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Old September 6th, 2009, 06:52 PM   #1
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I want your thoughts on "purpose" and doc making

I have just started discussing the possibility of doing a documentary on a 100 mile run for charity - great cause and all that. There are some ties with large institutions already for this run. Putting it on DVD was also mentioned.

I hope I don't sound harsh, but my initial thought is that the DVD would have very limited appeal - friends and family maybe. I guess at best there may be a slim chance of local broadcast. I found a doc produced and narrated by Matt Damon (Running the Sahara) in which three guys run across the Sahara in a 111 days. I'm not sure, but it doesn't appear to have made it to broadcast, and this was some task.

My question is: Am I missing any markets or possible uses for such a doc? I wouldn't want to waste time and money on something that isn't going to be beneficial is some way. I feel that doing a short video that could be used for fund raising would provide much more benefit to the project than something after the fact.

Although, one angle I thought of would be making it as a "How To" for fund raising by covering the many issues that need to be addressed in such an endeavor. This would be harder to keep interesting but maybe it could be useful to someone.

Please add your thoughts I would love to hear them!
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Old September 6th, 2009, 08:26 PM   #2
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I feel that doing a short video that could be used for fund raising would provide much more benefit to the project than something after the fact.
Sort of - By capturing high quality visuals and hopefully stories of success from participants (why THEY run) and corporate partners (why they SUPPORT the run) over the back drop of the run, you may have something compelling for fundraising NEXT year.

The only way I could see the run itself making a good story (which is the ONLY reason to make a full DVD of it - if there's a great STORY) would be to find out if there are some really incredible personal interest stories in there (and not just the token corporate one's - "our CEO ran all 100 miles") but then you'd have to find a way to market the end piece.

If I were in your shoes, I'd avoid becoming a PARTNER in the video but become a service provider - you don't want to be taking financial risks if you're unsure of where this thing is destined.

That's my 2 cents...
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Old September 16th, 2009, 01:39 PM   #3
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I hope I don't sound harsh, but my initial thought is that the DVD would have very limited appeal - friends and family maybe. I guess at best there may be a slim chance of local broadcast. I found a doc produced and narrated by Matt Damon (Running the Sahara) in which three guys run across the Sahara in a 111 days. I'm not sure, but it doesn't appear to have made it to broadcast, and this was some task.
Running the Sahara appears to have both large corporate sponsorship and backing by National Geographic in addition to having been executive produced by Matt Damon - it appears to be doing one-off theatrical screenings across the country and I would be surprised if it didn't end up on broadcast (National Geographic Channel probably) at some point. So yeah, if you don't have the resources they did you can probably measure the market for your project as a fraction of theirs.

That said I'd bet there's a way to make it successful, but you may not be the person to do it. If you don't have the type of backing & resources they did you can't think in terms of traditional marketing and distribution. The way to make it work is to find the online communities where your potential audience spends their time - probably forums dedicated to running. Then - and this is the hard part - you need to join those communities. I don't mean join the forum and spam them with marketing about your film, I mean join the community - participate in the discussions, get to know the people there, become a real and active member of the community. Then, when you start talking about making your film, it's not someone coming in to sell to them something - it's a member of the community looking for support for their project. To do this effectively you'll need to do it from the start, before you begin filming, and then involve the community in the process all along the way so that they take ownership of the project. Document your progress with behind the scenes photos & videos, get community members involved along the way, etc. Once people feel ownership in the project they'll go out of their way to help it succeed - this group becomes the initial source of word of mouth advertising and will ultimately spread the word beyond the core community.

Now the reason I say you may not be the person to do it is that I don't think you can do this successfully unless you are personally involved in and passionate about the subject of the film or it's related topic. If you're coming into this just as a filmmaker making a documentary about an interesting topic you simply won't have the interest or time to spend building the relationships you'll need in these online communities. If, however, you're coming into this as an avid runner who is making the film because you are passionate about running then it's very possible you're already a member of the online communities I'm talking about - and you'd probably spend the time there whether you were making a film or not. This is also a lot of work to do for just one film - but if you plan to continue with additional projects related to the same topic all of the groundwork you lay with the first project carries over to subsequent ones.

That's also why I think this approach may become the secret weapon of independent filmmakers - it simply can't be duplicated effectively and on a large enough scale by a studio marketing team. Sure, they could hire people who are passionate about a subject to promote it online, but that's a very different thing, and I believe comes across differently online than someone who's passionate about the subject and the film because they are doing both themselves.

And as Shaun mentioned you'll need some kind of personal interest story that the community members can relate to. Someone once told me that most people don't read magazines that represent who they are - they read magazines that represent who they'd like to be. I believe that that is also the case for a most members of many online forums. So if they can find themselves in your film - not just who they are now, but who they'd like to be - they'll not only watch it themselves but also recommend it to friends because of the way recommending it reflects upon them.
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Old September 16th, 2009, 04:19 PM   #4
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Yeah Evan I think you're right, when it comes down to it - I just don't "feel it". I agree with everything you said - thanks!

I still think they should focus on a promotional/fund raising video since the purpose is to raise funds. I'm not interested in buying (or even watching) the doc about running across the Sahara (even more so after reading the reviews...) so I wouldn't buy this one either.

Plus, at this stage I can already see that these guys don't realize the time and effort that is needed to shoot a doc. I've been down that road before and that's the first sign to pass on a project, unless you like pushing a pea up a mountain with your nose.

