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Northwestern School of Communication



What is a MAG?

The Media Arts Grant, or MAG, is a production grant administered through the Department of Radio/Television/Film (RTVF) to support student-driven media-making experiences. These grants are given to individual RTVF majors through a competitive process to support the creation of various types of media production in the department. This includes films, games, animations and other forms of new media.

How much funding does MAG provide to a project?

MAG awards 5 Small Production grants of up to $600. MAG awards 3 Large Production grants awards of up to $1,500.

How to Apply

How do I apply?

To apply, you submit information about yourself and your project through an online portal. Along with other basics about the form of your project, its size, and your role in the production, you submit planning documents such as a script or treatment, a budget, and statements about your artistic and social intentions for the project and practical aims for achieving it, as well as links to past work on which you have taken a key creative role.

What are the deadlines for MAG?

MAG production grants are awarded in Spring with an application deadline Monday, May 9.

When are applicants notified of decisions, and does that notification include feedback?

Notifications will go out no later than the first Wednesday in June, and all applicants will receive committee feedback for their projects upon request.

How many times can I receive a MAG grant? Per year and overall?

Director/creators are only eligible to receive one MAG production grant within a single academic year. Producers may participate on up to three MAG applications.

If I am accepted into the Directing for Screen module, can I also apply for a MAG?

No. If you have been accepted to the module, you are NOT eligible for additional MAG production awards since the module comes with its own substantial funding.

Application and Selection Process

What kinds of projects are appropriate for a MAG?

As the RTVF department continues to diversify in its offerings, and the media landscape continues to witness new forms and technologies emerging, what can be considered for a MAG grant also continues to evolve, so you are not limited to proposing short films. Podcast, web-based projects, installations and other interactive media projects can be considered for MAG grants, but keep in mind that these grants were developed originally for theatrical/television-style storytelling, which can quickly become expensive. For other kinds of media projects, think carefully about how you will spend your money and what are appropriate expenditures.

How many students can submit an application for a MAG together?

The application only requires one student (director/creator) to apply, but you are advised to submit in pairs as director and producer. Aside from splitting up labor and starting out with a solid collaborative team, it is also the case that producers usually handle finances. On projects not sponsored by an extracurricular organization, only the student(s) listed on the application for a project that receives MAG funding can access the money. If you plan for a producer to manage the budget for your project, or to share this responsibility with a producer, make sure you are both listed on the application.

What are the criteria for receiving a MAG?

MAGs are awarded based on the clarity and originality of the project proposal, the quality of previous work samples, the rationale for the project, and its feasibility-- the promise of the project’s completion (including scale/scope of production, budget, equipment, etc.).

How does the selection process work?

Each application will be reviewed by multiple members of the MAG selection committee and given a score, based on the project’s creativity and feasibility for production. Applications with the highest scores are awarded grants. If there are multiple projects with the same score, or if the scores are very close, a committee discussion may take place to choose the final recipients.

Who is on the MAG committee?

The committee is composed of faculty and graduate students that have taken an active interest in undergraduate student work. The committee is not made public to keep the process fair and to prevent lobbying of committee members. The committee members change annually. This process is similar to how many professional grants panels are conducted.

I’ve heard the process is run like a professional fellowship or grant. Why is that a good model, and how is that relevant to me as a student?

As you embark on your careers, you may find yourself competing for grants and awards with countless other applicants, with no access to or knowledge of who is choosing the winners. Often these grants are awarded based on short proposals and the strength of previous work. The MAG process is structured to emulate this and help prepare you for fundraising after graduation.

MAG Production

If I am selected to receive a MAG, what should I do?

Congratulations! First meet with your faculty mentor for any advice you need for planning your shoot. You and your producers must also meet with RTVF administrators to arrange for accessing your funds, and you also need to communicate with the Cage about when you plan to shoot. If you have not done so already, you will need to partner with another student or two as producers for your project as soon as possible. Typically, the job of a producer at NU is to help you pull together a crew, schedule your pre-production and shoot, and then during production, handle any necessary contracts for locations or rentals, and work with the University’s office of Risk Management if the production needs insurance. You will determine how to split up duties, but during the shoot, producers typically handle day-to-day logistics and scheduling with cast and crew so that the director can fully focus on shooting.

