, they are largely subsidized by the government because they find them culturally important. While some American filmmakers prefer a lack of government involvement, it's no secret that American productions are subsidized to some extent in the form of production incentives.  

Production incentives are tax benefits provided by the states on state-by-state basis as a way to bring the film business to the states. These programs began as a response to Canada's cheap production incentives in the 90s that lured many film productions. As a result, the US states adopted progressively generous incentives to bring them back. Hollywood and government officials tend to be big boosters of the production incentive programs as they tout its effects in job growth and bringing in tourism. But many others have critiqued these incentive programs as failing to give states an economic boost and questioning their effectivenes, as some states benefit more than others

Big budget studio filmmakers tend to be the ones who benefit most from production incentives since the majority of these benefits don't kick in until hundreds of thousands of dollars, at a minimum, have been spent. It's clear that production incentives were not made for the no to low budget indie filmmaker in mind. BUT there are a few states that do offer production incentives* within the spending range of a low budget filmmaker i.e. filmmakers spending from $25K to $100K. And, at the end of this list, you will even find a few states that offer incentives no matter what the budget.

$25,000 Production Incentives

  • West Virginia
    • "The West Virginia Film Industry Investment Act is a competitive tool used to recruit film industry business into the state.  The Act provides up to 31% tax credits for in-state spend (27% base, plus 4% for 10 or more resident crew or talent hires). Funded at $5 million annually; no caps; minimum spend of $25,000. Eligible projects include feature length films, TV films and series, commercials, music videos, and commercial still photography. Please visit the following pages for guidelinesforms, and overview."

$50,000 Production Incentives

  • Kentucky
    • "Documentaries and Broadway productions are eligible with an expenditure minimum of $50,000.  Applications for film production incentives will be reviewed and approved by the Kentucky Film Office, Secretary of the Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet, the Finance and Administration Cabinet and the Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Authority. "
  • Massachusetts
    • "Film producers are eligible for a 25 percent production credit, a 25 percent payroll credit, and a sales tax exemption. Any project that spends more than $50,000 in Massachusetts qualifies for the payroll credit. Spending more than 50 percent of total budget or filming at least 50 percent of the principal photography days in Massachusetts makes the project eligible for the production credit and a sales tax exemption. There are no annual or project caps, no residency requirements, and no extended schedule of credit payouts." 
  • Mississippi
    • "The Mississippi Motion Picture Incentive Program provides a cash rebate on eligible expenditures and payroll and provides sales and use tax reductions on eligible rentals/purchases. This program is available for nationally distributed motion pictures, television programs, DVDs, documentaries, short films, commercials, video games, including animation and production utilizing new technology. National distribution includes theatrical, broadcast, festival screening, streaming video, and Internet delivery. There is a $50,000 minimum Mississippi investment (local spend) per project. There is a $10 million per project rebate cap. There is a $20 million annual rebate cap. There is no minimum requirement for production days or percentage of production spend. Under the Mississippi Investment Rebate, a production is eligible for a 25 percent rebate on their base investment. Additionally, there is a 30 percent Resident Payroll Rebate and a 25 percent Non-Resident Payroll Rebate. A production is eligible for an additional 5 percent rebate on salaries paid to veterans. Qualifying production equipment used directly in the filming/editing of project will be taxed at a reduced rate of 1.5 percent." 
  • Oklahoma
    • "The Oklahoma Film Enhancement Rebate offers up to 37% on Oklahoma expenditures to qualifying companies filming in the state capped at $5 million per year."

