Have questions about The Big Tell? We’ve got answers!

The Big Tell 2021 Frequently Asked Questions

The Big Tell is a regional filmmaking contest offering grants of $5,000 each to ten filmmakers to produce 5-minute mini-documentaries that feature stories of California’s six-county Central Valley.  Now in its fifth year, The Big Tell is coordinated by the Central Valley Community Foundation (CVCF), an organization committed to raising the profile of California’s Central Valley.

Filmmakers have 3 months to create their films which then premiere together at The Big Tell Showcase in November (date TBD). The Showcase will be broadcast on Nexstar television station(s) and on CMAC. Each filmmaker will prerecord a 2-minute interview with Nexstar to introduce their film at the Showcase.

Filmmakers receive one-on-one mentorship from Emmy-nominated documentarian, Sascha Rice. The Big Tell is presented by the James B. McClatchy Foundation and is produced in partnership with Community Media Access Collaborative (CMAC).

Who can enter?

Professional, amateur, or student filmmakers working on their own, in teams, or on behalf of an organization or individual. We support all filmmakers from various and diverse backgrounds.  Women, people of color, people who identify as members of minority or underrepresented groups, amateurs, students, emerging filmmakers, and people from or living in the Central Valley are encouraged to apply.

Can past applicants and winners apply?

Yes. All past applicants and winners are eligible to apply.

Is there a fee to apply? Can I apply more than once?

Applications are free and can be found at www.TheBigTell.org. Applications are due by midnight on Friday, June 18, 2021. You may submit as many applications as you like, but each film idea must have its own complete application.

Can I use a film that I already completed?


This grant is for the production of new, non-fiction material. We will not accept completed films or work that has been publicly viewed. You may use footage that you already have on hand, but the film itself must have been completed for The Big Tell in 2021.

What kind of films are you looking for?

Films will be authentic, original, non-fiction, mini documentaries, not less than four minutes and not more than five minutes in length, including opening and credits.  The stylistic or artistic approach and techniques are at the discretion of the filmmaker.

Applicants are strongly advised to look at films from previous years. If your idea is similar to a film from a previous year, it is unlikely to be selected.  Films from previous years can be found at www.TheBigTell.org or on Central Valley Community Foundation’s YouTube and Vimeo pages. You can also contact CVCF staff to see if your film idea has been portrayed in prior years.

Who can apply? (Teams, companies, individuals, nonprofits, filmmakers?)

All of the above. Women, people of color, and people who identify as members of minority or underrepresented groups are strongly encouraged to apply.

Although films are often collaborative, we will only recognize one individual as the filmmaker of record. Only the applicant listed as the point of contact on the application will receive programming information and will be listed on all promotional materials. You may recognize all members of your team on the film credits.

For the 2-minute interview for the televised Showcase, the filmmaker may bring a guest – a member of the film team, the subject of your film, etc. to introduce your film during The Big Tell Showcase in November, a 90-minute televised special to premiere the films. 

What constitutes the Central Valley and do I need to be a resident to apply?

No, you do not need to be a resident. But your story must be about a person, place, event, or activity in at least one of the counties in CVCF’s service area (Merced, Mariposa, Madera, Fresno, Tulare, and Kings counties ). Extra consideration will be given to filmmakers that live in or have a direct connection to the Central Valley.

How do I apply?

Applications can be found on the CVCF website at www.TheBigTell.org and are due by midnight on Friday, June 18, 2021.

For more information or answers to any questions, please contact Gretchen Moore at gretchen@centralvalleycf.org

How will my application be judged?

