Brad Lichtenstein’s blog

Behind the scenes of What We Got: DJ Spooky’s Journey to the Commons

Posts Tagged ‘Lumiere Productions

Who Owns the Sand? Ocean? Sky?

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Sometimes a picture is worth 1000 words.  Maybe even more if you consider that my proposal for What We Got weighs in at about 5000 words.  Nice job, Steve!  Visit his site at

Artist Steve Lambert makes the invisible commons visible.

Artist Steve Lambert makes the invisible commons visible.


Check it out…the budget for Almost Home

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Well, when the author of Shaking the Money Tree suggests that a budget would be helpful, I jump!  Thanks for the suggestion, Morrie.

My back is killing me!

My back is killing me!

Please know that the budget I’ve included here made a few assumptions that turned out not to be true.  For instance, while the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee did provide space in-kind, it did not offer adequate legal services, so I had to purchase my own.  Thank you FKKS!  And technology has changed in just 3 years, when this budget was created, so keep that in mind.  By and large, though, this budget is a good reflection of our effort. And we held to its bottom line.  Let me know your thoughts.  And please feel free to use the comments section of this blog to ask questions or discuss the budget.  Hope you find this helpful.   One note.  Some links remained in the budget document that I pasted.  I can’t get rid of them.  They go nowhere.  Sorry!


Acct. Account Name Unit Qty Rate Amount Detail Totals
1101 Producer allow 1 $100,000 $100,000
1102 Associate Producer weeks 77 $800 $61,280
1105 Project Intern(s) UWM In-kind 0 $0 $0
1106 Bookkeeper weeks 77 $90 $6,894
1190 Payroll Expenses
1191 Production Staff taxes & fringe allow 1 $31,325 $31,325
TOTAL 1100 DETAIL $199,499
1301 Plane fares RT – persons 2 $350 $700
1302 Car rental days 2 $65 $130
1303 Hotel persons – days 2 $100 $200
1304 Ground transportation days 2 $75 $150
1305 Meals person-days 2 $45 $90
1306 Research materials allow 1 $750 $750
1307 Gratuities, Misc. Expenses allow 1 $250 $250
TOTAL 1300 DETAIL $2,270
1401 Cameraperson shoot days 84 $600 $50,400
1402 Camera w/ ultra-wide lens months 7 $4,500 $31,500
1403 Sound Recordist shoot days 84 $325 $27,300
1405 Add’l Lighting Package allow 1 $2,000 $2,000
1406 DVCam Stock T-60 294 $24 $7,056
1407 Production supplies allow 1 $1,500 $1,500
TOTAL 1400 DETAIL $119,756
1501 Van Rental days 28 $85 $2,380
1506 Tolls, Parking, Gas days 28 $20 $560
1507 Production Food days-persons 168 $45 $7,560
1510 Location Fees allow 1 $1,000 $1,000
1511 Gratuities allow 1 $500 $500
TOTAL 1500 DETAIL $12,000
1601 Editor weeks 36 $2,500 $89,000
1604 Ass’t Editor weeks 40 $650 $25,740
1605 Post-production Intern weeks/inkind 0 $0 $0
1691 Post-production Staff taxes & fringe weeks / union payments 36 220.00 $7,832
TOTAL 1600 DETAIL $122,572
1701 Avid (editing facilities) weeks 36 $1,000 $36,000
1702 Edit phone, office & petty cash Months 9 $75 $675
1703 Transcription Service hours 74 $120 $8,820
1705 Add’l VHS Dubs T-120 150 $7 $1,050
1706 On-line Edit hours 32 $300 $9,600
1707 Color Correct hours 24 $300 $7,200
1708 Computer Animation (Photos) hours 4 $250 $1,000
1709 Chryon Pre-programming hours 8 $100 $800
1710 Sound Editing days 10 $650 $6,500
1711 Audio Mix hours 48 $300 $14,400
1712 DigiBeta stock for masters T-124 2 $180 $360
1713 Online Layoff to Digibeta T-124 2 $180 $360
1714 Digibeta Copies from Master Digibeta T-124 8 $180 $1,440
1715 Misc dubs, preview copies, etc allow 1 $250 $250
1716 VHS cassettes of final film dubs 100 $7 $700
1717 Edit Room Computer allow 1 $2,000 $2,000
1718 Graphic Opening Sequence allow 1 $15,000 $15,000
1719 Closed Captioning hours 2 $1,600 $3,200
1720 Plane Fares trips 7 $350 $2,450
1721 Ground Transportation trips 7 $150 $1,050
1722 Meals trips 21 $65 $1,365
TOTAL 1700 DETAIL $114,220
1801 Original Music Score (incl. production) allow 1 $15,000 $15,000
1802 Music Cue Licensing allow 1 $8,000 $8,000
1803 Archival Footage Licensing (incl. transfers) allow 1 $1,500 $1,500
TOTAL 1800 DETAIL $24,500
2001 Legal UWM In-kind / allow 1 $0 $0
2002 Publicity allow 1 $9,000 $9,000
2003 Insurance (E&O) allow 1 $6,000 $6,000
TOTAL 2000 DETAIL $15,000
Subtotal $609,817
Outreach Grand Total $262,048