$75,000 Production Incentives

  • Alaska
    • "Applicants can qualify for up to 58 percent in a transferable tax credit on qualified production expenditures in Alaska. Eligible projects are broadly defined as film, documentary, commercials, and video projects. The state requires a minimum of $75,000 of qualified expenditures in Alaska, and there are no production or salary caps. Also, Alaska has no state sales or income tax."
  • Maine
    • "Filmmakers can receive tax rebates equal to 12% of qualified wages paid to Maine residents working on a certified production and 10% of nonresident wages. Qualified wages capped at $50,000 per person. Claim a non refundable, non transferable tax credits equal to 5% of the non wage production expenses. Credit not to exceed the Maine taxes owed by the production company. *Must be claimed within production year. Productions may be considered for the FAME seed capital tax credit program. Purchase fuel and electricity for productions and avoid almost all state energy taxes. Hotel/motel accommodations for cast and crew without paying state lodging tax if the stay is 28 days or more. No location fees for qualified productions filming on state land. Set up production offices using office furniture and equipment from state surplus."
  • Oregon
    • "The Oregon Production Investment Fund offers qualifying film or television productions a 20 percent cash rebate on production-related goods and services paid to Oregon vendors and a 10 percent cash rebate of wages paid for work done in Oregon including both Oregon and non-Oregon residents. The labor portion of this rebate can be combined with the Greenlight Oregon program for an effective labor rebate of 16.2 percent. A production must directly spend at least $1 million in Oregon to qualify. There is no per production cap. The 2009 Oregon legislature passed SB863 which created the Indigenous Oregon Production Investment Fund (i-OPIF). The i-OPIF program will provide rebates of 20 percent of goods and services and 10 percent of Oregon labor for films produced by LOCAL Oregon filmmakers who spend a minimum of $75,000, up to the first $1 million of their spend. Also, the state has no general sales and use tax and lodging taxes are waived for rooms held longer than 30 days."

$100,000 Production Incentives

  • Colorado
    • "The Colorado Film Incentive program offers a 20 percent cash rebate for production costs taking place in the state. The incentive program covers feature films, television pilots, television series (broadcast and cable), television commercials, music videos, industrials, documentaries, video game design and creation, and other forms of content creation. Bonded productions are eligible to have 100 percent of their projected rebate escrowed up front with the bond company. An additional component of the program is a loan guarantee program with the State guaranteeing up to 20 percent of a production budget. This program is only available to film productions. A production may be eligible for both the performance-based incentive and the loan guarantee programs. To be eligible, a Colorado production company must have qualified local expenditures of at least $100,000. An outof-state production company must have at least $1 million in qualified local expenditures (the exception being television commercials and video game productions, which must have qualified local expenditures of $250,000)."
  • Connecticut
    • More like a minimum expenditure of $100,001 - "Production companies incurring production expenses or costs between $100,000 and $500,000 are eligible for a 10 percent credit, between $500,000 and $1 million are eligible for a 15 percent credit, and over $1 million continue to be eligible for a 30 percent credit. The state also offers a tax credit for infrastructure costs, and exemptions for property, sales and hotel taxes." 
  • Florida
    • "Florida offers a base transferrable tax credit of 20 percent to 30 percent. Additional bonus credits of 5 percent are available for certain types of productions. There are three incentive categories: (1) General Production Queue: qualifying productions include films, TV (TV series may be ineligible), documentaries, digital media projects, commercials and music videos. A minimum of $625,000 must be spent and the maximum incentive award is $8,000,000. (2) Commercial and Music Video Queue: A minimum of $100,000 per commercial or music video must be spent. A production company must spend at least $500,000 within on fiscal year to apply (projects can be bundled). The maximum incentive is $500,000 per fiscal year. (3) Independent Emerging Media Production Queue: Films, TV, documentaries and digital media projects are eligible. A minimum of $100,000 must be spent and a maximum of $625,000 can be spent to qualify. The maximum incentive awarded is $125,000. Also, Effective January 1, 2001, any qualified production company engaged in Florida in the production of motion pictures, made for television motion pictures, television series, commercial advertising, music videos or sound recordings may be eligible for a sales and use tax exemption on the purchase or lease of certain items used exclusively as an integral part of the production activities in Florida. The state does not levy a state income tax."
  • Michigan
    • "No retroactive qualifying expenditures. Start counting your qualifying dollars on the date of APPROVAL. 25% of direct production expenditures and qualified personnel expenditures. Claim an extra 3% for expenditures at a qualified facility or post production facility or 10% for expenditures at qualified post-production facility. Form (to be filled out by the facility) Caps: Incentive for ATL personnel capped at 30% of total incentive. Application fee equal to .2% of the funding request (minimum $200, max $5,000)" 
  • Minnesota
    • "Rebates have increased to up to 25% of qualified MN expenditures, above the line talent (non-resident) will be included as an eligible rebate cost (cap $100K per person), and a production that spends more than $1M in MN will automatically qualify at 25% and will be audited by an independent auditor paid for by MN Film and TV."
  • Puerto Rico
    • "Puerto Rico has a transferrable tax credit equivalent to 40 percent of budget items paid to Puerto Rico entity or resident. There is also a 20 percent tax credit on nonresident qualified spending. 100,000 minimum spend per project."
  • Rhode Island
    • "The Motion Picture Production Tax Credit provides a 25 percent transferrable tax credit for costs incurred directly attributable to activity within the state. It also includes salaries for people working on the ground in the state. To qualify, a minimum of $100,000 must be spent, and at least 51 percent of shooting must take place in Rhode Island. There is a $15 million annual cap on the program and a $5 million cap per project, which may be waived." 

