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Life Now Playing: SilverDocs 2012, The Take Away
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 More From SilverDocs 2012



By Renee Rosenfeld 

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 programming.

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 release coinciding 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 theater.

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.

Probably 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.

The National Capital Chapter welcomes colleagues from everywhere to join them next June in Washington, DC for SilverDocs 2013.