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The Documentary Core Application FAQ

The Documentary Core Application is a collaborative effort by grantors who regularly fund documentary projects to standardize application requirements, with the aim of fostering greater access and a more equitable and sustainable documentary field. 

FAQ For Filmmakers

What is the Documentary Core Application Project?

The Documentary Core Application Project asks funders who regularly make grants to independent documentary film projects to adopt a common proposal format and a standard list of proposal questions in their grant applications. 

How do I apply to a fund with the Documentary Core Application?

The process for applying to a fund will vary for each participating grantor. Follow the links to each funder's page for specific instructions. The "core proposal checklist" provides a standard set of proposal questions, terminology and length recommendations that all participating funders have agreed to accept. However, each funder is continuing to manage their own submission process. Funders may also require information in addition to the core proposal material.

How did the Documentary Core App come about?

In 2015, in response to requests from filmmakers and feedback gathered at IDA's first Getting Real conference in 2014, Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program approached IDA with the idea of working together on creating and jointly disseminating a common application to documentary funders. After an extensive research and development phase,  Sundance Institute came up with a "Core Proposal Checklist" and IDA began gathering feedback and introducing the idea to documentary funders.  Sundance Institute and IDA successfully implemented an earlier version of the newly created core application proposal checklist with our own open calls last year. We then gathered feedback from filmmakers,  refined the requirements,  and in the fall of 2016 asked other funders to officially opt-in and adopt the Core Application guidelines.  Initially, a group of 14 grantors signed on to use the proposal checklist with their applications, with a commitment to fully implement the new guidelines by the end of 2017. 

Why do we need a Documentary Core Application?

Very few filmmakers can pay themselves or others for the bulk of the work involved in fundraising for their independent documentaries. We estimate that the process of applying for grants alone represents tens of thousands of hours of mostly unpaid labor on the part of documentary filmmakers each year. By standardizing application requirement as much as possible across the documentary field, we hope to ease the significant burden that has traditionally been placed on filmmakers when they are required to customize and re-write proposals to satisfy the requirement of multiple documentary grantors.

Why a "Core Application" and not a centralized "Common Application"?

This approach allows funders to easily and quickly adopt the core proposal requirements and incorporate them to established workflows, while still lightening the burden placed on filmmakers in a meaningful way. Due to the wide range of individual funding mandates, deadlines and granting cycles and the fact that many smaller grantors in the field have limited capacity to handle the huge influx of applications that a common application portal could generate, we chose the "core application" approach for its ease and flexibility.

What's next for the Documentary Core Application Project?

We're continuing to reach out to other funders and fiscal sponsors to encourage them to join the project.  In the next phase, we are exploring standardizing other elements, such as work sample lengths, budgets, and even grant reporting requirements.  Stay tuned!


FAQ For Funders


How can funders adopt the documentary core application?

It's easy! First, download the core application proposal checklist. Then get in touch with us to let us know that you are considering opting in and we can answer any questions you might have about implementation, send you a Documentary Core Application logo to use on your website, and add your name to our list of Documentary Core Application website with a link to your call for entries.  If you've got questions or want to talk through challenges in making the switch don't hesitate to let us know. 

We only request an LOI (Letter of Inquiry) right now, should we switch to the Core App?

If you request an LOI instead of a full proposal, you can still use Core App by agreeing to adopt the core proposal checklist for the projects that you invite to submit full proposals. Feel free to get in touch if you have further questions.

We want to opt in but we're part way through a grant cycle. How can we be included?

If you can't switch right now but would like to join us, simply commit to using it on your next funding cycle or at your next call for entries by getting in touch and letting us know roughly when you think you'll be able to make the switch. We'll add your name and logo to our list of participating funders and let everyone know that you're committed to making the switch as soon as you can. 

We'd like to support this project but our funding mandate is very specific and this application simply doesn't work for us. What can we do?

Even if you can only use a few sections of the core application that could still save filmmakers a lot of time so even if you can't make the switch entirely, use what you can. You can also take a look at our list of how to commit to a more filmmaker friendly funding process.  

How can we commit to a more filmmaker friendly funding process?

So glad you asked! We talked to LOTS of filmmakers and here's what they want funders to know about how to make your funding application and process more filmmaker friendly.

  • Consider adopting the Documentary Core Application proposal checklist
  • If you are using the Documentary Core Application, keep supplemental questions to a minimum and make sure they are tightly focused on your specific needs.
  • If you can't use the Documentary Core App, consider asking for a letter of inquiry (LOI) first and inviting a more limited number of qualified projects to submit a full application once you have determined which projects might be a good fit for your fund.
  • If you collect applicant information in a form, eliminate unnecessary word limits and character limits wherever possible. Customizing material to fit arbitrary word limits can be extremely time-consuming. If you need to use word or character limits, make sure they are clearly noted in each section and be mindful of the time involved in customizing and filling out individual sections.
  • Consider the process. If you are using a form or a custom portal that requires registration can you offer a preview of the application that filmmakers can look at before having to register and get started? Can applicants save the application as they are working on it and come back to it? If not make sure to give an estimate of how long you think it will take to complete. Consider carefully what information you need from all applicants vs. what you may need only from finalists. Whenever possible save the most time-consuming requests for projects you know are being seriously considered for funding. 
  • Keep it simple and be mindful of the time involved in gathering and customizing application materials. Unlike established organizations that employ grant writers and have experienced development staff most filmmakers write their own grant proposals and very few are able to pay themselves or others for the work involved in fundraising. We estimate that across the field the process of applying for grants represents tens of thousands of hours of unpaid labor each year.
  • If you request a work sample, be flexible about length. Providing a suggested range of lengths that you will accept, rather than an exact time limit (10-20 minutes vs. saying 15 minutes for example). This will help filmmakers save on edit costs that might be incurred in customizing a sample length just for your application and will give filmmakers more flexibility to use the same sample for multiple funders. Also, consider allowing filmmakers to provide links to work samples on commonly used sites like Vimeo rather than requiring that they upload work to new unfamiliar sites. 
  • Many filmmakers are concerned about privacy and security. Be willing to provide a way for filmmakers working on highly sensitive projects to submit proposals and work samples securely.
  • Be as transparent as possible about your timeframe for reviews and notifications.

THANK YOU for helping us work toward a more equitable and sustainable documentary funding field.