Open Call

Get funding and support to complete your single nonfiction program for broadcast on public television—whether you’re an emerging filmmaker or a veteran producer.

The deadline for this round was July 26, 2019 11:59 PM PDT

The Application Process


Open Call has two funding rounds each year, with deadlines in February and July.

We’re looking for exceptional storytelling that’s in line with our mission: stories that take risks, tackle important issues, address the needs of underserved audiences, and are seldom seen in public media. We know how hard you’ve worked on your project, and we’ll partner with you to help you finish it, then distribute it on public television. 

Open Call gives independent producers up to $350,000 to complete production for a standalone broadcast length documentary to air on public television. The documentary can be on any subject, viewpoint or style (except live action drama or fiction) as long as it is in active production already, as evidenced via a work in progress sample. For pre-production nonfiction projects, see Diversity Development Fund or Digital Open Call. 

Open Call is not a grant. You will receive funding in the form of a production agreement that assigns ITVS certain rights over your project during the term of the contract. 

Be sure to allow sufficient time (2-4 weeks) to complete the application. ITVS has adopted the Documentary Core standards for our funding applications. Much of the Open Call application has been aligned with this model, however, there is some additional information required to complete the application as ITVS funds documentaries for public television. 

Since 1991, we’ve funded 533 Open Call programs, including:

Minding the Gap

Two Gods

Harvest Season

Out of State


Who We Fund

Open Call supports:

  • Single, non-fiction projects of standard broadcast length (26:40, 56:40, or 86:40) that aren’t intended solely for theatrical release.

  • Broadcast distribution for feature length programs on public television are very limited. ITVS may require you to deliver a one hour (56:40) version of your program

  • Works in progress.

  • Programs that can be completed within one year of contract.

What to Expect

Review Process

After you submit your application, you will receive notification of your status within 12-15 weeks. If you are among a small group of finalists who advance through a series of peer reviews, you will be asked to submit additional materials for a feasibility review. 

Decisions are final and may not be appealed. However unsuccessful applicants are welcome to apply again in the future. Due to staff capacity, reviewer feedback will only be provided to those applicants that make it to Panel Review or based on staff capacity for those applicants from Phase One.

Production and Distribution 

ITVS doesn’t just fund your film. We provide you with creative development and feedback, and, depending on the broadcast outlet, with marketing, publicity, and audience engagement services. You own copyright and maintain full editorial, creative, and financial control.

Funded projects will be expected to acknowledge the production support from ITVS in all program and publicity materials; cooperate with ITVS’ publicity protocols; provide timely information to ITVS about project activities, including notification of and request for approval of any major changes to the project; and submit contract deliverables, including final financial reporting at the conclusion of the project. Failure to submit the final financials will preclude applicants from eligibility to apply for future funding. 

When your program is at or near completion, we offer it to and work closely with public television programmers across the U.S. to secure a sublicense of public television broadcast rights and ensure the broadcast of your program. ITVS will enter into a license agreement for exclusive domestic television rights. 

Most ITVS-funded programs air on PBS series such as Independent Lens, POV, American Masters, and FRONTLINE. Our programs also have success in the festival, educational video, home video, and foreign broadcast markets. 


You are eligible to apply if you are:

  • The owner of the copyright of your production and maintain editorial control of the story.
  • Not employed as a producer or director by a broadcast entity or film studio.
  • Someone with previous film or television production experience in a principal role: director, co-director, producer, co-producer or first-time filmmakers with an experienced producer attached to the project. Student work won’t be reviewed.
  • Applying to only this ITVS funding initiative at this time – we won’t review projects already under consideration for other ITVS funding.
  • A citizen or legal resident of the U.S. or its external territories age 18 or older.
  • Individuals can only submit one application per round, as either an applicant or co-applicant. However, an applicant can be a member of the key creative personnel on multiple projects.

  • Only production activities that support completion and delivery of a program for broadcast are eligible for funding.

  • Your project is in production or post-production. Projects that are early in production may not be as competitive unless you have demonstrated access, strong storytelling in your treatment and work sample, and an urgency to the story. 

You are not eligible to apply if you are: 

  • A Student.
  • Current signatories of ITVS production contracts who have not completed delivery
  • Producers representing foreign-based production entities
  • Persons regularly employed as producers/directors by a public or commercial broadcast entity, including public access stations.
  • Organizations including universities, foundations, and nonprofit organizations.
  • Your project is too advanced (e.g. at Fine Cut or festival submission cut).
  • Programs that have been previously broadcast, or distributed publicly (including theatrical, festivals, educational, community screenings or online platforms). 


Tuesday, June 25th at 1 pm PT - What Makes a Good WIP?

What makes a competitive work-in-progress sample for Open Call? Learn what we're looking for, and hear from filmmakers whose projects were recently funded by ITVS. The panelists will show selects from their works-in-progress and discuss their editing process. Presented by Jannette Bivona, Initiatives and Field Relations Manager.

RSVP here.

Tuesday, July 9th at 1 pm PT - Budgeting 101

Hear from ITVS about basic budgeting: from workflow guidelines to building a realistic budget that will get your film finished on time and pay everyone an equitable salary. Presented by David Eisenberg, Sr. Director of Production. 

RSVP here.