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SEEKING TRUTH: SilverDocs 10th Edition is in Full Swing
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More From SilverDocs 2012



By Renee Rosenfeld

Neal Schon on the red carpet with the Don't 
Stop Believing filmmakers
The 10th Anniversary edition of the SilverDocs festival kicked off with Don’t Stop Believing: Everyman’s Journey, the emotional story of Arnel Pineda, who was thrust into fame after the iconic rock band Journey’s lead guitarist, Neal Schon, spotted the Philippine cover band singer on YouTube. National Capital member Katy Jones Garrity reports, "As a DC producer, [SilverDocs] is one week I look forward to every year.” She opened the festival viewing this week by attending a screening of The Imposter.  Directed by Bart Layton, known for his work on Nat Geo’s long-running series Locked Up Abroad. "This film employs many of the same techniques that made that series such a hit: fantastic interviews with characters whose story is a bizarre twist from normal life, recreations that flow seamlessly into the storytelling, and camera directing that is clever and revealing,” says Jones Garrity.

Kc Shillihahn attended The Guggenheim Symposium--one of the festival’s special events. Named for the pioneering filmmaker Charles Guggenheim, the Honor is meant to identify and reward filmmakers that have brought the power of documentary to bear in the human experience. No other trilogy of films demonstrates that power like those created by this year’s honorees, Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky. Early in his remarks former Arkansas prison inmate Jason Baldwin turned to Berlinger & Sinofsky and thanked them for the films that ultimately saw him released after nearly 18 years of unjust imprisonment. Jason Baldwin and the saga of the West Memphis Three is the ultimate demonstration of the power of non-fiction to advocate, report and shed new light on issues.

Alongside the festival is a full conference connecting filmmakers, educators, broadcasters, business leaders, distributors, private and public media, and funders that began with the keynote delivered by 18 Days in Egypt’s Jigar Mehta. Mehta recounted how he broke the rules by bringing together various forms of media from last year’s Egyptian uprising and using the storyteller as the source to create a more authentic and richer experience. His use of social media sources serves as a real-time walk through the events that changed the world.

"Meet the Broadcasters: The Dish On Docs On TV" moderated by Crowdstarter co-founder Liz Ogilvie, brought together execs from Discovery, PBS’s POV, A&E, The Documentary Channel, ESPN Films and HBO. Among the panel's revelations: In Discovery’s competitive environment, the network has shifted to more series. Discovery receives about 400-500 submissions each week through their Producers Portal.  The good news is that execs look through submissions about once a week. The Documentary Channel’s demo skews male, ironically. HBO produces twenty-five to thirty docs a year but only one-third come through acquisitions. HBO is looking for documentaries with impact and press that are standout contemporary social impact films. If your genre is sports, ESPN Films is more likely to be interested in your piece if it lives on every platform and reflects a human story within sports. A&E suggests looking at Withoutabox to see what’s popping.

National Capital’s Rebecca Howland reported from the session, "Discovery: From Pitch to Air." Execs there suggest that when preparing to pitch the Discovery family (e.g., Discovery, ID, TLC), do your homework. Study the specific network that you're pitching to and be sure your concept is a fit for their brand. All pitches, regardless of whether you’re a newbie or the most seasoned producer, must be submitted through Discovery's Producer's Portal.  What you submit must be as complete and buttoned-up a submission as possible. Discovery is looking for big, fascinating characters or subcultures that haven't been previously seen on television. A good piece of tape is expected if you want to be considered seriously. It doesn't have to be a pricey sizzle reel or pilot. It just has to demonstrate the characters' appeal. TLC bought four shows last year just from seeing Skype interviews with the talent. If the character is "big," they'll pop off the screen no matter what the format. The exception is Investigation Discovery, which is story-driven, not character-driven. It's okay to pitch ID with paper; tape is not necessary.

In these digital times, no producing conference is complete without a session entitled, "How To Make Noise in the Digital Forest." The exec’s best advice was to think beyond the finished piece and create additional content as if it were going to live in a DVD extra. Rolling out extra information is key to a complete digital package. They know that this is probably the last thing on your mind, but turning the camera around and capturing that behind the scenes footage makes a big difference. Think about your audience and build relationships with partners and ambassadors because they will help create the buzz that will sell your film. You can’t get started with social too early. The digital aggregators want to see what you have beyond the program itself.

Los Angeles PGA member Ruby Lopez joined National Capital members at a happy hour at McGinty’s Pub. Lopez is taking advantage of one-on-one pitch sessions to get her in-progress, animated full-length documentary in front of decision makers. She’s gathering intelligence by attending small group "Silver Sessions” with key players at Crowdstarter, Working Films and Discovery, among others. Lopez is finding that marketing early is key and using social networking is critical to engaging fans.


-Stay tuned for the final bulletin from SilverDocs, to be published soon.