$???? Production Incentives - No Clear Minimum Spend 

  • Illinois
    • "The Film Production Tax Credit Act, which offers producers a transferrable credit of 30 percent of all qualified expenditures, including post-production, and will not sunset until 2021 (it is renewable in 5 year increments after 2021). Other benefits include: 30% of the qualified Illinois Production Spending." 
  • New Jersey
    • "New Jersey offers a tax credit in an amount equal to 20 percent of qualified production expenses, available to production companies meeting certain criteria, chiefly: (1) At least 60 percent of the total expenses of a project, exclusive of post-production costs, will be incurred for services performed and goods used or consumed in New Jersey. (2) Principal photography of a project commences within 150 days after the approval of the application for the credit. Certain tangible property used directly and primarily in the production of films and television programs is also exempt from New Jersey's 7 percent sales tax."
  • New Mexico
    • "No minimum amount, however, the production must shoot at least one day in New Mexico. New Mexico offers a 25 percent tax rebate on all direct production expenditures, including New Mexico crew, that are subject to taxation by the State of New Mexico. It applies to feature films, independent films, television, regional and national commercials, documentaries, video games and post-production. Non-resident actors and stunt performers will also qualify under a separate tax structure. An additional 5 percent credit is available for either (1) direct production expenditures for qualifying television series; or (2) payments to resident crew (wages and fringes only) for services during production in New Mexico if a production utilize a qualifying soundstage for a minimum of 10 or 15 days of principal photography. (Days required are determined by total New Mexico budget.) New Mexico also offers the Film Crew Advancement Program, which is an incentive for production companies to help create more job opportunities for New Mexican film and television crew professionals. A production company is reimbursed 50% of a participant’s wages for up to 1040 hours physically worked by the qualifying crew member in a specialized craft position. Also, as an incentive, the state will issue a certificate which is presented at the point of sale and no gross receipts tax is charged. This incentive cannot be used in conjunction with the 25 percent tax rebate. In 2011, the legislature placed a $50 million cap on film production credits and staggered payment schedules over two or three years."
  • New York
    • "The state offers a Film Production Credit a 30 percent fully-refundable tax credit on qualified expenses while filming in the state. If the production spends less than $3 million on all costs related to work done at a qualified production facility, then a minimum of 75 percent of the principal photography days shot on location must be in New York State. This threshold requirement applies to location days only. Principal shoot days at a facility must not be included in the calculation of the 75 percent A 30 percent to 35 percent post production tax credit is also available, regardless of filming location. Refundable tax credits available for qualified commercials with added incentives for companies increasing volume of work in New York are available and there are film production activities/expenses that are exempt from state and local sales and use taxes. Also a film investment tax credit of up to 5 percent on investments in construction and upgrades to qualified film production facilities plus employment incentive tax credits for two additional years."
  • Pennsylvania
    • "Pennsylvania offers a 25% Tax Credit to films that spend at least 60% of their total production budget in the Commonwealth. Projects eligible for Film Tax Credits under the Program are: the production of a feature film, a television film, a television talk or game show series, a television commercial, a television pilot or each episode of a television series intended as a programming for a national audience. Applications may be filed no sooner than 90 days prior to the start date of principal photography in the Commonwealth. We will be reviewing and approving application packages within a 90 day period: July 1st through September 30th; October 1st through December 31st; January 1st through March 31st; and April 1st through June 30th. Film Tax Credit Guidelines 2014Project Audit for projects in receipt of a Film Tax Credit $100,000 or greater, or Report on Agreed Upon Procedures for projects with a Film Tax Credit of less than $100,000."
  • Vermont
    • "A hotel tax exemption, sales and use tax exemption for direct production expenses and income tax for performers limited to the amount performers would pay in their home states."

*"Production incentives" are a catch-all term for the different benefits a state can provide to a production. They can consist of one or all of the following:
  • Tax Credits
  • Cash Rebates
  • Grants
  • Sales Tax Exemptions
  • Lodging Exemptions
  • Fee Free Exemptions
  • Miscellaneous Enhancements
  • State Specific Benefits
To help navigate each state's incentive programs, hire a production lawyer and accountant. Or a savvy strategic producer. The information above is current as of January 2015. Please visit each state's sites for the latest information, requirements and details to apply.

