Back to IndieWire

Indiewire’s Ultimate Guide to Documentary Filmmaking Advice

Indiewire's Ultimate Guide to Documentary Filmmaking Advice

There’s been a huge renaissance in documentary filmmaking and Indiewire’s been collecting some really great advice for documentary filmmakers, whether it’s about how to go about finding funding, making the best film you can, or distributing the film successfully, Indiewire has the information you need!


Making a Pitch at IDFA’s FORUM

From the International Documentary Festival in Amsterdam, here’s a look at what makes a pitch stand out at places like IDFA’s Forum.

Cara Mertes, Head of Ford Foundation’s JustFilms, Explains Why Thinking about Impact Will Make Your Doc Better.  Yes, Really!

Cara Mertes, who recently moved from the Sundance Institute to the Ford Foundation talks about why filmmakers need to consider impact.

Do Documentary Filmmakers Actually Get Paid in the US and Europe?

From the Sheffield Doc/Fest, a panel of documentary producers talk about how filmmakers carve out a career for themselves across the world.

How Lucy Cooke Became the ‘Steven Spielberg of [Cute] Sloth Filmmaking’ and Helped Save Ugly Animals

Lucy Cooke has figured it out:  she has built a career out of sloths!

7 Tips for Funding Your Doc without Selling Your Soul

From the Sheffield Doc/Fest, a panel of experts explains how to fund a doc without compromising your principles.


Hot Docs: 9 Tips on How to Make Your First Documentary

Academy-Award nominated documentary director Marshall Curry (“Street Fight”) along with three first-time documentary directors with films at Hot Docs, provides useful tips for aspiring documentary directors looking to get their first project off the ground.

How to Make a Documentary that Rises Above the ‘Social Issue’ Cliches, from Directors of ‘These Birds Walk’

The filmmakers behind one of 2013’s most lauded docs, “These Birds Walk,” talk about how to make sure your documentary rises above the social issue cliches.

‘Queen of Versailles’ DP Tom Hurwitz Shares 4 Essential Tips for Shooting Cinema Verite

The DP of the insightful observational “Queen of Versailles” explains what makes cinema verite work.

What If Your Documentary Subjects Don’t Want to Talk: Ken Kobre’s Advice on Conducting Interviews for Videojournalists and Documentarians

From a book on video journalism, here are some tips on how to get documentary subjects to talk.

How to Film Politicians: A Guide to Gaining Access from the Filmmakers of ‘Caucus’

AJ Schnack and Nathan Truesdell explain how they got access to the Republican presidential nominees for their film “Caucus.”

How to Make a Doc about Your Family While Keeping Your Sanity

The filmmakers behind “The Manor” show how to make a film about your family.

Canon Cameras, Final Cut Pro, Swiss Army Knives and Other Equipment Documentary Filmmakers Can’t Live Without

PBS dug around to find out what the most common tools for documentary filmmakers are.  Here are the results.

Here are 9 Tips for Finding and Securing the Archival Material You Need

A panel of experts at DOC NYC explain what to consider when looking for archival material.

Good Advice! 8 Documentary Dos and Don’ts from a Vet Programmer

Sundance programming associate — and now a programmer for DOC NYC and Nantucket — gives advice on how to make your documentary great.

So You Want to Make a Documentary: Tips from First Time Filmmakers at Hot Docs

First-time filmmakers at Hot Docs explain how they got to make their well-regarded films.

7 Tips for Navigating Conflicts in Documentary Filmmaking from Independent Film Week 2012

How to navigate conflicts — both within and between subjects and amongst collaborators — from IFW 2012.

Watch: How ‘Tim’s Vermeer’ Filmmakers Determined a Runtime with 2400 Hours of Footage

Have a bunch of footage shot for your documentary?  Find out what the people behind “Tim’s Vermeer” did.

Watch: ‘Dirty Wars’ Director Richard Rowley Explains How to Tell a Global Story through One Journalist

Traveling the world to expose the military’s dirty wars, Richard Rowley explains how he made “Dirty Wars.”

Dispatch from Zimbabwe: Shooting Under the Watchful Eyes of Mugabe

How to make a film in a country that is vigilant about independent journalists, written by someone who makes films in Zimbabwe.


