In 1976, the Film Arts Foundation opened in San Francisco with 15 original members. Today it’s still growing—servicing more than 2,400 members—and changing with these digital times. Veteran and independent moviemakers find assistance through the foundation in all aspects of the industry, from education to distribution.
“Up-to-date equipment, including brand-new HD cameras, is made affordable to even the most independent moviemakers,” says Michael Read, editor of FAF’s Release Print magazine. He also let us in on the TILT (Teaching Intermedia Literacy Tools) youth program, which is taught by professional moviemakers, and the buzz surrounding new FAF satellite offices nationwide, making it a bit easier for the group’s members outside of the Bay Area to benefit equally.
Mallory Potosky (MM): Film Arts Foundation was founded in 1976 by a small group of independent moviemakers. What was their goal in establishing the foundation?
Michael Read (MR): Versions of the founding story vary, but most agree that experimental filmmaker Scott Bartlett convened the early meetings of a handful of filmmakers who were driven by a need for equipment and money to make films. When it was incorporated as a nonprofit in 1976, the organization had 15 members, each paying $100 to have time on the editing table at the Berkeley Film Institute. In 1978, the organization cut its dues and reorganized as a broad-based membership organization.
MM: Film Arts is a nonprofit organization. One of the benefits to this categorization is the ability to put together and re-distribute government funds and grants to its members. How accessible is the funding to the average member? And how do you narrow down the field of applicants—all of whom probably seem deserving of the awards?
MR: Film Arts currently has more than 250 sponsored projects. The application process is extremely thorough and requires the filmmaker to submit an extensive package that must include a budget, synopsis, project description, background, crew and subject bios and an outreach, distribution and funding plan. The associate director reviews the application and, when needed, provides extensive feedback in person to the filmmaker on how the package can be improved. This is extremely helpful, as the package often becomes the basis of every future grant application. Acceptance into the program is usually dependent on the following items: A well-developed idea, the capacity to carry out that idea and a unique relationship to the subject. Filmmakers can live anywhere in the United States and do not need to be based in San Francisco. The projects, however, must be non-commercial in nature and as a result be educational or cultural in content.
MM: The foundation boasts over 2,400 members from over 10 countries. It started as (and still is) a San Francisco-based organization. How and why do you think that reach developed?
MR: While most of our members hail from the Bay Area, we continue to sign up many new members each year from around the country and abroad. This is primarily due to our fiscal sponsorship program and widespread interest in our magazine, Release Print. Moreover, the organization has long enjoyed a reputation for being a tireless advocate for the concerns of working independent filmmakers everywhere.
MM: How does Film Arts Foundation benefit members who aren’t in the San Francisco area—those who have little or no access to the equipment rentals or building facilities such as libraries or editing rooms?
MR: All Film Arts members receive our magazine, Release Print, which includes a broad range of content of interest to filmmakers no matter where they live: Interviews and profiles, production tips, analysis of new trends and technologies, reports from festivals and media marketplaces around the world, plus book reviews, film screenings and the essential Independent Film Pages, the best single source of information on festivals, funding and opportunities for independent film and videomakers. All members gain access to the member’s only section of the Website containing databases of festivals, funding, awards and much more. All members also enjoy substantial industry discounts from dozens of companies, such as Apple Computer, Kodak, and Fujifilm. There has been much discussion recently of opening satellite offices in cities across the country. So stay tuned!
MM: Can you talk a little more about TILT (Teaching Intermedia Literacy Tools) and the collaboration it has with Film Arts?
MR: TILT was founded in 1998 and has been the youth program of the Film Arts Foundation since 2004. TILT works within schools and community-based programs to teach young people the fundamentals of moviemaking and media literacy through hands-on training in video production. By equipping young people with the tools to critically understand media messages and to tell their own stories, we help students gain a meaningful voice in the media. For more info, check out http://www.tiltmedia.org <http://www.tiltmedia.org/>
MM: The foundation just celebrated its thirtieth year. How does such an organization remain fresh and relevant after so many years?
MR: Film Arts Foundation continues to address the significant changes that are affecting the independent filmmaker, which is an important keystone of the industry. We are exploring the very ways in which our members will be able to distribute, disseminate and monetize their work through the rapidly exploding platforms, channels and companies that are delivering creative content worldwide. Our organization continues to support the endeavors of our veteran members as they consider additional ways to reach new audiences with their work beyond traditional broadcast and educational distribution. Film Arts continues to engage a new generation of filmmakers as they develop and tell their stories within the context of the digital age, in which they have been reared and now work.
MM: How does Film Arts’ education program keep up-to-date while serving the needs of both emerging and mid-career moviemakers?
MR: It is our members and enrollees that keep us abreast of their needs. While offering a core set of classes that are specific to individuals who are looking to get started and stay on track with film and videomaking, we are always looking to offer advanced and issue-specific courses. From novice to professional, we take pride in knowing that during every calendar session we are walking filmmakers through an educational process that carries on from year to year. An ongoing conversation of surveys, evaluations and consultations allow us to have direct feedback with our students and instructors, who inform us of what is working and could be improved upon in our workshops. With that critical information we can then do the outreach to schedule informative classes and bring in instructors with skill sets that will better serve our students.
MM: What does the future hold for Film Arts and its members?
MR: Our organization will emphasize the word “Arts” in its proper name by focusing its educational programs and services toward the importance of holistically developing the story and cultivating the aesthetic values of creation in the making of media content. Technology platforms will change but great storytelling remains ever important.
Film Arts will put its priority going forward in its word, Foundation, by implementing methods to significantly raise the granting monies that it disburses to professional filmmakers. Our goal is to directly stabilize and grow our field in the near and long term.
For more information, visit www.filmarts.org.