This proposal was funded…by ITVS.

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Lloyd Herrold, one of the stars of Almost Home.

I’m sharing this proposal because I notice a need out there to see examples of funded proposals.  And, I believe that sharing profits us all — the commons (my current obsession and the topic of my next film).  I’ll post the proposal that was first rejected by ITVS, too, so that you can compare.  The big difference is in the detail of my articulation of the story and conflicts.  We ended up making a film that strayed from what was proposed, but some of the storylines we predicted unfolded and most of the values we declared as important were presented in the final film.  You can see clips of the film (and buy a DVD) at — and it is still airing on PBS stations 2 years since it’s premiere on Independent Lens.  Hope this proposal is useful to you.


Countering America’s denial and stereotyping of aging, Almost Home is a verité documentary about people who live, work and visit in an “old-age home.”

Consider this.  The last wave of baby boomers will soon reach sixty; meaning half of all Americans must contemplate eldercare for themselves or a loved one.  That’s 200 million of us dealing with eldercare.  Now consider that those same 200 million live in a country steeped in denial of its aging, frightened by the specter of dependency and death. We combat aging with pills and surgery, dismiss it with humor, and avoid it by neglecting to plan ahead.  We proffer images of “positive aging,” like 90-year-old marathon runners, and shun common realities of frailty and dementia.   Almost Home, a cinema verité documentary about a year in the life of people who live and work in an “old age home,” rescues the true stories of older adults and those who care for them from an exile of denial.

Almost Home combines handheld mini-dv verité footage and “in the moment” interviews to tell the extraordinary story of Saint John’s in Milwaukee, a typical continuing care community (or “old age home”) transforming its 135-year-old medical model of care (think hospital) into a holistic, social one (think neighborhood) that focuses on the whole person rather than her ailments, and embraces dignity, autonomy and equality.  This “culture-change” revolution tears down traditional walls between residents, staff, administration and families to replace the stigma of nursing homes as institutions of lonliness and death with a vision of “community” where people want to live, work and visit, and where healing isn’t encumbered by medical trappings.  To succeed, the visionaries will have to win over cynical managers skeptical of change; resistant nurses mired in regulations; overworked and underpaid nursing assistants juggling precarious lives; and complacent residents and families used to being excluded from many of the decisions that affect them.

While PBS programs have addressed issues of aging before, none have offered an intimate portrait of a diverse, multi-generational universe of people connected by aging and care giving.  Utilizing our total access to Saint John’s , we will present their stories in their own words and actions without interpretation by experts, narration or a host.  Direct cinema is hardly a new approach to filmmaking, but it is a radical choice for this subject because several people in the film suffer from dementia.  One of our greatest challenges (and rewards) is adapting a standard verité approach to one that captures the drama and personality of people unable to access memory or understand their own lives as a continuum.  Giving such people a voice is among our major goals.

