Playing Niche

Securing funds as an independent producer is often the most difficult and crucial aspect of successfully completing your vision. Money from the government, non-profits, corporations, private foundations, and individuals is out there for film and video projects. But most funding sources have a particular interest and seek projects closely aligned with that interest. Knowing this reality going in will save you time, effort, and unnecessary rejection from unlikely sources.

If your project deals with issues of social concern, you may be able to draw from a number of different sources that advocate social change and/or stories that serve "underrepresented communities." These sources may support filmmakers from, or stories about, those communities, which include blacks, Latinos, Native Americans, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, gay-lesbian-bisexual-transgender persons, and women.

The following is a listing of sources that fund projects to give a voice to the voiceless and advocate progressive social change.

Corporation for Public Broadcasting—Minority Consortia

For more than twenty-five years, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) has been mandated by congress to increase the diversity of programming on public television. CPB has complied with this directive primarily by providing development and production funds through five independent public broadcasting companies that develop projects to represent their communities: the National Black Programming Consortium, Latino Public Broadcasting, Native American Public Telecommunications, National Asian American Telecommunications Association, and Pacific Islanders in Communications. CPB also acquires and distributes programs of interest to ethnic and racial minorities for broadcast on national Public Broadcasting Stations (PBS).

National Black Programming Consortium (NBPC)

Since 1979 NBPC, a non-profit media organization, has funded, acquired, commissioned, and awarded films and video projects that depict the various "experiences of the African Diaspora." The organization seeks quality projects that offer a unique and realistic view of black America. NBPC provides funds for all stages of a project—development, production, and post-production—with national PBS broadcast potential. Both fiction and non-fiction projects are considered. To date NBPC has awarded more than $5 million in grants to independent and station-based producers. A new initiative called Outreach grants is available for projects that incorporate public outreach components, such as town-hall-style meetings, call-in shows, discussion groups, or teacher training, into the production and post-production of a project to increase visibility and facilitate discussion.

Grants: Project Development grants range from $5,000 to $80,000. Outreach grants do not exceed $55,000 and average $35,000.

Deadline: For 2004, the deadline was October 20, 2003.

Recently funded projects: Brother to Brother, Chisholm for President ’72, Brother, Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin, and Two Towns of Jasper.

Contact: NBPC 145 E. 125th St. Suite 3R, New York, NY 10035, (212) 828-7588, Fax (212) 828-7930,

Latino Public Broadcasting (LPB)

Latinos are the fastest-growing minority in the United States, and LPB is dedicated to increasing the number and visibility of Latino programming and producers seen on television. Like the other minority consortia, LPB develops, acquires, and distributes original programming that addresses issues of the Latino population and is intended for national PBS broadcast. All types of projects are considered: documentary, drama, comedy, shorts, animation, or mixed genres, and in all stages of production. Student films, foreign-based production teams, and commercial projects are not eligible.

Grants: Open Call development funds range from $5,000 to $100,000.

Deadline: For 2003, the deadline was June 2, 2003.

Recently Funded Projects: American Family, Birchers & Mexican Beauty Queens, The Farmingville Project, and Somos.

Contact: LPB 6777 Hollywood Blvd. Suite 512, Los Angeles, CA 90028, (323) 466-7110, Fax (323) 466-7521, or

Native American Public Telecommunications (NAPT)

NAPT strives for "authentic Native content for the public airwaves," according to project coordinator Penny Costello. The non-profit organization supports multimedia projects, including radio, web based programs, and television programs tailored for PBS broadcast, with content about or pertaining to Native American issues. From about fifty to one hundred proposals each year, NAPT provides funds in three separate tiers: Open Call for production funds, Short programs between three and twelve minutes, and Completion funds to get projects on the air (new this year). NAPT is committed to educational programs; it provides training opportunities, promotes information technologies, and builds partnerships to develop and implement telecommunications projects with tribal nations, Indian organizations, and native communities.

Grants: Open Call funds range from $50,000 to $100,000. Shorts range up to $25,000, depending on length. And Completion funds run up to $25,000.

Deadlines: For Open Call proposals, the deadline is between May and July; Shorts deadline is in spring; and Completion funds have a rolling deadline.

Recently Funded Projects: Native Americans in the 21st Century, POV: In the Light of Reverence, Independent Lens: The Return of the Navajo Boy, Hand Game, and XIT Without Reservation.

