PBS does a good job of reviewing absolutely every proposal that is sent to them. The trick here is to have enough compelling material in your proposal to ensure that they review it longer than 12 seconds, or at least to get them to read past the second page. PBS doesn't require much formality in the physical aspect of the proposals. They simply recommend that you give them as much information as possible.
This is a bit misleading.
Of course, you could send them all of your scribblings in your notebooks about the great ideas you have. You could send them detailed storyboards drawn in crayon on napkins. The ability to do it does not make it a good idea. If you're really serious about your idea, you'll create a formal document for each line of the criteria that PBS recommends. This criteria is:
- Program Description: This includes a summary of the program, a visual treatment, and as much information about the characters, plotline, and importance of the topic as possible.
- Episodic Descriptions: If the film is intended to be a series, an description of each segment should be written.
- Project Timetable or sample episode: If the program has yet to be completed, a timeline of what will be done and when gives the funders an idea that you, the filmmaker, have thought this process out. If the program is complete, or partially complete, it's a good idea to send them what you've already got. Seeing the program is better than reading it.
- Key Staff, with resumes: All of the major players in your film, from producer down to the sound guy, should be listed here. In addition, resumes of the talent and interview subjects would certainly help.
- Business plan: PBS probably wouldn't give you all the money you need for your film. Its a good idea to let them know that you're looking elsewhere, and you're being realistic about the amount of money you're asking for.
- Previous works: Any funder will feel safer giving you money if you have a track record. If you've done films before, or anything tangible and reviewable, write it up and send it to them. This is kind of an extended resume for the filmmaker.
The main thing to notice here is that PBS is consciously trying to open the playing field to anybody-- not simply established filmmakers. The downside of this is that they don't require anything. This makes it harder to determine what exactly it is that they want. In this case, the "hoops" that you must jump through are not defined. Funding becomes increasingly difficult if you don't have a set framework with which to begin. The conclusion: PBS is a good place to go if you've already got a program that you want aired or funded after-the-fact. They're not quite the best place to go to get money from scratch.
The Independent Television Service, on the other hand, has very rigorous standards for the films they fund. As we will soon see, this can have its positives as well as its negatives.
On to ITVS...