Documentary Filmmaking

by | March 31, 2009

If working 9 to 5, Monday through Friday, is not your thing, than documentary filmmaking may offer the freedom you are seeking in your work. However, you will be working more than 40 hours a week more often than not (when you have work), and the only thing consistent about your schedule is that it will never be regular. Most of your work will be on a project-by-project basis, so you may find yourself busier at times than others.

If you choose to be an independent producer or a freelancer, it is wise to consider a course in personal finance to help you learn how to manage both your personal and professional budgets. You can also seek the advice of an accountant, or your bank.

Desired Skills & Traits

Entrepreneurship: Far and away the most important trait necessary to become a successful documentary filmmaker. It will take an immense amount of faith, persistence and yes, a little luck, to endure the low pay, long hours, rejection and the normal headaches of production. If that doesn't deter you, then you have a fighting chance.

Storytelling: Whether it's a documentary about nature, a historical re-enactment or a reality-based film, you have to have a clear point for your narrative, pulling the viewer in and guiding them through the beginning, middle and end of a story. If you are lucky, the subject of your film will leave a deep impression on your audience.

Organizational Skills: An important skill when you are starting out as a production assistant. Make lots of lists and create a simple "database," using an Excel spreadsheet, to keep track of schedules, contact information and your litany of "to do" lists.

Salary Expectations

There are a variety of different variables that influence compensation in documentary filmmaking. Rates vary from project to project and company to company. If you are seeking a job at a production company, it is best to ask people working in production in the same city what the going wage is. If you are pitching a project, your rate will depend on how much money the network or distribution channel has to spend on new programming. It also depends on the potential size of the audience and level of interest expressed by sponsors in the project.

Filed Under: Job Search


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