The full Prenups document contains perspectives from filmmakers and funders on how best to work together. Below are a few of those perspectives. We hope you’ll tell us your own stories and ideas in the space provided at the right.
CASE IN POINT: STRATEGIZING ABOUT STORY : A director received funding for her film that would follow a man as he started participating in a residential support program. The filmmaker’s vision was to capture a positive personal transformation, but the story took a turn when the subject suffered a relapse. The filmmaker quickly informed the funder at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, who summoned her trusted outreach team. “One thing the story must have,” observed the outreach specialists, “is hope.” The filmmaker agreed. Screening footage together, the filmmaker and the outreach team identified a second client from the same program whose experience was far more positive. As a result, the film—now with two main characters—remained authentic and true to the program, the funder had an honest and ultimately more hopeful story to tell about her grantmaking, and the filmmaker’s work is making a difference. The process worked because the funder took a lighthanded approach, the filmmaker retained editorial control and they both communicated during the process to achieve shared goals.
DECIDE ON WHO DECIDES : Figuring out who decides what is a key part of an agreement between a filmmaker and a funder. One equity investor in documentary film remarks, “If we put a lot of money into a film, we will often have control over commercial decisions—who the film gets sold to and for how much—and the filmmaker will have meaningful consultation. The filmmaker controls the creative side, and we control the business side. We know more about the business side and can do better for the film.
TALK ABOUT WHO GETS WHAT KIND OF INPUT : One foundation formed a partnership to create a documentary film on a housing issue. The foundation provided full funding, the local public television station produced the film, and a local nonprofit advocacy group provided relationships with prospective subjects and input on content. At least that was the funder’s view. Problem was, she recalls, “There was no clear understanding about who was the executive producer, which is why we had a conflict with the nonprofit about some things that went into the film. At one stage of production, the film showed a lot from the [housing project’s] residents’ point of view. We wanted some balance and brought in some dissenting views. But the nonprofit wasn’t happy with that,” since it favored the residents’ perspectives. Without editorial leadership, it wasn’t clear whose input held more sway. “We learned a lot from that,” she says, “and talked about that issue explicitly with the nonprofit partner on the next film we funded.”
BE FLEXIBLE ENOUGH TO ADAPT TO CHANGE : As one seasoned funder advises, “Stories change all the time. All we can do as a funder is try to be a responsible partner whose goal is to help them complete their project. Like any other relationship, we should be to support them, but also nudge them as necessary.”
RECOGNIZE WHAT FUNDERS CAN GIVE BESIDES MONEY : Filmmakers are becoming increasingly aware of the many resources that a funder can provide aside from just money. One filmmaker attests, “Our program officer was not in the media area, and film was a relatively new idea for her. She acted as an inside expert, answered questions, and was a huge help in shaping the outreach program. At one point, she even helped rescue the project. She also helped identify likeminded funders, which was fantastic.”
Share Your Perspective
Tell us about your own thoughts and experiences in dealing with the issues raised in the Prenups.
The Prenups are a work-in-progress and need your input! Did we miss an important question? Did you have a great collaboration you want to tell us about? Or do you believe that all independent films need heat-proof editorial firewalls to protect the filmmaker?
Let us know—we may ask your permission to publish your perspectives, either attributed or anonymously. (You decide.)