The Rise of Relevance: On Participatory Funding and Ethnic Media

Luis Ortiz is Managing Director at Latino Public Broadcasting, where he oversees the development, financing and production of Latino-themed programming distributed for broadcast on public television. He manages and executes LPB’s Open Call process and other programming initiatives. He also administers all projects, from initial contract negotiation with producers through delivery of the completed program, and implements LPB’s nationwide workshops and outreach initiatives. He serves as Series Producer for Voces, an 8-part Latino anthology series. Visit www.lpbp.org and www.voces.tv.

As managing director at LPB, you’re approached by many filmmakers. What do think new and emerging filmmakers need to know about working with funders when they’re starting out?

New and emerging filmmakers should do research about each organization before applying. They should look at it almost like researching a job before an interview. The bottom line is that you are pitching an idea for a film to someone who doesn’t know you. Filmmakers should look at how each organization operates in relation to funding, what their standard requirements are, and investigate what they have previously funded.

The key to our process and that of many funding organizations is putting together a well written proposal. Many new filmmakers do not know what a solid proposal entails. Several funding organizations have tools to help filmmakers with this process, including sample proposals, workshops and mentors they can recommend. Make contact with someone and see what is out there. This could be another filmmaker or an executive at one of these organizations. You would be surprised by how helpful people are in non-commercial media. Once you have taken these steps, you are that much closer to accessing funds.

Can you tell us a story about a time a filmmaker and LPB could have used a Prenup?

Yes, there was a producer that applied to LPB for development of a series that has now become a high profile series for PBS. The producer didn’t understand how LPB worked and our relationship with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the public television system, but spent quite a bit of time and money applying to the LPB open call and waited patiently through our six-month selection process. The project was ultimately selected for funding, beating out hundreds of other proposals. However, after reviewing our standard boilerplate agreement, the producer was unhappy with the CPB requirement terms and declined our funding. By declining our funding, the project also lost our endorsement and support in the system. I don’t think this should have been an issue if the producer had done the research to see if this was the norm. At that point, it was clear to me there was not a good understanding of LPB within the PBS world. In the end, the producer had to agree to those same requirements when he/she finally secured funding from similar organizations.

You read a lot of proposals. What do you wish applicants knew about LPB in particular, and public broadcasting in general, before they push “send”?

I wish applicants understood that LPB is not just a funder of projects. Our relationship with these projects and the filmmakers goes way beyond funder/funding-recipient status. We also serve as a “presenter,” meaning we present the finished film to PBS and work to secure good placement on the national programming schedule and on the individual schedules of each station. We also help to build audiences with community engagement across the United States, through education, new media and special screenings, to help drive more people to see the broadcast. So, our investment goes way beyond just the production of a film.

What are your thoughts on the growth of ethnic media? What is LPB’s place in the wider arena of ethnic media organizations, and how are these groups collaborating amongst each other and with the mainstream? What obstacles are they facing?

Ethnic media allows for better representation of minority groups within the United States. It plays a vital role in today’s society by allowing our stories to be heard since mainstream media tends to overlook them. LPB is a key player in this system and serves as a vehicle for disseminating these stories to the world. I don’t think films like The Devil’s Miner or Valley of Tears would have been made if we did not support them.

LPB is also part of a bigger collective called the National Minority Consortia (NMC) that serves each of our respective minority constituents (Latino, Asian, Black, Pacific Islander and Native American). Each organization plays a fundamental role in keeping ethnic stories alive within today’s media landscape. The NMC works together to raise the profile of our filmmakers and the stories they are trying to tell. In this process, we find ourselves working more and more with community based groups that share our mission and enthusiasm.

As far as obstacles, we continue to encounter barriers to getting the representation we deserve. For example, Latinos are now the largest minority group in the U.S., yet this is not reflected proportionately within the primetime schedule on PBS as well as other major networks, and many Latino organizations continue to criticize this phenomenon.

How important is cultural understanding to successful working relationships? Are there cultural or other considerations that filmmakers, funders, and others need to take into account when creating programming? How is increasing diversity in media affecting relationships between funders, filmmakers, and other stakeholders?

What a great question. Yes, there needs to be cultural understanding any time an ethnic story and/or filmmaker is involved. Latinos have traditions that non-Latino Americans may be unaware of or don’t understand, yet they need to be sensitive to them. There are also struggles that we face (as do many, if not all other, minority groups) that are forgotten or overlooked by people who are not part of those specific groups. That is why the makeup of all media organizations should start reflecting the true diversity of America. That way, minorities will begin to see themselves reflected in all forms of media. I think we have started to see a major shift now that we have a Black president in office – and it’s about time. This increase in diversity should allow for organizations to communicate with each other about programming and issues with sincere connections to the material.

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