Diversity Development Fund: An Inside Look at the Submission Process

Posted on August 5, 2013

Programming Manager N’Jeri Eaton hosted an informative live chat last Thursday to answer any submission questions for the Diversity Development Fund. ITVS will be accepting applications through Friday, August 16, 2013.


While the chat has come and gone, check out the archived conversation below for helpful submission tips and insights. The original chat can be viewed here.

N'Jeri: Hi everyone. Thanks for joining us. Looks like we have a small group today. But that just means more time for you to get all of your pressing questions in. My name is N'Jeri Eaton and I'm a programming manager here at ITVS. 

Hakeem: Hello! 

N'Jeri: I manage the Diversity Development Fund. The deadline for the fund is Friday, August 16th at 5pm PT. We're also going digital for the first time this year. So please make sure to check our site and read about our new online application process.

Queen: Hello and thanks! 

N'Jeri: So, please submit any questions that you have about DDF. 

Gillian: Can I apply even if I have no previous film experience? 

Hakeem: My prior work is commercial and Music video, will that play a determining factor? 

N'Jeri: We do require that our applicants have experience as either a producer or director on a completed project. However, it could be on anything from a student film, commercials or a film. 

Hakeem: I do have a film I directed but it was in 2003... and it was not my best work. I have evolved...lol 

Gillian: OK. Are there funding programs for brand new filmmakers? 

N'Jeri: If you do not have film experience then I suggest partnering with a producer who does have experience. 

Queen: Ok great because a lot of my prior work is commercials and music videos but I am submitting the app for a documentary film 

N'Jeri: Gillian, I don't know of any. 

N'Jeri: Hakeem, that's fine. We mostly just want to know that you have the ability to complete a project. We have lots of applicants who have film backgrounds that aren't documentary related. It's great to see new perspectives. Hakeem, that won't be a determining factor as long as you can prove in your written materials that you have a great story and know what it takes to bring it to the screen. 

Alexandra Cantin: Hello. How do I submit a work in progress video? 

Aggie: N'jeri - what makes for a strong application? Do we need to have our entire crew lined up before submitting? Or can we be requesting funds for R&D? 

N'Jeri: Because DDF is a fund for research and development, we do not require you to submit any video footage. However, if you have some footage already shot, including research footage, I would love to see it. Hi Aggie, you do not need your entire crew lined up before submitting. But it is good to know who you do have on your team already. Or who you are in talks with or would like to collaborate with once funding comes in 

Anonymous VM94: Are you only looking for stories about diverse communities? 

Queen: How would I give an estimate for a Producing Staff Script Development Writing Staff.... I am not familiar with this... 

N'Jeri: With DDF, you are requesting funds for R&D only. As for what makes a strong application, you want to prove that you have a sense of the story and access to the characters you need to tell the story… or at least a plan to get that access. You also want to make sure that the film fits the ITVS mission. You can find the ITVS mission on our website. 

Hakeem: What is DDF? 

N'Jeri: With DDF, we're looking to fund diverse producers but the stories do not necessarily need to be diverse. 

Hakeem: How many applicants submit with trailer? 

Anonymous VM94: Can I have a co-applicant on my project? 

N'Jeri: Although, that is a part of our mission, telling stories of underrepresented communities. We don't like to give hard numbers. What I always suggest is to talk with other producers and get a sense of what you should budget for. This can also depend on who you hire, what their experience level is, and even where they live. That being said, we want to make sure that the $15k we give for R&D is wisely spent. So don't give 50% of your budget to a producer. 

Anonymous VM94: What if I have an idea for a story but I don’t have characters selected yet? Do I need to know who my characters are before I apply? 

Queen: Would my budget estimate determine how much funding I receive? Or is $15000 a set number? 

N'Jeri: DDF stands for Diversity Development Fund. The fund provides research and development funding to producers of color. We are entering our 8th year. When you submit a budget, you should be showing how you will spend the $15k in DDF funds. Of course, the development phase can be more expensive. But we want to see what you'll hope to accomplish with our funding. 

Anonymous VM94: Can I apply with a series?

 N'Jeri: If you have an idea for a story but don't have the characters yet, then you can use stand-in characters in the treatment based on your research. So if you're making a film about a juvenile detention facility but you don't know who the youth in the film will be yet until you start shooting, then we at least want to get a sense from you that you know what type of youth you'll encounter. Or who you'll need to tell your story.

TMcMahon: I know DDF seeks to serve underrepresented communities. Does this mean across various categories (ethnicity, age, political affiliation, location, etc.)? Are there specific categories ITVS believes are currently underrepresented and wants to focus on? 

N'Jeri: But having characters beforehand definitely makes your project more competitive. Not having them won't be a deal breaker. 