PRODUCTION JOURNAL: THR's Interview with Nicolas Chartier on Anti-Piracy Crusade and Why Union Workers Need Less Pay

The Hollywood Reporter recently interviewed French producer, Nicolas Chartier. You might know him for the Oscar-winning films (The Hurt Locker and Dallas Buyer's Club) his company, Voltage Pictures, has produced. Or you might know him as the guy who went on a tirade about union workers. Or you might know him because he sued you for illegally downloading The Hurt Locker and his other films. Love him or hate him, in The Hollywood Reporter's recent interview with him he speaks clearly about the success and difficulties of filmmaking including how he has charted a path producing both indie dramas and action films, why a union-worker should not be paid so much and why piracy has made him have to shoot 5 films instead of 10. 
Nicolas Chartier has an issue with impulse control. The 40-year-old France-born president of Voltage Pictures — which, since it opened nine years ago, has been releasing a steady stream of Oscar-nominated dramas (Dallas Buyers Club), scrappy indies (Don Jon) and action kitsch (Maximum Conviction) — was once famously barred from attending the Oscars (for bad-mouthing Avatar while campaigning for Voltage's The Hurt Locker). Recently, he was at it again, angering every below-the-line laborer in town by complaining at an industry conference in April that union salaries are too high.

For a guy who started out as a janitor at Disneyland Paris, the union jab was a particularly tone-deaf statement but not an especially surprising one. Since climbing his way up the ladder from screenwriter to sales agent to his current position at Voltage, where he has become a go-to producer for stars with passion projects — he's producing Natalie Portman's directorial debut, A Tale of Love and Darkness; a drama Russell Crowe has long wanted to make called Fathers and Daughters; and a quirky movie about a shoe repairman, The Cobbler, for Adam Sandler — Chartier clearly has developed an appetite for controversy (his movie about Erik Prince, the founder of the scandal-plagued paramilitary contractor Blackwater, is sure to court more of it).

But these days, what Chartier is best known for — aside from purchasing Ashton Kutcher's $9.9 million glass mansion above the Hollywood Reservoir — is his super-aggressive, take-no-prisoners approach to the war on online piracy. In fact, he may well be the individual most responsible for an exponential growth of copyright litigation in the U.S. He hasn't just targeted file-sharing websites, he's filed suits against tens of thousands of individuals who happened to get caught downloading Hurt LockerDallas Buyers Club and other Voltage films. The tactics have seemed excessive to some, making him a Darth Vader-like figure in certain chat rooms, but it seems to be working (and it's being imitated by others, including the adult entertainment industry). Chartier, who believes online piracy is "destroying" the film industry, makes no apologies for his tough stand. But he does promise — in a French accent thicker than bearnaise — to behave himself the next time an Oscar nomination comes along.

