ITVS programming staff answer questions from filmmakers about the funding process:
Q: I recently discovered the FUTURESTATES website, and I’m really enjoying the films. How did ITVS come up with the idea for this project?
A: The long answer could fill a chapter in a book. But here’s the short version. ITVS has a long history of supporting independent narrative filmmakers, from TV Families in 1993, to the more recent Goodbye, Solo by Ramin Bahrani (airing nationally on Independent Lens on June 1st – check local listings). Back in the day, American Playhouse broadcast independent narrative films on PBS, but over the years it has become a lot harder for narratives to find a home on public television. Independent Lens remains one of the only national series to broadcast independent fiction films on PBS. Without guaranteed distribution on public television, how could ITVS continue to support narrative filmmakers in a way that made sense in the world of public media?
To help answer this question, ITVS convened two “Drama Summits” in 2007/2008, one in Los Angeles and another in New York. We brought together key stakeholders: writers, directors, and producers; academics; distributors; and media arts organizations. We learned a lot from this process, with discussions focusing on funding models, distribution obstacles, and new media opportunities. But one lesson stood out: Because of the broad scope of ITVS programming, narrative filmmakers found it difficult to know how to approach us with projects that fit our mission. They wanted clearer content guidelines. They wanted more direct cultivation and funding of narrative projects. It was clear we all needed a new way of working to create films that fit everyone’s needs, including the new generation of public media audiences.
At the same time, along with many other public media organizations, ITVS was exploring ways to help filmmakers take advantage of the rapidly expanding world of online distribution. Already, a few full-length films were streaming on AOL True Stories and Snag Films. So it was perfect timing when the Programming Department proposed an online series, inviting narrative filmmakers to create short films specifically for the web. Eighteen months later, we have season one of FUTURESTATES streaming online, with season two in development right now. By asking filmmakers to explore the direction of our society by projecting their stories into the near future, ITVS was able to fulfill two important goals at the same time — creating a home to showcase the work of narrative filmmakers, and creating a place online for a wide audience to engage with the ideas that public media does best.