OPEN CALL: Inside the Minds of the Panelists

Posted on December 10, 2009

ITVS's Open Call funding initiative provides finishing funds to independent producers. Programs selected for funding are supported by ITVS's production team and broadcast on public television. For the past two days, the Open Call panel–made up of peers in the independent film and public media community–has been convening to recommend eight to ten projects for ITVS funding from a slate of 30 finalists. The individual identities of readers and panelists are not disclosed for each initiative, but below is a short Q&A with our current Open Call panel to give you some insight into their review and decision-making process. 

We asked them to answer the question, "What do you look for in a successful documentary proposal?" Here are their answers:

"I am always looking for stories that connect me to the awesome drudgery, romance and absurdity of modern life–that elusive factor known to fans of Stephen Colbert as “truthiness”–that makes documentaries spring to life and create change first in the mind and then in the world." – Public Media Professional 

"I think it is very important that the producer clearly explain why an audience will care and feel invested in their work. If someone who knows nothing about the subject matter ends up engaged and caring about the story after reading a treatment, then the project has a good chance for success." – Station Programmer 

"What I look for in a proposal is a great story premise, well-developed characters who go through some kind of transformation as the story progresses, and an appropriate (hopefully surprising and fresh) filmmaking style. The work-in-progress should showcase at least the main characters if it’s a character-driven piece. Or it should feature a couple of scenes or sequences that give us a sense of how the main themes in the project will be addressed, both content-wise and stylistically." – Independent Filmmaker

"What is the film about? Is it a story that takes me on a journey? Do I start in one place and end up in another? Do I learn something? Am I moved? Am I surprised? Can I see the story? Is the filmmaker remembering to be creative? Are the characters engaging? Do I care? Why is the filmmaker telling this story? Do I care? Does the filmmaker know their audience and have a plan for audience engagement before, during and post broadcast?" – Academic / Independent Filmmaker 

"For me a successful documentary proposal combines unique access into a world that we may not be familiar with, fascinating characters, and a story-driven transcendent arc that despite the subject matter can connect with a universal audience." –  Independent Filmmaker 

"A successful documentary proposal will have the story content, structure, style and approach clearly and visually articulated in the treatment. If it is confusing or missing elements, it will likely not be successful. I want to be able to see the film as I read the treatment. For the work-in-progress, I want to see complete scenes that show the filmmaker's prowess with documentary storytelling. If it is a complete rough cut, then I should be able to see the structure and style that was laid out in the treatment." –  Academic / Independent Filmmaker


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