Contact: NAPT 1800 No 33 St, Lincoln, NE 68583 or PO Box 83111, Lincoln, NE 68501, (402) 472- 3522, or

National Asian American Telecommunications Association (NAATA)

Since 1990 NAATA has provided more than $2 million to fund more than 150 projects that deal with the contemporary issues and changes in Asian American communities. It is looking for new and compelling stories with broad viewer appeal to introduce Asian American perspectives into the wider American dialogue. NAATA has two tiers of funding—production, which can also include post-production, and completion, for rough-cut projects that need final funds to be broadcast. Projects in development are not eligible for funds. Funding is geared for projects with the potential for national PBS broadcast.

Grants: Production funds average $20,000 to $50,000; Completion funds average $20,000.

Deadlines: Deadlines for Production projects were February 28 and August 29, 2003, and the process takes four to five months. Completion funds are awarded on a rolling basis. A full-length rough cut must be submitted, and the process takes one to three months.

Recently Funded Projects: Asian American Odyssey, Anomaly, Journey of Honor, Caught in the Crossfire: Arab Americans in Wartime, A Fishbowl and Some Dimes, and Day of Independence.

Contact: NAATA 145 Ninth Street, Suite 350, San Francisco, CA 94103, (415) 863-0814, Fax (415) 863-7428, or

Pacific Islanders in Communications (PIC)

The non-profit media organization PIC funds the development of film and video projects by and about Pacific Islanders, which include the descendents of the indigenous peoples of Hawaii, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa, and other Pacific islands. It was established in 1991 and has awarded more than $1.5 million for television productions, assisted fourteen Pacific Island producers broadcast their work nationally, and provided training for about 120 developing filmmakers through a series of workshops, internships, and training opportunities. The media fund has several tiers: Open Call, Completion, Short Film Initiative (up to eight minutes in length), Travel awards, and some acquisitions and executive producing. It funds projects in all stages—development, production, post-production, and finishing. PIC receives about fifty submissions and funds about eight to ten percent annually.

Grants: Open Call funds range from $20,000 to $50,000 for production, $15,000 to $20,000 for development, and up to $50,000 for Completion. Short Film Initiative awards up to $10,000. The Travel initiative varies according to need.
Deadlines: Open Call deadline was August 2, 2003. The Short Film Initiative deadline is January 30, 2004. There are rolling deadlines for the Completion funds and Travel awards.
Recently Funded Projects: Holo Mai Pele, American Aloha: Hula Beyond Hawaii, King Kamehameha: A Legacy Renewed, Skin Stories, and Sumo East and West.

Contact: PIC 1221 Kapiolani Blvd, Suite 6A-4, Honolulu, HI 96814, (808) 591-0059, Fax (808) 591-1114,

Independent Television Service (ITVS)

Since 1991, ITVS has sought content-rich, high quality programs that discuss complex issues and are stylistically innovative. It looks for proposals that increase diversity on public television and present a range of subjects, viewpoints, and forms. It does this through several programs: the Open Call for production and post-production completion, not development or acquisition of finished products; Electric Shadows, for innovative on-line projects and new media; and Local Independents Collaborating With Stations (LInCS) Fund, which provides matching funds to partnerships between public television stations and independent producers. Some Completion funds are also awarded. ITVS receives 1,000–1,400 submissions annually and funds about two to three percent of them (about thirty or thirty-five) with approximately $6 million annually.

Grants: Open Call funds range from $40,000 to $350,000. For Electric Shadows, no range is listed, as it is still a new initiative. LInCS funds range from $10,000 to $75,000. Completion funds range from $5,000 to $60,000.

Deadlines: The next Open Call deadline is in February 2004 (there is typically another in August). Electric Shadows deadline was March 6, 2003. LInCS deadline was April 30, 2003.

Recently Funded Projects: Lush Life: Billy Strayhorn, The Farmingville Project, Shaolin Ulysses: Kungfu Monks in America, Cowboys, Indians, and Lawyers, Race is the Place, and Colorvision series.

Contact: ITVS 501 York Street, San Francisco, CA 94110, (415) 356-8383, Fax (415) 356-8391, or

Showtime’s Black Filmmaker Showcase

For ten years the Showtime cable network has supported emerging African-American talent through its Black Filmmakers Showcase, which airs each February, also Black History Month. The network seeks submissions throughout the year, from which three to five finalists will be featured and their films aired during the Showcase. The winning film receives a production grant to produce an original short film to premiere exclusively during a later Showcase.