Our perspective is 360 degrees – each moment can be understood from multiple characters’ points of view.  Shooting for a full year, we will be able to interconnect stories through overlapping characters, and weave them together into an overarching narrative about whether Saint John’s will succeed in it’s grand culture change experiment, and help lead America to rethink our approach to elder care.  Almost Home is a drama that elicits important issues: coping with physical and mental disability; coping with and planning for death; negotiating family care responsibilities; dealing with the challenges posed by high staff turnover and worker stress; the challenge of innovation in a field governed by intense regulation and shrinking resources.  Eighteen weeks into a 52-week shoot schedule, the following stories are unfolding before our camera:

John George, the young, gay, hip manager of the nursing home, grew up in a hardscrabble, stoic family near the Wisconsin-Canadian border.  During a family visit he lies to cover up a journey to his grandmother’s grave, “just to talk.”  At the gravesite he tells us of the close relationship with his grandma that inspired his career.  At a “culture change” conference the speaker asks who would put their parents up in the institution where they work.  No one raises their hands, including John.  “That’s my goal,” he tells us later, “to create a place where I would send my grandma.”

But changing the culture of care is hard and the management team grows impatient with John, finally exploding with a barrage of accusations:  why spend so much money on culture change in the nursing home when Saint John’s lake-view independent living apartments are the prime marketing tool?  One manager strikes the heart of much of the resistance to change:  nurses resist “managerial fads” and CNAs, who are mostly African-American, resent all-white management “coaching”, which often seems patronizing.  John tries to model the new mode of care, forming tight bonds with residents like Lloyd Herrold, whom he takes on visits to the art musem.  Riding home he confesses his failure to a colleague.  But John is driven.  He puts full faith in his staff and gives them the power to make decisions, while issuing the edict that staff must change or move on.  Those who stay transform into a team that throws out the institutional mentality, working together to create a home where residents can wake, eat and sleep on their own schedules.  Staff start interviewing residents and posting their stories for all to see. Wheel-chair “slumpers” slowly become engaged, death becomes a shared experience between residents and staff, and Saint John’s culture transforms.

Edie and Lloyd Herrold, once notables on Milwaukee’s social circuit, are now separated by Lloyd’s Parkinson’s, which forces him to move from their independent living apartment to the nursing home.  Publicly, Edie is comforted by friends who ask after Lloyd.  Privately, she is racked with guilt for not providing his care.  What nobody knows is that she also faces surgery for a nerve disease, and fears it may force a move to the nursing home.  (We will film her informing Lloyd and experiencing surgery in June).  Lloyd, meanwhile, is working feverishly in therapy to walk again, hoping to return to their apartment.  Desperate to leave the nursing home, he is often found wandering into elevators and ripping off his WanderGuard bracelet.  Embracing new culture change principles of autonomy, nurse Erika Stoving meets with him to discuss leaving, but the combination of his clouded brain and her determination that he remain in the nursing home makes for an awkward affair.  In the wee morning hours a somewhat lucid Lloyd eloquently articulates the painful experience of Parkinson’s – the words are there, but he can’t mouth them – which frustrates him to the point that his entire body freezes.  The words surface again at the art museum where he interprets for John George several paintings, touching on personal themes of lonliness, untapped strength and fantasies of escape.  Perhaps the brightest light comes from a fellow resident with Alzheimers who takes to helping Lloyd walk up and down the halls, laughing all the way.

Erika Stoving is the epitome of a dedicated nurse, working hours beyond her shift to care for every detail of the residents while also caring for her 2-year-old baby girl at home.  It’s a delicate balance thrown off kilter by the new changes at work that make her uncertain about where she stands.  She’s accountable when a resident is dropped, but instead of embracing the new culture’s transparency, she follows orders not to tell the resident’s family all of the details in order to protect the institution.  When she meets with Lloyd Herrold she is again caught, wanting to honor his autonomy but knowing he can’t function outside of the nursing home.  And when Edie Herrold, angry about losing her once dapper husband, insists that Erika put a bib on Lloyd, Erika is again caught between the new culture’s mandate to reject bibs as degrading and a family member’s request.

