Media: Documentary Film Grant Guidelines: Frequently Asked Questions

We understand that this process raises many questions. We have tried to anticipate some of those questions here. Please carefully read these Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) when deciding whether to apply. (Note: These FAQs differ from those of previous MacArthur Documentary Open Calls.)


I am an independent filmmaker working without an incorporated organization through which to apply. May I apply to the Open Call?

Unfortunately not. MacArthur’s Documentary Open Call can only make grants to organizations and companies that are legally incorporated in a U.S. state. The organization/company applying must be able to accurately state that it has complete editorial and financial control over the documentary project.

May I apply through a fiscal sponsor?

Unfortunately not. We realize that many foundations and film funders prefer to make documentary grants through fiscal sponsors or fiscal agents – however, the MacArthur Foundation does not make documentary grants through fiscal sponsors or fiscal agents. The organization/company applying must be able to accurately state that it has complete editorial and financial control over the documentary project.

May I apply through a for-profit production company?

Yes – the MacArthur Foundation can make a grant to a for-profit production company for a documentary project with a charitable purpose if the following conditions can be met:

  1. The organization/company must affirm that the professional fees and costs associated with the documentary project are being charged at or below cost.
  2. The organization/company must affirm that no individual or organization will make a profit from the film. If your project proceeds to the full proposal stage, you must submit a project budget that reflects this, and includes both the “at or below cost” and “will not give rise to a profit” statements.

Does the charitable purpose requirement mean that my production company can’t earn revenue if a public or commercial broadcaster, or an educational distributor acquires our film?

You may still make distribution deals with these entities, and receive compensation. Please note that a requirement of receiving MacArthur funding is that the film must be made available at low-cost or no cost to wide audiences. This can be achieved by a PBS broadcast, and/or by a robust educational and community screening distribution plan.

I am not a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, but living and working in the U.S. at the moment on my film. May I apply?

The MacArthur Documentary Open Call makes grants to organizations and companies that are legally incorporated in a U.S. state – not to individuals. If you are affiliated with, or have been hired by, a U.S. organization to produce/direct this project, the head of the organization should apply and list you as the primary filmmaking contact person for the project.

May I request a deadline extension for special circumstances?

No extensions will be granted. Complete applications must be received electronically by 3pm Central Time on Thursday May 1, 2014. Late submissions will not be considered.

May I send the application by email, mail, delivery service, fax, or in person?

From April 14 – May 1, 2014 we will be accepting applications online only at www.macfound.org/docfilm. Completed applications must be submitted by 3pm Central Time on Thursday May 1, 2014.

Do I have to submit a work-in-progress video sample by May 1?

The Initial Application Stage (applications accepted April 14 – May 1) consists of only written components – you are not required to provide a link to a work-in-progress video sample. If your project proceeds to the Full Proposal Stage, you will be contacted by May 30 and asked to submit a full proposal by June 13, which should include a link to a video sample (5-10 minutes in length). If you know that you will not have a work-in-progress video sample available by June 13, please indicate that you would like to be considered for research & development funding in your Initial Application. On a very limited basis, we may invite Full Proposals from projects in the research & development stage.

I submitted a documentary film proposal in a previous MacArthur Documentary Open Call but my project was not funded. May I reapply for this round?

Please refer to your correspondence from the Foundation notifying you of the outcome of our consideration for the project you submitted in a previous round. If the letter discourages you from reapplying, we advise you not to reapply with the same project. If you have made a substantial change in the focus or direction of the project since you last applied, which you believe brings the project more in line with the Foundation’s present guidelines, you may reapply. If our correspondence encouraged you to reapply, we invite you to do so.

I received MacArthur Foundation support for my documentary through a previous Open Call – May I apply for funding from the 2014 Open Call with the same project?

If your project has received support through a previous MacArthur Documentary Open Call, it is not eligible to receive Open Call funding again for the same project. Your organization is eligible to apply through the Open Call with a different project.

My documentary project is not about one of the subject areas on which the MacArthur Foundation works. May I still apply?

We are especially eager to learn about documentaries in subject areas on which the MacArthur Foundation works. (You may view all of these areas by visiting macfound.org and clicking on Explore Our Grantmaking: By Program and By Topic.) But we fund many documentary projects that are not related to MacArthur program areas. The main criteria we look for is whether a documentary project tells a compelling story about a pressing, underreported social issue in a way that has a potential to create understanding, and treats differing points of view with respect.

Do you accept proposals for web-native documentaries, participatory documentaries and transmedia projects?

Yes. We will consider these projects, provided their subject and approach fit the criteria listed in our open call guidelines, and provided there is a strong plan for broad dissemination.

My organization applied online to the 2013 Documentary Open Call. Should I use the same login and password to apply again?

Yes. You may use the same login and password. Your previous application(s) have been archived, and will not be available through the online application system.

If I do not hear from the Foundation by May 30, may I contact the Foundation for an update on my application?

We regret that we are unable to respond to phone or email questions. If you do not hear from us by May 30, we are very sorry, but this means that your project is no longer under consideration.

Do you fund post-production expenses?

Yes – when we refer to production funding, this includes both the production and post-production phases.

Do you fund research and development?

The MacArthur Documentary Open Call is intended to support the production and post-production activities associated with a documentary film. On a very limited basis, we may invite a Full Proposal from projects at the Research & Development stage, which we define as projects that will not have a representative work-in-progress video sample to send for consideration by June 13.

Do you fund outreach or community engagement?

MacArthur’s Documentary Open Call is intended to support the production and post-production activities associated with a documentary film project. While we appreciate the important role of outreach, public engagement and distribution activities, we are primarily looking for projects seeking support for production and post-production activities.

If I make significant progress on my project or have significant news to share after the Initial Application Stage deadline of May 1, may I send an update to the MacArthur Foundation?

Unfortunately not. Our online system does not have the capacity to accommodate updates after the May 1 deadline.

I have a question that is not addressed in the guidelines or the FAQ’s. May I email or call the Foundation?

We are sorry but we are unable to respond to phone or email questions. Please use your best judgment and submit a proposal to the best of your ability.