12 Tips How To Make A Documentary

CONFESSIONS OF A DOCUMENTARY PRODUCER
12 Things I Wish I’d Known Before I Started My First Film

how to make a documentary

Faith Fuller

If you are looking for ways on how to make a documentary, you’re in the right place. I worked in television news for seven years and then traveled the world (40+ countries) documenting the lives and stories of all kinds of people.  So I wasn’t starting totally from scratch.

I had interviewed thousands of people, so I knew how to do that.  I had edited and produced hundreds of videos, so I knew how to tell a story.  What I wasn’t prepared for with my first documentary was the funding and distribution.

Here are some top lessons I learned with my first feature documentary project.

How To Make a Documentary

1)   Make a trailer: If you have any need or desire to raise funds for your project, a trailer – a fantastic trailer — is essential.  A trailer is also a wonderful tool for building an audience and creating buzz.

2)   Think of the END first:  Where is this documentary going to be shown (or where do you envision it being shown)?  Who is your targeted/primary audience? Answering these questions helps you determine the content, tone, style and length of your documentary.

3)   Start building your audience: Launch a Facebook page (or other social media) immediately and build a website with a blog that you update regularly (this builds “organic” web traffic).  Make sure to include an e-mail sign-up form on your site.  These will be your top promoters and customers when you’re ready to launch your film and sell your DVD.

4)   Distribution: Have a distribution plan and (if at all possible) hire a distribution expert.  I took the self-distribution route to keep control and save money, but I can’t help but wonder how much better my project could have done if I’d had help from a professional distributor.

5)   Use your own music: Unless there is a very specific reason to use a specific piece of music, it can be a huge hassle and expense to obtain music rights.  I had to negotiate a deal with each publisher and record company of each piece of music used in my documentary.   I was grateful that at least that two thirds of the music of my documentary was originally composed.

6)   Funding: When you’re first starting to raise money, unless you are already a well-known documentary filmmaker, don’t waste your time on big corporations and foundations. Your best chance for success is to first target the “low hanging fruit”.  Find people and groups who are already “pre-sold” on the subject of your film and want to support your project.  Once you’ve raised $10,000 – $50,000, THEN you have some credibility and can branch out to larger groups.  Kickstarter and IndieGoGo are two great ways to launch your fundraising efforts.

7)   Fundraising Process: This is one of the reasons it’s important to think about where your documentary is going to be seen.  Something I did not realize when I started shooting my documentary is that PBS does not allow any funding of the documentary to come from the person/group/organization/subject that your documentary is about.   For example, if your documentary is about “Mary Jane”, “Mary Jane” cannot give you funding for your documentary otherwise PBS considers your documentary a propaganda piece.

Documentary Tools8)   Have a great public relations plan: I got lucky that one of my good friends was a public relations expert, so our team totally rocked with the PR effort and got tons of great publicity.  Having an expert on the team made all the difference.

9)   Develop merchandise: As part of your distribution plan, develop some products (t-shirts, toys, etc) that you can sell in addition to the DVD to help bring in additional cash.

10)   Sundance Film Festival: If you have hopes of submitting your film to Sundance or any of the other big film festivals, keep in mind that some of them require an exclusive first showing in order to be accepted.  Some filmmakers plan their production schedule around these festivals, so check the submission dates in advance and take this under consideration as you plan the premiere for your movie.

11)    Be prepared to give away lots of free DVDs:  This part was a shock to the system because I was totally broke and exhausted! In hindsight, it is really really important to give away some DVDs for free.  It not only creates good energy around the project and helps generate publicity, it’s the least you can do to thank those who helped make the project possible.  I lost count, but I probably gave away 500-700 free DVDs, not only to those who worked on the project or donated, but also to friends, family and the media.

12)   Plan your next documentary: This may seem totally odd, but as hard as it may seem, start thinking about your next project even before your current documentary is completed.  You can use the momentum of your finished project to generate interest and funding in your next film.  People will come out of the woodwork to help you once you prove you can successfully complete a project.

– –

Faith Fuller is the primary author of www.Desktop-Documentaries.com and the director of the award-winning documentary Briars in the Cotton Patch: The Story of Koinonia Farm which was broadcast nationally on PBS from 2005 – 2010. She helps filmmakers seeking ideas on how to make a documentary.

Crowdfunding Kentucky Rivalry: Red V. Blue

For many filmmakers, running a crowdfunding campaign has become an essential phase of the film financing process. A few days ago, Filmmaker Rory Delaney reached out about his second feature documentary, Kentucky Rivalry: Red V. Blue.

Jason Brubaker
Tell us about your latest project and yourself.

Rory Delaney
Kentucky Rivalry: Red V. Blue is my second feature documentary. Prior to this, my feature documentary Toxic Soup played the film festival circuit and aired on Free Speech TV, Explora TV and Ushuaia TV.

Jason Brubaker
And you just did a short between features?

Rory Delaney
Yes. My most recent short doc Virtual Iraq Redux was named one of 100 semifinalists in the 2012 Focus Forward Filmmaking Challenge.

Jason Brubaker
And on top of all this, you’re finding time to manage the web at MovieMaker?

