Short Film Application Instructions

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The Rooftop Films Filmmakers Fund Short Film Grants

Only filmmakers who have screened a movie during the Rooftop Films Summer Series are eligible to apply for our grants.

Applications for the 2020 Filmmakers Fund will open in September.

Rooftop Films sets aside $1 from every ticket sold and every submission fee received and gives it to alumni filmmakers in the form of grants for their film productions. Only filmmakers who have screened a movie at Rooftop Films’ festival are eligible for grants. We also grant additional cash in partnership with The Adrienne Shelly Foundation, and production, equipment, and educational services courtesy of our partners Rooftop Films Downtown Community Television and Elkind Lighting & Camera. Annually, Rooftop Films will award nearly $200,000 in cash and service grants to help alumni filmmakers to produce and promote their next short or feature film. We have four grants for artists making short films (under 59 minutes).

If you would like to apply for a Feature Film grant, you are on the wrong page! Click here for information on the Feature Film Grants.

First Step: Let us know you’re interested

If you are an eligible filmmaker and plan on applying, please RSVP as soon as possible by clicking on this link and filling out a simple form. This way we can gauge how many applicants to expect and will know to look for your application, lest it get lost in some way. Read more about how to apply.

About the Grants


For the Rooftop Filmmakers’ Fund Short Film Grant, we will award grants ranging from $500-3,000 to male and female filmmakers. We will give grants to 3-6 projects.


The Adrienne Shelly Foundation will award one $3,000 grant to a female director.

About ASF: The Adrienne Shelly Foundation is a 501c3 non-profit organization dedicated in loving memory to the uniquely gifted actor and filmmaker Adrienne Shelly, whose highly accomplished life was tragically cut short November 1, 2006. ASF supports the artistic achievements of female actors, writers and directors through a series of scholarships and grants, providing recipients with financial support and consultative access to the Foundation’s advisory board of actors, directors, producers, composers, law, publicity, academic and trade professionals. Reflecting Adrienne’s spirit, generosity, courage and whimsy, its goal is to recognize the passion and commitment of women artists in creating their work, and provide them with support and guidance during periods of transition and struggle.

The Rooftop Films Elkind Lighting & Camera Documentary Grant

Elkind Lighting and Camera will provide cameras and equipment for a documentary short or feature. (Valued at $5,000)

About Elkind Lighting and Camera: Elkind Lighting and Camera takes pride in putting together the lightest, tightest, and brightest packages around for use locally and worldwide.  We also do red camera packages with Leica and Zeiss primes and Canon Zooms.


About the grant: DCTV will provide $5,000 credits to two separate filmmakers for DCTV equipment, services or classes. Available gear includes cameras, lights, sound recording.

About DCTV: Founded in 1972, DCTV is an established media arts resource for NYC’s independent filmmaking community. DCTV provides affordable workshops, production equipment rentals, post-production facilities, a signature screening series, renowned youth programming, and more – all under the same roof as its award-winning documentary production house. DCTV Equipment Rentals is one of the only rental houses that does not require production insurance and is open 7 days a week, striving to make otherwise expensive pro camera, lighting and audio gear accessible. DCTV Workshops provide over 200 hands-on workshops in video production, post-production, producing, and graphic & web design each year, taught by industry professionals in an intimate and interactive environment.

The Kayla Thomas Filmmaker Grant

To be awarded to one or more Rooftop Films alumni filmmakers to help them to complete a short film that communicates the power of hope, collaboration and togetherness to make positive change. This grant is in commemoration of our dear friend and teammate Kayla Thomas. Each year when we award this grant we will be reminded of her and of how she made our lives more beautiful and helped us to create special moments. She made our burdens lighter and this grant is one small way in which we can emulate her and do the same for others. As we were creating this grant we knew we wanted to help new films get made, and particularly to support films that we thought would make Kayla happy.

