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Old August 1st, 2005, 06:29 AM   #1
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Question about the documentary biz

Welp, I asked these questions of someone else in an email but I never got a response so I'll cut and paste it; hopefully someone can shed some light:

Naturally I have a lot to learn about how to shoot a documentary, how to edit one or light one and so on. But also I'm not even clear on the food chain, i.e., why do people make them? Generally is it for satisfaction or is it with the idea of selling it? And to whom? Who buys documentaries and why? How does a documentary make money for the buyer?

Here's how magazines work, let me know if documentaries are like this: With most magazines the ultimate goal is to sell advertising. The subcription or newsstand price just pays for the ink and the paper; the advertising revenue is where the profit's at. The way the publishing companies successfully sell advertising in their magazines is by having a big reader base to offer to the advertisers. And the way the magazines get a big reader base is with good content. Ideally they get scoops, exclusives, or just great content in general. So with a documentary, is the idea to sell it to some person/business who then licenses it to some channel or other, as "content", to keep the channel interesting and to get viewers to watch?

Thanks for any enlightment anyone can offer.
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Old January 27th, 2007, 03:49 AM   #2
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I think people make documentaries simply because they are easier to make - the non-technical labor is obtained at no cost!

Those that actually make money are generally sold to TV stations, while a handful find their way into theares and video rental shops (if the content is compelling enough).

I don't know much more than you, so I'm also waiting for answers. Cheers!
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Old January 27th, 2007, 01:26 PM   #3
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IMO most persons make Doc's because they want to say/show something ...for many it is a passion ... $$ is at the bottom of list for making a doc ...

i don't think Doc's are easier to make then other programs - there's a difference between doc's and reality type shows ....
doc's don't have the glitz that surround features /TV shows ... many doc's are self financed ... not much $$ to be made in doc's - most persons that i know that make doc's get great satifaction out of their projects ...

most of the friends that i know that are making Doc's have formed non profit company's or make their projects under a non profit umbrella - they then get donations for funding ... largest donation $500K ....
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Old February 2nd, 2007, 02:58 PM   #4
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I only know of the project we are working on now and like was said above, we are doing the project for a non-profit organization that has a vested intrest in conveying the content to the public for education as well preservation of the content.

I will say that having an intrest in the subject at hand really helped in the getting the contract to actually do the project. There is private funding invloved as well a grant funding for the project and each of the funding sources has great interest in seeing the project thru strictly on its merits, not on its ability to return.

And last the non-profit entity intends to package the project as a stand alone self distributed project.

This is just one project but hope that gives you some help.


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Old February 8th, 2007, 08:35 PM   #5
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I would agree that passion is a stronger motivator than just plain money. You would need money of course, but more so to cover the cost of 'getting there' and 'doing something'. Having such experiences is far more rewarding, I think, long after the money is spent and gone.

I have a regular paying job now, to feed the kids and cover the mortage. However, when those responsibilities are met, I'd like to have a chance to do this kind of work before I retire (or in my retire) just for the fun of it.

In a way I feel that such work is the responsibility of volunteering ones skills for the benefit of others. Otherwise, how else am I going to leave my mark upon the minds of others? What will I have to show for all my efforts if everything I've done has been for the benefit that product X is better than Y? I would love to do something that teaches a curious mind, or earns a needy benefit for others.
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Old February 23rd, 2007, 10:01 AM   #6
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In my experience, docs / non-narrative productions fall into 3 different categories:

1. Part-time interest: People who have a day job, and make a doc for differing reasons in their off-time. Almost a hobby, the best of which may end up at a film festival.
2. Academic / Full time: These people have a passion, and follow it in a more serious manner. Most of these people will write grants for their salary and production costs. Definitely more of an artistic angle. The end distribution for this will be PBS, Film Festivals, & or hopefully HBO.
3. Full time production house: Almost everything you see on TV that is non-narrative falls into this category. Shows are produced for profit, and are extremely formulaic. Distribution is for broadcast TV. There are many different revenue models for these shows, with a rough overview including:
a. Producer pays for air time, recoups revenue from advertising.
b. Sells show to network with exclusivity agreements.
c. Sells show across international outlets.
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