From Journalist to Documentarian – Five Tips for a Better Documentary

Think you’ve got an idea for a documentary? Before you shoot, hear how professional journalists turn good ideas into engaging nonfiction stories.

The documentary <i>Shooting Beauty</i> puts cameras in the hands of adults with disabilities.

Ever wonder how, exactly, some documentaries can successfully embrace and tell a story, all while engaging the audience? So do we. The Independent's Michael Grosse highlights five important techniques on how to effectively research and write a better documentary.

Two-time Emmy Award winner June Cross has written, produced, or edited about a dozen documentaries in a career that spans more than three decades. She is also an associate professor of Journalism at Columbia University, where she teaches graduate-level courses in reporting and documentary film.

Production Insurance for Filmmakers: Understanding the Basics

What you need to know about getting the coverage you need to make your film.

The coverage you need depends on the type and length of film you are making.

Whether you’re a seasoned veteran or an up-and-coming independent filmmaker, it’s essential to research and understand the intricacies of obtaining insurance. Whether it is for a one-day shoot or an extensive project, there is an abundance of companies out there that will provide insurance packages. Unlike purchasing car insurance, buying film insurance isn’t limited to one type of coverage. Everything from the equipment to the film stock itself can have an insurance policy, which the filmmaker may or may not decide is necessary. Fortunately, after careful consideration, The Independent has narrowed it down to the main insurance policies that every filmmaker, regardless of budget, should look into.

Production insurance is probably one of the most important things a filmmaker needs to take into consideration before shooting the project. Why get insurance for your project? Essentially, there are three reasons: Legal, Contractual and Asset Protection.

How Filmmakers Can Beat the Recession

From freelance work to virtual tip jars, The Independent examines the different ways that filmmakers can put their creativity to use for financial survival.

Filmmaker Brian Pickard used an alternative form of funding for his film, "Slayers".

The Independent's Sean Jones investigates some innovative and useful ideas to help cash-strapped filmmakers survive through difficult times. From free distribution for films to virtual tip jars, The Independent examines the different ways that filmmakers can put their creativity to use for financial survival during the recession.

As the recession continues to cast a shadow on the American economy, Hollywood studios are emerging as one of the few success stories. Audiences seeking an entertaining reprieve from layoffs and pay cuts are bringing theaters increased ticket sales and revenue and giving the film industry a "recession proof" reputation.

Doc Doctor's Story Strategies: Story versus Marketing

Doc Doctor Fernanda Rossi debunks myths of good stories v. good marketing.

<i>The Blair Witch Project</i>, good story or good marketing?

Doc Doctor Fernanda Rossi discusses how to find an audience for your film. Is it the story that grabs viewers, or is it all about the marketing? Using her expertise as a story consultant for over 300 documentaries, scripts and fundraising trailers, Fernanda breaks down the statistics on just how much is in the directors hands, and how much is just good marketing. Don't miss out on the Doc Doctor's structure and trailer workshops coming up this month. Learn more about it at her website,

Myth #3

“A good story will find its audience no matter what.”


“Good marketing can make any story succeed.”

The myth in all its glory

Prepping Your Film For Distribution

How to make the transition from the editing room to the marketplace.

Stacy Schoolfield's film <i>Jumping Off Bridges</i> was successfully self-distributed.

So, once you finish your film, you actually want people to see it, right? Well, getting your film up on the big screen, or onto a DVD and into the hands of your audience isn't as easy as it seems. There are press kits to put together, posters, DVDs and inserts to design, papers to sign, copyrights to clear, and this is before you even begin promotion. The Independent's Jason Brubaker breaks down the process of both distribution and self-distribution with advice from lawyers, producers and marketing and consulting firms to make it easy--well, easier--for your film to find its audience.

Picture this!

Finding Your Festival

A guide for seeking out the best festivals for your film.

St. Lowery's first feature-length film, <i>St. Nick</i>, premieres at SXSW this month.

