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One Woman's Legacy of Helping Filmmakers From the Heart

First Published as "One Woman’s Legacy of Helping Filmmakers From the Heart" on http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-1153310 CNN iReport

Carole Dean, President of From the Heart Productions and Filmmaker Robert Townsend.
From the Heart Productions
Carole Dean, President of From the Heart Productions.
From the Heart Productions

“The secret of crowd funding is to do it with others. But you have to find the others. And you have to rely on others….”

Carole Dean, President – From the Heart Productions

If you’re a filmmaker, you will often find that the creative process is typically interrupted by the need to seek funding for your project. This usually is an exhausting process that, hopefully, will lead to the financial support necessary for you to successfully share your creative vision with the world. If you are lucky, and have done your research, then you might land at the doorsteps of From the Heart Productions as a recipient of the Roy W. Dean Foundation Grant.

Carole Dean, President of From the Heart Productions, has lived a life which reads like a virtual Hollywood movie script. As a young girl, she grew up in Texas dreaming about movie stars, movies and Southern California. Those early dreams eventually led her to Hollywood, California.

One day, she found herself behind the scenes of a film shoot where she noticed a cameraman throwing away 400 feet of unused film. That moment changed her life forever. Armed with this knowledge, Dean figured out that the unused film (which she called short ends) could provide cash strapped independent filmmakers with affordable stock footage that they sorely needed. Prior to this, studios routinely threw the extra footage in the trash.

Dean borrowed $20 dollars and, despite much cajoling, convinced Columbia Pictures to sell her 3000 feet of unwanted film stock. That $20 dollar investment, along with the initial film stock purchases, resulted in her launching her first business – Studio, Film and Tape.

Although not known at the time, her actions spawned a niche market that led to the revolutionary expansion of the independent film industry. She began purchasing stock footage from television shows, features and other sources and resold it to film students and independent filmmakers. Legendary filmmakers like John Cassavetes, Roger Corman and others were able to follow their dreams and share their work with the world, thanks in part to Dean.

As the business grew, Dean asked her dad, Roy, who had retired, to relocate to Southern California to help run Studio, Film and Tape. She fondly remembers how he listened to clients and never tired of hearing a filmmaker’s passionate pitch about their latest project. She jokes about the filmmakers her dad would help like Jamaa Fanaka, who wrote, produced and directed the 1979 African-American feature film, “Penitentiary,” featuring Leon Isaac Kennedy.

She says, “Dad gave him the raw stock and said pay me when you can; and I’m the one running the business and collecting the money. I was looking at my accounts receivables, which were only well known Hollywood companies, and so I’m looking at Paramount, and this Jaama Fanaka appears and I asked, who’s this guy? Well, dad said, you know , he’s that guy I told you Carole is going to make that feature film, and I said, yes, don’t tell me you gave him this raw stock? Yea, I had too, because he has the crew, he has the camera; all he needed was the film. So, Jaama could charm the birds out of the trees. And, he certainly did with dad, and it was the right thing to do, because eventually he paid me and convinced Fox to process the film. Of course he couldn’t pay for it, so Fox gave him the editing equipment; they wouldn’t let him take it off the lot… but he was so smart, he edited the film himself, sold it from the lot and then came around and paid everybody.”

Dean further recalls how in those days deals used to be sealed with a handshake. She added, “I ran my business on a handshake. I got the exclusive Fuji distributorship for motion picture film for the entire United States on a handshake. Now, greed is so prevalent, we’re swimming with sharks! If you have a good idea you can’t breathe it to a soul.”

With locations in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles - Studio, Film and Tape went on to earn $15 million a year and grew into the largest reseller for Sony, Maxell, and Fuji tape stock in America. But, Dean had more things she wanted to accomplish and launched “From the Heart Productions.” Due to her interest in spirituality and alternative medicine, she produced “Health Styles” for cable television – featuring interviews with Deepak Chopra, Dr. Caroline Myss, Dr. Andrew Weil and others. Another of her shows, featuring filmmakers, is housed in the national archives.

Dean later sold Studio, Film and Tape to Edgewise Media in order to focus more time on helping filmmakers through From the Heart Productions. Dean said, “Filmmakers just want to hear some feedback and now they can’t get that from people. It’s sorely needed to a great writer who asks the question – What happens then? Or says; Oh, I was wondering about that. Or I didn’t get that? Somebody’s got to support these filmmakers that only need ten to fifteen thousand; no one wants them!”

Her dad passed away in 1992, and after hearing so many successful filmmakers express how their dreams would have never been realized without his generosity and the grants of film stock he provided to them and other struggling filmmakers, she better understood her beloved dad’s legacy and founded the Roy W. Dean Film Grant. The award honors him and recognizes those filmmakers whose projects are unique, make a contribution to society, and are at the beginning or in the middle stages of production and need assistance finishing it.

In addition, Dean became a best-selling author with her book “The Art of Film Funding,” and is a sought after authority on” film funding and crowd funding.” She has this advice for would be filmmakers seeking to raise capital: “I think the most important thing about crowd funding is the education, because too many filmmakers come into it thinking, oh, I’ve been raising money for years, I know how to do this. Well, no you don’t.

This is a whole new animal and you really have to slow down, read everything, learn what’s going on and recognize that this is all based on who you know and getting your material to go viral so who you know wants to send it to who you don’t know. The secret of crowd funding is to do it with others. But you have to find the others. And you have to rely on friends to find others and I’m sorry to say, everybody says that they’re ready, and their friends will be there for them, but quite often that doesn’t happen.”

You see much of the merit of Dean’s input with independent and documentary filmmakers when you view successful films like; Miss Navaho, A Girl & A Gun, BURNED, Shakespeare Behind Bars, American Chain Gang, Stolen, Kusama: The Polka Dot Princess, Women Behind the Camera, BAM 6.6 and others.

Dean believes that in today’s creative environment, there are not any organizations similar to hers that lend a true helping hand to struggling filmmakers and artist. She does have a partnership with Indiegogo and has raised more than $1 million working with fiscally sponsored films. Dean also recognizes Fractured Atlas, as one nonprofit that does a great job for creative projects.

The Roy W. Dean Foundation has become one of the most sought after film grants available. To date, it has supported over 38 grant recipients with more than $2,000,000 in donations and it supported independents long before Discovery, Bravo, National Geographic and other cable stations recognized documentary filmmakers.

These days Carole Dean donates much of her time and efforts to work with filmmakers. Her one on one consulting with grant recipients and her hands on approach with the grant process gives new meaning to mentoring. She embodies her dad’s nurturing legacy because, as she puts it, “everybody is a critic and everybody’s got something to say about what you should do, or how to fix this. But how many times do people say you’re really talented and I support you one-hundred percent!”?