New RTVF funding system draws criticism from some students

The Department of Radio, Television and Film is transitioning to a new, department-driven film grant system, drawing criticism from some RTVF students and student filmmaking groups.

Communication Prof. David Tolchinsky, who chairs the department, said in an email to The Daily that the new system aims “to end student-to-student direct funding,” with a committee comprising four RTVF faculty and three students selecting which projects get funded.

In the past, Tolchinsky said, the department was not involved in funding extracurricular films, which were largely funded by student filmmaking groups such as Studio 22. However, it did, and continues to, fund films made in RTVF classes. By contrast, Tolchinsky said the new system allows the department and its faculty more input into the funding process than before.

Communication Prof. Laura Kipnis said the changes came in part from students’ concerns about filmmaking groups such as Studio 22 having too much power in determining which students received funding.

There were a lot of students who thought that the process was unfair or dominated by cliques,” Kipnis said.

Through the new system, the department awards Media Arts Grants, which can be used to fund both student films and other media projects.

This year, Kipnis said, the department awarded 22 grants, which generally top out at $1,500. The new system also encourages MAG recipients to apply for supplemental funding from filmmaking groups such as Studio 22.

Tolchinsky said the department is still transitioning to the MAG system and gathering feedback from student groups.

“None of our goals or plans involve removing students from the decision process — on the contrary, we are working to involve a broader community of students in both grant-making and media-making,” Tolchinsky said his email. “Students will always play central roles in organizing projects and allocating funding.”

But some students criticized the department’s new direction, saying it minimizes students’ role in the filmmaking process and lacks transparency.

Communication junior Isaac Sims, who served on Studio 22’s executive board last year, said the new system has “turned the department upside down.”

“A lot of this boils down to the idea that the department is not really comfortable with students giving (other) students $3,000 to $7,500 for a single grant,” Sims said. “Agency and independence is being taken away from these student groups, and the department is starting to really reach their hands into how money is distributed on campus.”

The new system has also increased the number of films being made at any given time, said Communication junior Erin Manning, an incoming Studio 22 executive co-chair. Manning said the influx of projects has made it difficult for some students to find a full crew for a film.

Manning added she is unsure the MAG committee’s process does enough to measure how feasible a project is. She said Studio 22, on the other hand, requires applicants to submit a script along with their pitch and to come in for an interview.

“We don’t even know if they read the scripts,” said Manning, who will also serve as a co-chair of the Undergraduate RTVF Student Association next year. “For better or worse, it has altered the work that all of the different student groups are doing within the department.”

According to the MAG application, students must submit “a synopsis” of the script. In addition, one of the application’s criteria is its “feasibility” and “prospect for completion.”

Tolchinsky said an applicant’s script most likely has been developed in one of the department’s screenwriting classes, or that the faculty mentor attached to the proposal has looked at it.

Communication senior Sam Spahn, who has worked on films funded by both a MAG and Studio 22, said the new system allows more students to make films.

“In theory, (the MAGs) are a bigger opportunity for people to make more movies,” he said, “but the thing that’s a little worrisome is that it’s quantity over quality.”

The ultimate goal, Tolchinsky said in an email, is “for everything to flow through MAG in some way.” But he emphasized that the transition is ongoing.

“Every time you move from one system to another, yes, there will be strong feelings,” Tolchinsky said in an email. “We’re trying to make whatever funding system the best it can be.”

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