There are hundreds, maybe even thousands of film festivals out there and more cropping up all the time. There are festivals for every niche--for everything from human rights films to films about bicycles. So how, with the unlimited options before you, do you go about finding the festival that is best for your film? The Independent's Jericho Parms talks to festival veteran David Lowery, director of the film St. Nick premiering at SXSW this month (view the film's trailer here). Lowery offers his advice based on his experience in finding the perfect festivals for his films.

With thousands of film festivals worldwide, and new ones added every year, it has become increasingly challenging for new and emerging filmmakers to tackle the options.

Thank You For the Music: A Music Licensing Guide for Filmmakers

A resource and guide on how to obtain music rights for your film.

"Dirty Dancing" is one of the many films whose soundtrack has become iconic.

Music can make or break a film, sometimes even making it iconic. Look at legendary soundtracks like Star Wars, The Graduate and Dirty Dancing. Would these films have been the same without John Williams' epic score, Simon & Garfunkel's strumming guitar or Patrick Swayze's billowing lyrics. The Independent's Emily Cataneo has put together a guide for filmmakers that answers questions like: What do I need a license for? What goes into the process of getting a license? And offers resources that will aid in that process.

The soundtrack of a film is an integral part of its interpretation. It not only helps to create a polished final product, but it can help an audience understand what the characters are feeling. Picture Dustin Hoffman and Katharine Ross running out of the church, laughing, her wedding dress trailing behind them.

Beg, Borrow, or Steal? Deciphering Fair Use for Filmmakers

Understanding Fair Use can save documentary filmmakers time and money.

A screen shot of the archival footage from Vance vs. Judas Priest used by filmmaker Van Taylor for his doc, "Dream Decievers."

So, you're assembling your documentary and you desperately need to include a certain song, image, or archival scene to tell your story, do you need to get permission? How do you know if it's copyrighted? Independent writer Jen Swanson talks to Patricia Aufderheide of the American University Center for Social Media and one of the authors of The Documentary Filmmakers Statement of Best Practices, as well as filmmakers David Van Taylor and Gordon Quinn, to help break down Fair Use and how it applies to documentary filmmakers.

David Van Taylor first engaged questions of Fair Use when he was working on his film Dream Deceivers in 1990, a documentary that explored the lawsuit filed against the heavy-metal band Judas Priest by the family of James Vance, a teenager who tried to commit suicide after smoking marijuana and listening to the group's lyrics. The film incorporated copyrighted music and clips.

Health Insurance for Artists

Health insurance options for artists, writers and filmmakers.

A doctor's office (Photo by striatic).

Filmmakers, writers and other freelancers are often ineligible for health insurance through a company. But there are still plenty of options out there, if you know how to find them. So The Independent put together this list, broken down by state with the aim of helping artists learn their insurance options.

As freelancers, many members of the creative community -- writers, artists, and filmmakers -- often struggle to find the best health insurance for themselves and their families. Since artists typically do not work as employees, they are not eligible for insurance through a company. And it's not always an option to tag onto a partner's or parent's policy. But there are still plenty of options out there, if you know how to find them. Emerging and veteran artists may not realize that, in fact, they are eligible as artists to join certain organizations, and thus obtain a variety of more affordable health insurance options. So The Independent put together this list, broken down by state with the aim of helping artists learn their insurance options.

Party Like a Doc Star

Tips on coordinating a successful fundraising party

L.A. garment worker Lupe addresses the crowd at a rally in "Made in L.A."  Photo credit by Joann Lo.

Founder of Docs in Progress, Erica Ginsberg, talks with successful documentary filmmakers Almudena Carracedo, Robert Bahar (Made in L.A.), and Christopher Wong (Whatever it Takes), and film financing expert Morrie Warshawski about the ins and outs of hosting fundraising parties to finance a film.

Filmmakers increasingly need to seek funds from as many sources as possible. A fundraising party may seem like a fun way to raise much-needed dough, but they are a lot of work.  Still, securing the right host, making a personal connection to the guests, and laying the groundwork for future "asks" can have

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