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Fast Foreword: The Editor's Column, February 2006

By Tom White

Dear Readers,

We artists are a right-brained lot. We seek out, or stumble upon, the raw material of art and with our ample skills, we shape and mold this raw material into a coherent, compelling story. That, in an oversimplified way, is the essence of making a documentary.

But then there's the challenge of getting your documentary made--a decidedly left-brained endeavor that takes a different set of skills and talents. You need a managerial infrastructure, and you need to know where you're going, how you're going to get there and what you're going to do once you're there.

We have enlisted a number of seasoned practitioners to contribute their respective expertise. Once you decide that documentary filmmaking is the right career for you, what do you do next? Do you form a production company or do you freelance? If you opt for the former, will it be a for-profit or nonprofit business? Cianna Stewart, who consults with nonprofit organizations and writes and direct documentary films, lays out the pros and cons of these options. 

Once you've decided on the optimal context for making your documentary, you need to develop a budget, which will serve as both a blueprint and a reality check, of sorts, for what is reasonable and possible. IDA Board member and Doculink founder and director Robert Bahar has graciously fashioned an article about budgets and budgeting that is based on a series of workshops that he presented to Doculink members this past year.

One line item that is getting trickier, more cost-prohibitive, but more necessary is Errors & Omissions (E&O) insurance--particularly in a litigious society like the US, but also given the number of documentary productions that cross international borders. Winnie Wong, vice president of the entertainment media division at DeWitt Stern, takes you through the intricacies of E&O.

Once you have your budget in reasonable shape, you're ready to go out and raise the money to make your project a reality. And here's where the hard questions come in: What are your goals? What are your objectives? Who is your audience? How do you plan to target it? Why is this project important? And just as it's important to know your project, you need to know all about your potential supporters and how to reach them. Wanda Bershen, who has consulted on fundraising and marketing for over 20 years, gives us a primer on waging a successful fundraising campaign.

Finally, once your doc is done, the real work of getting it out to audiences begins. But the real thinking about your publicity campaign should start in the pre-production phase, as Elizabeth Blozan discovered in talking to some leading PR mavens.


Yours in actuality,

Thomas White