I just came back from shooting some interviews for another doc I'm writing, producing, and shooting - I was so happy with what I got - it was more than I could have hoped for! Things are falling together so nicely and everyone has been so eager participate. I can see a market and best of all a purpose for this doc. It's great when you are eager to spend the next year on a project.
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Old September 26th, 2009, 04:07 PM   #5
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If you're not specifically interested in the subject matter, it's very hard to be the 'producer' of a doc. I've worked on docs as AD, or Second Unit, or B-Roll - docs that are award-winners (one is getting a theatrical release this year) - and it's great fun... in small doses. If you're NOT personally invested in the doc - it is hard to sustain the kind of interest necessary to push a doc uphill while wearing rollerskates.

That's my experience.
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Old September 26th, 2009, 05:00 PM   #6
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I also think that even if you might be interested in a subject dosen't mean it is something that's going to sell. We have all seen tons of boring docs, and let's face it most docs never make money. Plus I don't feel that the subjects can devote the time needed to make the doc.
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Old September 26th, 2009, 08:34 PM   #7
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Maybe the problem is calling it a "documentary" at all. Frankly, it sounds less like what I would call a documentary, and more of a promotional piece. "Documentary" to me means an artistic endeavor, that tries to speak to some kind of universal truth, and has the potential to appeal to people who aren't specifically interested in the narrow subject matter.

A promotional piece, on the other hand, is usually paid for by a client, has a limited audience, and is usually primarily concerned with attracting new clients, customers or investors to the organization.

Nothing wrong with either one, of course. I've done both, and found both of them to be rewarding experiences in their own way (though ultimately, I find the true "documentaries" to be more soul-satisfying"). But it's best to know which kind of piece you are making before you start. Starting with what you think is a "documentary" that is really a "promotional piece" is sure to cause you a lot of grief.
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Old September 26th, 2009, 09:33 PM   #8
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Frankly, it sounds less like what I would call a documentary, and more of a promotional piece.
Not to pick nits, but depending on the story/stories told, this certainly COULD fall squarely in the realm of "documentary" which could then be used as "promotional" or certainly have components packaged as such.

Follow a couple of runners battling adversity with a story telling modality, it's a doc. Show up to the starting line to shoot, catch some viz enroute and at the finish and get some talking heads of the sponsors, it's promo. And somewhere in between is the "grey area".
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Old September 27th, 2009, 09:58 AM   #9
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Not to pick nits, but depending on the story/stories told, this certainly COULD fall squarely in the realm of "documentary" And somewhere in between is the "grey area".
Oh, absolutely. I completely agree. I didn't mean to imply otherwise. It all depends on how the filmmaker approaches the material, and the degree of artistic freedom he or she has.

My point is, there's nothing wrong with producing a short video that is used as a fund-raising promotional tool, or a "how-to" manual, or even just a documentation that the event happened. It doesn't have to have higher artistic aspirations, or dreams of national broadcast, if it serves a useful function to someone.

There are works you do for a client, and works you do for yourself. Sometimes... rarely... these coincide, but you can't really expect them to. If you're worried about getting your time and effort compensated, then find a client who's willing to pay for the product, and give them a useful product, even if it has a limited audience. If you want to feed your soul, then make the movie YOU want to make, and who cares if it makes money?
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Old September 27th, 2009, 11:35 AM   #10
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AMEN. And for the record, I wasn't DISPUTING what you said, I was just adding MY perspective for the sake of the thread and future readers.
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Old October 1st, 2009, 01:57 PM   #11
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If you document an event you care nothing about, it's not a documentary you are making... just another video.
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Old October 2nd, 2009, 09:13 AM   #12
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At first I kinda agreed with Grinner, but then I thought about things I have done in the past. First to mind was when I did weddings. Yes, I tried my best because it's my business, but I don't really care about the wedding - I hardly know the people, but I was always able to put together a video that would pull emotional strings - even in me, after seeing it numerous times while editing. I have done many projects that I was not emotionally or intellectually interested in but it is not hard to understand something that has meaning and if I have captured that on camera, I can give the viewer an emotional experience with editing and appropriate music. Some of the complements that mean the most to me have been from ordinary people that tell me every time they watch "that video" they get a tear in their eye.

Actually one of the things I like about the video business, going into a project that you know nothing about and learning something new. I would much rather do something in a different field each time than go into a studio and shoot a home shopping show day after day. So don't believe that only a runner can make a doc about running.

But I think you also have to be in touch enough with reality to realize some things just don't make a good story. My biggest (and hardest) lesson to learn was to go with "my gut". When I'm looking at a project, if I get a bad feeling about it, I pass on it. You really have to point the camera at something good to get something good. In one respect, the camera doesn't really create anything.

Frank Capra said "I made mistakes in drama. I thought drama was when actors cried. But drama is when the audience cries." I think that's what it's all about, it's easy fill the audience's head with facts but till they feel it - it means nothing to them.
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Old October 6th, 2009, 03:16 PM   #13
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Actually one of the things I like about the video business, going into a project that you know nothing about and learning something new. I would much rather do something in a different field each time than go into a studio and shoot a home shopping show day after day. So don't believe that only a runner can make a doc about running.
Exactly. My next short doc actually is about running, and although I've jogged off and on in the past I wouldn't consider myself a particularly avid runner. The main subject of the doc is though, and he's what interests me the most - just a normal guy who happens to like to do things like see how far he can run in 24 hours. In many ways my perspective is the same as that of the majority of the audience - an outsider trying to understand what drives someone to do things like that. An endurance runner making the same film would probably have a completely different angle than someone like me.

But the fact that I'm not particularly passionate about the subject doesn't mean I'm not passionate about finding the story, learning about the people & subject, and crafting an interesting film around it. I think that's the key here - it's not that you have to be aligned directly with the material, but you do have to have some interest that is driving you beyond simply the task of making a video.
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