Ben & Steven,
Thanks for the warm welcome. Look forward to chatting further.
Hi folks - My name, obviously, is Linda. I just stumbled on this
conference while checking out a private conf. I attend here at Utne.
This is amazing. What talent here!
I'm a desktop publisher/graphic artist turned copywriter turned
writer/journalist with a few CO Press Association Awards under my
belt. My projects now are varied and some are getting rather deep.
One is about a woman in Zimbabwe teaching AIDS orphans (mostly young
girls) to grow mushrooms for sustenance and survival on on physical
and on a social level. Am in the process of gathering funding for
Morgan's post jogged my juices on a project my brother has been
embroiled with in Colorado - my brother is a hydrogeologist who is
currently drowning in a debate over a local dam project.
Both of these works could benefit from film. This is something I have
absolutely no skill with, although I'm a huge fan of the power of
documentaries. I'll be lurking and learning more about all of you, if
that's ok...and if you all don't mind me asking some questions along
the way, I would be most honored.
Ask away. Always nice to see someone pop into the public conference.
Yes, welcome and fire away, Linda.
I have a feeling I'll be repeating myself down the road, but I would
like to know how you all go about getting projects for your films -
are they your own ideas, or do most of you work with
The second question is how you get your funding? When you are tapped
for a project, do you have a fixed rate? Or are you flexible,
depending upon the project and your interest?
How's that for a beginning?
Most documentary filmmakers get involved in a project because it's
something they care about enough to find the time and money to see it
through to completion. The idea may be self-generated, happenstance,
or from a third party who brings an idea to a filmmaker.
Some documentary films are commissioned by a network, corporation,
organization, or advocacy group. With rare exceptions, these are
actually public relations films. Documentary filmmakers take on these
assignments because they need to earn a living.
Funding for social issue documentaries comes from foundations or
individuals within that specific community circle.
Most documentary filmmakers have a sliding fee scale based on value
and pain. Their highest rates are reserved for commercial clients
who usually demand editorial control and copyright ownership. Most of
us work for free on our projects hoping to get paid after the film is
finished assuming it gets distribution. Less than 10% of the
documentaries made get any kind of distribution. Theatrical release is
likely less than half a percent. Television or on video is where most
high-quality docs end up. It's a complete crapshoot so most treat
doc filmmaking as a hobby and do other things to pay the bills.
It's my guess that there are less than 100 people in the United States
who earn their living solely from making documentaries.
Robert makes a good distinction between independent doc filmmakers,
who usually produce their own ideas, and doc companies, which often
pitch a number of ideas to broadcasters, usually cable channels but
sometimes PBS or HBO, as well. Or get hired to make programming.
When he throws out an estimate like that, I think he's talking about
the indies. There are far more than that earning their living helping
produce doc series. Let's not even get into "reality" tv or
As far as agents for documentaries, I wish. At least the William
Morris kind. But there are international sales agents (like Jan
Rofekamp of Films Transit) who (very occasionally) help filmmakers
with worthy projects find financing through foreign broadcasters like
Arte or the BBC.
"Most documentary filmmakers have a sliding fee scale based on value
and pain." _ hm. That's very similar to many of the arts I've been
exposed to. I tend to call the "public relations" as commercialism,
and I hate it. I have to keep reminding myself it's a necessary evil
to do other projects that are my loves.
I didn't realize - or think about - pitching to HBO or PBS. I've been
so steeped in the 'paper trail' that I've only looked at journalism
sources for money. You guys are really opening a new door for me
(when the student is ready...)
I'm wondering if the press leads I have would be willing to finance
documentary sides to the projects I have...
Part of all this is to learn the difference between all the names you
all are giving to the docs. I'm sure I understand the PR types, and
the indies. I'm not sure what you mean by "reality" tv or magazine-
type shows, Doug? Perhaps if you explain, I'm sure I'll know what
you're talking about.
"Survivor" is reality tv. "Sixty Minutes" is news magazine.