Nursing supervisor Sharon Prusow is also caught in the crossfire over the new changes.  Families appreciate the time she now gives them, like when Lloyd Herrold’s daughter inquires about missing clothes and Sharon calmly explains how her father wanders the halls and often places his clothing in other resident’s drawers.  But her nurses resist changes, claiming that doing away with an institutional medical cart in the hall or ceasing pulse checks in the middle of the night makes their job too difficult and risks residents’ lives.  And when state inspectiors issue the first violations she has received in her entire career, she feels that culture change may have distracted her attention to details.  John George places her on probation, wrestling privately with the dilemma of whether to fire one of his best friends.  In response, Sharon starts cracking down on her staff.

What she might not know is the ordeal of daily life faced by many nursing assistants like Enchantra Cosey who, like most of her colleagues, is poor (making less than $8/hour), African American, and working two jobs. Enchantra deals with the seamy side of care, changing diapers and bathing residents.  At home she is raising two grandchildren fathered by her 15 year-old boy, while her oldest son is in prison. She, however, embraces the new culture change which encourages her bond with Pauline Coggs, one of the few African American residents.  In death, Pauline has taught Enchantra about strength.  Fearless, Pauline instructs an official gathering of staff (including Enchantra) to end her therapies and withhold lifesaving measures.  Free of the burden of keeping her body functional, she attains a kind of bliss, which Enchantra relishes whenever she has a moment, listening to Pauline’s stories and jazz floating from her room.  These moments offset the more difficult ones her job presents, like when Dolores Haig, who has Alzheimer’s, slaps Enchantra while she assists her to the toilet.

Delores can be belligerent with staff.  Her husband, Bob Haig, does what he can to calm her.  Bob is 90, and goes to work at his photography studio every day.  Before work he walks from his independent living apartment to the nursing home to wake up, dress and make-up Delores.  It is sweet and sad to see him “doll her up,” as staff put it.  They understand Bob pines for the wife Alzheimer’s has stolen from him.  In a meeting with Erika Stoving and John George, Bob spends the entire time remembering his and Delores’ global adventures. In his photography studio he confesses to being utterly confused about how to deal with Delores.  When he throws her an 88th birthday party she seems happy, even a little saucy, until they visit the apartment they used to share. In a rare moment of clarity she declares to her grandchildren “I miss this place, you should see the dump where I live now.”  Hurt, Bob finally takes John George up on his offer to enroll him in a support group.

Winding his way through all of these lives is the indomitable Ralph Nelson.  He sails.  He woodworks.  He surfs the internet.  After losing his wife 12 years ago, he is finally ready to date again.  A fixture at cocktail parties and other functions, Ralph pours his heart into everything he does.  Knowing how difficult it is for Edie Herrold  and Bob Haig to accept their spouses’ deterioration, he joins them for lunch to ease the pain.  Knowing how strapped Saint John’s is for cash, he leads trash pick-up brigades and refinishes the building’s benches.  But there is one line he will not cross – the threshold to the nursing home.  He explains that his projects are a way to do for the nursing home residents in lieu of visits.  The truth is he is afraid of becoming frail, which is why he stays active and volunteers in a program with 2nd graders.  “Just let me fall down, dead, when my time comes,” he says. “I don’t want to lose my independence.”  He is just the person John George hope to comfort by achieving a culture change that makes the nursing home less frightening.

Providing an antidote to our youth-obsessed culture, Almost Home portrays older adults as they really are:  people who cope with disability, dementia and death while also continuing to love, desire and engage in meaningful relationships.  Almost Home will resonate with older adults who rarely see themselves depicted honestly on television. Already a significant PBS audience for cultural and arts programming, we hope to expand their viewing horizons.  Almost Home is also a multi-generational drama that reflects the reality of the long-term care industry where upper management is often white, while frontline workers are often minority.  To build relevant audiences we have forged partnerships with organizations like AARP and the National Association for the Black Aged.  Because Almost Home features the stories of so many people from a variety of generations – second graders to middle-aged adult children to the older adults – and racial, economic and educational backgrounds, we are poised to appeal to an unusually broad and diverse audience.

