December 2008

The 10 Best Academic Programs for Aspiring Screenwriters

The Independent takes a look at the best degree and non-degree granting programs for screenwriters.


Students particpating in the USC Writing for Screen and TV Video program.

The Independent's Jericho Parms sifts through the multitude of programs for aspiring screenwriters and boils down the essentials so you can find the best fit to help you achieve your screenwriting goal, whether that be having as many finished screenplays by the end of the program as possible, or walking away with an education that not only helps you put your ideas on paper, but helps prepare you to sell your ideas to the people who can get them up on the big screen.

Whether or not to pursue an education in the film industry has long been a hot topic. Clearly, there are identifiable pros and cons of electing to formally study film, more particularly choosing to concentrate on a single element, such as screenwriting.

Distribution by Wal-Mart

A Q & A with filmmaker Jeremy Dean, whose documentary, "Dare Not Walk Alone," was recently picked up for distribution by Wal-Mart.


A still from Jeremy Dean's civil rights documentary, "Dare Not Walk Alone."

Documentary filmmaker, Jeremy Dean, talks about facing a "personal moral dilemma" when Wal-Mart picked up his first film, Dare Not Walk Alone (view trailer here). He discusses his role as a filmmaker in marketing his film and how taking a risk with the subject of racism, and letting the story unfold in a unique and unconventional way, helped propel it into the foreground of films related to the Civil Rights Movement.

Jeremy Dean found a dusty VHS tape tucked away in the basement of a historical society and was captivated by its the black and white footage of the civil rights struggle. “As I sat alone watching Dr. King speaking to a packed church and the demonstrators fearlessly marching for freedom, it became a key that unlocked a mystery.

Grant Guidance: Government, State, and Private Funds for Filmmakers

A state-by-state resource list of film funders.


"Delta Boys" by Andrew Berends was a 2008 Gucci Tribeca Documentary Finishing Fund Recipient.

Although arts funding is not exactly at its peak, grants remain an essential source of financing for many independent filmmakers. Learning to navigate the fundraising field, of course, can be quite a challenge. So The Independent created this resource to list state government grants in addition to some key private sources for film funding.

Although arts funding is not exactly at its peak, grants remain an essential source of financing for many independent filmmakers. Learning to navigate the grant research and application process, of course, can be quite a challenge. Some filmmakers jest that they spend more time fundraising than making their films.

ITVS: Has This Key Funding Partner Lost its Way?

The Independent Television Service, or ITVS, is one of the most prestigious sources for film funding in the United States. But some filmmakers complain it's abusing its power.


PBS series Global Voices picked up the controversial "Father Roy: Inside the School of Assassins" ten years after its release.

The creation of the Independent Television Service in the mid-1990s as a source of funding for independent filmmakers was seen at the time as one of the great successes in the independent film movement. Today, the organization has a budget exceeding $12 million, and provides key funding to hundreds of films each year, including approving many outright grants in the six-figure range. All ITVS projects are supposed to completed and groomed for public television—but, in fact, one in three films funded by ITVS do not make to a major PBS series. Why is that? In more than a dozen interviews with filmmakers and people familiar with ITVS, some complaints emerge: namely, that ITVS is an overbearing funding partner that deploys "bulldog" lawyers and shrouds the funding process in secrecy. The Independent's Michele Meek takes a look at the organization and the independent filmmakers who rely on it, to find out what's going on.

In 2007, filmmaker Joanna Rudnick learned that her application for funding from the Independent Television Service (ITVS) had been accepted. Rudnick, a first-time director, had applied for ITVS funding to finance the completion of her documentary In the Family, a look at women who are aware they carry a genetic predisposition to breast or ovarian cancer.

5 Contract Tips for Filmmakers

Filmmakers often think they have to sign away all their rights to get a deal signed, but before you do, check this short list of things to watch out for.


1. Get professional help. Always have a recommended entertainment lawyer review any contract (broadcasting, funding, licensing) before signing. If you can't bring a lawyer, bring an advocate to negotiation meetings. Having an experienced producer on your side during a negotiation is the next best thing to having a lawyer with you (and in some cases may even work better).

10 Terms From ITVS Standard Contract Revealed

For the first time, the organization publishes some of the controversial clauses from its lengthy contracts with filmmakers.


At The Independent’s request, ITVS agreed to publish its standard contract details for the first time. Some of the terms are fixed across all projects. For example, because the ITVS mandate is for each film to air on public television, the contract prioritizes those broadcasts ahead of community screenings or film festivals.

Distributor FAQ: Talking to Oli Harbottle of Dogwoof Pictures

A look at the inner-workings of the successful distribution company, Dogwoof Pictures.


Pete Postlethewaite, star of Dogwoof's latest film, <i>The Age of Stupid</i>.

Dogwoof Pictures, a London-based distribution company, is experimenting with modes of distribution with Dogwoof Indie, which allows filmmakers to keep the rights to their film. Dogwoof is currently celebrating their most recent Dogwoof Indie release from filmmaker Franny Armstrong, The Age of Stupid (view the trailer here), starring Pete Postlethewaite as a man in 2055 who looks back on old footage of 2008 and wonders why we didn't stop global warming when we still had the chance. The Independent's Nikki Chase picks the brain of Dogwood release coordinator, Oli Harbottle, to get the scoop on this thriving distribution company.

Already a successful London-based distribution company, Dogwoof has launched its own DVD store, an independent distribution site called Dogwoof Indie (which allows filmmakers to keep all rights to their film), and Dogwoof TV, a platform that brings independent movies from the web to the television (in conjunction with blinkx BBTV).

The Doc Doctor's Anatomy of a Film: "Billy the Kid"

The Doc Doctor takes a look at Jennifer Venditti's Billy the Kid.


Filmmaker Jennifer Venditti with Billy, the subject of her first feature-legnth documentary.

This month Doc Doctor, Fernanda Rossi, takes a look into Jennifer Venditt's award-winning documenary Billy the Kid (view the trailer here), which gives a portrait of adolescence through the eyes of Billy, an underdog teenager living in a small town in Maine. Veditti shares the successes and mistakes she made during the journey of completing her first film, which has found great success with festivals and critics alike.

About this column: Many filmmakers ponder in anguish, How do other people—celebrated people—do it? Am I taking too long to make this documentary? Does everybody spend as much money as I am spending, or am I spending too little? And when filmmakers share their lessons learned in interviews in the glossy trade magazines, their tales seem to follow the arc of otherworldy heroes rather than real documentary makers, i.e. human beings like you and me. So each month, the Doc Doctor will go out into the world (this real world) of filmmakers who are successful and find out how they made it. The "Anatomy of a Film Column" is a chance to learn from filmmakers' hits and misses in real life examples. —Fernanda Rossi, story consultant a.k.a. the Documentary Doctor