Applications are reviewed by a panel of judges who evaluate film concepts on four criteria:

  1. The Story: Is this story truly original in theme, idea, or storytelling technique? Does the film idea have a clear structure, plot, and story arc? Is the story original and engaging?
  2. Filmmaker: Whether novice or professional, will this filmmaker create a compelling film (based on what is included in the application – samples of previous work, experience and/or promise)? Is it likely the filmmaker can deliver the vision laid out in the application?
  3. Diversity: Does this application contribute to our goal of diversity among filmmakers, storylines, and geographical focus? We commit to having at least 1 film representing each county in our service area (Merced, Mariposa, Madera, Fresno, Tulare, Kings).
  4. Other/Subjective: What do you find, compelling, interesting, or unique about this application, above and beyond the other scoring criteria? Is this a film you want to see? How will this film relate to the other 9 films when they premiere together at the Showcase (i.e., We are unlikely to select two films with similar subjects, despite both being strong applicants).

We receive over 75 applications each year and can only accept ten. Every year, we turn away incredible film concepts that score high on those four criteria because we can only fund ten films. This is a highly competitive program.

The most common reasons applications are not selected are:

  1. The idea is too similar to a previous film; or, too similar to another film selected for this year
  2. Execution plan seems unlikely (i.e., Timeline is too aggressive or unreasonable; Ability to actually interview subjects – do you really have access to elected officials, institutional/business leaders?)
  3. Idea is good, but too generic. We can only judge based on what you share, so make sure to paint a compelling picture that shows you know your subject matter and have thought through the story arc. Which film idea sounds like a winner:

“This film will detail the impacts of COVID on our community” vs “This film tells the story of local restauranteur Lynnette Johnson as she fights to keep her business open during a global pandemic. She finds the answer in an unlikely place – her grandmother’s attic.”

What is required of the ten winners?

The ten winners are required to:

  • Attend the 6:00pm June 30 meet & greet with Sascha Rice, present rough cuts, and participate in one-on-one mentoring sessions
  • Participate in the September (date TBD) interview at Nexstar studios for an interview with local TV personality. Nexstar will use this to produce a 2-minute intro to your film.
  • Winners must provide Nexstar with at least 2-minutes of footage and up to 10 photos that can be used as B-roll for your 2-minute introduction
  • Submit final film to CVCF by midnight on Friday October 1, 2021
How will the ten winning films be presented to the public?

The ten films will premiere in November (date TBD) on broadcast television as The Big Tell Showcase. This will be a 90-minute TV special that includes a 2-minute introduction of the film by the filmmaker followed by the 5-minute film, as well as interviews with CVCF, CMAC, sponsors, and local media personalities talking about the importance of sharing stories from our great Central Valley.

Keep in mind, films cannot be publicly screened prior to this event. After the event, you are welcome to share your film as you like.

What is the timeline? What are the important dates?

April 30                         Applications Open

May 11                         Q&A with CVCF and CMAC 6:00pm  – Virtual meeting to learn how to create a winning application                                        and ask questions of staff. View the recording of the virtual meeting here

June 18                         Applications due at midnight

June 26                         (Update) July 1, Winners Announced

June 30                        Meet & Greet with Sascha Rice, CVCF, and CMAC at 6pm (Virtual or in person TBD)

July 8-30                      One-on-one check in with Sascha Rice (Virtual)

August 15                     Rough Cut #1 to Sascha Rice

August 15-30               Second 1:1 with Sascha Rice (Virtual)

Sept 15                        Rough Cut #2 to Sascha Rice

Sept 15-30                   Third 1:1 with Sascha Rice (Virtual)

September TBD           Interview Day:* Filmmakers record 2-minute intro to their films in studio with Nexstar;                                                     Provide 2 minutes of footage and up to 10 photos to use as B-roll during the interview.

October 1                   Final Films due by midnight.

TBD November            Showcase – will air on Central Valley Nexstar station(s) and CMAC


Dates and requirements subject to change and may be variable depending on the COVID-19 crisis

Filmmakers and their teams/partners will participate in one-on-one mentoring sessions with Emmy-nominated documentarian Sascha Rice. Those dates will be determined between the filmmaker and Ms. Rice. These sessions are required for all filmmakers.

