Succeeding as a Documentary Filmmaker
A Guide to the Professional World
Publication Year: 2011
Published by: Southern Illinois University Press
Title Page, Copyright, Dedication
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Many years ago, I wrote that I distrust how-to books, whether about sex, how to make a million, or how to write that best-selling script. My attitude hasn’t changed. This is not a how-to book but a guide to areas of documentary you may not be familiar with. As such, it deals with topics and subjects knowledge ...
1. Overview: The Route to Success
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I didn’t always think so positively. Often I would meet with new documentary students and ask them, “Who here is mad, crazy, nuts, and certifiably insane?” They would look at each other in wonder. Is this nonsensical rubbish what they’d paid $35,000 in tuition fees to hear? Then a few would get it and slowly raise their the hands. ...
2. Making the Most of Film School
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Once, it was trendy to be an art student. If you were a male student, the thing was to appear in a long, black coat, sport a fifteen-foot-long, red scarf, wear a beret, and smoke a pipe. For women, fish-net stockings helped, along with an assortment of peasant blouses culled from grandmother’s bottom drawer ...
3. First Steps in the Real World
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You’re between the ages of twenty and twenty-six. Possibly, you’ve just finished film school. Or maybe you’re older, and you’ve learned a little bit about film somewhere and want to take the whole business of documentary more seriously. You feel a little bit lost, a little bit in limbo. Over numerous black coffees ...
4. Vital Survival Knowledge
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Film school tends to be a delightful period. You glide through three or four years having fun, occasionally bitching at teachers or assignments but on the whole enjoying yourself. That’s fine, but it can also be too much of a passive experience. Equipment was automatically supplied from the film cage in the hall. ...
5. Working for Others
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Decision time has come. Take off for Europe? Go into your father’s furniture business? Try to get into a Wall Street firm? No, maybe not after the last crisis. Or continue with film? Finally, you decide to bite the bullet and devote yourself to professional documentary filmmaking. In practice, this means you have three options ...
6. Becoming an Independent Filmmaker
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An oxymoron is a linking of two contradictory terms. I was brought up on them and loved them. My favorites were military intelligence, original copies, and open secret. With time, I added another one, independent filmmaker. This term, particularly as applied to documentary, has always seemed to me a joke. ...
7. Writing Your Winning Proposal
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The ideas have been milling around in your head for some time, and there is no shortage of them. One is about the writer who grew up in your community and became a world-famous novelist. Another is about three veterans who’ve returned from Afghanistan and the effect the experience has had on their lives. ...
8. More on Proposals: Treatments and Problems
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After you’ve submitted a proposal, the commissioning editor or sponsor may ask for a treatment. A treatment is a simple narrative outline of the film, normally written when you’ve completed the research phase. It often presents much more information than the sketched-out proposal but is not yet as detailed a ...
9. Budgeting for Survival and Profit
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“Ok,” I can hear you saying. “Budgeting for profit I can understand. But for survival? What on earth does he mean?” The answer is simple. Make some serious mistakes on a few budgets, and not only will your dreams of wine, romance, and a holiday in Acapulco vanish but you’ll also finish up in the street, watching the ...
10. Financing Your Film
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After writing the proposal, you face your key challenge: how to raise the money for your film. If you are doing a film that you can shoot and edit by yourself, and filming is confined to your local area, then you have few problems. Even with only a modest amount in your bank account, you can probably go ahead. ...
11. Production Contracts and Other Agreements
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As an amateur, a student, or occasional filmmaker, you probably entered in the past into a number of agreements or commitments. Generally, you tried to fulfill them but didn’t always succeed. In your documentary class, you proposed film “A” as your end-of-term project and then turned in something totally different. ...
12. Making Money
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You’ve sweated your guts out. Your film is finished. It’s taken you six months, a year, two years to make . . . but who’s counting? There it is, and you’re actually quite proud of it. It’s artistic. It’s entertaining. And here and there it’s quite moving and occasionally quite funny. Now you want two things. . . . or two main things. ...
13. Notes from the Front
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While I was preparing this book, many friends and acquaintances took time off to either write to me or sit down and discuss with me many of the issues we’ve been talking about. Their thoughts and advice were invaluable as they updated me as to what was going on in the field and why they had made their documentary ...
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Occasionally while giving some documentary courses, I’ve had to give exams. Apart from the usual questions on Robert Flaherty, cinema verité, and whether Leni Riefenstahl was an artist or Hitler propagandist, I usually throw in one other: “What is the difference between feature films and documentary?” ...
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Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2011