5 Ways to Be More Connected as a Doc Filmmaker

As an individual documentary filmmaker, it is important to feel connected to a documentary filmmaking community. Feeling connected to a group of individuals who all are actively living the same passion – in this case documentary filmmaking – if nothing else, allows you to feel a little less crazy to be pursuing this documentary filmmaking endeavor, which often costs money and takes an extraordinary amount of time.

We have a propensity, as independent filmmakers, to be doing this work on our own, that we can often feel a bit alone in our documentary filmmaking passions, which is a bit ironic since, according to our stats, we know that there are most likely documentary filmmakers in at least 145 other countries. Let’s take a look at how we can connect.


1. Meetups

I think that the first great way to get more connected would be to get involved with a local Meetup. One such meet up is run by #doclifer, Nic Justice, where Stephanie and I ran a TDL workshop two summer ago. This may not have been made possible if not for the Meetup group that he has been instrumental in heading up. They are a Philly Meetup group called Rough Cuts Philly and they meet monthly at a great space donated by the good people of We Work. From my understanding, while Nic didn’t start the group, he has been instrumental in making it what it is today… which is a group of roughly 100 people who come to exhibit their films, offer feedback, discuss industry practices, just generally network, etc.

#Doclifer, Julie, also started a Meetup over in Charlotte, NC. In fact, we put ran a documentary filmmaking workshop there last year and got to meet some of her people. Her group was a little less industry attended, but we met some really lovely people who were doing some cool things in another cool town, that of Charlotte. So good on both Julie and Nic for starting these up, and if you’re in either area, you should reach out and attend one of their meetings.

Of course, these Meetups are happening in towns and cities all over the globe. I’d recommend getting on to Meetup.com and searching to see if there is any kind of filmmaker’s group happening in your area. And if there isn’t, why not start one up yourself? It’s a great way to start dialoguing with other people about their amazing projects and also to start meeting with people and learning how they are living their lives. So don’t be shy about starting one up. It may take a little while to build it up, but once word starts getting around, you might be surprised at the amount of doc filmmakers that are actually out there.


2. Join TDL Community Facebook group

Another great way to feel connected to a documentary filmmaking community – and this will truly give you some idea that there are documentary filmmakers the world over – is to join the TDL Community. Once you join make sure and post a comment and introduce yourself to the group. Or feel free to just have a look around and see what sorts of things people are talking about or what types of projects people are working on.

We started this group a few years ago and it has been awesome. In many ways it is a true extension of part of our mission statement here at TDL, which is basically to network a group of global documentary filmmakers in a way that allows us all to be sharing ideas and being supportive of one anothers projects. It’s been such a blessing to see documentary filmmakers from all walks of life, sharing their stories and offering suggestions and tips to help their fellow #doclifers.

And unlike a lot of other Facebook groups that I have seen, it is a pretty active one. Not a day goes by where people aren’t engaging with one another. And more than, it is 99.9 percent of the time, always very constructive and positive and supportive. We rarely have to moderate comments or anything like that. And you know what? I have a theory that it’s because we’re documentary filmmakers. And by and large, documentary filmmakers are some of the most supportive, genuine people you’ll ever meet. I really do believe that, and I think that it’s reflected in the The Documentary Life Community.


3. Volunteer for Someone Else’s Project

Now, I’m not generally a big proponent of working for free. I come from a commercial film background and no one should be working for free there. If anything, I’ve seen- and experienced myself – too many PAs working for tiny wages and working extraordinary hours. There was one production company in Portland, OR – who shall remain nameless, though I’ll gladly inform you if you ask me in person – who for awhile was using interns as PAs. In other words, they were getting people to PA for them for no cost. That’s just plain grossly wrong, and I’m glad to hear that it’s been years since they were engaging in such a practice.

But let us remember, that we are talking about documentary film. And often these films are passion projects with little to no budget. So we’re helping one another out all of the time – whether it be by offering free or reduced rates for service – or free or reduced rates on our production gear. That’s just the reality of the documentary world, much of the time.

And if you volunteer to work on someone’s documentary project, they are more than likely to help you out when the time comes where you should need it. You scratch my hard drive, I’ll scratch yours. Or something like that.

And when you volunteer, not only are you putting some good doc karma out there into the universe, but you’re probably learning something valuable yourself, in seeing how others operate on their projects. And you’re practicing your craft, which is obviously invaluable. And you’re also feeling more connected on a personal level to other doc filmmakers. And that too, as we already well know, can be invaluable.


4. Attend Documentary Film Festivals

Where else can you see so many doc films and often meet with the makers of these films than at film festivals? We talk a lot at TDL about the importance of documentary film festivals.

As a doc filmmaker, by attending these festivals, not only can you be seeing the kinds of films that are considered festival-worthy, but you can be rubbing shoulders with other filmmakers like yourself, and I’m not even talking about the director’s of films at the festival. The truth is, many of the festival goers turn out to also be filmmakers. And so not only are you able to perhaps meet some industry people, but you’re more than likely to be meeting other documentary filmmakers from your town at these events.

And I don’t know about you, but there’s really just something about hearing a director of a film at a festival discuss their experience afterwards through Q&A. I always feel a particularly kinship to the person because they are speaking my language. They are sharing experiences that I have also had. I literally feel a very strong connection to that filmmaker who is up front and talking to the audience. And that is a feeling that should never be underestimated. It gives value to your endeavor and it legitimizes so many of the thoughts and experiences that you maybe have been unable to articulate yourself or share with another human being who just gets it. And that’s powerful stuff.


5. Participate in a 48 Hour Festival

If you haven’t already heard of this,  48 hour film is an annual event that happens in any given town whereby teams of people get together on a Friday night at a designated meeting point, pick a film genre from a hat, are told of a prop and a single line of dialogue that they must use, and then have precisely 48 hours to make their film.

It is at once an exercise in great humility and great filmmaking. Or hopefully, at least, a great filmmaking experience! It can be an incredible high, for those who pass the trial by fire and get the film finished and handed in on time, and it can be an incredible low for those who fail to make it through the crazy weekend with a film and/or their sanity intact.

Sure, it is not documentary-specific, it’s really more narrative in nature, but what it does is give you a shot in the filmmaking arm, a quick fix, if you will. It’s an exercise in filmmaking that literally must be done in the span of 48 hours. You are in and out – you get to have a filmmaking experience and hopefully you get to have a film that you can be at least somewhat proud of.

Again, the idea here is to be getting out there and participating in the filmmaking venture with other filmmakers. Regardless if it’s documentary or not, you are practicing the craft of filmmaking and you’re doing it with, hopefully, with some cool people. (There are some nightmare stories associated with some teams, but let’s not talk about that, shall we?)

Learn more here, 48 Hour Film and find out when your nearest city is participating or how you might be able to put one on in your town. And if you happen to do one in Portland or Baltimore be sure to say ‘Hi!’ to my main man, Rob Hatch or Robbie Goo as I fondly refer to him. Tell him Parkie sent ya!


How do you connect with other filmmakers or creatives? Do you have a community of like-minded people supporting and guiding you? Share where you get your filmmaking support in the comments below.


Host and TDL Founder, Chris G Parkhurst

Chris is a documentary filmmaker and the founder and host of The Documentary Life, a platform which aims to inform and inspire documentary filmmakers from around the globe.

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