Anonymous VM94: Can I have feedback on my proposal?

 N'Jeri: Again, with DDF, we just want to fund producers of color but the films can be about anything as long as it meets our mission. And presenting stories from underrepresented communities is just one part of our mission. 

Aggie: N'jeri - is there any way we can get a transcript of this conversation after the fact? The info about how to write characters into our treatments is extremely helpful. 

N'Jeri: You can read more about our mission here: http://itvs.org/about

Hakeem: Could acquiring archival footage, and or music licensing be part of this funding. I'm trying to get a particular song from Beyonce... JK 

N'Jeri: DDF review is divided into two phases. If your project gets to the second phase, then I will provide feedback. 

Queen: Does the timeline I provide have to be set in stone? Or is it an estimate or a goal date? 

N'Jeri: We received too many proposals in the first phase to give feedback to everyone, unfortunately.

Aggie: Can you give us a sense of percentage of projects that make it to 2nd phase?

N'Jeri: Yes, I will make sure that the archive of this chat is posted on our blog.

N'Jeri: It is an estimate. This is the R&D phase and we recognize that things can change quickly. We also just want to support you to come out of this development phase with the strongest materials possible. And if that means extending the timeline, then that's fine. I can give you some numbers based on last year. Last year we received about 120 applications. We brought 30 projects to the finalist stage. We ultimately funded 10 projects. So we fund about 10% of the applicants.

Anonymous 5QEZ: What's been your most successful DDF film?

Anonymous VM94: What are the most common mistakes that applicants make?

Aggie: Is one of the selection criteria finding projects that ITVS can envision will make it to public television eventually?

Anonymous ZRZQ: Hi N'Jeri, can I submit multiple proposals?

N'Jeri: Haha! Yeah, our little funding wouldn't make a dent on a Beyonce song. But you can include archival footage costs in your budget. Just not the costs for the masters. You can only submit one application to any ITVS initiative at a time. Yes. Our goal with DDF is to bring new and diverse voices to public television. So if you receive funding from DDF, you are making the commitment to broadcast your film on public television.

Aggie: Do any films go through DDF that don't end up being completed or broadcast?

N'Jeri: If you were to go on to receive production funding from ITVS, then we would acquire the U.S. broadcast rights of your film for public television. This is a really good question. 

Hakeem: Can the funding be applied to travel expenses I’ve already spent for the film?

N'Jeri: Make sure to read eligibility requirements.

Queen: If I receive funding, Will i still have rights to distribute my film after it is selected for public broadcasting?

N'Jeri: Also, DDF only funds single documentaries. We do not fund series. But we have multiple people who apply with series every year. Funding can only be used for R&D development activities moving forward. The funding can't be used to reimburse for past shoots or deferred payments. We only acquire the U.S. broadcast rights. You retain all of the other rights: home video, education, international broadcast, etc. That's hard to define. I consider every film that gets completed, whether it's through production funding from ITVS or another source, to be successful.

Aggie: If we receive DDF and the idea is that the film should make its way to public television, will ITVS also more easily provide future support to get the film to finishing stages?

N'Jeri: But I will say that in the next season of Independent Lens, we have several DDF alums premiering their films, including The Waiting Room and Marthas.

Anonymous VM94: How long is the review process?

Anonymous I4CD: If my project is funded, do I get any other kind of support from you? Besides financially?

Hakeem: Why is there a paused video on the left side...over there?

N'Jeri: Yes, but that is the nature of the industry. Sometimes it's because, for one reason or another, a film doesn't make it out of development phase. And sometimes it's because fundraising can be a very long and difficult process.

Anonymous ZRZQ: Is there a website we can visit to see past DDF recipients?

N'Jeri: But I will say that if you get production funding from ITVS, we have a Broadcast and Distribution team here that has found a home for every film we've ever funded.

N'Jeri: The review process is about 3 months. If you become a finalist, you will be notified about the funding decision by mid to late October. 1 This is just a few of the previously funded DDF projects that then went on to receive production funding: http://itvs.org/funding/ddf/criteria

Alexandra Cantin: Do you provide feedback for the projects that do not get accepted?

N'Jeri: It hasn't been updated in a while. But additional films include The Waiting Room, Marthas, Reportero, Black Kungfu Experience, and More Than a Month. If a project is a finalist, then we do provide feedback.

Anonymous VM94: What if I've already started production, am I still eligible?

N'Jeri: If your project is funded then we work very closely with each other over a six-month period. I provide feedback on treatments and work-in-progress samples.

Queen: On the questionnaire where it asked for other funders... does this mean other organizations similar to this or could this also mean private funding or fundraisers?