Do you have a philosophy about the types of movies you get behind?
We've done movies with Kathryn BigelowBilly FriedkinTerry GilliamAndrew Niccol, movies from the kind of directors [from whom] I really wanted to see one more movie made. We also do a ton of action movies from Steven SeagalNic CageJohn CusackBruce Willis. The action movies are good for buyers, and those allow us to take risks and gamble with films like Good KillDallas Buyers Club or The Whistleblower. Usually it's political movies, because that's kind of what I like.
Do you think you bring a European mentality to films?
Maybe. I just try to find stories that we like. We just did Fathers and Daughters with Russell Crowe, which we really love. We're doing the new Jim Sheridan movie [The Secret Scripture] in four weeks. It's backing filmmakers and storytellers and reading a new story that we're excited about.
What do you think the economic climate is for producers these days?
It's definitely getting much more difficult. There are fewer buyers. There's plenty of equity to make movies, there's still plenty of financiers, just not enough distributors. And also movies are becoming very difficult to both market and to get an audience to pay and come to. Between piracy on the Internet, people watching or playing games on their phones and being on Facebook or other stuff instead of just going to the theater or watching a DVD, we've lost a lot of people.
Why did you decide to sue the individuals downloading your films?
Hurt Locker ended up winning six Oscars, but at the same time we had 8 million illegal downloads on the movie. And I was like, "Wow, you know, we barely reimbursed the movie and we had 8 million illegal downloads." Well, if everybody had given me one dollar, that would be 8 million dollars, and the movie cost 11, so we lost 80 percent of the movie to piracy. That cannot hold. So we decided to make a statement. And the day after we announced 20,000 lawsuits, the Internet downloads of Hurt Locker went down about 40 percent. So, you know, you frighten people and then they stop.
Did that economic theory — one dollar for every pirated download — work out? Did the lawsuits get the money back?
I wish. It would be nice. I mean, every movie is pirated the day after it comes out, so at what point are people going to be like, "Enough is enough"? I know of movies that have done 10,000 views on VOD on iTunes with 60,000 illegal downloads over the Internet for free. When you have 5 percent or 10 percent of your whole business [tolerating that amount of piracy] it's OK, but when it becomes 80 percent of your total downloads, that doesn't make sense.
You've talked about making fewer movies in the future — only five this year, as compared with the usual 10. Why?
Everybody is making fewer movies because the movies are making less and less money. And one of the big things is the fact that people think movies are for free. … Listen, we need to create new actors, there's no new action star for the past five years or 10 years. We need to be able to break new actors, we need distributors to be able to take risks. We need financiers to get behind good movies and original stories. People are not taking risks.
Studios aren't taking risks, but what about indie producers?
We're reacting a different way. We're just not making the interesting movies anymore. I get scripts where it's just like, "too dangerous financially." The economics don't work because half of the world is suffering from huge piracy. From Spain to France to all of Asia, the DVD business is dead, and all the major movies are getting pirated. I don't know the solution. I think it has to be reducing the volume of pirated movies as much as possible.
You drew attention recently by criticizing the salaries of below-the-line crew on films. What did you mean?
Bruce Willis makes a million a day, but we make the movie because of Bruce Willis. But at the same time, when I see a union driver sitting for 12 hours and being really difficult, that's why we end up shooting a lot of movies in foreign countries. People don't understand that without movie stars making big money, there's no movie. It's nice to victimize the big stars, but we need that because otherwise we don't make the movie. I don't make the movie because of the driver.
Are you also making a point that people need to reset their expectations about what they should be making?
Listen, on independent films, everybody takes a pay cut except, you know, obviously the people who are on union salaries. It's a complicated point. All I know is, it's so complicated to deal with the Teamsters that we try to not shoot the movies in America, which is kind of stupid. It's bad for everyone; people don't go home, people work less and less, it's a spiral.
You have a pretty good track record right now, coming off The Hurt Locker and Dallas Buyers Club. Do you have your recipe worked out?
You always start again. That's the fun thing. Every producer will tell you that you always start again at zero. It gets easier sometimes because people trust your taste, your judgment and everything. But then it's like, "OK, I have 100 pages, how do I make this movie, and how do I make the greatest movie that everybody will want to see?" I think that's the very humbling part — every time, you have to start over.
What's one thing that you haven't accomplished yet that you would like to?
Winning an Oscar and going onstage.
Well, you've won an Oscar, for Hurt Locker …
Not being kicked off. Going to get the Oscar for real. I'm going to try to make a good movie in the next 40 years of my life. And I'll be very quiet.
by Eriq Gardner

SCRIPT TO SCREEN: The Scripts for the 2015 Oscar Best Screenplay Nominees

Dear Filmmaker,

Here's your homework:

  1. Pick one (1) script from the Oscar-nominated ones below and study it for structure, plot and character development and dialogue. 
  2. Then watch the movie produced out of it and pick 3 scenes that moved you. Review the scenes in the script and breakdown how the scene was directed. At every point, ask yourself, "Why* did the director do this?" Look for: 
    • What kind of shots were used? 
    • How were the shots composed/framed and lit? 
    • How were the shots edited together? 
    • What kind of transitions were used in between shots? 
    • What kind of sounds and music accompanied them, if any? 
    • How did the actors act and what aspects of the actor's performance did the director focus on? 
    • And how did the production's design (costume, setting, location, makeup, VFX, etc.) contribute to the overall effect?
  3. Extra credit: pick 3 scenes from any of the scripts below that did NOT move you and using the script only, determine how you would reshoot those scenes. 
    • What shots would you use?
    • How would you compose/frame and light the shot?
    • How would you edit the shots?
    • What kind of transitions would you use?
    • What kind of sounds and music would you use, if any?
    • How would you direct your actors and what kind of expressive choices would you want them to make?
    • What kind of production design would you want?