To ensure that we reach the diverse populations represented in Almost Home, and to fulfill the core PBS mission of delivering both quality television and meaningful community service, we are organizing an ambitious $250,000 national educational outreach effort.  We will partner with national organizations not associated with aging (NAACP, YMCA, American Library Association) and local coalitions of aging professionals, community groups and public television stations in 20 communities across the nation to design and implement a grassroots effort to reach out to people who do not yet identify themselves as potential caregivers or care recipients and encourage their recognition, understanding and consideration of long-term care issues.  We are also working with a national board of advisors to develop a curriculum that can be woven into continuing education courses for professional caregivers who must obtain such credits to keep their licenses active.  A comprehensive web site will support all outreach efforts.

Wisconsin Public Television is our producing partner station, and PBS has registered support for our project at a length of 90 minutes, leaving time for a 30-minute follow-up by local stations.  Editing begins in July, and delivery is planned for April.  More than 77% of our budget has been raised.

I Don’t Think ITVS Sucks!

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Sally Jo Fifer of ITVS talks to filmmakers at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival

Sally Jo Fifer of ITVS talks to filmmakers at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival

The Independent, one of indie filmmaking’s indie zines, published an article yesterday entitled “ITVS: Has the “Holy Grail” of Film Funding Lost its Way?” I don’t pretend to have a bird’s eye view of the entire organization and its relationship to PBS, indies, or filmmaking more broadly, but I offer my own experience with this organization over the past 13 years.  From my point of view, it has not lost its way.

Maybe, though, it’s a little misunderstood.  It’s important to understand that ITVS is not a grant-maker, like, say, the Ford Foundation.  When ITVS gives money to a filmmaker it initiates a partnership more akin to something between a producer’s rep and a distributor, only it’s fiduciary interest is minimal and it’s focus is on north American public television distribution.  ITVS presents the filmmaker with a licensing agreement that obligates ITVS to do it’s best to “sell” the film to the PBS system, often to a series like Independent Lens or POV.  The filmmaker, in turn, must deliver the show and all of the germane deliverables that will be required for broadcast, from a version timed to PBS standards to the proper clearances and permissions, to closed-captioning, etc.  In my experience, PBS deliverables are more onerous than the average television or cable station’s requirements, but you are not alone when you work with ITVS.  Like the article mentions, filmmakers who partner with ITVS go to San Francisco on ITVS’s dime for an opportunity not just to bond and deepen our community, but to also learn about delivery protocols and working with ITVS.  I attended one such gathering 4 years ago when my film Almost Home was selected as a LINCS (ITVS’ funding initiative that involves local public television stations) project, and I met the staff that eventually helped my co-producer, Lisa Gildehaus, and me as we prepared our deliverables.  And they provided a literal volume of templates.  I still rely on these.

During the retreat I also met the staff that helped us to organize a wildly successful Capitol Hill screening hosted by ITVS President Sally Jo Fifer and attended by several US Senators, the President and CEO of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting Patricia Harrison, the Deputy Surgeon General of the United States Ken Mortitsugu, Karen Schoeneman, the person from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services who deals with aging policy and about 250 policy makers, staffers and bureaucrats.  I could not have asked for a better organizing partner — ITVS staff were on the phone daily for at least a month making sure that everything was perfect right down to the color of the tablecloths, and they shared costs with me so that I did not bust my outreach budget.

I had applied to and been rejected by Open Call before Almost Home was accepted to LINCS, and my impression is that the staff at ITVS was profoundly interested in improving my application.  I scheduled my call and spent perhaps an hour on the phone with staff going over my rejected proposal.  They were so helpful that writing my new and eventually successful proposal almost felt like cheating, simply connecting the dots from their advice on the rejected proposal.  I got the feeling that they wanted me to succeed; there was nothing mysterious or cryptic about the process at all.  Of course, one can’t count on a positive outcome because the dynamics of every panel are unique and somewhat unpredictable.  And they made this clear to me as well.

