Given that we may be in the golden age of documentaries, it’s hard to believe that not long ago, documentaries required their own euphemism: "the d-word." When he launched what would become a worldwide community of documentary filmmakers, filmmaker Doug Block borrowed the term.
The D-Word was first launched in 1996 during the Wild West days of the Internet. It started out as a series of online journal entries where Block chronicled the ups and downs of making and selling his feature documentary, "Home Page." By 1999, The D-Word had evolved into an online community where filmmakers could share information and discuss all aspects of the filmmaking process, including fundraising, production, distribution, film festivals, legal issues and more. The community has since grown to include more than 11,600 members from 127 countries.
Being a documentary filmmaker can be an arduous and lonely job and The D-Word helps filmmakers forge relationships and possible collaborations. The D-Word also hosts a series of five-day public topics, allowing a broader audience to ask questions of some of the leading experts in the field. Recent topics include distribution, crowdfunding and pitching.
Festival directors and other documentary professionals also rely on the community’s resources. "For festival professionals, The D-Word is an invaluable touchpoint for the documentary community," Full Frame Documentary Film Festival director Deirdre Haj told Indiewire. "I am able to tune in to hear what the filmmakers think on format issues, festival politics, etc. More important is hearing what issues are arising for the filmmakers, so that we can serve them better when festival time rolls around."
In September 2014, The D-Word celebrated its 15th anniversary and thanks to a member-funded campaign, the site recently got a full design and functionality upgrade.
In honor of the recent upgrade, Indiewire reached out to Block, who, since founding The D-Word, has produced and directed documentaries including "51 Birch Street," "The Kids Grow Up" and, most recently, "112 Weddings."
How did you raise funds for The D-word upgrade?
The D-Word has always been free and run by volunteers, so my fellow hosts and I didn’t set out to raise more than what we felt we’d need for the design upgrade itself. The budget came to a bit under $15,000 and it was the year of our 15th anniversary, so we initiated a "15 for 15" crowdfunding campaign.
We felt strongly that the most effective way to "sell" The D-Word was through written and video first-person testimonies from our longtime members. Some came from more well-known filmmakers like Laura Poitras ("Citizenfour") and James Longley ("Iraq in Fragments"), and industry figures like Thom Powers (Toronto Film Festival) and Deirdre Haj (Full Frame Documentary Film Festival). But we had no end of accomplished members eager to share the profound impact The D-Word has had on them over the years. Without soliciting outside of our own membership, or offering any gifts at all other than a new and improved D-Word, we wound up raising about $21,000 in all from over 360 individual donors.
Have your goals for The D-Word changed since its inception?
The D-Word is now mid-way through its 15th year, so it’s smack in the midst of its wild, hormonal teen years. The goal from day one has been to be a warm, inclusive and supportive online discussion forum and community for documentary professionals throughout the world, and that’s never changed. While we have many industry figures, it’s primarily a place for doc filmmakers to share their wit and hard-earned wisdom, and support each other through the long and often difficult slog of making their films and getting them out into the world.
We’ve developed partnerships with many worldwide documentary organizations through the years, and have some exciting long-term plans that we’re cooking up. But the goal has never been to get bigger for bigger’s sake. The D-Word has never advertised or done a promotional campaign, and this is one of the few articles that’s ever been written about it. We now have almost 12,000 registered members from 127 countries, and it’s all happened organically through word-of-mouth. Which is maybe the biggest testimonial for The D-Word of all.
What’s the main benefit to becoming a "professional" D-word member?
"Professional" members get access to all of our regular discussion topics (45, in all), as well as frequent special topics with notable industry guests. Topic categories range from Business (festivals, funding, marketing and distribution) to Creative (developing stories, showing works-in-progress) to Technical (cinematography, editing) to Social (a popular "Bar & Grill" where members can order free drinks, albeit virtual, and talk about anything that comes into their addled brains). We don’t just let you in automatically – a certain level of professional experience must be proven when registering for Pro membership.
And what about non-pros?
We have another membership level we call "Fan" and it is automatic and open to the public. As its title suggests, we welcome documentary enthusiasts without professional experience to join, and while the discussion topics are limited to a just a few, they do get mentoring from the professionals and have access to the dozens of special topics we’ve archived throughout our 15 years.
The Fan level is admittedly underutilized, but it also has incredible potential for development in the years ahead. As I mentioned, we have plans.
You can join The D-Word by completing a free registration.