The SILVERDOCS 2011 film festival and conference are halfway through and as usual fail to disappoint. Innovative new panels at this year's International Documentary Conference have brought some attention to areas not usually in the spotlight, including the role of producers, the reality of broadcast, and how to approach Capitol Hill.
I managed to pick up more than a few tricks of the trade from these discussions and sharing here as many as I can while I have your attention:
MASTERCLASS: DOCUMENTARY PRODUCERS
- Producing starts with what the director needs, in business and creatively.
- Getting involved early on has serious advantages, but the last minute save garners a great deal of gratitude.
- The director should prepare the director's statement (and present it to the producer).
- Producing is about managing expectations.
- You can't shoot forever.
- It can be a real advantage to have a producer off site, emotionally removed from the narrative, to troubleshoot.
- Help define the goal of the film.
- The director might not always be right (just between us).
MEET THE BROADCASTERS: THE “REAL” REALITY TELEVISION
- If you're film's not character driven, figure out what's replacing the character.
- At POV, everything is seen by at least two people in acquisitions, every submission is taken seriously.
- DON'T FORGET TO LABEL YOUR PITCH OR SUBMISSION WITH YOUR PHONE NUMBER!
- If acquisitions folks like your film, they might help in other ways so don't be a jerk no matter what happens.'
- Know your budget.
- Don't pitch at a funeral.
- Don't pitch 20 ideas, pitch one, your best one.
- Be concise.
- HBO was pleasantly surprised by the positive response to a film as unique as Gasland.
- POV has an open call out for submissions through June 30, but the date is flexible.
- ESPN Classic is looking for cinematic documentaries about humans that happen to also have sports.
- OWN is treading uncharted waters, which is good news for filmmakers.
A BEHIND-THE-SCENES GUIDE TO CAPITOL HILL FOR FILMMAKERS
- Find a Member of Congress who shares your passion, might not be Speaker of the House, but can still make a difference.
- Legislation takes a long time, years, even decades, so consider other outcomes and don't discount awareness.
- Look for a connection with someone.
- Develop relationships with staff.
- DVDs get tossed in the bin, send an email with a link.
- Follow up your email with a phone call, follow up a phone call with another email--don't give up.
- Use your network.
- Members of Congress can sponsor screenings.
- Visit the Capitol Hill Vistor Center to see their space, non-commercial screenings only.
- Find a partner organization that will sponsor a luncheon briefing for Hill staff.
- Don't forget that conservative Members of Congress also want to be involved.
- Bring people from the film to meet with Members or staff.
- Give yourself at least 2 months lead time.
- Be flexible and watch the legislative schedule.
- Bipartisan opportunities are a plus.
- Don't ask for an hour, ask for 15 minutes.
- KEEP TRYING, staffers are your friends, they want to help, you just have to break through the noise.