How to Apply:

  • If you plan on applying, please fill out this quick RSVP form, so we know how many applications we might be expecting and we can keep an eye out for your application.
  • Complete the online Short Film Grant Application Form. The form is the same for each of the short film grants.
  • If you are applying with more than one film, fill out a separate application for each film.
  • Download budget form for the Rooftop Filmmakers’ Fund Short Film Grants. Applicants outside the U.S. may need to request the form by email if the download malfunctions, we are working to fix this issue!  
  • You are also welcome and encouraged to send footage, rough cuts, fine cuts, etc. in any format. Online links are preferred (password protection is acceptable). Please include a link and password in your application form.
  • You cannot edit the application form once you submit. We strongly recommend you fill out a copy of your application in a separate document and save that for reference.
  • The application for male and female filmmakers is the same. Female filmmakers will be automatically eligible for all grants. Male filmmakers are not eligible for the Adrienne Shelly Foundation Grant.
  • Rooftop Films has opted into the Documentary Core Application. Fiction and non-fiction films of any genre or category can apply using these application form pages, but to make the application process as convenient as possible for all filmmakers, we have updated our application questions to comply with the Documentary Core Application guidelines. Learn more.


    • Applications must be received by 11:59 pm on November 4, 2019.
    • Applicants notified: no later than December 31, 2019.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Who is eligible to apply?
Only filmmakers who directed or co-directed a film that has already screened at a Rooftop Films event are eligible to apply. Alumni filmmakers can only apply for a grant if they are director or co-director on the film for which they are applying.

I was the producer or writer on a film that screened at Rooftop. Am I eligible to apply?
No. Only directors who had their work screened are eligible to apply as directors. We appreciate that film is a collaborative medium, and respect the contributions of all the collaborators but with over 2,500 directors who have now screened at Rooftop Films we must limit the grant eligibility to that pool. In this way, we can more clearly judge the director’s vision for the new film.

I am Rooftop alumni director and I am the producer but not the director for an upcoming film. Am I eligible to apply?
No. Alumni filmmakers can only apply for films that they are directing or co-directing.

I do not know when my upcoming film will be completed. Can I still apply?
Yes. But we are more likely to award grants to films that have a relatively clear timeline for production.

Can I apply with more than one project?
Yes. Keep in mind, the panel wants to know that with any film we are considering supporting that the filmmaker is completely committed to making the film and will stop at nothing to get it made. If you have more than one project going you should convince us that each film will get made. If you apply with more than one project, you must fill out separate applications for each film.

Can I apply again with the same film if I didn’t receive funding the previous year, or if I did receive funding?
Yes and yes. Many of the films we have funded were films that had applied in multiple years.

What are my obligations to Rooftop Films if I am awarded a grant?
The answer varies a bit depending on which grant you receive, but for most grants the minimum requirements are:

  • You must agree to give Rooftop Films the option of screening your film in a public screening within 12 months of your world premiere and prior to a theatrical release of the film, unless otherwise mutually agreed.
  • You must include thanks and acknowledgment to Rooftop Films and any associated sponsors in the credits of your film and on your film website.
  • The filmmaker must produce the film as outlined.

When is the next set of deadlines?
In general, the application is open in the fall of each year, with a deadline in late autumn and grants awarded in December. Check back closer to those dates for specific details from year to year. Also, if you are an alumni filmmaker, make sure you are on our filmmakers email list for updates.

Do I have to submit a video sample or still images? If so, what is the best material to submit?
It is not required to submit a video sample but if you have a video sample or still images, we recommend you submit them. We know there is often a fear of showing incomplete work but usually something concrete and visual is more enticing than a text description. We are accustomed to looking at works-in-progress.

To give the most complete picture of your film, we recommend you submit three work samples in two or three video links:

  • a trailer (2 minutes), to show the emotional and visual spark of the film
  • representative scene (5 minutes), to show what the film is like
  • a rough cut, to show the entirety of the story and scope of the film

If you do not have any or all of these elements, that’s ok! Many filmmakers have received grants before they shoot or edit. If you do have live footage, please submit it. If you don’t, we recommend submitting a look book, a series of stills or sketches, or something else that visually represents your film.

