Ask Programming: Seven Tips When Applying for Funding

Posted on February 24, 2010

ITVS programming staff answer questions from filmmakers about the funding process:

Q: How can I improve my chances of being successful in the Open Call? 
A. ITVS Programming staff recently contributed to an article for Shaking the Money Tree by Morrie Warshawski. Here are seven tips for producers when applying for funding from ITVS. 

1. Read the guidelines and application instructions thoroughly and follow them. This tip sounds so simple and one should assume that it goes without saying –– but like any instruction manual, it is essential to go over the guidelines very carefully and to follow them before filling out the application. Here are some other pieces of advice to keep in mind:

  • Submit the proposal online, and ALSO submit the paper and required (video) materials –– some applicants do not submit their hard copy proposals and video materials and then they are disqualified.
  • Deadlines are not flexible –– we need to receive them in the office by the deadline date or they will not be accepted.
  • Read the fine print on the guidelines and application. The ITVS award is not a grant, it is a contract agreement, thus certain requirements and deliverables must be accepted (because of FCC guidelines, your project must adhere to broadcast standards).
  • Do not submit extra materials –– letters of recommendation, graphics or illustrations, gifts or personal director statements are not required. The materials will be reviewed by staff and evaluators based on the required materials only.
  • Use 12-point font –– don’t try to cram everything in your treatment pages because of limited space. The evaluators appreciate clear writing and size 12 font is easier on the eyes.

2. Budget your project realistically. If you under-budget your project, that does not mean that you have a greater chance of being approved. If you over-budget your project, this will be taken into account and can jeopardize the approval. Each initiative has different budget thresholds and is indicated in the guidelines. For example, Open Call does not require an itemized budget in the first phase, but does require that you indicate the request amount and what money has been already raised. The average request for Open Call is between $80,000 and 250,000 for a one-hour documentary.

3. Tell your story in the treatment. Write a treatment, not a treatise. Tell a story, not history. Don’t list events or dwell on past events or context and history. Your treatment should include your vision and style as producer or director, as well as information and context to understand the story. Incorporate your passion into the treatment, but don’t resort to superlatives and empty market-speak to describe your project. Have someone else read your proposal before submitting –– if a colleague can’t understand your story, ITVS evaluators won’t either. 

4. Consider the ITVS mission and what the program will bring to public television –– look at the criteria and state in your application how they would apply to your film so that it would be an appropriate fit for ITVS. For example, discuss how the film would target an under-represented audience (minority communities, seniors, youth, physically, and mentally challenged), or how your film would be appropriate for those communities whether through access, personal or professional experience or research. Discuss how the story is untold and deserves attention, or what fresh perspectives you would give to a story that already seems to have been told. 

5. For the funding initiatives, remember that the process takes four to six months for a final response. Think about this timeline for your project –– if you are in production and will finish before the final recommendation in five months’ time, then in wouldn’t be appropriate to apply to Open Call. Urgent cases –– where timely events or subjects that are old or dying must be recorded immediately –– do not hasten funding or make a more compelling argument for greenlighting. 

6. Include samples that exemplify your best work, whether it is a past completed sample or a demo of your work in progress. Remember that evaluators will watch up to ten minutes of your current demo, so clearly indicate what you would like to present, whether it is a trailer, work-in-progress, scene selects or footage. 

7. Be open to feedback. ITVS offers feedback to applicants at different stages of the review process. Even if your application doesn't make it, you can always reapply. Interested in other tips? 

Learn more about Shaking the Money Tree >>

Want to know more about ITVS policies and procedures for funding? Read other recently asked questions from filmmakers >>


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