N'Jeri: I also organize webinars. We had one several months ago with the head of the film program from Kickstarter. It was a Crowdfunding 101 webinar. Last year, I also organized a webinar with the DDF producers and a representative from each of the minority consortia. But I'm basically here as a source of support. Whatever questions or help the filmmakers need, I try to provide. Even if it's just a ear to rant to when another funder or a character is being unreasonable. It just means any person or organization that has provided funding.

Anonymous I4CD: Does it include my own $ I've put into the project?

N'Jeri: We don't need the names of individual donors though. You can just put Private Donations, $_____. Yes, you can include that as Producer's Cash Receiving finishing funds for a project is never easy. But it definitely helps if you have received DDF funding. It means that we had an interest in the project early on. And we want to fund DDF projects. However, that's not a guarantee. We ultimately want to fund projects that really strong.

Anonymous I4CD: If I applied in the past and didn't get chosen, is it worth applying again?

N'Jeri: We allow projects who are in early production. But we judge it on a case-by-case basis.

Hakeem: We were successful at raising our goal in two weeks on a crowdfunding site (not Kickstarter). Does this need to be disclosed with each donor or the final goal... which is now public info. I hope that question makes sense.

N'Jeri: Sometimes people say they are in production but it's really early on and their treatment and story need more development.

Aggie: If we dont' have additional funding support at the current moment, will that count against us?

Anonymous VM94: Can I apply to Open Call if I have an open DDF contract?

N'Jeri: Yes, but only if there has been some development in your project. Either you’ve been able to do more research or your story is more fleshed out. Or you've added a new character. We want to see some growth. You can still apply if you feel like your project hasn't had much growth. No, you can only have one contract open at a time. But, we have structured DDF so that your contract ends in time to apply for the next round of Open Call. Hakeem, I think you're asking if you should say that you raised a certain amount off a crowdfunding site. If so, yes. That's helpful for us because it shows that there is public interest in your film. Absolutely not. This is for R&D funding so we recognize that you may not have other funding yet. And the reality is that fewer organizations are funding R&D. But I'm amazed at how people are able to work around that and get their films made. With Ovee, you need to have a video uploaded in order to chat. It's just a tease. Sorry.

Anonymous VM94: Do I need to apply with an hour? Or can I apply with a proposal for a short?

Hakeem: By the way this is the best Q&A I’ve every participated in. You don’t have to approve this. I really thank you. Even if we are not a finalist... it helps us to put our project better in prospective. Thank you. You will hear more from me... please give a brother a chance. lol.

N'Jeri: You can't apply with a series. However, we do have the Series and Special Projects Initiative. We accept applications for limited series there. You can read more here: http://itvs.org/funding/series-and-special-projects

Alexandra Cantin: What are you looking for in written materials?

N'Jeri: You can apply with an hour or a half hour short. We don't accept shorts at anything less than 30 minutes because it would be too hard to program. By the way, PBS programmers love shorts! I approved it anyway! Thanks for your kind words, Hakeem.

Aggie: N'jeri - how do you suggest we best determine whether our film will work best as a short or faeture? If we are in R&D, it seems that that answer will sort of emerge through the process...

N'Jeri: If you find that you have more questions, please feel free to email me at njeri_eaton@itvs.org That's a really good question. First, let me clarify that at ITVS, we consider a feature to be 90 min and a short to be 30 min and that is a huge difference. But filmmakers often ask whether a film would be better as a feature or an hour or an hour vs a half hour.

Anonymous VM94: Does it need to be 100% documentary? I'm planning sort of a hybrid fiction/doc.

N'Jeri: For DDF, we only contract films at an hour. If you find through the R&D process that your film would be better at a different length, then that's fine. We won't hold you to that hour. So when you apply for production funding, it can be at any length. But if you want to make a feature, you want to make sure that the material warrants that length. Is the story strong enough? Will it keep an audience's attention at that length? Because those are the questions we ask ourselves when reviewing projects.

Queen: So you will accept feature films for DDF funding 90 mins? Will I get a better chance at funding staying within an hour?

N'Jeri: It does need to be a documentary. That being said, we are really interested in innovative story techniques, especially with the trend of incorporating more narrative elements into documentaries (i.e. The Informant). You should still submit but be clear about what you mean about a hybrid doc. You should still submit as a feature if you feel strongly about that length. With DDF, we do not allow co-applicants. But please include that person as member of your team. I would say about 15% of applicants submit with a trailer. Again, this is for R&D funding so many applicants aren't at that point yet.

N'Jeri: Alright, it's 12pm so it is time to wrap things up. Thanks so much for joining me. Again, if you have any additional questions (and I'm sure you will) then please email me at njeri_eaton@itvs.org And check out our blog in the next couple of days. I'll make sure the archive of this chat gets posted.


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