Don’t wait to start your documentary until
“all the funding is in place.”
You may be one of the chosen few with that luxury,
but for most “waiting” will mean “never starting.” Get a camera
and get started. You’ll find a way to get funding later, especially
when you have something to show funders.
Don’t call up established filmmakers and expect
them to help you raise money for your film.
It’s presumptuous. And while some generous filmmakers
will offer a tidbit of advice or two, raising money is something
every documentary filmmaker must learn about for themselves.
Don’t say, “I’ll shoot that scene next time.” If
it’s important, shoot it now.
I can’t count all the times I put off shooting something
important because I thought I could get it later, only to have it
go away and I never got it. People and events can change suddenly,
so get it when you think of it.
Have a plan and a concept of what you want to accomplish
on the shoot, but be ready to throw it away when reality takes you
in a different direction.
People with no plan are lost on a shoot. People with
an ironclad plan often miss what’s really happening before them
and don’t get anything real. The surprises are what make documentary
filmmaking worth doing.
Don’t be discouraged by the “gatekeepers,” but
don’t be blind to their criticism, either.
Broadcasters and foundations may turn you down repeatedly.
Don’t let them make you give up on your film. (Many, many times
they will do an about face when you succeed and tell you how much
they always loved your project.) But that doesn’t mean that you
can’t learn something from rejection. Find out as honestly as possible
why you were turned down and take it very seriously. You may not
accept their reasoning—they may not “get it”—but usually there is
at least a germ of truth that you need to hear. The most self-confident
filmmakers are the ones who know they don’t know everything.