What kind of films does Rooftop Films fund?
We are open to any genre or type of film. In choosing our grantees, we are biased toward the following:

  • People who we can be confident will actually produce another movie with these resources.
  • People who do not have access to other resources.
  • People who use money and materials sparingly and wisely.
  • Films that are daring, unique, intelligent, soulful, honest, and brilliant.
  • Films of any and all genres which operate outside mainstream film traditions and aesthetics.
  • Films with women and people of color in primary production roles.
  • Films that are socially responsible. Whether documentaries or fiction, drama or comedy, experimental or animation, we admire films that are thoughtful, well-researched, well-reasoned and that actively seek to change our world for the better.
  • We are more likely to fund films for which this grant will have a large impact. That is, we are more likely to fund $3,000 of a $3,000 total budget than $3,000 of a $30,000 total budget. (Though we will provide funds for bigger budget films, too.)
  • We are more likely to fund films where there is thought to how the film will be used in the world in coordination with a community engagement campaign and/or ongoing efforts for social justice.
  • We are also more likely to fund films that make the most of their resources and community. For instance, we are more likely to fund the salary of a DP who is donating use of his own 16mm camera than we are likely to fund the rental of a 16mm camera from a corporate rental house. We are also more likely to fund the purchase or fabrication of materials that you will be able to use again, instead of a one-time rental.

These are not requirements, just qualities we value. We fund many films that do not fall into those categories, from comedies to experimental films, films with big budgets and small, and films by all types of people. If it’s a moving picture by our alumni and it’s going to be great, we want to support it!

Additional Tips

  • We need to be convinced that you will make this film as it as presented and in a timely fashion. If you can provide a production schedule and convincing reasons as to why you will adhere to it, that’s great.
  • We often fund specific line items in your budget, so the more specific you can be, the better.
  • We will fund any element of pre-production, production or post-production.

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Grant-writing Questions and Advice:

What is the best way to answer the question “How will you make use of our grants”?
Be specific and know exactly what each grant provides. In each case, tell us why and how the grant will improve your film.

  • For the short film cash grants, this is very straightforward and the funds are unrestricted so long as they pertain to the production or post-production of the film.  We will not fund marketing or distribution but we can pay you back for sunk costs on a nearly complete movie.
  • For the DCTV short film equipment and services grant, DCTV has a wide array of ways to help the independent filmmaker. Visit and see if you can make use of their camera and audio gear, their post facilities, their classes, their space, and more.
  • Rooftop Films Elkind Lighting & Camera Documentary Grant will provide cameras and equipment for a documentary short or feature. (Valued at $5,000). The package will be based on a list of possible kits: BBS Flyer Kit, Litegear Ribbon Light Kit, Westcott Flex 4 Light KitLitemat 2L S2 KitJoker 800 Kit, Joker 400 Kit, Joker 200 Kit, Arri 4 Light Kit, or the Set Kit/Grip/Miscellaneous Kit.

What’s the best way to answer the question, “Tell us about the film you are making – what is the plot, what will we see on screen?
400-800 words for this section is a good length to aim for. Be literal: This scene, then this scene, then this scene, and then the finale. An outline format works (but do keep it dramatic and emotional).

When writing a narrative, from scene to scene, always think in terms of “so therefore.” For example, don’t write, “Mark rings the doorbell but no one answers. Then Mark walks across the bridge.” Instead, write, “Mark desperately rings the doorbell over and over, but no one answers. So therefore, feeling alone and dejected, Mark shuffles to the bridge.”

Don’t tell us back story or character history if it isn’t going to be in the movie. Don’t tell us, “Mark has been lonely ever since his parents died when he was 13” unless you have some way of conveying that on screen. Such as: “Mark visits a graveyard, laying flowers on stones marked “Beloved Mother and Father,” the death dates now in the distant past. His head down, he passes a parade without thinking to celebrate and returns to his sparse apartment to check his email: nothing.”

