After six days of programming and some 27,000
documentary enthusiasts, filmmakers and industry leaders consuming non-fiction
storytelling, what’s the take away from the 2012 SilverDocs Festival? With packed theaters and panels, one thing
is certain: non-fiction is thriving and there are audiences to prove it.
There’s power to inform and change but there’s also big business in real life
stories. Each of the major cable outlets maintained a large presence at the
festival, either in pitch sessions, premiering content or sharing intelligence.
Kc Shillihahn reports from the pitch session that filmmakers utilized a variety of tactics to impress network execs
including distributing five minute DVDs. The funders delivered presentations
then offered producers ten-minute one-on-one pitch meetings. Tribeca Film Institute has a number of
funding opportunities. Most of the institute’s grants start at $10,000 and cover
various stages of the process from development through post-production. PBS is
looking for affinity programming that fits with or dovetails off their
network’s primary brand. One example is the net’s Wednesday’s nature
It’s no surprise that gaining theatrical
release for a documentary is tricky at best. Distributors suggest understanding
the entertainment value of the shared experience for an audience before looking
for theatrical distribution. In most cases, theatrical is expensive and
difficult. The biggest value may be to support your VOD or DVD distribution.
It’s tough to profit from a theatrical release, so having a clear vision of your
goal and knowing whether your doc is strong enough for a theatrical release is
critical. In the case of Bill Cunningham
New York, the film won numerous audience awards at festivals, so when
the filmmakers were approached with a television deal that would preclude theatrical
distribution, they passed and it paid off.
Be certain to hire a thoughtful booker who is
knowledgeable about markets to ensure that your film is booked in the right
places. Coordinating events with a release may help boost exposure, as was the
case with Marley’s releasecoinciding with Ziggy Marley’s tour.
Perhaps the most interesting new release option comes from start-up Gathr. Gathr is TOD or "theatrical on demand,” allowing audiences
to aggregate their interest and pledge funds to see a particular film in the
As with all great narrative, non-fiction
storytelling demands structure. Rebecca Howland reports from the session "How to Keep Your Story from Falling
into a Structural Pothole," that ITVS executive Richard Saiz emphasized that as with fiction, narrative documentaries also need a strong three act structure.
Without it, the inevitable mid-point slump can derail the film. Here are the
four deadly sins to avoid in constructing your story: 1) Thematic Haze, 2) Lack
of Backstory Breakdown, 3) Character Weakness, and 4) Plot Drift.
the most obvious sign of the times was the prevalence of Kickstarter in conversations about the
architecture of film financing. Producers reported that Kickstarter was
instrumental in either getting their films off the ground or getting films completed
in the final stages. Kickstarter also provides a base of supporters that will
help get the word out on social platforms and helps you identify early
evangelists that create the buzz you need to find your audience.
National Capital Chapter welcomes colleagues from everywhere to join them next
June in Washington, DC for SilverDocs 2013.