P.S. I realize that many of the scripts below are shooting scripts so that limits how much you can deviate with your interpretation of a scene from what you see on the screen. But remember (1) this is mainly an academic exercise to flex your directing muscles and (2) sometimes the smallest changes can have a huge impact for example the decision to extend a shot a couple seconds longer or to use a different piece of music can impact the emotions and meaning of what we see on the screen. 

P.S.S. Inherent Vice is a different kind of homework.

Best Original Screenplay Nominees for the 2015 Oscars
The Grand Budapest Hotel by Wes Anderson and Hugo Guinnes
Boyhood by Richard Linklater
Birdman by Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris and Armando Bo
Foxcatcher by Dan Futterman and E. Max Frye
Nightcrawler by Dan Gilroy

Best Adapted Screenplay Nominees for the 2015 Oscars
Inherent Vice by Paul Thomas Anderson (could not find a screenplay to link to but I did link to chapter 1 of Pynchon's book - how would you adapt that first chapter into a script?)
Whiplash by Damien Chazelle
American Sniper by Jason Hall
The Imitation Game by Graham moore
The Theory of Everything by Anthony McCarten

These are the screenplays that didn't make the cut but which many critics thought had a chance. Nothing is stopping you from using these for your homework instead.
St. Vincent 
Mr. Turner
Dear White People
Gone Girl
Kill the Messenger
How To Train Your Dragon 2
Get On Up
The Fault in our Stars
The Boxtrolls
Big Eyes

*I'm a believer that sometimes even the director doesn't always know why he or she did something in their film. In fact, many things end up on the screen merely by mistake or by necessity. Still, that doesn't mean there was no meaning, just that the meaning was hidden. 
I realize that comes off very deterministic -- oh well.

SCRIPT TO SCREEN: The Varied Paths of Playwright-Screenwriter-Director-Producer, Alexander Dinelaris

On Jan. 11, 2015, we watched 3 men join Alejandro González Iñárritu to receive their Golden Globe awards for the best screenplay, Birdman. One of these men was Alexander Dinelaris Jr., a multi-hyphenate New Yorker. A.B. Lugo was prescient enough to interview Mr. Dinelaris in December, 2014 for El Blog de HOLA, a blog that supports, promotes and informs the Latino acting community. During the interview, Mr. Dinelaris discusses his background and how it inspired his writing, how he writes, how his success in playwriting opened the doors to screenwriting and how important it is to stay true to your voice and learn your craft.

Reposted with permission.
Original posting: El Blog de HOLA - Dec. 11, 2014 by A.B. Lugo

Alexander Dinelaris is a man of many talents– what we call in Spanish "polifacético"– he is a playwright, screenwriter, director, producer. He has worked with some of the giants in this industry, from filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu to music icons Gloria and Emilio Estefan. His work has been seen on stages across the U.S. and on London's West End. 

His play, Red Dog Howls, has its world premiere at the New York Theatre Workshop, where it was directed by Ken Rus Schmoll and starred Kathleen Chalfant, Alfredo Narciso and Florencia Lozano. He then wrote the book to the musical The Bodyguard (based on the screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan and featuring the songs of Whitney Houston), where it was directed by Thea Sharrock, starred Heather Headley and Lloyd Owen and had its world premiere at the Adelphi Theatre in London's West End. After running in London for two years, it will embark on a tour of the United Kingdom in 2015, with future productions planned for Australia, Germany, East Asia and Broadway.

He is currently working on the libretto for the musical On Your Feet! (based on the story and music of Gloria and Emilio Estefan), which recently had a workshop in November 2014 in New York (with direction by Jerry Mitchell and choreography by Sergio Trujillo).

On Thursday, December 11, 2014, he received a Golden Globe nomination for co-writing the screenplay for Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu.

UPDATE: On Jan. 11, he won the Golden Globe for best screenplay, Birdman.

Meet el polifacético Alexander Dinelaris.

Where did you grow up? How did you get started as an writer-director?

Sarah Paulsonat left, and
Fredrick Weller in a scene
from Still Life.
I was born and raised in Washington Heights (in New York City) until I was of school age and then I moved out to East Rockaway, Long Island.

In high school, I was cast in my first musical, as Tevye in our production of Fiddler on the Roof. I feel in love with theater and the rest is history.

I quickly found that I was interested in directing theater and pursued that through college. I really didn't start writing until 1999. Eventually, a play of mine entitled Folding The Monster got some attention and soon Danny Aiello and Rosie O'Donnell did some staged readings for various theater companies in New York. 