PLEASE NOTE: MAG winners are the only people that Northwestern will recognize as recipient(s) of the funds. Only those students listed on a winning MAG application can apply for a debit card, request payments, and reconcile expenses form the fund.

How do I find crew for my MAG production?

Students have success with general crew petitions, word of mouth, and postings to the student listserv. Reach out to classmates whose work has impressed you. You probably don’t need a big crew to make an impressive film. A small group of collaborators who are passionately dedicated to the project is much more important to success than an army of helpers. If any extra-curricular student organizations are open to sponsoring MAG projects, you may be able to partner with a group that can help with logistics, organizing a crew and providing other kinds of support.

Who can be a part of the crew for my MAG project, and can I pay them?

Students volunteer to work on one another’s projects as part of their overall learning experience at NU and as a contribution to our community of artists and scholars. For reasons of fairness, equity, and preventing conflicts of interest, students may not be paid as employees or contractors from these funds. Students have hired professional actors or professional technicians from outside the Northwestern community to work on student projects, performing roles or tasks that students cannot be expected to do.

Do all MAG projects have Cage access?

All MAG projects have Cage access for the first five weeks of the quarter, with a maximum of two weekends of shooting. MAG projects shot within the context of a class can shoot any/all weeks of the quarter, over a maximum of two weekends.

Is MAG only for extracurricular filmmaking, or can it be applied to a class project?

MAG winners are welcome to produce their projects within the context of an appropriate class (and with professor’s approval), in which case they can shoot for two weekends any time during the quarter. Provided your film works for the subject of the class, this can be a very good way of completing a MAG project with additional instructional supervision and help.

Do I have to complete my MAG production in a particular quarter?

No, but students MUST be enrolled during the quarter they receive a grant as well as the quarter they shoot the project. Students are expected to complete their projects within an academic year.

What role will my faculty mentor play in my MAG?

Your faculty mentor can advise your project from their own expertise and experience. They can serve as necessary references or contacts and provide any required proof that your project is officially supported by Northwestern. They can aid with planning and help recognize potential dangers or challenges offered by your material or your ideas for execution. Mentors can help in many different ways, depending upon the needs of the project.


How will I receive my grant award?

You will work with the Financial Assistant in the department of RTVF to use your funds. You must schedule a meeting with the Financial Assistant to go over NU Financial policies and procedures in advance of spending any funds.

MAG funds can be accessed in the following ways:

  • Reimbursement to the student for purchases of goods/items
  • The department pays companies or individuals directly for goods and services
  • Students can apply for a pre-paid debit card of up to $500 at a time to purchase goods/items

What can I spend the grant award on?

These grants are primarily intended for material necessities involved directly with the making of your project. In some cases, students hire professional actors or technicians to perform particular jobs on their projects that could not reasonably be done by students.

Can I rent outside equipment using MAG funds?

Yes. We encourage you to make the most of Cage equipment and use Northwestern’s resources to stretch your money as far as it will go, but some projects may require special equipment that the Cage does not have. Students frequently use local equipment rental companies such as Filmgear, Eleven04 Productions, Camera Ambassador, and Magnanimous, to rent additional equipment.

Can we pay other students for their labor on MAG projects?

No. Students volunteer to work on one another’s projects as part of their overall learning experience and as a contribution to our community of artists and scholars. For reasons of fairness, equity, and preventing conflicts of interest, students may not be paid as employees or contractors from these funds. As mentioned above, professional actors or professional technicians from outside the Northwestern community are sometimes paid for their work from these funds, but under no circumstances may a MAG be used to pay you or other students for work on your project.

Can I raise additional funds to add to my MAG budget?

Yes, you can supplement your MAG budget, whether with your own funds, donations from family and friends, or through other fundraising activities. PLEASE NOTE: RTVF cannot act as a bank for any funds raised by your production. It is up to you to manage and spend these funds independent of the department.

Should you partner with a student organization, those groups have access to a Northwestern crowdfunding platform through SOFO (Student Organization Financing Office, called Catalyzer. It works on a similar model to Kickstarter or GoFundMe, but also makes it possible for donations to be counted for tax purposes as charitable contributions to Northwestern. Information about Catalyzer can be found on the SOFO website.

Remember that working within a budget is part of your learning experience, and spending more does not necessarily translate into a better project. Determine a manageable size that allows you to do your best artistic work, with maximum focus on the project itself. Fundraising is an essential aspect of filmmaking, but it can also unnecessarily sap your energy and enthusiasm in relation to what the additional money can actually do for the film.

