The path of a film proposal when you make a grant application

The path of a film proposal when you make a grant application

Once proposals are received, they are either advanced or rejected in a three-phase process that takes up to five months. First, remember, grantors or investors are usually under a deadline to read and make a decision on something that should never be judged: your art.

Your potential funder is probably reviewing hundreds of proposals, one right after the other, so find a way to make your proposal unique. The introduction or synopsis to be the most critical element in the proposal.

It is the first thing read and it tells how compelling the project is and reveals how passionate the filmmaker is. It is the visual story of the film. Sponsors use the synopsis during the selection process as a way of categorizing and separating one type of film from another. If your synopsis is dynamic and is strategically placed on your application, it will remain active in the sponsor’s mind.

You need to have a concise overview of the film that gives a visual description and tells a story with emotion, surprise, concrete information, credibility, etc. This is a visual industry, yet only 10% of the applications received include pictures.

Since the person reading your proposal is probably very visual, consider dropping a few pictures or graphics into your proposal. Applications for the first phase are received and inspected to make sure all materials are in order, creates a record for each application in the database, and files one copy that is kept confidential and is archived.

The programming department then reviews all proposals and advances approximately the top 20 percent of projects to phase two. Producers whose proposals do not make the first cut will receive a notification letter or email. Proposals that are selected for phase two of the application process are then sent out to external readers.

External readers are geographically and ethnically diverse members of the independent media and public television communities. Each proposal in phase two is read by three external readers. Readers also screen all works-in-progress if they relate to the proposal.

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The criteria that serve as the basis for evaluation are:

  • The overall quality of the project: Is the idea well conceived and compelling?
  • Does the approach make sense for a television program?
  • Does it fit the grants mission and programming goals?
  • The quality of the treatment: Is it well written?
  • How clearly does the treatment describe the visuals, structure and style?
  • Innovation: Does it bring new ideas, an innovative style, or creative formats to public television? 

  • The quality of the work-in-progress: What are the strengths and weaknesses of the production values, presentation of characters, and visual style?
  • Target audience: Does the proposal address a target audience?
  • Will the program serve the needs and interests of an underrepresented audience?
  • Will the program appeal to the national broadcast audience? 

  • The production team: How experienced and capable is the production team?
  • Can the team complete the program on schedule and within budget?
  • Access: Has the producer demonstrated credible access/rapport with the proposed subjects and stories?


Filmmakers who are selected to participate in phase three of the evaluation process are asked to submit a new application.

They will have two weeks to submit a new proposal based on the feedback they receive about their phase two proposal. During the third phase, filmmakers may also submit an updated work-in-progress sample. The phase three application provides an opportunity for the filmmaker to describe his or her vision in further detail, as applicants now have up to seven pages in which to describe their project.

They also are required to submit an itemized budget, and have the opportunity to address the concerns of the programming department from the phase two feedback they receive. After producers submit their phase three materials, their work is assigned to external panelists who evaluate and score each proposal. The panel members then complete written evaluations that will be used in a panel discussion.

Once all proposals have been discussed, panelists have the opportunity to modify their original scores. Using the collective scores, panelists recommend the projects that they think the grant should fund. The programming and production departments review the recommended projects and propose a slate to the content strategy team.

Once the slate is approved, the grant offers contracts to a select group of filmmakers whose vision meets the grants goals and standards.