Transmedia Documentaries are Sexy, But Who’s Watching?

Anthony Kaufman explores the issue of transmedia documentaries, and who exactly is watching them.  The answers may surprise you.

Why Do Film Festivals Reject Good Films?

The question you need to know the answer to…

How to Get Your Film Seen at Music Festivals: ‘Musicwood’ Case Study

When making a documentary about music, it’s probably a good idea to think about music festivals as a venue

Doc Distribution: Six Case Studies On What’s Working

Here’s a list of six case studies of documentary distribution that are working.

Here’s How the Filmmakers behind ‘Terms and Conditions May Apply’ Had the Most Robust Film Screening Q&A of the Year

How the filmmakers behind “Terms and Conditions May Apply” developed a great way to engage their audience online.  

How Do We Measure the Impact of Documentaries?: Data from the Puma Impact Award Nominees

A look at the nominees for the Puma Impact Award, with data on how they’ve made their impact.

‘Strongman’ Director on Making Sure His 2009 Slamdance Winner Wasn’t a ‘Disposable Art Film’ and Taking it to the iTunes Top 10

How to make sure that people make sure your film has legs.

6 Reasons University Screenings are Valuable for Indie Filmmakers

From two professors at Syracuse University explain why university screenings may benefit filmmakers.


“Five Star” Director on the The Thing Line Between Fact and Fiction

In Keith Miller’s “Five Star,” which screened at The Tribeca Film Festival, the director uses non-actors to create an almost documentary feel to his narrative film. Relying on both documentary and fictional storytelling techniques, Miller blurs the line between the two. Miller describes why both techniques are equally “true.”

Documentary Filmmakers Argue the Nature of Truth at Independent Film Week Panel — And Further Muddy the Waters

What to do about the burden of truth in documentary filmmaking?  Check out this IFW panel’s responses to the topic.

Fact or Fiction? Neorealist Features and Hybrid Documentaries Blur the Line

Exploring the hybrid documentary in a feature article.


Are Graphics and Animation Revolutionizing Documentaries?

An underlooked aspect of documentary filmmaking is animation and graphics.  

What Are the Ethics Behind Documentary Recreations?

Documentary recreations are often quite controversial.  What are the ethics behind recreating scenes from reality.  

Why Live Performance Could Save the Experimental Documentary

Some live documentaries are really innovative projects.  Why they might be the future of experimental documentary.

Director Alex Gibney’s IDA Speech on the Folly of Objectivity and Why He’s Drawn to Abuses of Power

Alex Gibney shared his experiences with documentary filmmaking at the last IDA awards. 

Should Documentary Filmmakers Make Radio Shows Instead?: 10 Things We Learned from Ira Glass at Sheffield Doc/Fest

Ira Glass shares his insights of storytelling for the radio, in an effort to help documentary filmmakers tell their stories better.

The 25 Documentaries That Most Inspire Other Doc Filmmakers

Cinema Eye Honors asked documentary filmmakers to name what documentaries inspire them.  Here’s a list of the top 25.

Advice to Doc Filmmakers from Albert Maysles: Establish an Empathizing Relationship

From Jessica Edwards’ book “Tell Me Something,” here’s some advice from documentarian legend Albert Maysles.

Should Documentary Filmmakers Expect to Really Speak to Power?

How should documentaries approach trying to criticize big powerful institutions?

The Keys to a Successful Documentary Pitch at Hot Docs Pitch Forum

We report from Hot Docs Forum, a two-day pitching event at Hot Docs 2014, about the key elements of a successful documentary pitch.

Advice from the Experts on Finding Your Documentary Voice

How do filmmakers express their creative vision in a film or throughout their career? On a panel at Hot Docs 2014, documentarians Margaret Brown, Barbara Kopple and John Zaritsky discussed what it takes to create a distinct cinematic voice and, ultimately, build an identity and a reputation through a body of works.

Sign Up: Stay on top of the latest breaking film and TV news! Sign up for our Email Newsletters here.

This Article is related to: Toolkit and tagged ,

Get The Latest IndieWire Alerts And Newsletters Delivered Directly To Your Inbox