Advice

Doc Doctor's Story Strategies: Should You Put Yourself in Your Documentary?

Doc Doctor Fernanda Rossi explores the myth, "If the structure doesn’t work, put yourself in the film.”


Doug Block's <i>51 Birch Street</i> is an example of a filmmaker successfully using himself in his film.

Doc Doctor Fernanda Rossi explores whether or not putting yourself as a character or narrator in your documentary film will solve structure problems. Using her expertise as a story consultant for over 300 documentaries, scripts and fundraising trailers, Fernanda discusses whether your presence will make or break your film, by showing you when it works and when there may be a better solution.

Myth #4

“If the structure doesn’t work, put yourself in the film.” And everything will magically work? Not quite.

The myth in all its glory

Production Insurance for Filmmakers: Understanding the Basics

What you need to know about getting the coverage you need to make your film.


The coverage you need depends on the type and length of film you are making.

Whether you’re a seasoned veteran or an up-and-coming independent filmmaker, it’s essential to research and understand the intricacies of obtaining insurance. Whether it is for a one-day shoot or an extensive project, there is an abundance of companies out there that will provide insurance packages. Unlike purchasing car insurance, buying film insurance isn’t limited to one type of coverage. Everything from the equipment to the film stock itself can have an insurance policy, which the filmmaker may or may not decide is necessary. Fortunately, after careful consideration, The Independent has narrowed it down to the main insurance policies that every filmmaker, regardless of budget, should look into.

Production insurance is probably one of the most important things a filmmaker needs to take into consideration before shooting the project. Why get insurance for your project? Essentially, there are three reasons: Legal, Contractual and Asset Protection.

Prepping Your Film For Distribution

How to make the transition from the editing room to the marketplace.


Stacy Schoolfield's film <i>Jumping Off Bridges</i> was successfully self-distributed.

So, once you finish your film, you actually want people to see it, right? Well, getting your film up on the big screen, or onto a DVD and into the hands of your audience isn't as easy as it seems. There are press kits to put together, posters, DVDs and inserts to design, papers to sign, copyrights to clear, and this is before you even begin promotion. The Independent's Jason Brubaker breaks down the process of both distribution and self-distribution with advice from lawyers, producers and marketing and consulting firms to make it easy--well, easier--for your film to find its audience.

Picture this!

Doc Doctor's Story Strategies: No Conflict, No Film?

In her new column, "Story Strategies: Debunking the Myths of Storytelling," Doc Doctor Fernanda Rossi explores the myth: “If you don’t have a conflict you don’t have a film.”


A still from Scott Hamilton Kennedy's Oscar nominated documentary, "The Garden."

In a brand new column for the Independent, Documentary Doctor Fernanda Rossi, story consultant for the 2009 Oscar nominated documentary, The Garden, directed by Scott Hamilton Kennedy (view the trailer here), will expose the myths of documentary storytelling. This month, Rossi tears down a common misconception to which many filmmakers subscribe: No conflict? No film.

Introducing....Story Strategies: Debunking the Myths of Storytelling

Beg, Borrow, or Steal? Deciphering Fair Use for Filmmakers

Understanding Fair Use can save documentary filmmakers time and money.


A screen shot of the archival footage from Vance vs. Judas Priest used by filmmaker Van Taylor for his doc, "Dream Decievers."

So, you're assembling your documentary and you desperately need to include a certain song, image, or archival scene to tell your story, do you need to get permission? How do you know if it's copyrighted? Independent writer Jen Swanson talks to Patricia Aufderheide of the American University Center for Social Media and one of the authors of The Documentary Filmmakers Statement of Best Practices, as well as filmmakers David Van Taylor and Gordon Quinn, to help break down Fair Use and how it applies to documentary filmmakers.

David Van Taylor first engaged questions of Fair Use when he was working on his film Dream Deceivers in 1990, a documentary that explored the lawsuit filed against the heavy-metal band Judas Priest by the family of James Vance, a teenager who tried to commit suicide after smoking marijuana and listening to the group's lyrics. The film incorporated copyrighted music and clips.

Grant Guidance: Government, State, and Private Funds for Filmmakers

A state-by-state resource list of film funders.


"Delta Boys" by Andrew Berends was a 2008 Gucci Tribeca Documentary Finishing Fund Recipient.

Although arts funding is not exactly at its peak, grants remain an essential source of financing for many independent filmmakers. Learning to navigate the fundraising field, of course, can be quite a challenge. So The Independent created this resource to list state government grants in addition to some key private sources for film funding.

Although arts funding is not exactly at its peak, grants remain an essential source of financing for many independent filmmakers. Learning to navigate the grant research and application process, of course, can be quite a challenge. Some filmmakers jest that they spend more time fundraising than making their films.

5 Contract Tips for Filmmakers

Filmmakers often think they have to sign away all their rights to get a deal signed, but before you do, check this short list of things to watch out for.


1. Get professional help. Always have a recommended entertainment lawyer review any contract (broadcasting, funding, licensing) before signing. If you can't bring a lawyer, bring an advocate to negotiation meetings. Having an experienced producer on your side during a negotiation is the next best thing to having a lawyer with you (and in some cases may even work better).

Making a Film Is Only Half the Battle

Filmmaker Paul Devlin looks back on the film festival strategy he used for his documentary "BLAST!".


Lift Off: "BLAST!" follows a NASA team that seeks to launch a telescope into space.

Filmmaker Paul Devlin gives advice to filmmakers trying to find their niche in the festival circuit with anecdotes from his own experience in sending out his latest film BLAST! (watch the trailer here), which screened at RIFF, Hot Docs and Mountainfilm in Telluride and has upcoming screenings at the Corona Cork Film Festival in Ireland and the Bergen International Film Festival in Norway this month.

For decades, film festivals have partnered up with great independent films to give them a healthy life. Filmmakers have relied on the hard work of festival programmers and organizers to get our films out to audiences and to reach wider markets through press and distributor attention.

The 10 Best Academic Programs for Documentary Filmmakers

An overview of the best programs from Duke to Stanford to Maine


The Digital Media Academy's Documentary Filmmaking Camp has programs for adults, kids and teens (pictured).

Choosing the right school is hard, but it can be even harder when you have a specialized focus, like documentary filmmaking. Whether you're a novice or a veteran filmmaker looking to try something new, this top ten list of the best documentary film programs, both degree granting and non-degree granting, boils down the programs so you can find exactly the right fit.

These days, it’s fairly easy to find an excellent place to learn how to make narrative films. Ten Best lists exist by the fistful, and a Google search of “learn filmmaking” returns more than 30,000 hits.

Case Study No. 3: "On Broadway"

Actor and producer Lance Greene talks about self-distributing "On Broadway" starring Joey McIntyre


Good Will Redux: Dave McLaughlin's "On Broadway" became a Boston-area must-see

On Broadway, a movie about a working-class Bostonian’s attempt to stage a play in the back of an Irish pub, has received such a good response from film festival audiences around the country that the producers decided to self-release the film in Boston last month.

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