Funder FAQ: Texas Filmmakers’ Production Fund

When and how did the Texas Filmmakers’ Production Fund (TFPF) emerge?
The TFPF was established in 1996 in an effort to redress the loss of public funds for filmmakers, most notably the end of the National Endowment for the Arts’ Regional Regrants program in 1994. Austin Film Society artistic director Richard Linklater, who received $2,600 from the NEA to complete Slacker in 1989, recognized the need to make such funds available to individual artists and cultivated the idea of the fund.

What is the fund’s relationship to the Austin Film Society (AFS)?
AFS administers the fund, meaning we assemble the staff, raise the money, determine the guidelines, process applications, and select the panelists. We are, however, completely removed from the decision-making process.

What is the Austin Film Society?
The Austin Film Society is a nonprofit organization with a twofold mission: to exhibit rarely shown work and to support regional media production. It started out in 1985 as a small group of friends posting flyers around town to announce midnight screenings of rare films. Then in 1995, Elizabeth Peters (now executive director of AIVF) came on board as managing director and established a membership and set up artists’ services. Since then, we have grown to 1,200 members, expanded our support services, and continue to program more than 100 films each year.

What kind of independent community does Austin have? What are some recent projects that have come out of there?
Austin has a burgeoning film scene. It’s charged with real enthusiasm and energy and ranges from no-budget indies to studio productions.

We have folks like Rick Linklater and Robert Rodriguez who have managed to straddle both the hardcore industry and the independent scene. But then there’s this huge group of struggling filmmakers who are just trying to make films. There are people trying to make features for $30,000 to $100,000, shooting on weekends or at odd hours when they’re not working at the grocery store or waiting tables to make ends meet. There are some who are fortunate enough to work on bigger commercial projects, too. But for the most part, the creation of film in this town is founded on a sense of community. I can’t tell you how many filmmakers who are working on four or five projects at a time, pooling resources, and exchanging talents with each other in order to get their films made.

Who is the staff of AFS? Who administers the fund?
The staff is an incredibly dedicated group of people that does a lot on very little. Rebecca Campbell is our managing director who oversees all of the organization’s activities; Cara Biasucci is our programming coordinator; Nichole Worrell is our administrative director; then there’s me, [Anne del Castillo], director of artists’ services; and then there’s a whole crew of interns and volunteers too numerous to name, but definitely worth mentioning, as they really help keep the place running. Rebecca and I will be administering the fund this year with a staff of two to three interns.

The fund’s driving philosophy is…?
To nourish the creation, proliferation, and advancement of Texas’ independent film and video artists and their works.

Specifically, how many projects has the fund assisted? How many are funded per year?
TFPF has funded 49 projects in the last three years. We aim to fund as many projects as we can, which, given the monies available, ends up being anywhere from 18 to 20 projects.

What is the fund’s total annual budget, and how much is specifically for awards?
$50,000, and every dollar goes directly to a filmmaker. TFPF operations expenses come out of the AFS budget.
What is the average size of a grant?
Between $1,000 and $5,000.

What are the requirements for submitted projects?
The applicant must be a resident of Texas, and the project must be an independent (read: not industrial nor a “work-for-hire”) work of film or video. We are not yet funding multimedia.

What is the average number of applications submitted each year? What percentage actually get funded?
Our pool of applicants continues to grow. The first year, I think, we had 60 applicants; last year we had just over 100. On average, we’ve funded close to 20 percent of the applicant pool.

What type of projects do you seek?
We’re not looking for any particular genre here. We’ve funded everything from documentary subjects to narrative, animated, and experimental films, both feature-length and shorts. What’s important is that the work shows promise, skill and creativity—and a likelihood that it will be completed!

What are your funding cycles and deadlines?
TFPF is an annual program. Applications are available beginning in May. The postmark deadline for submissions is July 1. In August, an independent panel convenes in Austin to decide on awards. Award recipients are announced in early September.

Who makes the awards decisions? Can you name past panelists and briefly describe the selection process?
I want to be clear that decisions are made by an independent panel that is brought in from out of state. AFS staff and board members do not participate in grantmaking decisions; all decisions are made by the panelists. Past panelists have included John Pierson, Jim McKay, Judith Helfand, and Christopher Munch. In July, we send them each a complete set of applications to review. Then in August, we bring them to Austin for a grueling two-day final review process, during which they compare notes, determine a final pool, and finally recommend and vote on dollar amounts of grants. A new panel is selected each year. We are currently in the process of assembling this year’s panel. AFS offers great information resources and services to its members, including fiscal sponsorship, consultations, and exhibition programs.

Do you give additional support to artists once they’ve received the award?
We try to follow up with our grant recipients and track the progress of their projects. We are always available for advice or referral, and a number of recipients have come to us seeking fiscal sponsorship.

Any advice for media artists in putting forth a strong application?
They really have to believe in their project and be able to demonstrate their dedication and vision. If they can’t convey it, we can’t see it.

What is the most common mistake applicants make?
Trusting that their work sample will speak for itself. Too often applicants fail to represent their projects well in the written material requested because they think their sample work will just wow the panel. They don’t realize how important it is to present a clear picture of the project and their objectives on paper.

What distinguishes the Texas Filmmakers’ Production Fund from other traditional funders?
Unlike other funders, TFPF funds individuals. We do not require a fiscal sponsor; in fact, we will not fund organizations. We also do not seek to retain any form of editorial control or distribution rights. The grant is truly in the spirit of independent film.

What would people be most surprised to learn about the fund and its founders?
The fund is not an endowment. Each year AFS has to raise that $50,000 through benefit premieres and private and corporate donations.

Name other foundations and funding programs you admire and why.
It’s hard to say; I admire anyone who’s willing to give money to promote art, education, social justice—and there are a number of folks out there who are doing just that. With respect to media arts in particular, I’d have to say ITVS (Independent Television Service), Soros, and MacArthur do a wonderful job of funding innovative artists and controversial subjects. I also admire the latest program headed by Ruby Lerner called Creative Capital. It’s terrific to see private enterprises picking up where government dropped the ball.

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