I’ve heard the charges cited in the article that ITVS “can at times be a difficult partner, placing unnecessary demands on filmmakers, playing hardball during funding negotiations, shrouding the collaborative process in secrecy, and at times stifling the independent, creative spirit of the very filmmakers it is designed to support.”  I’m not privy to the actual conversations that have irked such filmmakers.  But on the legal front, I found ITVS to be much more interested in softball than hardball.  Two examples.  First, when Almost Home was accepted to the LINCS program we moved to the “feasibility” stage.  I had a problem.  I worked at a university that hosted me as a filmmaker-in-residence.  Bound by rules imposed by their funder, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and in turn their funder, the US Congress, ITVS could not fund an organization or university.  Their mandate was to fund individual filmmakers.  Believe me, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee provided only minimal support.  I was every bit a struggling individual filmmaker as the next person, but on paper it didn’t appear that way.  On top of it, I was plagued by unimaginative lawyers at the university who did not have my interests at heard and refused to work creatively with ITVS to determine solutions.  The deal fell apart.

ITVS was diligent enough to track me down in a rural part of the Adirondacks (no cell phone service, can you believe it?!?!) at the last moment.  We mutually decided to give our effort 48 more hours and it was their legal department that suggested I start my own LLC and even offered tips on the process.  ITVS was part of the solution, not the problem.  Three years later they helped again.  ITVS and I negotiated a deal for internet distribution of Almost Home, and this time they gave me the gift of patience.  Far from stifling my spirit, they helped file copyright paperwork to prepare the distribution agreement and kindly waited and assisted as I cleared some music that needed to be extended for the new contractual period.  They understood that we indie filmmakers are overworked and offered help so that I did not need to completely pull my attention away from my current project to file paperwork and bug Warner Chappell for 3 songs.  I call this partnership and support, and I appreciate it.

My experience is the exact opposite of the charge that “anything that could place a public television broadcast in jeopardy—including a community screening or appearance at a film festival—may be problematic or prohibited under the terms of the agreement.”  I am sympathetic with filmmakers desperate for a theatrical release who butt heads with ITVS (or any television broadcasting entity) that takes the position that such a theatrical run will rob audience from the broadcast.  I think the opposite is true; that theatrical builds buzz for the broadcast and that audience building is not a zero-sum game.  My impression from examining the PBS schedule is that the PBS system is much friendlier to this point of view than in the past.  Each year brings more and more shows to PBS after their theatrical or festival runs.

ITVS strongly supported my pre-broadcast non-theatrical community screenings.  In addition to helping us to organize a Capitol Hill screening of Almost Home, they also organized about a dozen pre-broadcast screenings across the country through their Community Cinema program.  (That program has grown by leaps and bounds, now.)  They supported the outreach / engagement screenings we did around the country through our national outreach partners.  We gave away roughly 1800 DVDs prior to broadcast for such screenings.  Our partners and their constituencies screened the film for audiences as small as 5 nursing assistants in a nursing home and as many as 700 people at the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging national conference.  We did workshops and talkbacks at dozens of these screenings.  Most proceeded without us.  ITVS was encouraging, and it paid off for both of us.  Almost Home’s January broadcast was unceremoniously canceled at the last minute when President George W. Bush scheduled his State of the Union for the same night.  ITVS acted swiftly, securing 2 new dates for the broadcast on Independent Lens.  They got on the phone and worked like mad to contact all of the stations to reprogram our new dates.  Meanwhile, I activated the network created by our outreach campaign and free screenings.  In a matter of two days we were rescheduled on almost every station and the station programmers were pleading with us to call off the dogs, the thousands of people calling and emailing their stations to reschedule Almost Home.  I was on the phone hourly with ITVS and they were completely responsive.  Again, they were helpful, committed and fulfilled all of my expectations of a healthy partnership.

