AskNBN #19: What's the deal with RTVF grants?

    Why are some RTVF students mad about grants? Marco Cartolano tries to figure that out on AskNBN.

    Correction: Dasha Gorin is a communication senior.

    [Clip from RTVF film]

    Marco: If you any know film majors at Northwestern, there’s a chance you’ve heard them complain about grants, but you may have been too afraid to ask what was going on. I’m Marco Cartolano and this is AskNBN. Today I’m going to explain what is the deal with RTVF grants.

    Student films, like the one you just heard, often rely on grants for funding. The Radio Television Film Department, or RTVF, introduced controversial changes to their grant policy. They mostly concern the Media Arts Grants, widely known as MAGs. These are grants that the department gives students in order to help them make films. The new policy has made MAGs the predominant way to get funding, which has raised concerns for people in student groups.

    Communications junior Tyler Gould, co-president of the student-run group Studio 22, explained how their grants used to be set up.

    “Studio 22 had about eight to ten independent grants that they would give out to students.”

    Gould described how the change in MAG policy affects Studio 22.

    “In order to get funding, you apply to the department and they pick out, I believe, somewhere between six and 10 people to get a MAG. And then after that, you can pitch to Studio 22 for additional support.”

    Studio 22 can also give two independent grants called Bindley Grants, which they receive from an independent donor.

    [Clip from RTVF film]

    Students are also concerned that the MAGs do not have the supportive infrastructure necessary to help budding filmmakers and that MAGs have little accountability. Communications junior Dasha Gorin, the co-president of the Undergraduate Radio/Television/Film Student Association, or URSA, said many recipients have been hurt by this lack of support.

    “Back when student boards were sort of in charge, when they would give out this grant, it would also come with a bunch of extra support. The new MAG system doesn’t offer any of that. All they do is they select the winners. They really only function as like a money distribution system.”

    Gorin also said that the new system does little to keep recipients accountable.

    “There’s not a lot done to ensure that applicants are serious about the project that they’re submitting.”

    When the department took on being the primary grant distributors, they assumed responsibilities that Gould did not think they were ready for.

    “What they did, though, is I think they took on all of this grant-giving system without fully understanding how much work needed to go into it.”

    Some controversy has also come from when MAGs were awarded to non-film students for other media projects, as Gorin explains.

    “The description says that it's for RTVF students, but in fact, non-film students have been awarded the grant in the past. And I know that recipients have used it to make musical projects for example.”

    URSA has recommended changes to the application process.

    “From the very beginning, we’ve been saying that script requirements are really just the bare minimum that the department can do to make a significant improvement.”

    But Gorin said that the MAG group meets only once a year and that URSA has had issues communicating their desires. The department also told URSA that reading scripts would be too cumbersome.

    [Clip from a RTVF film]

    Communications junior Hans Misra received a MAG his freshman year. His grant required a faculty adviser and a proposal, which he appreciated, but he felt that students were more focused on student group-supported sets or working on their own classes. This left him with a small crew.

    “It was like nearly impossible for me to pull any sort of crew. So I was left with just three other people to help me on my film set.”

    However, Misra felt that the statement of purpose he needed to give for why he wanted to make his film helped him pin down his vision.

    “I guess I appreciate that they made students answer why they were making this project because if you don’t have a solid reason to make something, you’ll realize that flaw and realize how it stands as a flaw in your work”

    Gould also received a MAG. While he felt comfortable putting together a set, he admitted the department was hands off.

    “It felt very kind of like a self-reliant sort of process. Whereas I think working with a student group, where you have that system supporting you, it’s definitely very beneficial.”

    While the RTVF department declined to be interviewed, they feel that these concerns come more from a vocal minority than the entire RTVF student body, but Gorin believes MAG policies have adversely affected other RTVF students.

    “I see the Media Arts Grant as being responsible for a lot of the crew shortages that are happening right now. And that’s resulting in a lot of sets being sort of understaffed. Freshmen and sophomores are kind of having to pick up that slack and really end up serving two to three roles rather than the one they signed up for. ”

    She further explained how MAGs cause these shortages.

    “There are a lot more productions going on every quarter then there used to be. Sort of what the Media Arts Grant tried to do was democratize student production. There are a lot more directors now out making projects every quarter.”

    Gorin also mentioned that because the recipients were expected to film in the first five weeks of the quarter, that sets tended to cloister around the last two or three weekends in that timeframe.

    The department wanted to eliminate the risk of student groups giving preferential treatment to their friends. Gould denied that Studio 22 gives anyone preferential treatment.

    “I know from my experience on the board there’s absolutely none of that at all. For the Bindley Grants, for example, the people who send in scripts, the whole board reads them blind.”

    However, Gould also said that the department gets too much hate.

    “I think the department gets more of a negative rep then they deserve. Their ultimate goal is similar to all the students’ goals in that we want to create a positive experience for the whole RTVF community.”

    Gorin remains critical of the new policy and is frustrated with the time it takes to make changes, but she does not disagree with some of the changes in theory.

    “I think the Media Arts Grant is a significant improvement on the old system. I like the idea of the judging committee being composed of faculty and students. I’m just really unhappy with the current implementation. I think that’s it’s very lazy and it could be significantly better.”

    Gorin also expressed frustration with the time it takes to make changes,

    “I’ve been disappointed in how difficult it is to communicate those suggestions and improvements to the administration.”

    That’s it for AskNBN. You can find more episodes of AskNBN at under the audio tab. Make sure to subscribe to AskNBN on Apple Podcasts so you get a notification every time we post a new episode. I’m Marco Cartolano and thank you for listening.


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