Funder FAQ: The Playboy Foundation

What is the Playboy Foundation?
The Playboy Foundation is not a foundation, but in fact an operating department and charitable giving program of Playboy Enterprises, Inc. (PEI).

Who makes up the Foundation?
The Playboy Foundation is governed by a board of directors made up of employees who are senior managers in the company, including the company Chairman and CEO Christie Hefner; the Foundation’s first executive director, Burton Joseph, who now serves as chairman of the board of directors; and its current executive director, Cleo Wilson.

When and why did the Playboy Foundation come into being?
As Playboy magazine rose in prominence in the late ’50s and early ’60s, its aims and outlook were given considerable comment in the press, particularly journals of social, philosophical, and religious opinion. Continually called upon to explain his editorial beliefs, Hugh Hefner decided to write the Playboy Philosophy, an analysis of the social and moral questions arising in a changing society.

The first installment appeared in Playboy’s ninth anniversary issue in December 1962 and ran to 25 installments, the last published in January 1966. The Philosophy caused many people to begin writing to the magazine. In 1965, in response to letters that the magazine had received from victims of draconian and antiquated laws, Hefner established the Playboy Foundation “to pursue, perpetuate, and promote the principals of freedom and democracy.”

The driving philosophy behind the Playboy Foundation is…?
fostering open communication about human sexuality, reproductive health and rights, protecting and fostering civil rights and civil liberties in the United States for all people, and protecting freedom of expression.

How has the funding climate for independent media changed since the Foundation’s inception?
We began providing grants for postproduction and distribution for documentary films in 1979. At that time, there were very few foundations awarding grants to media projects. Despite the power of film to serve as a catalyst for social change, some 20 years later there continues to be very few corporate or private foundations willing to support filmmakers.

What percentage of the Playboy Foundation’s overall budget goes towards individual film and video projects?
There is not a fixed percentage of the Playboy Foundation’s budget that goes towards media projects, so the amount fluctuates from year to year.

How many media awards are given out per year? What is the total dollar amount awarded annually?
On average, we award about 10-12 grants per year for a total of between $25,000 and $30,000 per year.

What is the average size of a grant?
Our grants are small, usually between $1,000 and $5,000. However, on occasion, the board of directors will find a film that closely fits our guidelines or approaches a subject in an especially innovative way and award a larger grant.

How many applications do you get on average per year?
It should come as no surprise that, since there are so few foundations awarding media grants, those of us that do are inundated with proposals. The Playboy Foundation receives between one and three grant proposals from filmmakers per week—up to 36 per year. That may not seem like much, but when you factor in that we also receive grant requests from other organizations involved in the issues we support, it can be daunting.

What are the restrictions on applicants’ qualifications?
Since the language of film is universal, there are no geographic or ethnic limitations. However, we only provide funding to documentary film and video projects.

Do you fund projects at various stages of production? Can individuals come back to you during these stages?
We only fund film and video projects in the postproduction stage. If a film is in postproduction for more than a year, the filmmaker can come back to us for funding, but only one grant per project is awarded in a calendar year.

What types of projects does the Playboy Foundation seek?
The Playboy Foundation funds issues. We look for documentary film and video projects that identify injustices and advocate for social and political change. We usually fund projects with small budgets. We don’t often support films with large budgets because those films traditionally can get money from other sources. Films with large budgets are usually made by very experienced filmmakers with a track record of getting backers or foundation support. Once in a while, however, the subject matter is so compelling, we award a grant anyway.

Name some of the best-known titles and/or artists you have funded. What have been some of the distribution paths of those projects?
Some films for which we have provided funding include: The Times of Harvey Milk (Rob Epstein and Kurt Schemiechen), An American Love Story (Jennifer Fox), Radium City (Carole Langer), Building Bombs (Mark Mori), Damned in the USA (Jonathan Stack), Jupiter’s Wife (Michel Negroponte), Paragraph 175 and The Celluloid Closet (both by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman), Out of the Past (Jeff Dupre), La Boda (Hanna Weyer), Nuyorican Dream (Laurie Collyer), The Girl Next Door (Christine Fugate), as well as many lesser known film and video titles. Some of these films have gone on to win festival awards, an Emmy, and even an Academy Award.