Things progressed and after my father died, I wrote a play called Still Life. That was really the piece that changed my life.

What is your writing process? 
For me, most of the time I spend writing is about structuring a piece. I don't feel safe writing if I am not fairly sure what the structure of it is. So I begin with research and then go straight into structure. I will spend months doing that, and when I finally feel comfortable enough with the shape of it, I proceed to procrastinate for long as humanly possible. When I can no longer keep it in, I will fly somewhere on my own (Isabela, Puerto Rico, and a place called Villa Del Mar Hau is one of my favorite spots).

I will stay there with barely any internet or phone service and a lot of coffee, wine and rum and I will work day and night for about 10-14 days until I have my first draft.

That process has become much more difficult, you can imagine, with the births of my two daughters Amalia and Aleyna.

I first met you at a production of your play Red Dog Howls, which dealt with a man dealing with his Armenian grandmother and confronting the past (specifically the Armenian genocide). How did this play and its brutal subject matter arise?
The loss of my father to pancreatic cancer was very difficult for me. A few years after he passed away I came to understand that some of the things in my family history that I was told were not true at all. There was and is a mystery surrounding the Armenian side of my family. But more than that, I was about to become a father for the first time. And somehow I thought that the dysfunction and sadness that I had grown up with would somehow be passed on to my children and that thought terrified me. So I wrote Red Dog Howls about a man who, in order to find his own identity, would have to travel through the horrors of his family's past so that he might finally put that pain to rest and remove the "curse" from his family line.

I was able to see your directing work when I attended a production ofStephen Fechter's The Woodsman, produced by Oberon Theatre Ensemble (for which you are Co-Artistic Director). What do you like about working in theater versus working in film?

Stewart Walkerat left, and
Gabe Bettio in a scene from
Stephen Fechter's The Woodsman
(directed by Alex Dinelaris).
I love the very live and communal energy of the theater, when you are telling the truth and the audience becomes personally involved, there is an electricity that can't be produced anywhere else within the spectrum of storytelling. I also love the collaborative aspects. I love designers. I love stage crew. And most of all, I love actors. When we are all chasing down an honest moment, hunting for real answers, it is as exhilarating as anything I know.

You are also known for writing librettos to several musicals (Zanna, Don't!The Bodyguard, the upcoming On Your Feet!). What are the challenges and joys in collaborating with a composer (or team of composers) in writing a musical?To be clear, I did not write the book of Zanna, Don't! It was written by its composer-lyricist, the brilliant Tim Acito. I was brought in later to help restructure the book a bit and create some additional dialogue and scenes. It was a wonderful experience.

Dinelaris with
Emilio Estefan.
As For The Bodyguard and On Your Feet!, the difficult part of those musicals is that the songs and their lyrics already exist. So finding a way to make them fit into the story and seem organic, making them actually move the story forward is an incredible challenge.

With Gloria and Emilio Estefan, we also got to have them write a few new songs, so that was a thrill for me. I was in Puerto Rico writing the first draft and I called Gloria and said I needed a new song. I told her what the scene would be about and she was so excited that two days later she had a version of the song (that she wrote with her talented daughter Emily). She left a message on my phone where she was singing some of the verse. Gloria Estefan was singing to me on my cell phone! I have to admit, I still haven't erased that message. 

How was your experience having a musical (The Bodyguard) on London's West End?

Heather Headley and
ensemble in The Bodyguard.
London is an incredible city with a theatre tradition steeped in history, so being there was a thrill for me. I have to admit that the process of mounting that musical was incredible frustrating for me. In the end, I was not 100% satisfied with what ended up on the stage. But that is part of the theatrical process as well. And I wouldn't trade that experience for anything. Not to mention I developed a love for ale, and got to work with two wonderful actors that I am still friends with today, the luminous Heather Headley and one of the finest actors and men I know in Lloyd Owen.

How did your collaboration with Gloria and Emilio Estefan come about for the On Your Feet! musical?Nick Scandalios of the Nederlander Organization had seen the first reading of The Bodyguard musical, which he admired. He approached me and asked if I would be interested in meeting the Estefans and talking to them about a musical based on their life and music. I said yes and flew down for a meeting in Miami. I honestly didn't think I wanted to take the job having just come off The Bodyguard, but Nick was very persuasive. And after a few hours with Gloria and Emilio I knew I wasn't going to be able to say no.

