Top 5 Questions for New Filmmakers

It’s almost the deadline to get in your pitch’s in for the second round of the Netflix Documentary Talent Fund – this year’s theme being on Connection. Since it was announced I’ve had a lot of messages asking me, what the process was like, what to expect and whether there was any advice I could give to aspiring filmmakers. Here are Top 5 questions to ask yourself when applying:

  1. Have you got your contributors on board?

    In documentaries your main contributor is the biggest piece of the puzzle. Getting someone for the story to revolve around requires a character that will stay in the mind of the audience. Once you have your ‘main’ character, make sure you have all the access you need before pitching. The last thing you want is to get to the pitching stage and not have the access you need to make an authentic documentary. There will be moments where you have to think creatively due to not getting the access you wanted, but you don’t want that moment to be attached to your main character. Make sure there is a real, trusting relationship built with your contributors. Tegan was instrumental to my story (if you haven’t watched it yet, scroll to the bottom!) and I couldn’t have made this without her and her families trust and access.
  2. Does your top line tell the story?

    It’s hard to condense a full story into a one liner but this is vital to be able to hook someone in. Elevator pitch it to someone who doesn’t know anything about it. Tell them the entire story in one sentence – they should be able to understand what they’re going to ‘see’ but also be intrigued to find out more. Keep in mind the theme here – this is all about connection, does that come through in your top line? If not, see how you can tweak it – you may know how connection relates but it needs to come through without your explanation.
  3. Do you have a team to make this with?

    This fund is for new filmmakers but it takes a lot of people to make a documentary – you aren’t expected to do it all on your own. Start thinking about who you might be able to work on this with  so you can be super confident when writing your application. I was very blessed to have an incredible team to start off with and was able to continue building it with new wonderful people as the process went on. My absolute rock and partner in crime was Aodh Breathnach, long time friend and  incredible camera person. I had the story and a vision, he had the equipment, talent and understanding of the industry to get it to fruition.
  4. Are you prepared to invest a year of your life into this?

    This might sound a bit daunting but to put it into context, this is a BIG opportunity. As the director/producer, it is your baby and you will think about it day and night when you’re in the thick of it. For some of the recipients of this funding, myself included, more roles were taken on that just directing. I composed the original music to Tegan with Tom Hackwell, Daisy from Twinkleberry ended up being one of the subjects in her doc and edited it as well. As a project, it does take up a lot of time, not just the shooting, directing, music making, editing, but also the admin and meetings and finance. There is a great amount of support given but make sure you are able to invest your time and creativity because it does require a lot. Knowing your ‘why’ will help you get through the long nights!
  5. Have you considered budgets?

    Relating to the point above, think about how you will be able to make this film. £30,000 sounds like a lot of money and it is but filmmaking is expensive. Think about what you and your team would need to make sure you can invest the time that you want to. Don’t expect to pay yourself for admin, have a look at day rates and figure out what else you would be working on alongside this project and whether it will be financially viable for you. You don’t need this for the initial application but it will come in handy later down the line.

I hope that’s a helpful little checklist to any new filmmakers out there thinking of applying. Remember, if this is a story you’re passionate about, make sure that passion comes through and let me know if you have any filmmaking questions I can address in upcoming blogs. I would love to share what I’ve learned with anyone who’s interested. Mainly, good luck!

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