The Foundation awards their Freedom of Expression Award each year at the Sundance Film Festival to recognize an outstanding documentary and its maker. Describe this award and its purpose.
Concerned that great documentary films and videos were not being seen, the Playboy Foundation, in collaboration with the Sundance Institute, created the Freedom of Expression Award in 1989 to recognize the film that best investigates, educates and informs the public on an issue of social concern. In contrast to the awards for Directing, Excellence in Cinematog-raphy, Screenwriting, etc. where the awards are given for production values, style, etc., our award is the only prize that celebrates what a film is about—its content.

Sometimes the winner of the Freedom of Expression Award-winning film has won one of the other five major awards, but in most years, that has not been the case. The award has been given to video projects: Heart of the Matter, which follows one woman’s struggle with AIDS; When Billy Broke His Head . . . and Other Tales of Wonder, which follows Billy Golfus, who is both subject and co-director, as he and other disabled Americans come to terms with their physical disabilities; and Fear and Learning at Hoover Elementary, which explores the impact of California’s Proposition 187, which would eliminate education and health benefits for non-documented immigrants. The winner of the 2000 Freedom of Expression Award is Marc Singer’s Dark Days. No matter how great the subject matter, video projects traditionally have not won the other prizes. The Freedom of Expression changed that.

How is this award recipient decided?
The Playboy Foundation’s Freedom of Expression award winner(s) is selected (independently of all other award categories) by the Documentary Competition Jury of the Festival. The jurors specifically select a film for our award, just as they do for the other awards. Sometimes the jury can’t decide on one film and has awarded the prize to two films: In 1994, Dialogues with Madwomen and Heart of the Matter shared the award. Again in 1997, Fear and Learning in Hoover Elementary and Family Name won. Each year the winner(s) receive $5,000, in the case of a tie, they share the award.

Do you give awards at other film festivals?
We provide modest support in the form of direct grants to other film festivals in the cities in which we have offices, including the San Francisco Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, the Chicago International Film Festival, the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival and the New York Documentary Film Festival. We also support other festivals that dovetail with our mission: civil liberties and civil rights. In addition, we provide support to P.O.V.

Explain your funding cycle and deadlines.
We don’t have a funding cycle per se. We accept proposals on a continuing basis.

Since the foundation doesn’t have hard deadlines, what is the average turnaround time from when an applicant submits a proposal to when s/he finds out whether or not s/he received funding?
In most cases, a grantseeker can expect to hear back from us either way within a month with winners receiving the check following shortly thereafter.

Once the applicant receives funding, are there time-frame limitations within which the funds may be used? Can the same individual apply for funds two years in a row?
When we award a grant, we expect that it will be used in the calendar year in which it is received. If the project is not completed by the next calendar year, the applicant can reapply.

Who are the program officers for the media fund?
As a small corporate giving program, we have no program officers. The foundation is comprised of an executive director and a half-time assistant. This at times may mean that you don’t hear from us as soon as you would like, but we are open to receiving phone calls. But before you send your proposal, please note: we do not fund dramatic films, nor do we fund films in production. Your proposal should be short and to the point and include a rough-cut.

Applicants must apply through a fiscal sponsor. Do you have any insight or advice for working with a fiscal agent as an individual artist?
We do not fund individuals, so you must have a fiscal agent. A few of the agencies that we have worked with include the Film Arts Foundation, Women Make Movies, and Frameline Films. There are more, but check them out. Some filmmakers have set up their own 501(c)(3) organizations. A fiscal sponsor will require a percentage of the grant, so you want to find the agency that works best for you.

