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 – Josh Davidsburg
#1. – How and why did you first get interested in documentary filmmaking?
I went to school for broadcast journalism, and while I was in college I saw the documentary “Spellbound.”
It was the first character-driven documentary I remember watching. I immediately bought a copy and have loved documentaries ever since, but I never thought I’d be able to do it.
I was a reporter for seven years, did a short stint in public relations —where I learned how to shoot and edit— and then got a job at the University of Maryland, College Park teaching journalism.
During one summer session, a masters student went to DC Pride looking for a story idea for a class project. She saw drag queen Muffy Blake Stephyns (noticed her hair), marched over to Muffy and asked if she could profile the drag queen.
A little while later, after my class, I was talking to a group of students and I mentioned that I’d like to eventually shoot a documentary. The masters student said, “Why don’t we follow Muffy?” She set up a meeting, and four years later we have a feature-length documentary about Muffy and the Imperial Court of Washington, DC.
That master’s student helped produce the documentary and got some invaluable experience.
#2. – What was your first experience making a documentary film like?
It was incredible.
It’s a whole world that I didn’t know existed and it’s right in my back yard.
The Imperial Court functions are almost as formal as the Academy Awards but in drag. The Queens are required to wear gowns to floor, hair to the ceiling, gloves and crowns. The male performers are required to wear tuxedos or their military uniforms (since it’s DC many of them are in the military when they’re not in drag).
It was incredible that they opened their doors and lives to us, every time I turned the camera on I was surprised by how welcoming and open they were.
It was also daunting.
As a former tv reporter, I had never really produced anything longer than a few minutes.
The amount of preparation and organization was monumental and overwhelming, but by the time I completed the rough cut, I was starting to feel really good about the direction the documentary was going.
On top of that, I’d spent my journalism career working for a company and didn’t have to worry about fundraising, grant writing or distribution. I don’t think I could have gotten through the fundraising portion without the Doc Life Podcast (Chris— I’ll take my check now ;-). I was learning as I was going, made some frustrating mistakes and now I’m ready to get this out there and start on my next project!
#3. – What have you learned about making a doc film that you wished you’d known before?
I wish I had started the fundraising earlier. I went out and just started shooting.
I am fortunate that I have a job where I have the time to shoot side projects (and I’m expected to). I think that was a blessing because I could afford to go out and start on my own, and a curse because I didn’t think through the budget, so I didn’t raise money for post until late.
I edited on my own (that was always my plan), but I needed money for music, an audio engineer and color (which I still may do on my own). I also needed money for E&O insurance. I kept putting it off until the absolute last minute, because I didn’t really know what I was doing.
We raised about $20,000 through crowdfunding and individual donations, but I think I could have raised more through grants if I started earlier.
I also wish I had known what was fair use and what would be copyright infringement.
Near the end of the edit I found a really good lawyer who came on pro-bono, but I was really stressed about it earlier.
We were following drag queens who lip sync, so I worried we’d have to pay a lot of money for their music or cut it out completely. He and another lawyer in the firm watched the film, researched the music and assuaged my fears, verifying that because it was occurring naturally, it would fall under fair-use.
I probably would have shot some scenes slightly differently if I realized that from the beginning.
#4. – What’s a big challenge or hurdle you’ve had to overcome in leading a #doclife?
I’m extremely lucky. I teach at a university even though I don’t have an advanced degree. It has given me the chance to explore a project I probably wouldn’t have been able to do with another job.
Family is first though, and my wife got a great job about four hours away from where I work. I commute up to Maryland to teach and commute back when classes are over, so it adds a lot of time and instability.
Luckily, I was already done with production. I carted hard drives back and forth on my commute, working a bi-state editing booth (my laptop).
I’m hoping we end up in the same place before I start my next documentary.
#5. – Share a current or most recent project with us.
Here’s the trailer for the Queen of the Capital:
This is a quick short I shot with a friend a few years ago: