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Fast Foreword: The Editor's Column, Summer 2010

By Tom White

Dear Readers,


Raising money is an arduous and seemingly endless endeavor, in which expectations are regularly raised and dashed and the finish line becomes more and more elusive with every dollar raised. This is especially true with documentary film, in which artistic expression often takes a back seat to the less soul-affirming task of getting your film made. In fact, fundraising consultant Morrie Warshawski affirmed in a recent Doc U seminar presented by IDA that you can expect to devote up to 80 percent of your film project to managerial and administrative concerns--fundraising, distribution, marketing, etc.--and only 20 percent to artistic matters.

So, this issue is dedicated to the unglamorous but totally necessary world of funding and fundraising. Warshawski figures in much of this issue, given the renown for his book Shaking the Money Tree, now in its third edition--which Cynthia Close reviews here. Michael Rose speaks with him, as well as with representatives from foundations, governments agencies and nonprofit media arts and grant-writing entities, about the general funding climate and what makes for a strong--as well as weak--proposal. Mitchell Block, a longtime veteran of the doc community as a distributor, consultant, producer and educator, offers his own views on what works and what doesn't in fundraising in both the public and private sectors. Wanda Bershen, also a consultant and teacher, follows up on an earlier article she contributed to Documentary about grant-writing, with a focus on building partnerships through crowd-sourcing and outreach. Bershen also talks with the managers of three of the leading pitch forums for documentaries--the IDFA Forum, the Toronto Documentary Forum at Hot Docs, and the UK-based Good Pitch--about how filmmakers should best prepare for presenting their project in seven minutes to a room full of the leading commissioning editors in the world.

The Good Pitch, launched in 2009, has been instrumental in helping forge partnerships between nonprofits and documentary projects that embrace a given issue or cause. Indeed, many foundations look favorably to social issue docs as a conduit for promulgating the missions of the foundations. But what about those docs that don't have a salient issue--that are docs for art's sake: character-driven, personal or experimental? Shelley Gabert talks with a few filmmakers about this quandary.

Roger Nygard has made a career out of making concept-driven docs about subjects ranging from the quirky--Trekkies--to the cerebral--The Nature of Existence. Yet he's managed to get these films made, and he tells us how.

Most documentary makers go through fiscal sponsorship programs managed by nonprofits like the IDA in order to secure funding for their work. Tracie Lewis talks to three fiscal sponsorship managers about how their programs work.

Finally, in order to raise money, you need a budget to know what you're raising money for. Robert Bahar has written the essential guide to developing budgets, which we are re-publishing from an earlier issue.


Yours in actuality,

Thomas White