Producing a Documentary: Top Five Lessons Learned

by Faith Fuller

It’s been nearly ten years since I produced my first feature length documentary Briars in the Cotton Patch. Looking back, here’s what I learned.

  1. Don't Try To Do Everything Yourself

    As multi-talented as you may be, it's the rare person indeed who can take on all aspects of the filmmaking process and do them all well. Find collaborators. In fact, having a team makes you more attractive to donors and investors.
  2. Don't Skimp On Quality

    Even if money is tight, do whatever it takes to make a quality film.
  3. Build A Fundraising Team

    Create a fundraising team made up of people who have experience raising money and who are connected with the business world. Don't try to raise money alone, especially if you aren't comfortable with the process!
  4. Get Help With Distribution

    Despite all the excitement and truly amazing advances with DIY distribution (yes, you CAN do a lot on your own), an experienced distributor can significantly impact a film's success -- whether that's reaching a larger audience, making a profit and/or triggering social change.

    There are many aspects of the distribution process -- from DVD duplication/distribution, educational licensing, VOD (video on demand), public relations/press releases, theatrical release, social media, international distribution, broadcast/cable, etc -- there's just no way a filmmaker can take on these things alone, at least not well. It's true that you give up partial control of your project and a percentage of your profits, but if you can partner with the right person or team (this is important as the distributor needs to be a natural fit with your project), your film can have a much bigger impact and you can focus on what you do best -- filmmaking!
  5. Think Of The End First

    It's tempting to jump in head first into making your film when you are oozing over with passion and excitement for the project. But force yourself to take a step back and dream into the future. Where do you imagine your film will be seen when it's complete -- theaters, churches, television, YouTube? What impact will it have? Thinking about the end first will help you in every aspect of the filmmaking process. Putting together a documentary proposal is one of the best things you can do to get prepared.

What are YOUR top lessons learned while making your documentary? Please share below.

Comments for Producing a Documentary: Top Five Lessons Learned

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Sep 02, 2012
Disappointed NEW
by: Carl Hill

1 Not having the money to fund producing the documentary myself.

2 Not because the project is a antiviolence project, people you though would support, will support.

3 People that were involved in gang war scared to share their regret.

4 The negative belief of my capability by some people.

5 The lost momentum after some unforceen problem occurs while getting the support of some dedicated grass-root assistance.

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