How much should I hustle?

Dear Doc Doctor:

My film projects and ideas are well-suited for public television. But as an independent filmmaker I can’t envision my work fitting into pre-formatted programs. Do I have any options besides just selling a finished film?

To work for or work with—to give up creative control for the safety of a check, or brave financial storms and sell the film when it’s finished. With LInCs (Local Independents Collaborating with Stations), a funding initiative from ITVS, you can have your cake and eat it too. (And with 346 stations nationwide, there is a lot of cake to chose from.) LInCS offers matching funds—you bring the idea or work-in-progress and the local station of your choice offers in-kind services, such as equipment, publicity, or any number of things you might need.

The first step is to identify the aspects of your project or idea that might appeal to a specific region of the country. Visit www.pbs.org/stationfinder and enter a state or zip code, which will direct you to the websites of PBS affiliate stations where you can learn more about their programming and interests. Even if the station is not directly affected by the topic of your film, they might be supportive of the cause. So don’t give up too easily, and don’t limit your search to the obvious geographical matches. Then you can start calling stations to evaluate if there is potential and interest in a mutually beneficial partnership. Tips on how to approach a station and build partnerships can be found at www.itvs.org/producers/funding.html.

Elizabeth Meyer, programming manager for the LInCS and special projects at ITVS presents this partnership as the ideal win-win situation: “We want to see independent filmmakers bring their unique vision into the PBS world, while at the same time helping local PBS stations fulfill their mission.” That means your creative integrity is safe!

Don’t fear that your film will have a short life within the borders of only one state. Robby Fahey, LInCS production manager, explains, “Many LInCS projects are on a local or regional topic that is of interest to a particular station, but the goal is to make these shows available at the national level. The involvement of the station gives the project credibility and gives the independent filmmaker an entré into the PBS system.”

Keeping your independent voice while partnering with professionals, and at the same time getting a funding and broadcast deal? Maybe Santa Claus exists after all.

Dear Doc Doctor:
How can I tell if my film has potential for a successful outreach campaign and if it is worth the sweat?

Nowadays, with the abundance of resources on the internet and the convenience of email communication, outreach campaigns require a lot less money, time, and sweat than they used to. Still, it’s wise to figure out if grassroots efforts are for you and your film.

For some filmmakers outreach is not an afterthought. Award-winning producer and director Catherine Gund, producer of A Touch of Greatness (2004, directed by Leslie Sullivan) says: “I become interested in a documentary subject because of the outreach and community organizing potential. I wouldn’t begin to make a film that couldn’t be used directly by a targeted audience. With A Touch of Greatness, a portrait of a very progressive and inspiring teacher, we knew that we had the entire community of educators to work with. In fact, we didn’t wait to have a finished film to reach out to them and collaborate.”

In general, the making of the film itself will lead you to the organizations dealing with your topic. But, if for some odd reason this hasn’t happened, it’s not too late to take action. You will have to hurry though; developing relationships with nonprofits that have access to prospective targeted audiences takes time.

After an inventory of the obvious—as well as the more subtle angles—of your film, whether finished or not, the next obligatory step is to get familiar with the resources offered by mediarights.org, workingfilms.org, and centerforsocialmedia.org. They have plenty of information on how to develop an outreach campaign and function as a bridge between filmmakers and nonprofits seeking media.

You might also want to do a search for articles in newspapers and journals covering your film’s issues. It will give you a sense of the talk around town, and if there is an aspect of your film that is particularly current: a bill due in Congress or a recent case that further proves the point of your documentary. Finally, check in with universities—academics are at the forefront of research on many social issues and topics, and their students are an eager audience.

Based on the responses you get from this research, you can gauge the outreach viability of your project. However, I strongly believe that there is always an audience and a way to reach it. Whichever path you choose for your film, remember poet Antonio Machado’s words: “Traveller, there is no road, you make the road as you go.”

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