My whole career has mostly been with the PBS system and there are two charges I’ve never understood.  One is that PBS films are conventional or boring.  People always bring up Ken Burns, but god bless him.  He has a large audience.  For the more adventurous, how long until you souls realize that every Tuesday features the same fare you’d find at the big and the local film festivals?  ITVS supports or helps to present films like this season’s Helvetica, Doc, Order of Myths, and Chicago 10.  Every year a slate of ITVS films are featured at Sundance, South By Southwest, Tribeca.  Tuesday nights are as indie, eclectic, political and engaging as it gets on American TV.  True, some filmmakers might not like working with public television.  The deliverables are decidedly voluminous.  The timing of the show is exacting.  PBS prefers you cut your feature to an hour.  But, I’ve never encountered the attempts to assert editorial control that have been suggested by some filmmakers.  Sure, ITVS staff reviewed my rough cuts and provided notes, but the notes were offerings without specific obligations beyond the good faith effort that we address them.  Payments are timed to stages of production and post-production, including rough cut review.  That’s typical in the industry.  In my experience, notes were gently and thoughtfully given, respectful of my vision, and in many cases very helpful.  No different than the notes I might receive from trusted colleagues.

The article pits ITVS against HBO.  Certainly HBO projects get healthy budgets and might take advantage of the sweet digs at HBO’s office.  But I’ve heard similar complaints from filmmakers who have had their shows reviewed, and in some cases recut by HBO.  We are lucky that HBO is such a major sponsor and promoter of indie filmmaking.  One major advantage of public television, though, particularly for filmmakers who wish to make an impact, is that ITVS’s outreach mission supports efforts like Community Cinema screenings around the country, website promotion and joint development of online educational resources.  In my opinion, neither ITVS nor HBO is better or worse than the other; they’re just different and different films are suited to one or the other.  After these two outlets, there is paltry support for indie filmmaking from American broadcasters.

I’m very familiar, too, with the charge that DeeDee Halleck writes, according to the article, that “ITVS programs must be offered to public television and the PBS administration, and the local stations are loath to support this rogue entity. So ITVS bends over backwards to please the stations (and Congress), and very little authentic alternative programming gets produced through this organization.”  Now, I’m not naive and I know that the fight to establish the “rogue entity” of ITVS was hard and bloody.  I am grateful for George Stoney and a slew others like DeeDee who fought that fight.  I know that not everything goes on PBS.  But take a sober look of late.  Where else on American television are you going to find stories about people of color, gay, lesbian and transgendered people, immigrants from all over the globe and other generally underrepresented Americans and visitors to our country besides PBS?  Go up and down the dial and, besides Sundance and HBO and Cinemax, you’ll only find melodramatic reality shows and soft-pedaling sponsored-entertainment or bio-docs when it comes to non-fiction programming.  POV and Independent Lens have done more to bring underrepresented groups’ stories and tales from the far reaches of the earth, the disempowered in our society, or of the unusual   to a wide audience than any other television entity in the US, and most of this programming has received support from ITVS.

ITVS stepped in right after 9/11 to support projects like Caught in the Crossfire, a show about Arab New Yorkers that I produced with David Van Taylor and Lumiere Productions, where I worked at the time.  ITVS stiffened its spine when the Anti-Defamation League publicly denounced our film, ITVS and PBS for including a segment in which one of our main characters, Pastor Khader El-Yateem, a Palestinian Lutheran minister living in Brooklyn, recalls being tortured by Israeli soldiers.  I had done the due-diligence to confirm the story, and ITVS stood behind me.  They never backed down.  We were front page news for several days in the New York Sun, and the story had legs, particularly with Jewish groups around the country.  ADL attacked PBS and it’s funding, per usual.  But there was never any discussion about pulling the show from the air or altering the final cut.  None.  There was a second contraversy over the maps of the Middle East on the Independent Lens website.  In this case, ITVS revised the maps, but, again, never punished us or tried to shirk their responsibility.

