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Break into Documentaries

What you do in the job?

Contributed by Andy Glynne, Director of the Documentary Filmmakers Group (DFG)

Documentary filmmaking is one of the best, most exhilarating jobs in the world, but brace yourself, because this industry can be very difficult to break into.

Increasingly there is a trend towards multi skilling in documentaries, where you direct, shoot and produce your own film. Here’s what you need to know if you are looking to make your own documentaries in the future.

There are three main ways to get ahead in documentary filmmaking:

The television career ladder
This involves making your way up from working as a runner, then as a researcher, then as an AP and so on. While it can take some time to get where you want to be, this is a sound way to ensure your career progresses. However, you are likely to find that you have little choice in the areas that you work in. As factual entertainment and formatted docs become ever more popular, the chances are that this is what you will be working on. Be aware that you might find yourself pigeonholed, e.g., as someone who works in factual entertainment or someone who works on history programmes.

The old saying It is not what you know, it is who you know, definitely applies to this approach. Production companies are inundated with CVs every week, so you need to be out and about networking (more on this below).

Jumping straight in as a director
If you have a sterling idea and you really want to direct straight away, then you need to remember that the odds are stacked against you if you have never directed a broadcast film.

You can:

Take it to a production company and negotiate with them. You probably will not be able to direct the film if you do not have sufficient experience, but you can work on it as AP, and if you take it to a company like Mosaic Films, which is committed to
nurturing new talent, you will also get a share of the rights. Commissioners are reluctant to risk their money on unknown quantities, and production companies are reluctant to put their reputation on the line. Having said that, if you are one of the
lucky few who gets a production company to take the chance, do make sure you are aware of your rights first.

Try one of the various New Talent schemes (for example, 3 Minute Wonders, BBC Fresh, Current TV). But do remember that New Talent rarely actually means NEW talent when it comes to making a broadcast film. You will be expected to have some experience so it is worth building up your showreel, by putting content on FourDocs or BBC Film Network or getting work shown at film festivals.

Go it alone (but read the next section first!)

Going it alone
If it is your baby and you really have to do it, without any compromises, then you can always shoot your film off your own back (and credit card). But before you do, ask yourself the following questions:
Can I direct? (Not a would I love to direct, but am I really any good?)
Can I shoot? (I might take a good photo, but do I have the skills to actually make a film?)
Does the idea work? Is anyone going to want to see this film other than me? Has it already been made recently?
Where will my film be seen? It is vital to know your market and make your film for it. Dont make a film festival film thinking that they are just the sort of stuff you dont see on TV. Most films shown at festivals are there to be sold, or already have distribution.

This brings me back to the importance of networking. Make sure you attend film festivals, like Sheffield Doc/Festival, particularly its Newcomers Day. You can also access the documentary filmmaking community all year round, through events run by DFG, like 10x10.

For more information on upcoming events and opportunities just visit www.dfgdocs.com/events

Good luck, its well worth it.

Andy Glynne is an award-winning director/producer and the Managing Director of Mosaic Films. He is also the Director of the Documentary Filmmakers Group (DFG), the national organisation which works to promote documentary filmmaking talent and innovation in the UK and the leading provider of documentary-specific training.

For more information on how to get ahead in documentaries, and to
find out more about the industry-focussed training DFG provides visit www.dfgdocs.com/training


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