The Mentoring Room - Ask the Working Pros

Mentoring Room

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This is a Public Topic geared towards first-time filmmakers. Professional members of The D-Word will come by and answer your questions about documentary filmmaking.

Sarah Goldsmith

Hello everyone, this is my first question here and you seem to be a bunch of knowledgeable, informed people so here's hoping someone can help me.

My company is NOT a not-for profit, and we are making a humanitarian-content 3-part documentary series

I have yet to source funding and am finding it increasingly difficult. Does anyone have any advice regarding developing ANOTHER company, such as a social enterprise or other not-for-profit, to work alongside my existing company in order to obtain the many grants etc that would then be available to me?

What would the implications be of having two businesses? Which one would own the films, and what would be the potential for transferring from a not-for-profit, to the profit-making business if it seemed like the film would do well?

Does that make sense? It does to me, but then I know what I mean to say...

Jo-Anne Velin

Why would a grant-making body give funds to a not for profit, that then passes the money on to a for-profit? It sounds like a scam, the way you describe it, regardless what the law says.

What I have seen, not in film but other fields, is profit from a for-profit, being directed to a not for profit, or foundation, partly to lessen a tax bill, but often just to provide the not for profit with operating capital. So, exactly the opposite flow of what I understand you're describing here.

Sarah Goldsmith

In reply to Jo-Anne Velin's post on Wed 17 Dec 2008 : Yes Jo-Anne, you are right, oh dear, it does sound like a scam the way I've described it! It isn't meant to be at all. I don't mean I want to transfer the money from a not-for-profit, my question is, if I had a not-for-profit and the film was funded by a grant(s), would that film be 'optioned/owned' by that funder for a period of time, or would it be available later on for a for-profit company? (the film itself, not the money... please forgive me for not knowing, but the funding issue is new to me). The film is being raised to make profit to further research into a humanitarian issue. I want it to make as much money as possible for the benificiaries, yet, unless I am a not-for-profit, I am finding initial and finishing funding difficult to source – hence my badly-phrased question :)

James Longley

It is possible to find non-profit organizations to sponsor your project for the purpose of applying for and receiving grants as an individual filmmaker. I have not done this, but I know it can be done.

Not sure about the laws where you are, but it might not hurt to consult with a professional legal/financial advisor.

Skyler Buffmeyer

I am starting on a doc about body image and how women feel about themselves. One of the main parts in my film is having women send in video diaries about themselves and how body image affects them. I am wondering, since I will probably never face to face meet i still need "rights"? I know most people have their subjects sign an agreement saying they have the right to use the footage in their film but, i am wondering if i need to do that. if i do, how should i go about that?

Doug Block

Yes, Skyler, you still need rights. Send them a release form to sign. Examples can be found through a Google search, I'm sure.

Joe Scherrman

Sarah Goldsmith

In order to get grants for my project I partnered with our local community foundation that is 501C3. At first they didn’t think they could accept money and give it to me, a for-profit. It took the help from Robert Richter D-worder
and Karen Shatzkin (Shatzkin & Mayer, P.C.) to convince our local foundation.

I could of used Robert’s generous offer to provide the 501C3 but I wanted to educate our local community that this can and should be done. (I am on a mission to get our area hip to the production of films.) It also took the help and legal opinion from Karen Shatzkin.
The information from Karen and the offer from Robert helped convince the foundation to look into it. The foundation got their legal people and they then agreed that my project was with-in the foundations mission statement and have now partnered with me. Since I have received over 40,000 in grants.
The hidden section is the opinion I gave the foundation.

re: Fiscal sponsorship

Dear Joe:
You have asked my firm to comment on your proposal to arrange a fiscal sponsorship for your proposed documentary film entitled "Ghost Players" by a local community organizations having tax-exempt status under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, such as the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque and the Dubuque County Historical Society.
I understand that you may forward this letter to the community organizations and/or others, so let me clarify expressly that your doing so will not entail an assumption by us of, and we expressly disclaim, any duty of care toward anyone with whom you may share this letter. Such parties should rely on the independent advice of their own legal advisors regarding the matters discussed in this letter.
As you may be aware, there are numerous 501(c)(3) organizations that exist for the express purpose of acting as fiscal sponsors for documentary filmmakers. However, the principles and procedures relating to fiscal sponsorship can equally apply when a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that is formed with other, more general tax-exempt purposes – such as the preservation and celebration of a community's local history – undertakes to assist the production of a particular documentary film that furthers those purposes.
A review of these general principles and procedures should be helpful. The sponsoring organization commits to make a grant to the filmmaker that is contingent upon the sponsor's receipt of outside funds for the film project. The filmmaker-grantee, in turn, commits to solicit gifts, contributions and grants to be paid to the sponsor, designated for a restricted fund created by the sponsor for the filmmaker's project. The contributions are tax-deductible to the contributors.
Any contributions received in the sponsor's designated fund, less any administrative charges (quite modest, as a rule) that the sponsor may deduct, will then be paid to the filmmaker, pursuant to procedures and a schedule agreed upon by the sponsor and the filmmaker. (Generally, the filmmaker will be asked to submit written requests, and disbursements may be made pursuant to a schedule, such as monthly – contingent, of course, on the availability of sufficient money in the restricted fund.)
It is entirely appropriate for the sponsor to require advance notice of any funding solicitations the filmmaker makes and to reserve the right to approve the choice of funding sources and the content of the fundraising materials. The filmmaker normally agrees not to make any material change in his fundraising strategy or the film proposal itself without the sponsor's approval, so that the sponsor can ensure that the project remains at all times consistent with its purposes.
The filmmaker commits to use best efforts to produce the film consistent with the grant proposal; to use the grant funds solely for the project and as specified in the requests for disbursements from the restricted fund; and to repay to the sponsor any money that is not used for the project. The filmmaker needs to keep accurate records of how all grant money is spent and will generally be required to submit periodic accounting and progress reports to the sponsor.
The sponsor and filmmaker are not in an agency, partnership or similar relationship. Under this fiscal sponsorship model, the filmmaker has the freedom to make the film (within the limits of the project description and purposes) without the sponsor's involvement. All rights (including copyright) in the film belong to the filmmaker, and all income that may be realized from the film is the property of the filmmaker. The filmmaker is responsible for all tax returns, insurance, debts and legal obligations relating to the film.
However, if the filmmaker fails to live up to his undertakings (not submitting timely and accurate progress reports, noncompliance with any fundraising limitations set by the sponsor, failure to spend the grant on the approved production, etc.) or otherwise acts in a manner that would jeopardize the sponsor's tax status, the sponsor has the right to withhold, withdraw or demand the return of the grant funds and spend them so as to accomplish the purposes of the project or in such other way as will accomplish the donors' intention as nearly as possible.
It certainly seems that this model is appropriate for your proposed film relating to the project you described to me.

Hope this helps

Nicholas Taylor

I'm producing a documentary about this particular family, and they have a lot of home movies and pictures that I'm going to use as B-roll. I have consent forms for the interviews and images, but I need a form specifically to handle the rights for the B-roll. Does anybody have a form like that, or know where I could get one?

Prabha Nag

I am using a HV 20 with DOF adaptor to make films. The quality of video is really good, but sound is very tinny. Is there anyway I can improve the quality of sound without spending a fortune? I'm still learning film-making, so want to get some experience before investing in higher-end equipment
Appreciate any suggestions please!