Independent Lens (2/3): The Filters. Who Decides? Acquisition Process. Timeline. Deliverables.
We continue our coverage of Independent Lens, a leading U.S. funder and broadcaster of independent documentaries.
We talked with Lois Vossen, the founding Series Producer of this flagship PBS strand. We asked about her curatorial vision, the filters, the critical Timeline for submissions, the decision-making process, Delivery, and more
- The pipeline
- License fees, and much more
“Independent Lens seeks work that is innovative, provocative, character-driven and well-crafted. We welcome individual expression and we’re committed to presenting diverse points of view”
The mix includes:
- Domestic and international topics
- Social issue and point of view documentaries
- Profiles of artists with an underlying social issue
- Billy Strayhorn: Lush Life uncovers a history of homophobia and racism
- Jean Michael Basquiat: The Radiant Child looks at racial prejudice in the art world
- Social history
- Ask Not examines the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy
- Daddy & Papa is about gay adoption
- Political history (The Weather Underground, Be Good, Smile Pretty)
- Current affairs (King Corn, Terra Incognita: Mapping Stem Cell Research).
- Noteworthy films with an international focus include: Waste Land, Bhutto, A Film Unfinished, Unmistaken Child, Garbage Dreams, Iron Ladies of Liberia and Please Vote For Me.
- “We don’t set out to acquire films about a certain topic or related themes” says Lois Vossen. “However, sometimes after the fact, I see that themes have emerged
- “We then make a decision to present a group of films in a certain time period to take advantage of cross-promotional opportunities and to bring new audiences to films they might not otherwise know about.”
- This season’s Artist Month features Waste Land, Marwencol, Basquiat, Desert of Forbidden Art, along with William S. Burroughs: A Man Within
- Independent Lens is curated jointly by ITVS and PBS
- The team consists of:
- Lois Vossen, Series Producer and Vice President, ITVS
- Claire Aguilar, ITVS Vice President of Programming
- Sandy Heberer, PBS Senior Director of Primetime Programming
- Kathryn Lo, PBS Director of Program Development, Independent Film & Plus
- Open Submission: The annual open submission deadline is the final Friday in September. Guidelines are posted here
- Read more about the IL submission process here
- Guidelines for the September 30, 2011 submission deadline are available now
- IL receives 650 +/- submissions / year
- Filmmakers are notified of decisions as they are made during the curating process
Independent Lens commits to programs in three ways:
- Produc-quisitions (10%)
“We review rough cuts and fine cuts and decide to acquire a program at that stage by providing finishing funds. I have coined a phrase for these films, Produc-quisitions.”
- Full or Partial Production Funding (35-40%)
“We provide full or partial production funding through limited commissioning or when filmmakers deliver an approved rough cut
- Acquisition (50%)
Films acquired at fine cut or completion
- “We screen and consider films year-round
- “Our staff attends 20-25 major festivals and markets in the U.S. and internationally each year”
- The bulk of screening and curating takes place October-April
- The slate of programs is finalized in May
- The final slate is announced in July (or early August) at the summer Television Critics Association (TCA) Press Tour
- “The summer months are spent in series production and post:
- Writing, shooting and editing the host introductions
- And then packaging final films for the new season launch in October.
- “Screening and curating slows considerably during June, July and August to allow us to get the final films delivered to IL, and then packaged and delivered to PBS for broadcast.”
- The filmmaker has final cut
- “IL provides editorial feedback and support when needed or requested by filmmakers; for example, when full production funding and “produc-quisition funding if provided
- “In the case of acquisitions, if the filmmaker has to trim or cutdown their film, the Series Producer provides cutdown notes to help guide that process. The filmmaker retains control of the final edit
- “We work with filmmakers to assure all films meet PBS and FCC broadcast standards.”
Format & Delivery
- IL has worked with films shot and completed on all formats (film, video, HD)
- Final delivery to PBS is HD
- “Each season a portion of the films we present are funded by The Independent Television Service (ITVS)”
- ITVS-funded films comprise between 10-50% of the final slate
- $3+ million / season
- Includes “Community engagement, education, online and publicity campaigns, and station relations efforts to support IL films.”
- Social Media
- IL is the #2 PBS strand on social media
- 100,000 +/- fans and followers
- Independent Lens Community Cinema
- Goal: connect audiences of all ages directly with independent films
- “We bring viewers together with their local public television stations, community groups, education organizations, and NGOs to assure IL films have impact before and after broadcast.”
- Community organizers in 106 U.S. cities
- One IL film presented each month
- All screenings are followed by a panel discussion
- “Independent LensCommunity Classroom
- Brings media resources to educators in high schools, community colleges, and other youth-serving organizations
- National publicity and online engagement
- “We do extensive additional outreach work for 9-10 films each season including Community Cinema, Classroom, paid advertising online
- “We are constantly innovating with new online marketing and publicity campaigns” including:
Update, September 19, 2012
Greetings from San Francisco!
We’re contacting you to announce our new International Initiative application process. We no longer have a once a year submission deadline but consider projects on a rolling basis. This is a big change!
ITVS International enables independent producers from outside the United States to create documentaries for U.S. television. Through our International Initiative global storytellers introduce U.S. audiences to their world, their neighbors, opening a window into unfamiliar lives, experiences and perspectives.
The International Initiative provides production and/or post-production funds for single non-fiction television documentaries that bring international perspectives, ideas, stories and people to a U.S. audience. This initiative is for non-U.S. producers and filmmakers who live outside the U.S.
Please note: ITVS International Initiative is an all digital submissions process.
Please read our new guidelines; there are important changes that you should note before applying.
For those guidelines, eligibility and how to submit, please visit www.itvs.org/funding/international
PLUS we invite you to join the [ITVS] International Documentary Group on Facebook: share your news, read global doc news, see great clips, get updates on funding, and more, more, more! The best thing is, you set the agenda. We’re listening, and we want to hear about your projects, what you’re excited about, what trends you’re seeing in the global doc community.
Join the group here: http://bit.ly/ITVSIntlGrp
If you have questions, please feel free to email us, Skype us, Facebook us and we will get back to you!
All the best from the International Team
Last week (part 1/3)
- The Pipeline
- And more …
The Winners Are! (3/3)
- Which films shared the prize for 2012?
- Inside POV: The Flagship PBS Documentary Strand
- Inside PBS’s POV Strand (2/2): Filters & Selection Process
- POV: The PBS Doc Strand Announces the 2011 Schedule
And further afield …
- HBO Documentary Films’ VP Lisa Heller: “We look for observational films that are action-packed”
- OWN: Oprah’s Documentary Club
- The Documentary Channel
- NEH (U.S.) Awards Grants for Documentaries
Come and meet up with us at:
Conference and Forum
Sunnyside of the Doc