“Pre-Nups” for Funders and Filmmakers

We asked Active Voice's Ellen Schneider for tips grantmakers ought to keep in mind as they consider funding a documentary film or other media project. Here’s her advice:

  • Your objectives. Ask yourself, why a film, as opposed to a different resource? Then start thinking early about what you’re seeking in terms of target audiences, budget, involvement of other funders, editorial control, and other matters. “That way, you can have a productive conversation with filmmakers.”
  • Your issue. Filmmakers may not grasp the needs of a funder who is mainly interested in a particular policy issue, rather than media more generally. “Help them understand your program, and it will go more smoothly.”
  • Contingencies. “Real-life stories rarely go as planned. That’s part of what makes documentary film so exciting, but it can be unnerving for funders who are laying out a lot of money and need to show outcomes.”
  • Public television. For a film to be eligible for broadcast on public television, the filmmaker must have complete editorial control. “The funder yields control in this case, but the film may now reach a huge audience.”
  • Put it in writing. Of course you trust each other, but issues like editorial control, the review process, ownership, and distribution should be addressed in a contract or MOU. For additional advice, case studies, and information on current foundation-supported initiatives, see www.activevoice.net.

Takeaways are critical, bite-sized resources either excerpted from our guides or written by Candid Learning for Funders using the guide's research data or themes post-publication. Attribution is given if the takeaway is a quotation.

This takeaway was derived from Communicating For Impact.