Guides for Evaluating Projects
In most instances, assessing a documentary proposal requires the same set of skills as assessing a traditional proposal. The well-written documentary proposal ideally assess the same set of issues as the charity.
This section includes points for charities to address and applicants to streamline the submission and assessment processes.
Key Points for Assessing a Documentary Proposal
1. Long and short-term aims and objectives of the documentary
Who is the audience for the documentary and is there a strategy to reach them? How does it involve the subjects in the process? Does it provide storytelling and technical skills for participants such as creating websites, gaining confidence in personal expression and communication skills, increased awareness etc? How is the interest area of the charity addressed by the documentary? Why is the documentary suitable for charitable partnership and foundation funding?
2. Demonstrated need for the project
This might include results of a research project or pilot study uncovering a particular need, such as giving a voice to an otherwise disenfranchised community. Testimonials or interview transcripts may be submitted from subjects involved in the documentary outlining the potential for skills to be gained. Other qualitative changes the documentary project facilitates should be outlined in the submission, including statistical information detailing outcomes of research, evaluation documentation outlining participation opportunities and the potential to further develop community, recognition of subjects' stories and experiences, and affirmation of their contribution. Enhanced group communication and new understandings can also result.
3. Main Beneficiaries of the project
This includes the charity or subjects of the documentary film as well as the broader community from which and to whom the documentary speaks. Other beneficiaries may be interested and related organisations benefiting from use of the documentary and communities of interest targeted throughout its distribution.
4. Who is responsible for the project
Identify the key creatives involved in the company who have an extended company profile and a resume of completed projects and outcomes. This includes a track record with previous investors as well as examples of reporting on previously completed projects. As with any project, the people involved need to be cross-checked and their track records investigated. Teams may involve less experienced filmmakers collaborating with more experienced practitioners. There may be other investors involved, private investors, other foundations or government funding agencies. Exchanging information through these networks is important. An assessment ensures the fees of the key creatives are in line with industry standards. See Understanding Documentary Budgets in the Resources section for a thorough breakdown of the documentary budget with a glossary of terms.
5. Likely outcomes and measuring success
Measuring the success and effectiveness of any project can be difficult. In the philanthropic world the greatest rewards are often intangible; for example putting a smile on a child's face. A charity will typically have its own set of criteria. Filmmakers must clearly outline their objectives, strategy and desired outcomes in their application. Measuring the success will vary from project to project. The documentary may educate school children across Australia and the world; it may raise awareness about a particular issue, as An Inconvenient Truth did by educating school children about the environment. It may be a project that simply involves the participants, or is a catalyst for government action, or a fund-raising tool. It may entertain and enrich our culture.
Some of the measures of success of a documentary are more easily identified over a longer period of time such as evaluating the films viability in educational programs and community groups. If a broadcaster has purchased a documentary, it will reach a large audience and critical success is another way to gain exposure for an issue. To be effective, the producer of the work must have a planned educational and distribution campaign researching its most relevant audience and targeting its efforts towards those members. This will be evident in an outreach strategy and marketing plan. Most filmmakers are experienced at dealing with government bodies and broadcasters where audience numbers are the prime indicator of success. However, this is not an adequate answer for measuring success in terms of social capital. Filmmakers should be encouraged to think outside the square.
Questions to ask include: What specific strategies, tools, resources and partnerships will the producer use to draw people to the documentary? If the project involves a website, how will the producer drive people to the site? What kinds of links will be associated with the site and what ideas does the producer have in terms of promotion and advertising? Are these in keeping with the goals of the foundation?
6. Time Frame
Some documentaries have a long time frame to complete, but most documentaries have a long life-span. A project can be funded in stages with each stage having a designated time frame. The stages are: development, production, post production, outreach and marketing. Timing to coincide with public campaigns, events or issues may also cross-market causes and profile projects in ways beneficial to all concerned.
7. How do the objectives of the Charity fit with those of the project?
Charities exist for many reasons; ultimately because they want to make a difference. Private foundations typically award grants to areas already receiving government assistance where additional funding is required, as well as to areas receiving no government support. These areas typically include the arts and culture, environment, indigenous issues, health/medicine, science, education, social welfare, justice etc. Many documentaries cover these areas. In general, documentary filmmakers care about our society. Through telling a story to a broad audience they contribute to our shared culture. Well-made documentaries have the ability to entertain as well as the power to educate, inform, empower, raise awareness and create meaningful social change.
A charity needs to assess whether a documentary's aims matches the charity's areas of interest. The applicant's submission should address the shared objectives of filmmaker and charity and show how the documentary can enhance and extend the foundation's aims.
NEXT: Understanding proposals