Grants: The winner receives a $30,000 production grant and Showtime premiere for a short film.

Deadlines: The deadline was July 30, 2003, but films received after the deadline will be held and considered for the 2005 program.

Past Winners: Anna Dudley for Jacob’s Sound, and Edford Banuel for Unjust Cause (winning short).

Contact: Showtime’s Black Filmmaker Showcase, Monique Randall, 10880 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1500 & 1600, Los Angeles, CA 90024,

Showtime’s Latino Filmmaker Showcase

For the last four years, Showtime has recognized up-and-coming Latino filmmakers through its Latino Filmmaker Showcase, which airs during Hispanic Heritage month, September 15 to October 15. The network solicits submissions throughout the year and will feature three to five projects during the month’s program. The winner also receives a production grant for a short film to premiere on Showtime.

Grants: The winner receives $30,000 production grant and a Showtime premiere for a short film.

Deadlines: The deadline is May 15, 2004. Films received after the deadline will be held and considered for the following program.

Past Winners: Sensitive, Flirting with Death, The Assignment, and Moment to Moment.

Contact: Sandra Avila, Showtime Networks Inc., 10880 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1600, Los Angeles, CA 90024, or

Sundance Institute’s Documentary Fund

The Sundance Institute became a champion of independent documentary films when it acquired and committed to continuing the Soros Documentary Fund, after it closed in 2001. It primarily funds "cinematic" documentaries that deal with contemporary issues of human and civil rights, freedom of expression, and social justice. It is open to American and foreign filmmakers, and underrepresented communities are encouraged to apply. Awards depend on the quality of the proposal. Sundance has two funding initiatives: Development funds—for the "hard costs of filmmaking," including script development, research, location visits (flights and accommodations), and any pre-production costs; and Work In Progress Funds—for production or post-production costs: to qualify applicants need at least a twenty- to thirty-minute continuous rough cut of material. There is also a third stage of supplemental funds for selected projects, although the criteria are less specific. Sundance receives about 1,000 submissions each year, and a committee meets three times a year, on average, to decide. Each committee session considers twenty five to thirty documentaries, of which about eleven are chosen for funding—a total of about thirty are chosen per year.

Grants: Development funds range up to a maximum of $15,000. Work In Progress funds average $45,000 to $50,000, with a maximum of $60,000. The maximum for any one project is $75,000 if it receives both.

Deadlines: There are no deadlines for submission.

Recently Funded Projects: The Flute Player, Golan, The Passion of Maria Elena, and The Lost Boys of Sudan.

Contact: Sundance Documentary Fund, 8857 West Olympic Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90211, or

Paul Robeson Fund for Independent Media

Named for the influential actor, singer, athlete, poet Paul Robeson, the fund is a program of the Funding Exchange. It supports media activism and grassroots organizing by funding the pre-production and distribution of social issue film and video projects by local, state, national, or international organizations and individual media producers. All genres are considered, but they must address critical social and political issues in clear and creative ways. The fund is for development or distribution of projects, but not for production and post-production costs. In 2002, the fund distributed $217,800 in grants for video projects.

Grants: Grants range from $5,000 to $15,000, with a maximum award of $20,000.

Deadlines: Applications are only accepted between April 15 and May 15.

Recently Funded Projects: Afghan Women, Pre-production; Boom-The Sound of Eviction, Distribution; and Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin, Distribution.

Contact: The Paul Robeson Fund for Independent Media, Funding Exchange, 666 Broadway, Suite 500, New York, NY 10012, (212) 529-5300 x307, Fax (212) 982-9272, or

Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation

The foundation is a general arts initiative that offers several fellowships, of which the most related to film is the "Special Discipline Focus" of the "Creative Fellowships." It is intended for artistic disciplines that require equipment, special facilities, and technical assistance from a team of workers in the production process. Each year the foundation chooses a specific discipline to focus on; in 2004–2005 it will be "New Media," including interactive, film, and video. It is highly competitive and projects are chosen through a jury selection process.

Grants: Funds vary according to the type of project.

Deadlines: The deadline is November 17, 2003. Next guidelines will be available early next summer.

