Interviews

Women In Film Finishing Fund

What is the Woman In Film Finishing Fund?

We are the philanthropic outreach arm of the Women in Film organization. We do a lot of outreach programs that are open to the general public, but specifically to the Women in Film general membership. The fund supports filmmakers who make thoughtful and provocative films by or about women. It’s the only fund of its kind in the United States.

When and why did it start?

The very first grant was given out in 1985. The project ended up on PBS’s Nightline and got an Emmy, so it was a really powerful beginning. It was a documentary called Men Who Molest: Children Who Survive, produced by Rachel Lyons. Every year the fund has grown. It’s very rewarding to see that many filmmakers, with this support, be able to go on and not only finish their projects, but as in the case of Rachel Lyons, get an Emmy. The following year, Lourdes Portillo and Susan Munoz did Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, a documentary on the war in Argentina. That got an Academy Award nomination. It’s really gratifying to see that these grants, although they’re not a huge amount of money in some cases, have helped.

What is the mission of WIF?

Our goal is to find people who are having trouble or need money to actually finish their films. We focus on people who’ve finished shooting but need some help in postproduction.

How many projects do you fund on average each year?

It varies. The first year it was one. Last year there were eight winners in Los Angeles, four in New York, and one more in Washington, D.C. Our goal this year is to award ten grants.

What’s the fund’s application deadline? This year it was February 28. We actually pushed the date back by a month this year. The deadline is usually in January.

What is the average size of a finishing fund grant?

We do two different kinds of grants. One type is an in-kind grant, where we work with people in the labs and editing facilities. The other is cash awards, which range from $1,500 to $5,000. Sometimes an organization will give more money and want it to be earmarked for a particular kind of film, in which case we would focus on that when we do our judging.

How many submissions do you receive annually?

Last year we got 190 submissions that were valid. Student films do not qualify. We’ve given 120 cash and in-kind grants since the beginning of the program. I expect somewhere in the neighborhood of two hundred applicants this year.

Does WIF have other calls for projects during the year?

Yes. There’s a PSA program that has produced many public service announcements.

What types of projects do you seek?

We have criteria, but it’s not limited: The project can be on film, video, shot on hi-def; it can be a documentary; a feature-length project; it can be fictional, animated, educational, or experimental. I had some projects that were two-and-a-half hours long and some that were ten minutes. So, there’s no restriction in that regard. We do want films that increase the employment of women and promote equal opportunities for women, ones that encourage individual creative projects by women, enhance the media image of women, further the professional development of women, and influence the prevailing attitudes and practices regarding and on behalf of women in film. We’ve had men win awards because their project is about women, so there’s no gender restrictions either.

Take me through the review process.

We select ten judges from among the trustees on the board, and we get ten women volunteers. The application requires the filmmaker to deliver a package that includes a synopsis and who’s involved in the project. Then we randomly mix them up and give them out. That’s the prescreening process. Each person looks at ten to twenty films over a period of a month. Then we take the highest scores from all of those and the whole board views them on a weekend and we do the final
judging. We inform everyone by May 5 if they are an award winner.

Can applicants re-apply if denied?

Absolutely. What’s happened in the past is sometimes people, especially first-time filmmakers, may not really know how long it’s going to take them to get to post production, so they’ve applied, thinking they’re going to be in post by the date and it turns out that they’re not. We encourage them to re-apply.

What types of projects would WIF definitely not fund?

We’re a pretty open-minded group and we vary in our politics, so everybody brings a different sensibility,
which is great. The only projects we can’t consider are student projects.

How do you prefer a filmmaker to submit a project to you?

We have an application that has a complete overview of what to do. Log onto www.wif.org and click “foundation” or the application.

Are their any restrictions for applying?

We always give points for creativity, so any way the filmmaker feels is the most effective way to present their project, we’re all for it. We only ask that they be on videotape, because not everyone has the capabilities to make a DVD. It just makes it easier for us. Other than that, anything they want to supply in addition to these requirements is fine.

What has been the distribution/exhibition path of past projects?

Some aired on PBS, some on cable, some were theatrical releases, and many have gone on the festival circuit.

What’s the most common mistake a filmmaker makes when they apply to you?

They don’t read the application. We have gotten a lot of projects through the years that are not far enough down the road [to need finishing funds]. Last year, I got some films that were just presentations, not films, so that’s something to clarify; we do not want to be involved in the development of projects. That’s not our focus. We’ve chosen to support filmmakers in the final stages. There are many of us here who are skilled in that area and are able to assist the filmmakers. Sometimes we’ve sat with them and explained what the process is. We take a pretty active part in our grants in-kind, working with the filmmakers and the grantors, because the one tricky thing with grants in-kind is they have to be done when the facilities themselves can supply the services. It can’t be in the height of pilot season, when it’s a mad house. That’s what some filmmakers don’t understand, how rewarding the services they get in-kind really are. If you compare it to what you’d have to pay to do it on your own, it’s unachievable.

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