Rory Delaney
Yeah. I am the managing web editor at MovieMaker Magazine, and before that, I worked with Jon Reiss at Hybrid Cinema.

Jason Brubaker
Why did you decide to do this film?

Rory Delaney
Kentucky Rivalry: Red V. Blue came about because I grew up in Louisville, Kentucky. As a kid, I remember the endless arguments in gym class about which school had the superior basketball program. Was it the University of Louisville or the University of Kentucky? Red or blue?

Jason Brubaker
Sounds like an ongoing heated discussion.

Rory Delaney
That’s putting it lightly. This is a constant point of contention. And that’s a passion that has never left me.

Jason Brubaker
Even with all your moving and moviemaking?

Rory Delaney
Yeah. Even after I moved to Dallas, then New Haven, London, New York, and finally, Los Angeles, I made the effort to watch the annual rivalry game in the hopes that my Cards would thrash the Cats, and thus, secure year-long bragging rights.

Jason Brubaker
Do a lot of people share this passion?

Rory Delaney
Totally. All of my friends and most people I know from Kentucky are exactly the same way about their basketball. Every December when the annual UofL-UK game is played I spend about a quarter of the game trading texts with my Wildcats fan friends.

Jason Brubaker
So at what point did you decide to make this your next feature documentary?

Rory Delaney
Three years ago, I was under siege from producer Wade Smith, a diehard UK fan from Paintsville, Kentucky who befriended years ago in the Toxic Soup days, and that’s when the idea finally hit me. This is the best college basketball rivalry in the United States hands-down!

Jason Brubaker
So Wade became your producing partner?

Rory Delaney
I texted Wade: UofL-UK documentary? He called me immediately, and we got to work. What’s remarkable is that we ended up filming the documentary at what is arguably the pinnacle of this heated college hoops feud. In 2012 UK won it all after defeating UofL in the Final Four in New Orleans. And in 2013 Louisville went on a run, clinching back-to-back Big East Championships before putting the cherry on top: the 2013 national championship. The gods were smiling on us.

Jason Brubaker
So it’s a very timely subject. And now you’re doing a Kickstarter campaign.

Rory Delaney
Yes. Because of the popularity of college basketball in Kentucky and around the world, we decided to take Kentucky Rivalry: Red V. Blue to Kickstarter, the world’s most popular fundraising website. This allows the most rabid fans to participate.

Jason Brubaker
When do you expect the movie to be ready?

Rory Delaney
If we are able to successfully raise the finishing funds, the movie should be done by Christmas.

Jason Brubaker
What is your promotional strategy for the Kickstarter campaign?

Rory Delaney
We have completed several local radio and TV appearances in Kentucky in promotion of the documentary and the Kickstarter campaign. In addition to this, there are a lot of websites and blogs who have promised us continued coverage throughout our campaign to help us get the word out about what we are doing.

Jason Brubaker
That’s great. And what are you doing to incentivize supporters?

Rory Delaney
We have a series of photos, videos and new rewards that we will be unveiling as the 40 day campaign unfolds. By releasing these assets at critical junctures, we believe that we will be able to maintain our momentum and reach our $40,000 goal.

Jason Brubaker
Once you finish the movie, what are your plans for distribution?

Rory Delaney
We are planning on releasing Kentucky Rivalry: Red V. Blue in theaters big and small across the state of Kentucky in December 2013 in advance of the annual Louisville-Kentucky basketball game. Because UofL and UK won back-to-back championships, passions will be at a fever pitch for this year’s game in particular.

Jason Brubaker
So you’re making the movie available to the fans at a critical time.

Rory Delaney
Yes. By releasing Kentucky Rivalry: Red V. Blue in this window, we hope to capitalize on the preseason hype surrounding the two teams and their rivalry.

Jason Brubaker
What will you do after the screenings?

Rory Delaney
We are looking to make domestic and international television sales of Kentucky Rivalry: Red V. Blue, as well as to release the documentary both digitally and on DVD.

Jason Brubaker
I think it is super exciting to make movies where your fan base is well defined.

Rory Delaney
Even outside of the base, we want to let the world in on Kentucky’s biggest secret: The State is home to the best college basketball in the nation!

Jason Brubaker
What can we do to help you?

Rory Delaney
Please consider donating to our kickstarter campaign and sharing this one-of-a-kind movie with college basketball fans, documentary lovers and the check-out guy at the grocery store. Seriously. Every eyeball counts, and we need your help!

– – –
Rory Owen Delaney grew up in Louisville, KY but currently lives in Los Angeles, CA where he founded Man Bites Dog Films. Rory co-produced the documentary Bomb It 2 after writing, directing and editing the feature documentary Toxic Soup, as seen on HULU and Free Speech TV, among others. His latest short documentary Virtual Iraq Redux was named one of 100 semifinalists in the international Focus Forward Filmmaker Challenge. In 2010 Rory was named an honorary Kentucky Colonel by Governor Steve Beshear. Delaney holds a BA in English from Yale University and an MFA in dramatic writing from New York University. He is currently the Managing Web Editor at MovieMaker Magazine.