THE DOCUMENTARY PROJECT
"The difficulty in securing funding and distribution for documentary films is not specific to the subject matter. A viable solution needs to address the problem on an industry-wide basis."
MISSION STATEMENT: The study of existing methods of financing and distributing independently produced documentary films and factual programming to determine the feasibility of establishing new financing models and methods that better serve the needs of industry participants.
INTRODUCTION: Filmmakers and programming producers agree that funding and distribution opportunities for documentary films and factual programming are presently inadequate. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the PBS affiliate network, the National Science Foundation and National Endowment for the Humanities, and others remain significant funders of documentaries and factual programming. But there's been a steady decline in government funding and corporate support in the past decade. Unless new sources and methods are found, diverse and independent voices are at risk of going unheard and the public's timely access to information and new ideas will remain limited. The Documentary Project study is a step toward resolving these issues in a sustainable way.
The film and media business consists of three major components: "ideas" (programming content), "money" (financing and investment) and "return on investment" (revenues for funders and distributors, or in the case of nonprofit sponsorship distribution or outreach itself can be a form of "return"). Traditionally, "ideas" chase money, while "money" chases "return" (or for nonprofit sponsorship, distribution to a target audience), and "return" pursues the newest ideas to entice viewers, bringing the process full circle.
In situations where sufficient demand exists these dynamics automatically produce a vigorous and creative funding environment. However, although our preliminary research indicates that audience demand does exist for documentaries and factually based programming, funding generally remains scarce. Why is this so? Is it a general lack of profitability? Or is the lack of profitability due to severely limited distribution options and the inability of the viewing public to exercise choice in an open marketplace? These are questions EMF's Documentary Project is attempting to answer.
Our study concerns itself with "finance" rather than "funding." Filmmakers typically think only about finding money to do they project (funding), as opposed to "finance", which is the art of developing investment vehicles or compelling outcomes that make the money seek out a project. The Documentary Project looked at ways to create new financial models and investment packages that might offer greater inducement to socially conscious investors looking to use media for public education and social and cultural change.