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“A Solutions-Based Intervention”: Facet Founder Maida Lynn On Her New Program Supporting Doc Producers

Maida Lynn (Photo: Michelle Pattee)

After supporting a range of programs uplifting the independent film community, including Sundance’s Art of Nonfiction and the Dear Producer Award, philanthropist, grant maker and producer and executive producer (Pahokee, Aleph, The Tuba Thieves), Maida Lynn recently announced through her company Facet a new “experimental” initiative, the Producer Group. Rather than the traditional model of providing project-specific support that sees grantees working individually, and different in many ways from the prevalent “lab” model, where supported filmmakers gather for brief bursts of mentorship from industry professionals, the Producer Group will attempt to foster collaboration between producers and “create a space for creative inspiration and professional growth.” Three-to-five producers will receive an annual living stipend of at least $25,000 during the Group’s three-year term. They will be expected to devote the equivalent of two days a month to the Group, meet once a year and create “a small producing community.” “Upon completion of the three-year term,” states the grant application, “participants are expected to collectively document, gather and share aspects of their experience to the wider documentary community in order to benefit producers and the field at large.”

To learn more about the Producer Group, which is open to producers with at least two completed feature-length credits, Filmmaker interviewed Lynn via email. The Producer Group application is currently open and has a deadline of this coming Monday, November 13, at midnight.

Filmmaker: Tell us more about what you see this Producer Group program looking like in practice on a month-to-month, or year-to-year, basis. You write, “It will center the well-being of a collective, explore new avenues for producer-to-producer collaboration, and create a space for creative inspiration and professional growth.” How do you see these goals being manifested? Or, will that manifestation be a result of the collective’s decision?

Lynn: It’s the latter. As a funder, I want to be careful about being overly prescriptive, so I think of this initiative as a container for exploration, creativity and experimentation for the people with the deepest expertise: producers themselves. The question it’s asking is, “What happens when a small group of collaboration-minded doc producers have a little time and money – aka space – to work together?” What will they identify as their greatest pain points, and what kinds of solutions will they develop to address them? How will they draw on their relationships and collectivity to work towards a more sustainable version of their professional experience? What learnings will come from this that can inform the work of others?

Filmmaker: You already support producers with the Dear Producer Award. What motivated you to launch a second producer-oriented grant?

Lynn: I guess I’m a funder who likes to go deep. I became more passionate about the specific challenges of the indie producer following the making of Pahokee (Sundance ‘19), which taught me everything I didn’t know about producing, that I’d have to be about 30 years younger to have the time and energy to learn it all, and that it’s a very tough but critical role in bringing to life the kinds of films I love. My first focused support for producers were general operating grants to the DPA and Dear Producer; I’m proud to say I was the first funder of both of these initiatives and still consider them among my highest leverage grants. I’d long been dreaming of a mechanism to make grants to people (vs. projects), which was the genesis of the Dear Producer Award. This new initiative represents a deepening of my understanding of the context for producers and an evolution in my grant-making, which is highly influenced by the values and practices of trust-based philanthropy. It’s a solutions-based intervention of process and structure, with a lot of opportunity for learning and lessons that can be shared with the field.

Filmmaker: As someone who has been around the non-profit space and has produced projects that have gone through various development and support labs as well as supported those labs themselves, what lessons have you taken away from participating in and witnessing these experiences? What are you aiming to do with this group that’s different from the labs you’ve been a part of? (I’m thinking here particularly about Sundance’s Art of Nonfiction, which shuttered in 2020.)

Lynn: Coming to film from the world of “traditional philanthropy” I was mystified by the dominance of project support, and think that it presents a structural impediment to filmmaker career sustainability. So I’m most inspired by labs that focus the support (both financial and programmatic) on the artist. I am delighted that more and more organizations are moving towards – or launching new – direct artist support work. The Art of Nonfiction is still a major inspiration to me; I loved how filmmaker-centric it was, from the application itself (which could take any format of the applicant’s choosing) to the creation of the year’s program. So I think what makes this initiative unique among lab peers is that it will be totally filmmaker-led.

Filmmaker: In an interview with Anthony Kaufman for Documentary about the paucity of resources for documentaries demonstrating “innovative artistic practice,” you said, “There is a segment of nonfiction filmmaking which is better suited to be supported entirely by grants. It’s okay to acknowledge that a certain kind of film is art and doesn’t have to have commercial potential, but still has a ton of value. And that’s what philanthropy is for… the equity model is very funder-focused and the grant model is filmmaker-focused. If you’re a financier, and you’re looking to recoup, it’s at the expense of the filmmaker having a sustainable career.”

One of the goals of your new Producer Group is to create “a space for professional growth.” What are your thoughts on what that growth could look like given your above comments?

Lynn: The design of this program is agnostic about the film financing business model, which is constantly evolving and utterly unpredictable. So “growth” in this case is defined by the participants based on their understanding of the marketplace, its constraints and opportunities, the goals they set for themselves, and the resources required to meet them.

Filmmaker: You list a number of eligibility requirements — two feature producing credits, etc. — but, less specifically, what sort of producer, or perhaps, what sort of person do you hope will apply for this Producer Group program?

Lynn: We’re looking for experienced producers who have seen at least a couple of films from inception to distribution so they have the lived experience to bring to the others in the cohort. They are committed to the profession and have a desire to stay in it for at least the next three years. Ideally, the applicants feel deep professional isolation and are excited to develop meaningful relationships with professional peers. They should be generous with their knowledge and networks and creative problem-solvers, willing to throw some spaghetti against a wall to see what sticks, learn, adapt, and share the experience with others. They value relationships, and will prioritize the time it will take to cultivate and maintain this collective.

Filmmaker: Finally, the Producer Group is a three-year program, which is longer than many if not all of the existing film lab and support programs. On the other hand, it’s a more logical span given the time it takes to produce a film. Why is it important the program be three years long?

Lynn: The time frame isn’t so much rooted in the film development timeline as it is in the reality of the time it takes to storm, norm, and form a new group – and come up with some ideas, test them out, learn, and adapt. Building relationships to the point where deep collaboration happens takes time. The goal is for this work to be meaningful and shareable – lessons learned and possible models for other producers or collaboratives to adopt.

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