Sure, there is bending going on, but not just in the direction of perceived pleasing of PBS administration or Congress.  I had the privilege of serving on an ITVS panel judging finalists for LINCS support, and what I observed was heartening to me as an indie filmmaker.  I was one of only two filmmakers on panel and amazed at how seriously the programmers, PBS system funders and distributors around the table took my opinion and that of the other filmmaker.  They listened closely as we talked process, story and suggested how a project should be supported, perhaps with the condition that a more experienced filmmaker come on board as an executive producer.  (Poor Sam Pollard, he was suggested over and over again.)  I was heartened by how often we refreshed our commitment to the mission of ITVS, particularly in bringing alternative (yes, alternative) fare and voices to television.  I was impressed by the absolutely strict neutrality of the ITVS staffer in the room.  He was there only to answer policy questions, like a good judge in instructing the jury.  I was surprised and thrilled by the give and take of our discussions.  I recall one application in particular, an experimental fiction triptych of gay encounters that challenged some of the programmers in the room on many scores, especially form and content .  Still, at the urging of others, particularly we filmmakers, the reluctant programmers bent in our direction and took a chance.  They agreed that the work was intriguing, that it promoted voices not heard elsewhere, and that it would not find support from other broadcasters besides PBS .  We bent, too.  We took seriously the concern programmers in more conservative areas expressed about maintaining local support for series like Independent Lens and POV.  They were compelled to balance their desire for challenging and unique programs to see the light of day with their desire to maintain local support for keeping Independent Lens and POV on the air at the prescribed time of carriage in prime time.  I learned a lot from the panel, particularly the multiple pressures and points of view that comprise the PBS system.  It made me more empathetic with the people often sitting across the table from me when I’m working on a film.

Indeed, understanding multiple pressures and points of view is one of the central skills a documentary filmmaker must develop in order to make work that reflects the dynamism of the human experience, on an intimate and global scale.  It’s unfortunate that PBS has been cajoled by national party politics into promoting a policy described as “fair and balanced.”  Unfortunate, not just because this is the disingenuous slogan of Fox News, but it is also impossible to constrict standards for broadcast-worthiness into a slogan.  My politics are left.  I voted for Obama.  I’ve made films about Attica, domestic violence, discrimination against Arab-Americans.  Still, I can appreciate the difference between a flat film that only sings one tune – that of full-on advocacy, and a rich, multivalenced film that navigates the complicated human dimensions of an issue, reaching beyond easy judgements to take the viewer to a deeper, often unresolved, understanding of a topic.  I wish I could say that I always succeeded at this.  That’s for others to decide.  But I appreciate the need for ITVS and the series on PBS to seek such programming.  Such programming cannot be expected to meet any formal, standardized test for journalistic or storytelling standards.  Certainly, such judgement can’t be reduced to a slogan.   Every program is unique, and every judgement is subjective in the end.

That said, there is a place for all kinds of filmmaking, including hard-nosed advocacy.  But not every kind of filmmaking is appropriate for ITVS support.  I’ve heard many complaints from filmmakers who conclude that they did not get support because their show was “too hot to handle.”  My impression is that this might be a credible conclusion in some rare cases.  But I’ve had a chance to see some of the “too hot to handle” films, and I’m here to tell you that many need a great deal of work before they can be considered worthy of support precisely because they are either too one-note and flat, they are shoddy in their production values, they are poorly edited and confusing, or just plain dull.  It’s hard to make a good film and easy to complain.  At the end of the day, I often hear the voice of editor extraordinaire, Tom Haneke, who simply puts his head down and goes back to work after we get negative feedback and says, “Okay, let’s make it better.”  One of my mentors, Cal Skaggs, said it over and over:  “Filmmaking is hard work.”  Again, complaining is easy.

Some of you will probably say that Lichtenstein is just kissing ass here.  Full disclosure, I’m under contract now for research and development on my next project, What We Got.  Dismiss my experience as sucking up if you wish.  Or take me at my word.  I think ITVS is trying to contend with difficult pressures from Congress, CPB, filmmakers and the PBS series, and yet remains one of the  strongest supporters in America for fine independent filmmaking.

They are also moving boldly into the multiple platform digital space, but that’s a blog for another day.

I welcome your comments and reactions.  And happy filmmaking.