Final films must be submitted by midnight on Friday October 1, 2021 as an MP4 file, must be 1080p Resolution, 16:9 Ratio, and meet television broadcast requirements for production quality and decency standards. Failure to meet submission requirements, meeting attendance, or deadlines will result in forfeiture or return of grant funds and your film will not air at the Showcase.

*New This Year: Interview Day in September – Filmmaker and a guest (member of the film team, or subject of the film) go in-studio to record a 2-minute intro for The Big Tell Showcase (90-minute tv special where The Big Tell films premiere). Filmmakers will also provide 2 minutes of raw/rough footage and up to 10 still photos to make available as B-roll for intro.

I'm not a filmmaker but I have a story to tell; can I apply?

Yes. You can work with any filmmaker to produce your story.  Grant funds can be used to pay the filmmaker you select. We recommend that you solidify that partnership before applying since the application asks for information about the filmmaker and details about how the film will be composed. Please note that there are no additional funds to cover added expenses, and that any agreement is between you and your filmmaker (not CVCF).

If you’re interested in becoming a filmmaker, this is a great time to join CMAC and receive the training and tools you need to share your story!

If you don’t have a filmmaker in mind, CVCF staff can provide connections to local filmmakers who may be interested in producing your work (see next question).

I'm a filmmaker and I am looking for stories to tell. Can you help?

Contact CVCF staff as we may have applicants who are looking for filmmakers to tell their stories (see previous question).

Do I need to have my own filmmaking equipment?

No. Community Media Access Collaborative (CMAC) in downtown Fresno offers access to training and tools including production studio, private editing suites, meeting rooms, classroom space, and a computer lab, along with a variety of portable production gear.

Note: CMAC requires a $50 membership fee for individuals and organizations (for 1 person or $100 for 3 people) or a $25 fee for students to access training and equipment. Some equipment requires completion of training before use. This fee is incurred at the grantee’s expense.

Please visit www.cmactv.com to learn more about available resources. Partnership with CMAC is not required for participation in The Big Tell but is encouraged for filmmakers who can benefit from it – they are an amazing resource!

What about rights, ownership, and permissions for my film?

The film becomes shared property between the filmmaker and CVCF and cannot have prior ownership. Additionally, your project cannot be publicly available or viewed publicly or commercially before The Big Tell Showcase in November (date TBD). Nexstar Broadcast will also have rights to broadcast your film for The Big Tell Showcase, a 90-minute television special.

CVCF reserves the right to unlimited and non-exclusive broadcast or sharing of your film for purposes that include but are not limited to marketing, promotions, fundraising, or coalition-building.  Filmmakers will sign a contract with CVCF that further outlines the terms of the agreement.

Filmmakers assume liability for the mini documentary’s content and are expected to take all steps necessary to secure proper permissions for copyright, as well as location and talent releases and permits.

When do I get the grant money and what can I us it for?

 You will sign a contract with CVCF and will then submit an invoice for $5,000 to CMAC for payment processing. Funds will be made available within one month of contract signing.There is no restriction on the use of the funds but be advised that no additional funds will be administered for any reason.

Anything else I need to know?

Final films must be submitted by midnight on Friday October 1, 2021 as an MP4 file, must be 1080p Resolution, 16:9 Ratio, and meet television broadcast requirements for production quality and decency standards.

Failure to submit a completed film by midnight on October 1, 2021 will result in forfeiture of grant funds and the applicant will be expected to return the full $5,000 to Central Valley Community Foundation. No exceptions.

Failure to participate in mentorship activities, or public events can result in similar sanctions, at the discretion of Central Valley Community Foundation.

Failure to adhere to the film’s time limit (not less than four minutes and not more than five minutes), will result in forfeiture of grant funds and your film will not be screened at the Showcase. This means a hard stop at 5 minutes, including title card and credits. Five minutes. Not 5:01. Not 5:05. Five minutes. Absolutely no exceptions!

We require that all films recognize CVCF and other sponsors in the credits, and recognize Sascha Rice as “Consulting Producer” on official credits (e.g. IMDB). Guidelines for credit recognition will be provided to the ten finalists.