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Attention Documentary Filmmakers: Here's The Best Advice from Sheffield Doc/Fest

Photo of Paula Bernstein By Paula Bernstein | Indiewire June 13, 2014 at 1:05PM

Here's some advice for documentary filmmakers from Sheffield Doc/Fest.
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Sheffield Doc/Fest
Sheffield Doc/Fest Sheffield Doc/Fest’s Special Jury Prize for "Attacking The Devil: Harold Evans and the Last Nazi War Crime"

The 2014 Sheffield Doc/Fest wrapped yesterday when awards were handed out.  The festival, which ran from June 7-12 in the northern England city of Sheffield, provided not only the opportunity to see nonfiction films from some of the most established names in documentary today as well as first-time filmmakers, but it also served as a resource for filmmakers looking for advice about how to get their film off the ground and how to make a career as a documentary filmmaker.

For those of you who weren't able to attend Sheffield, we've highlighted some of the best advice shared this past week at Doc/Fest:

1. Think longterm and focus on relationships.

"It's sort of like marriage, Think of it longterm. Think beyond just your first film or the next film. You want to make an investment in yourself in terms of a longterm career. So we go to places like Sheffield and Hot Docs and we go to pitching forums. It's expensive, but you create relationships that will last over the course of many films, hopefully. So it's not all about getting the funding for this film, you're theoretically, setting up the possibility of funding for the next one -- if it happens to be the subject that they're looking for or the right timing. It is a relationship business, not a lucrative one, but it is in terms of having them recognize your work and see you as a serious filmmaker who is in it for the long haul. So you just have to be very patient. Nobody has the answers. It's a struggle." -- Doug Block ("112 Weddings")

2. Stick to your vision and rid yourself of self-doubt.

Joe Berlinger
Joe Berlinger

"Stick to your vision and hope things work out. The world is designed to say 'no.' Gatekeepers are designed to say 'no,' most people get' no' said to them...If you don't, in your gut, wake up every morning and truly believe you can do this, it's going to be harder. You have to truly believe you can do this. It's harder than ever to do anything….If you're riddled with self-doubt, it's not going to work." -- Joe Berlinger ("Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger")

3. It's about telling a good story.

"It's a cliche to say, but the most important thing about making films is -- regardless of the social issue you're trying to advocate for or whatever your agenda is -- for getting into filmmaking, to make a film, you need a good story, good characters and you've got to craft it as a good storytelling experience. As long as you do that, whether it's about the local baker or the polar ice caps melting, whatever your story is, if it's a well told story…it will work." -- Berlinger

4. Don't crowdfund unless you have a team to support your efforts - and be realistic about your promises and goals.

"Unless you have a really good network to start with, you've got to really lower your expectations. There's a lot of competing campaigns." -- Julie Goldman, founder Motto Pictures

"I'm not a fan of any huge promises for crowd funding campaigns. It takes you away from your work...You can look at some of the most successful campaigns and look at their sites and see what they promised." -- Mark Johnston, president, Nomad Films  

5. Think about your end goal before applying to film festivals.

"There are so many festivals. you've got to get the timing right. Ask yourself: what do you want from the festival? Do you want to make a name for yourself? Do you want to make money? You can't make your name, make lots of money, get the right sales...it's a weird alchemy. You've got to realistic." -- Jeanie Finlay ("The Hip-Hop Hoax")

Read more of our Sheffield Doc/Fest coverage below:

Here's How to Do Immersive Storytelling

Tips for Getting Into Sundance (And Other Festivals)

Here's What We Learned at Joe Berlinger's Master Class

Here's How to Win An Academy Awards for Best Documentary (Or At Least Have a Shot)

Making a Living as a Documentary Filmmaker Is Harder Than Ever. Here's Why.

This article is related to: Filmmaker Toolkit Festival Strategy, Filmmaker Toolkit: Festivals, Festivals, Sheffield Doc/Fest, Joe Berlinger, Doug Block







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