Welcome to our #doclifer stories. In the spirit of connectivity and togetherness of the documentary filmmaking world (which is the essence of why we started the TDL podcast) we are bringing you stories from #doclifers – doc filmmakers like you and I – from around the world.
If you’re interested in contributing your story to #Doclifer Stories, we’d love to hear from you. Your contribution will help to foster the TDL mission of building a supportive and networked community of doc filmmakers throughout the world.
#Doclifer Stories – Erin McGoff
#1. – How & why did you first get interested in documentary filmmaking?
I grew up always wanting to work in film, but never really wanting to get into journalism or documentary. I wanted to work on big-budget feature films or like an NBC comedy show like 30 Rock or The Office.
Even in college, I transferred to a school well-known for its journalism and documentary programs, but actively tried to avoid going that route. I was successful, until a story entered my life that I couldn’t ignore.
I was never really into documentaries until relatively recently, and to be honest, I’m still not super into most documentaries. I can appreciate 100% of documentaries, because they all tell stories about real things, but I’m not a huge enthusiast. I always felt like they preached to the choir, but had so much more potential to be more accessible.
I like to think of myself as a documentary filmmaker who wants to make documentaries for people who “don’t like” documentaries. My interest in documentary has also grown in the past couple years as this new trend of high quality, curated documentary mini-series emerges with shows like Abstract, Chefs Table, Wild Wild Country, etc.
Shows like those really made me fall in love with storytelling through documentary.
#2. – What was your first experience making a documentary film like?
I’m actually working on my first documentary now! Well, first feature documentary. I’ve made a couple short docs, but those were more like exercises, I consider this my first film.
It’s been the most challenging thing I’ve ever done – it’s quite a journey. But I was expecting that. It’s my first feature film, I’m doing it practically alone, I have very high standards, it’s about a culture I’m not from, a language I don’t speak, in a country on the opposite side of the earth. I started two years ago… and now we’re nearing the end of post-production.
Raising funds was by far the hardest part of the process. I spent countless hours and days writing grant proposals, cold emailing, crowdfunding, etc. Indie documentary filmmakers really wear a ton of hats!
I can’t wait for it to be done, both so it can do what it’s supposed to do—educate Americans about the US bombing of Laos and 80 million unexploded ordnance there—and so I can finally dive into my career with a significant portfolio piece under my belt.
I’m pretty young still – I graduated college in May 2017, so I really wanted to create something ambitious so it could be like a learning process for me. I had to go through every step of the process from development to distribution, and I learned a lot about my strengths and weaknesses.
#3. – What have you learned about making a doc film that you wished you’d known before?
There’s a lot! I guess a big one is that I should’ve crowdfunded earlier.
Most grants are ridiculous. It takes weeks to write a proposal, then months to hear back, by that time your film is in a different place and then the person who usually does end up winning the money wins for political reasons that are outside our control.
Don’t get me wrong – I’ll definitely keep applying for grants in the future, but in a smarter way.
I’ll only spend time applying for funds from organizations I really have connections with.
I spent so much time waiting around in the hopes of winning a grant that I probably never had a chance to win in the first place.
Crowdfunding is such an excellent way to market your film and get funds with no strings attached (except shipping out hundreds of perk deliveries!).
#4. – What’s a big challenge or hurdle you’ve had to overcome in leading a #doclife?
I don’t know how people make documentaries (especially their first) without having someone else support them financially.
How can documentary not just be a passion project?
Now that I’m in post-production, I’m able to do a lot of the work on my documentary after I get home from my full-time gig as an editor – but during production it would have been impossible for me to make this if I wasn’t able to move back in with my parents after college.
And that kind of sucks – because it means only the people who have the luxury of financial security can successfully make their first or second film.
I want to hear stories told by all kinds of different people – not just the ones who can afford to do so.
Another hurdle is definitely imposter syndrome! It took me a long time to realize that no one really knows what they’re doing. I follow everything online – all the blogs, websites, newsletters, film festivals, etc. I see the big names and the films that are getting a lot of support and attention. It’s easy to assume that those filmmakers know exactly what they’re doing and they’re in on some secret the rest of us aren’t. But at the end of the day, we’re all just trying to tell stories of things that have impacted us, and there’s no qualification for that.
#5. – Share a current or most recent project with us.
I’m currently working on This Little Land of Mines – a feature doc about the resilience of Lao people as they work to clear 80 million unexploded American bombs from the Vietnam War era.