Who makes the awards decisions? Name a few of your past panelists?
As stated before, the executive director usually makes the decisions for media grants. However, in some cases when a larger grant (more than $5,000) is awarded, the Playboy Foundation’s board of directors makes those decisions. We have no outside panel.

In what situations have you awarded larger amounts?
In the case of Damned in the USA by Jonathan Stack, which examined censorship, the proposal came along at a time when the company was facing serious attempts at censorship from the religious right. In 1998, the Foundation board awarded $10,000 to Defending Everybody: A History of the American Civil Liberties Union. In these instances, it was the subject matter that led the board to its funding decision.

Tell us about your review process.
Our grantmaking process is fairly easy and straightforward. The executive director, who reads the proposal and watches the rough-cut, makes most decisions regarding media grants. For larger grants, the Board of Directors get involved: Christie Hefner, Chairman & CEO, Playboy Enterprises, Inc. (P.E.I.); Burton Joseph, Chairman, Board of Directors, Playboy Foundation; Richard Rosenzweig, Executive Vice-President, P.E.I.; Howard Shapiro, Executive Vice-President Law & Administration, P.E.I.; Cindy P. Rakowitz, Vice-President, Public Relations & Promotions, P.E.I.; David Walker, Editorial Director, International Publishing, P.E.I.; Jeffrey M. Jenest, Executive Vice-President, Playboy Entertainment Group; and James R. Petersen, Senior Staff Writer, Playboy Magazine. The only person on the board with real expertise in filmmaking is Jeffrey Jenest, Executive VP for the Playboy Entertainment Group, which produces adult programming for Playboy TV networks, DVD, and DTH. The rest of us are just film buffs.

What are the things you are thinking about when you are scanning a filmmaker’s proposal and are watching their rough cut?
First I look at the paperwork: Will the subject matter advance or promote the Foundation’s mission? What is the filmmaker’s experience in making films and raising money? Who are the other funders? Can the filmmaker raise enough money or find enough backers to see the project through to completion? What is the distribution plan? Who is its intended audience? Is there a fiscal sponsor? etc.

Then I sit down and look at the trailer or rough cut: How does it look? Does it do what the filmmaker intended? Will the Foundation be proud to have its name associated with the project? If the answers are in the affirmative to most of these questions, we usually award it a grant. I only compare one film to another when a project has been done before. Then I ask myself, what makes this one different or better?

What advice do you have for media artists in putting forth a strong application?
We are interested in a film’s content. A strong application includes a rough cut and a two- to three-page narrative, which includes a description of the project and film summary, a distribution plan and (the applicant’s) experience in filmmaking, along with the names and qualifications of people involved with the project. Of course, it should also include the project budget and other proposed funding sources. (Most times when a filmmaker comes to us, the completion funds are in place, and s/he needs $1,000-$5,000 for the soundtrack, mixing, travel funds for that last interview, or for an education brochure to accompany the film.) Proposals should also include the IRS letter from the fiscal sponsor.

What is the most common mistake applicants make?
Usually not doing enough up-front research to learn what type of media projects the Playboy Foundation funds. We get proposals from people who are making dramatic films or films that do not address an issue. If the applicant reads the guidelines and requests a list of past films we have funded, it should be clear.

What would people be most surprised to learn about the Foundation and/or its founders?
Most people are surprised to learn that we have a giving program at all. When I tell them that Hugh Hefner established it in 1965, they are even more surprised.

Other foundations or grantmaking organizations you admire and why.
I admire all the other foundations that have enough courage to fund media. They are serving as an example and making a difference.

What distinguishes the Playboy Foundation from other foundations?
I like to think that the Playboy Foundation serves a unique niche. Many of the projects we fund are small. Of course, we are happy when a film or video project we have supported wins awards, but that is not why we do it. We truly hope that the film will move people to question, to act—to make the world a better place.

Famous last words?
They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. Imagine the power of a moving picture. We can move mountains.

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