Recently Funded Projects: Video artist Barbara Bickart’s project, I Look Up to the Sky Now, and a video workshop held by Reichhold Center for the Arts, St. Thomas, VI.

Contact: Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation, 201 N. Charles Street, Suite 401, Baltimore, MD 21201, (410) 539-6656, Fax (410) 837-5517,

Jerome Foundation

The foundation was created by artist and philanthropist Jerome Hill and offers support for new work by emerging artists. It funds only those artists who live and work in Minneapolis or New York City, and students are not eligible for grants. The foundation emphasizes funding for projects that are still in their formative stages. In addition to film and video, it also considers on-line and interactive media projects. Since 1995, the foundation has awarded media grants to 209 individuals from 1,279 submissions and thirty-four of 138 organizations that applied.

Grants: Amount varies depending upon the project’s total budget and the filmmaker. First-time recipients can only apply if their total budget is $75,000 or less. There is no ceiling for past grantees.

Deadlines: There are no deadlines for submission.

Recently Funded Projects: The Glen of the Dawns, On Calloway Street, Having and Holding, and Pote Mak Sonje: The Raboteau Trial.

Contact: Jerome Foundation, 125 Park Square Ct., 400 Sibley St., St. Paul, MN 55101-1928, (651) 224-9431, Fax (651) 224-3439,

LEF Foundation—Moving Image Fund

The foundation is a private organization that supports work in the visual arts, performing arts, new media, literary arts, architecture, and design in the New England region and California. The Moving Image Fund is a three-year initiative by the Foundation’s New England office to support film and video projects in the region. The fund supports all genres, such as animation, narrative, documentary, and experimental. Grants are offered for project development, production, and distribution. The fund is looking for work that is artistic and compelling to a wide audience. Students are not eligible for grants.

Grants: Grants for Development range up to $5,000, for Production up to $25,000, and for Distribution up to $5,000.

Deadlines: Letter of intent is due January 30, 2004; notification to apply will be given February 18, 2004; final applications are due March 12, 2004.

Recently Funded Projects: A Secret Place to Hide, The Road Home, Turkey Creek, and Hunting in America.

Contact: Lyda Kuth, Director, LEF New England, PO Box 382066, Cambridge, MA 02238-2066,

National Foundation for Jewish Culture

In 1996, the foundation created the Fund for Jewish Documentary Filmmaking with the help of Steven Spielberg. It was designed to create and promote documentary films and videos that deal with Jewish contemporary issues, history, culture, and identity. Applicants must be US citizens or permanent residents and have control of the creative process and copyright of the completed film. The fund is for works-in-progress currently in production and will not support research and development or pre-production expenses. The funded projects must be of standard broadcast lengths and intended for public broadcast.

Grants: Grants range up to $50,000 or fifty percent of the total budget, whichever is less. Most grants are between $20,000 and $30,000.

Deadlines: The deadline is March 4, 2004.

Recently Funded Projects: Mengele Twins, Land of Orange Groves and Jails, Resistance: Untold Stories of Jewish Partisans, and At the Green Line.

Contact: The National Foundation for Jewish Culture, 330 Seventh Avenue, 21st Fl., New York, NY 10001, (212) 629-0500, Fax (212) 629-0508, or

The Roy W. Dean Film and Video Grants

The grant was started by Roy Dean, a retired seventy-six-year old man who wanted to help struggling filmmakers have a chance to fulfill their visions. In the last decade, it has grown into one of the largest grant competitions in the film world and offers two grants in Los Angeles and one in New York City, though applicants do not necessarily have to live there to apply. There are also writing, editing, and film grants available for residents of New Zealand. The fund is looking for films that are "unique and make a difference to society."

Grants: In Los Angeles, video and film grants receive up to $50,000 in goods and services; in New York, film grants receive up to $50,000 in goods and services. New Zealand grants vary according to availability of services.

Deadlines: Deadlines are February 15, 2004 for the New Zealand Film Grants; April 30, 2004 for New York film grants; and June 30, 2004 for Los Angeles film and video grants.

Recently Funded Projects: The Flute Player, Women Behind the Camera, Tahara, and HOPILAVAYI.

Contact: From The Heart Productions, 1455 Mandalay Beach Road, Oxnard, CA 93035-2845, or

About :

Sean Fitzell is a graduate student at NYU’s school of journalism.