The long road to TV

Warning: today’s entry is for those who want a glimpse behind the scenes in a documentary filmmaker’s nuts and bolts world.  In 2009 I began blogging to chronicle my filmmaking learning curve as I helped Tom make a film out of his year in my classroom.  Over the years this has more and more been a voice for the message August To June attempts to convey—that meaningful education should be our goal, not test scores.  But today I am back as filmmaker, tracing the path we have taken to reach a broader audience via television.

We started trying to get August to June broadcast by public television when the film was just a rough cut.  The Independent Television Service (ITVS), closely associated with public television, helps independent filmmakers in a variety of ways, including via completion grants.  Like the 20 or so grants we tried for (and didn’t get) there was a very time consuming application to fill out.  Filling out grant applications forces you to clarify your ideas.  It is also enormously time consuming and draining.  But with the ITVS process we actually got a call from someone who had looked at our work and gave feedback, even if they rejected us.  So we got some useful feedback, but no cigar.

In September of 2010, 4 months before releasing the film, we tried again.  The cherry on the PBS cake is to get accepted by Point Of View (POV) or Independent Lens, the two national programs that air independent films.  The competition is fierce for the dozen or so shows that each airs in a year.  The year we applied I think there were 500 applicants.  I worked on the application for weeks.  No cigar.

When I looked at the films that were chosen, I guessed that we were not inflammatory or poignant or depressing or foreign or single-unusual-character-driven enough for them.  There were other routes we could pursue for TV, but we put them on hold as theatrical, conference and community screenings filled our two person operation’s time.

I picked up the ball again in the fall of 2011 when KQED, the biggest SF Bay public station had a competition for a series on local issues.   We seemed a shoo-in to me, but again there were hundreds of submissions.  We got a nice thank you rejection letter.

By this time we were up to our ears filming at Mission Hill and traveling with August to June.  So we stepped back from TV again, but somewhere in there Tom decided to edit a one hour version of the film, just in case that would be easier to get broadcast.  So difficult to cut a third out of the film, but it fit better into the time slots local stations program.  At the suggestion of filmmaker Bob Gliner, we went to a smaller Bay Area public station, KRCB.  Programmer Stan Marvin was interested not only in showing it on KRCB, but offered to help us get wider distribution.

It was a bit of a shock to find out that not only wouldn’t we be paid for our work, but in fact we would need to pay.  I know this sounds crazy, but that’s just what we did—several thousand by the time all the pieces fell together.  Under the wing of KRCB, we submitted to the National Educational Television Association.  They accepted us and will offer our film to stations several times over the next few years.  Each station’s programmer will decide whether and when to program the film.  So far we have been very lucky that we are being given prime time locations on over 70 stations (as well as repeats at 2 or 4am, which is less lucky, but might be good for  people who record programs for later viewing).

So the learning curve continues, but WE MADE IT TO TV!  Fingers crossed our dream of reaching past the choir comes true.


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