You are also one of the screenwriters of the critically acclaimed hit filmBirdman (directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu), which has been receiving a lot of awards buzz. I saw it, it is a magnificent picture. How did you get involved in this project?

Alejandro had read my play Still Life a while back and loved it. I met him and helped him with his early work on the early drafts of his film Biutiful.

When he first conceived of the idea for Birdman, he called me up and asked me if I would like to write it with him and his writers from Biutiful. I was excited by the insanity of the original idea and I said yes right away.

With Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), you worked with a Latino production, in that the director (Alejandro González Iñárritu), co-screenwriters (González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone and Armando Bó), cinematographer (Emmanuel Lubezki) and score composer (Antonio Sánchez) are all Latino. How was that collaboration?

Birdmanat left, flying, and
Michael Keaton in a scene
from Birdman.
Latino or not, the people you just named are some of the most talented people working in film today. Being able to sit on stage in the St. James Theatre on Broadway [where most of the film is set] and work through scenes with Alejandro and Chivo (Emmanuel Lubezki) was one of the most thrilling times in my career. They are working on a level of visual storytelling that is dizzying. This entire collaborative process (especially getting to know and work with my dear friend and writing partner Nicolás Giacobone) has been a joy from the start. That we are receiving kind words and some awards attention is just a bonus. Alejandro lead us down the rabbit hole and we survived. It will be a story I tell my daughters when they are older.

This time has been incredible for me. My mother is Cuban-Puerto Rican (maternal grandfather from Havana, maternal grandmother from Ponce). That I have been able to work on an enormous Latin musical and work with my Latin brothers on Birdmanhas been a blessing. Even now, I am talking with [filmmaker] Guillermo Del Toro as we hope to work on a new script together. My grandparents would have been very proud!

Do you have any advice for upcoming writers and directors (who just happen to be Latino) on how to succeed in this business of show?

I only have two pieces of advice. The first is, be thorough and be prepared. Keep learning about structure and form. It is absolutely the secret weapon for success in dramatic writing and I feel I owe my entire career to the fact that I never stopped reading and learning about form. 
My second bit of advice is stay true to your voice. Don't try to be or sound like anyone else. If Birdman proves anything, it is that the world and more specifically the audience is desperate for originality. The only way to be original is to stay true to your voice. Take chances. Make your characters do things that genuinely upset or embarrass you.

You will discover that when you are willing to do that, to lay it all on the line, to let it cost you everything, people will respond. I am very sure of that.

# # # #
Left to rightAlexander
Gutiérrez Iñárritu
Nicolás Giacobone.  
After running in London for two years, The Bodyguardmusical will embark on a tour of the United Kingdom in 2015, with future productions planned for Australia, Germany, East Asia and Broadway.

On Your Feet! is scheduled to premiere on Broadway in October 2015.

Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)leads all other motion pictures this year with seven Golden Globe Award nominations. Starring Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan, Emma Stone, and Naomi Watts it is currently playing in U.S. movie theaters.

For more information on Dinelaris, click here.

PRODUCTION TIPS: YOUR Calendar for the Documentary Film Grants, Fundsand Fellowships YOU Need in 2015

Will film scholars look back and consider this era the golden age of documentary filmmaking? Documentaries are all over the cinematic landscape from YouTube to Vimeo to TV to theater screens. Whether you like the genre or not, the ubiquity and power of documentary filmmaking can not be denied. Aside from educating audiences, spreading awaress or inspiring viewers, documentaries also open the doors for filmmakers looking to start a successful career. With a powerful message, a compelling vision and low-budget equipment, there is no reason to NOT shoot a great documentary. Ok, I realize you still need funding... but guess what, you can get that too. You just have to know where to look and when to apply. So, without further ado... Below is a list of Funds, Grants and Fellowships that cater primarily to the documentary filmmaker.  









* Links are listed under the month when the application deadline to submit a proposal is due.  Check each site for exact proposal deadlines.  This list is composed of funds and grants for documentary ideas and proposals.  If you know of other grants, funds or fellowships, email me and I will update the list. For an exhaustive list of programs and funds to apply for films in other stages of development, production and post-production, visit the PBS site and the IDFA site.

image above: Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One (William Greaves, 1968)

The COVID-19 “Get Back to Filmmaking” Checklist

The COVID-19 “Get Back to Filmmaking” Checklist A 40-point checklist from development to post-production   by Danny Jiminian