Funder FAQ: Film/Video Arts

What is Film/Video Arts?
We are a nonprofit media arts organization which has been around for 33 years. We provide production and postproduction equipment, fiscal sponsorship, plus youth and artist mentorship programs to our 1,200 members.

When and why did F/VA come into being?
F/VA was started by a group of educators to empower youth to tell their stories. Young Filmmakers, as we were then called, opened its office and facility on Rivington Street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and eventually evolved with the independent community into Film/Video Arts.

Who makes up the organization?
We have a staff of 10 full time, four part time, 25-30 freelance instructors, and 5-8 freelance editors.

The driving philosophy behind F/VA is…?
to provide services, workshops, equipment, and educational opportunities at affordable rates. To offer opportunities for people who traditionally have not had a voice to tell their stories.

What distinguishes F/VA from other media arts organizations?
Survival. We’re one of a very few nonprofits with a solid track record that, after more than 30 years, is still providing equipment, training, and resources to the community.

While you don’t offer traditional cash awards, you do provide assistance beyond mere funds: your Artist Mentorship Program and Fiscal Sponsorship. What is that?
This program pairs filmmakers of color with an artist in the field to work on the applicant’s specific project. We provide access to equipment, training, sometimes a cash stipend, plus a professional relationship with an accomplished filmmaker to assist on the project. Once the project has been completed, we present it via a public screening.

Who can apply for this program? Are there any restrictions?
At the moment we’re concentrating on emerging filmmakers of color who have some experience in the field. They need to demonstrate that they not only have vision but also that they know the craft of making a film and they can see it through to the end. There really are no restrictions except that if you apply and you live outside New York, you must be able to provide your own travel and accommodations if accepted.

What types of projects do you seek?
Any length and genre. The type really depends on the artist mentors we get. Sandi DuBowski’s Trembling Before G-d began through this program, as did Mema Spedolas Breasts: 22 Women on 41 Breasts which broadcast on Cinemax.

How do you find and choose these artist mentors?
We look for accomplished filmmakers who have demonstrated an ability and an interest in working with other people. Right now we have Jennifer Fox (An American Love Story) and Larry Banks (Blues Stories). Alex Rivera (Why Cybraceros?) is on the slate for fall 2001. We generally find people from the ranks of the F/VA family.

What must applicants provide?
Filmmakers must provide a profile of themselves and their background, a reel of past work, and a description of the project.

How are applications judged?
All submissions are judged by F/VA staff (Eileen Newman and Jon Thorne, head of education) as well as the mentors themselves. Out of 20-25 applications, six or seven are chosen for interviews, and three are selected. This happens twice a year. Generally we look at the candidate’s background and experience (we have to believe they can do what they say they’re going to do), how they describe their project, and the size of the project (that it’s feasible).

What are your deadlines for this program?
We offer this opportunity to three people in the spring and in the fall. The next deadline will be toward the end of the summer.

You also offer fiscal sponsorship. Can you define this in layman’s terms? Why is it a benefit to filmmakers to have a fiscal agent?
Fiscal sponsorship refers to a relationship between an artist and a non-profit organization. The organization takes on the artists’ project, offers advice and guidance, and most importantly, can accept funds on the project’s behalf.

Tell us more about accepting funds.
When we contract as a project’s sponsor, we can extend our 501(c)3 umbrella over the project. That means that working through us, producers can submit proposals to foundations that do not fund individuals. If funds are awarded, they are awarded to F/VA. We can also take tax-deductible private donations as a charity, which means your uncle can donate $10,000 and get a tax letter. In either case, we accept the money on behalf of the project, and take a 6% administration fee.

Who oversees the F/VA fiscal sponsorship program?
Eileen Newman.

How long has F/VA offered this program? Why did you start offering this service?
When I started at F/VA three years ago, there was a very minor sponsorship program in place. At the NAMAC conference that year, I attended a workshop on fiscal sponsorship and felt like I had found the missing link. It’s ironic, but as an arts administrator you work in the world of film, but you spend all your time involved in fund raising and management. You’re removed from artists and their work. So I saw the sponsorship program as a way to push up my sleeves and get involved working with producers, to be able to make a very direct contribution to their projects, to get excited so that I could carry that excitement to the other areas of my work. Today this program is huge.

What types of projects does F/VA seek?
We are interested in all types of projects. Of note is that we take student projects—very few fiscal administration programs do. About a third of our participants are students. Because most foundations will not fund student work, they mostly seek private donations.

How does a producer apply?
The producer must be a F/VA member ($75/year). We take applications on a rolling basis throughout the year; applicants can expect a response in 2-6 weeks, depending on how many other proposals are pending. (We get a ton of applications right before the NYSCA deadline in March.) The application packet includes: a one-page form, a full proposal, resumes of key personnel, a detailed budget, a fund raising plan, and a reel. If this is the filmmaker’s first project, then we will take the DP’s reel. If you are considering applying, I recommend that you call or email me first to discuss the project and the program.

How many applications do you get on average per year? How many projects do you approve for the program?
We get maybe 150 proposals, and accept about 70%. Right now we have 120 current projects.

What is the most common mistake applicants make?
Usually it’s an inability to articulate their project. If filmmakers can’t communicate what they plan to do, they need to think it through more before approaching funders. Also there are some applicants who don’t demonstrate an ability to follow through on what is a rigorous undertaking. For example, if we ask for a full proposal and they submit a sentence, then we wonder how they are going to have the focus and clarity to produce the actual film.

If you turn down a project, can the same individual apply for sponsorship for the same project again?
Sure. Several producers have taken our advice, collected their thoughts, and come back with a much stronger concept for their project, that we’ve then been able to take.

What does fiscal sponsorship with F/VA offer besides nonprofit status?
It varies widely depending on the producer’s needs. I do an initial consultation with each producer accepted into the program. After that, a filmmaker might come to me to say, can you look at this proposal? Or, I’ve hit a wall, can you take a look at my project? Or, where else could I seek funding? When a producer is very new to fund raising, I might suggest they also take one of our workshops—they all involve some degree of fund raising education. Often I send them to AIVF for help and research resources.

What funders do you work with most often?
NYSCA is an important funder for our producers. It’s a great place to start. They are really supportive, you can talk to a person and get great feedback. We have some larger grants from the NEA, NEH, and Open Society Institute. The Jerome Foundation is really supportive. Others that come to mind are more specialized: AT&T, CBS, Hefner, Ettinger. Also some employers offer matching funds for employee contributions, like Prudential.

What is the biggest mistake producers make when conceiving their fund raising plan?
They’ll put all their energies in one place, assuming that one funder will come through in a big way. Then there are the producers that look at a foundation and think, I’ll never get funded, why bother? You have to be ready to do the work and take the risks.

What is your best piece of advice for producers seeking funds?
Think outside of the box. Don’t just go to the usual folks: Yours will be just one of hundreds of proposals. Think of smaller funders to target, those who have interests or a mission that your project will serve. It has become really obvious that you can’t make assumptions. People get money when the foundation has an interest in their individual project.

Any famous last words?
Independent producers might freelance, but there is a lot of support out here. Organizations like ours, like Women Make Movies, Third World Newsreel, the IFP, and AIVF. This is a very rich environment within which filmmakers can make their work, and more importantly, get it out there.

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