On April 28, the WIFV Documentary Roundtable was pleased to welcome two exceptional filmmakers, Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar, who graciously shared a lot of “lessons learned” from their life in documentaries. Julia and Steven briefly introduced their Academy Award-nominated doc, The Last Truck, and then we watched the film. We were hosted by Interface Media Group, and we are very grateful.
The Last Truck focuses on a GM plant in Moraine, Ohio, outside of Dayton. (Watch the trailer) The plant closed just before Christmas in 2008, which had a huge impact on the economy. Julia and Steven spent time with the workers, and the film portrays the pride they have in their work and the trucks they produced. Over the course of about 5 months, they filmed the workers going to and coming from work, and pondering what the plant’s closing will have on their life and their town. The ending of the film is poignant, as the last truck comes down the assembly line, and the workers, as they finish their part, follow the truck until it is ready to roll out the door. Those gathered around all signed it inside the body, bringing home the ownership they feel towards the product they make with their hands.
In October 2010, the WIFV Documentary Roundtable hosted Sky Sitney, Artistic Director of the AFI-Discovery Channel Silverdocs Documentary Film Festival. We were happy to co-host the event with the Docs Insiders from Docs In Progress. It was a good night, with lots of discussion and good opportunities to mingle with other documentary filmmakers.
At previous documentary roundtable meetings, we have briefly discussed a film’s “festival strategy.” Sky began the evening by pointing out the very large variable on which your strategy will depend: getting accepted into festivals. The most important thing, she stressed, was flexibility. You shouldn’t be devastated by not being accepted to certain festivals. Jon Reiss, documentary director and author or Think Outside The Box Office, has recently written about not getting accepted by festivals. He gives good advice, including “Just because you didn’t get into Sundance doesn’t mean that there aren’t other, perhaps more appropriate festivals for your film.” And there are plenty of festivals: the festival submission website Withoutabox.com lists 1,426 festivals in the U.S. that accept documentaries.
Film festivals have different levels of prominence, in terms of how well known they are and how much media attention they receive. In North America, the most talked about festivals for documentaries are Sundance, Hot Docs, South by Southwest, Tribeca, Silverdocs, Full Frame, and True/False. Clearly, Sundance is the most famous, but that is not the only factor to consider when planning for festival submissions.
Debra Kozee, the president and founder of C & S International Brokers, Inc., was our guest for the WIFV Documentary Roundtable meeting on September 23, 2010. Interface Media Group provided space for the meeting, and we all chipped in for snacks.
As an insurance broker, Debra acts as the mediator between a producer and the underwriting companies who actually write the insurance policies. Brokers negotiate on our behalf with the underwriters, and getting a policy takes about ten days, on average. Her company, C & S, specializes in coverage for the entertainment industries, including film, video, performing arts, theatrical productions, venues, and related businesses. She graciously shared her experience and knowledge of insurance for documentary productions with us. There were three main types of insurance that Debra described for us: production insurance, worker’s compensation insurance, and the dreaded E&O insurance.
Are you planning to submit your documentary to film festivals? Do you have a “festival strategy?”
Join the WIFV Documentary Roundtable on Thursday, Oct. 28 for an inside look at film festivals. We will be joined by a very special guest: Sky Sitney, the Artistic Director of Silverdocs. This is a joint meeting with the Docs Insiders of Docs In Progress, and will be held at the Documentary House, 8700 First Avenue, Silver Spring, MD 20910. We will have networking from 6:30-7pm, and then the main meeting from 7-8:30pm.
Sky Sitney will join us with the inside scoop on film festivals for documentaries. From submitting your film to following up after the festival, learn what you need to consider for your “festival strategy.” Sky will share with us what festival programmers have to consider when reviewing film submissions and how to get the best out of having your film screen in a festival. Come meet other documentary filmmakers and learn how to craft a strategy for a successful film festival run.
Erica Ginsberg, the Executive Director of Docs In Progress has started a great series on their blog, with her Top 10 Festival Tips. She’s got numbers ten and nine already posted. Go check out her words of wisdom.
Our guest, Sky Sitney, has been in charge of programming at Silverdocs since 2005. In 2008, she became the Artistic Director, leading the strategic development, partnerships, and overall artistic vision as well. Previously, Sky was the Programming Director at the Newport International Film Festival, and was the Film Programmer at the New York Underground Film Festival. She is Co-Founder and Curator of the on-going series, Fresh Film at the Anthology Film Archives in New York City.
**Attendees must be WIFV members or Docs Insiders**
Heather started her documentary work by utilizing her marketing abilities. Her aim is to get a network of people engaged in the film, who want to see it, and will talk about it. In Heather’s view, networking for a film project is not a superficial exchange of business cards, but a deep sharing of the producer’s enthusiasm and passion for the project. Your passion will encourage the other person to be enthusiastic as well.
When Heather began the project, she started with the marketing rather than the filming. First, she established what her film would be like, and then designed the DVD cover and logo. She took those designs and used them as the basis for business cards and letterhead. This gives the project legitimacy in the eyes of potential collaborators and supporters. As the project developed, she continued to refine the focus, writing draft after draft of what might be called a marketing statement.
Heather shared with the Documentary Roundtable the 15 Lessons she learned about documentary film while she has been producing Honoring Aging Women. They range from the usual:
4. Create a web page for your project
and relatively easy:
5. Have business cards and letterhead for your project.
to the painfully learned:
9. Double and triple check your work before it goes public (don’t just trust the editor or technical person).
Heather agreed to let me share her 15 Lessons Learned (1.6MB pdf) with my readers. Thank you Heather for sharing your experiences with us!