What is a SOFO account? Do I need one to produce a MAG project?

You may have heard about SOFO accounts being used for student media production, but this is only the case for projects sponsored by student organizations. SOFO (Student Organization Finance Office) accounts function as a bank for student organizations on campus for projects those organizations sponsor. All of RTVF’s sponsored student organizations and the Directing for the Screen module are set up with SOFO accounts, and SOFO administers payments or reimbursements for their projects. NOTE: Individual students cannot set up accounts with SOFO, so most projects receiving MAGS work directly with the department of Radio-TV-Film to access funds, as explained above. More information on SOFO can be found at its website

Partnering with Student Groups

What is the relationship between student groups and MAG?

MAG applicants may partner with relevant student groups to produce their projects. Student groups provide infrastructure support to help student members and MAG grantees assemble crews, access Cage equipment resources and other university facilities, and help one another learn all aspects of the filmmaking process. Additionally, some student groups have a mandate/agenda and can help MAG recipients bring out these elements in their work and/or can support filmmakers who fall within their mandate (i.e. female filmmakers or stories with strong female characters).

What are the approved RTVF student groups?

RTVF sponsors several student groups devoted to filmmaking. Organizations that have sponsored MAG projects in the past include Studio 22, Northwestern University Women Filmmakers Alliance (NUWFA), and Multicultural Filmmakers Collective (MultiCulti). These officially sponsored student groups are allowed to use Cage equipment in the first five weeks of the quarter and are asked to submit a budget to the departmental administration for their activities each year. These groups sometimes supplement MAG funds when MAG recipients apply to them for additional grants.

Rules regarding sponsorships and additional funding for sponsored projects are up to group leadership and subject to change, so visit the ASG For Groups webpage to learn more.

What is their function/mandate?

In addition to their work producing and sponsoring student films, groups foreground issues associated with filmmaking leaders in important movements (female filmmakers, LGBTQIA filmmakers, minority filmmakers, social action filmmakers), organize workshops around common interests, produce relevant screenings, and bring esteemed visiting artists to campus. Each group is evaluated annually to make sure its processes are fair, that it contributes to a positive culture in RTVF, and that it does not replicate other groups’ activities.

How do I partner with student groups to apply for and/or create a MAG project?

Student groups may hold calls for their own grants or projects to sponsor, but you can also reach out to them directly to inquire about whether they are sponsoring projects receiving MAG awards and their selection process for sponsorship.

Do I have to partner with a student group to receive a MAG?

No. You are not required to partner with a student group. This sort of production collaboration is similar to the model that is used in the contemporary professional world, where several groups partner resources for funding and talent to produce work. But it’s up to you

How should I choose a student group to partner with?

Consider whether your project is aligned with a student group’s mission, or whether you feel an affinity with the work they produce. Ask: Is there good chemistry at a personal level? Does the kind of work the production company (i.e. student group) creates match your vision? What particular skills and resources can they bring? How dedicated are they to your project? Is there a shared vision? These are all the kinds of questions you will ask about potential partnerships with creative collaborators, agents, granting agencies, and production entities in the professional world.

Other Filmmaking Opportunities for Students

If I don’t receive a MAG, what other opportunities do I have to make a film while at Northwestern?

Many RTVF production classes offer opportunities to make films, including both exercises and original short films, providing various levels of equipment access, depending on the class, as well as supplemental production resources in some cases. Additionally, most student filmmaking groups also sponsor or generate projects that have not received MAG grants. Get involved and find out their processes for pitching projects. Finally, writing and directing your own films is not the only way to get essential filmmaking experience at Northwestern. Working in various capacities on other students’ crews not only gives experience and perspective on the process, but can help you make relationships with essential collaborators and prepare you for projects you write and direct.

Do the student groups have their own grants to award?

Yes. Student groups generate their own projects and accept applications for grants that they award directly to student media projects. The following student groups offer grants from the pool of MAG funding, which they accept petitions for:

These MAGS and other grants are awarded and distributed through the student groups and SOFO, not the RTVF department. Please contact the student group leadership for additional information.

Can I do an independent study to shoot my project if it does not receive a MAG?

No. Production-based Independent Studies do not receive access to Cage equipment, and so are inappropriate for completing projects submitted for the MAG.