We do not want teasers, cliffhangers, mysteries, open-ended questions, etc. We want to know what happens. The sort of synopsis which takes us right up to the point where the story makes its decisive turns is great for press releases but not right when you’re seeking funding. Although Rooftop’s role in getting this film made may be relatively small, in many ways we are like producers and we want to know exactly what we’re getting. So tell us point by point what happens in your whole story.

What’s the best way to answer the question, “Tell us about the film you are making — what is your artistic vision, what is the significance of the film?”
This question is pretty open-ended but here you can tell us about what drew you to the subject matter, what passion you have for it, and why you think other people will care. You can also tell us about the tone and the style of the film. If you would like to reference other films, your own or those of others, that can be helpful. The grant panel will have seen your other work, so saying whether it will be similar or dissimilar to what you’ve previously done can be a useful comparison.

What is the best way to answer the questions about our production and post-production plan, schedule and needs?

Tell us your timeline, as specific as possible. Tell us about your collaborators, briefly. (We don’t need bios, just that an editor is on board, or a DOP, or whatever is crucial). Most importantly, relate your answer to the grants for which you are applying. If you are seeking a cash grant, what will the cash be spent on? If you are seeking an equipment or service grant, how will the grant serve your project specifically?

I am making a fiction film using an improvisational technique, so I can’t provide the story yet – or -– I am making a non-fiction film using an observational technique, so I can’t provide the story yet . . . so how can I best tell you about the film I am making?
If making fiction based on improv, tell us the core story you have in mind, the feeling you’re trying to discover, the idea you’re exploring, or the tone you’re setting. Tell us what you are telling the actors to start them in the process and what do you do to take them from scene to scene? How will you build this improvisation? What will you shoot? Where will you be? What problems do you hope to tackle?

Similarly, if making non-fiction, tell us what drew you to this subject. What emotions, ideas, or stories? How do you hope to capture it? Through purely observational footage? With or without language? With voice over? With titles?  Will it be structured by a plot, or through a series of characters, or by different themes within the subject matter (ex. a section on health care law, then a section on the pharmaceutical industry), or by some over-arching structure (ex. “A day in the life of…”). You may not know exactly, yet, but how are you planning your shoots or approaching your editing process?

Need More Advice?

All filmmakers are encouraged to email or call 718-417-7362. When asking for advice, please focus on specific questions. We can only really advise how to make your application more clear and offer personal non-binding advice on the filmmaking. The piece of advice we most often give is to describe what we will see on screen more clearly. Due to time constraints, we can only provide one round of notes and cannot guarantee feedback in the final week before the deadline. Simple questions are welcome any time!

Selection Process:

The grants will be decided by a panel made up of Rooftop Films staff, founders and invited panelists, including staff from the Adrienne Shelly Foundation. There may be things we would want to see changed in the proposed project, or we may want to participate in the production in order to provide funding. If you are not comfortable with our suggestions, there will be an opportunity to tell us if a second round comes into play. There will likely be follow-up questions, but no formal second round of applications.

Payments and Reporting:

If you are awarded a grant, you will be expected to file one simple progress report and one simple completion report, which we will send to you at the appropriate times. You will need to sign a grant contract before receiving support. The key provisions are:

  • The filmmaker must produce the film as outlined, to the best of their ability.
  • The filmmaker must produce the film within 18 months of the grant award.
  • Funds and services will not allocated immediately, but for specific services as needed.
  • The filmmaker must allow Rooftop Films the right to screen the film within 12 months of the official world premiere, before theatrical or TV release and preferably before any New York screenings.

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Rooftop Films has opted into the Documentary Core Application. Fiction and non-fiction films of any genre or category can apply using these application form pages, but to make the application process as convenient as possible for all filmmakers, we have updated our application questions to comply with the Documentary Core Application guidelines. Learn more.

Good luck! We’re excited to hear about your films, and to help them get made and get screened on the roof.