I came across this great article on Medium and the authors have kindly allowed me to re-post parts of it here.
Lessons from a nonprofit that is building a successful media program from scratch
Over the past several years, documentary films have made an explosive comeback. There are lots of reasons for this, but two of the big ones worth noting are:
- The continued emergence of the millennial generation and our keen interest in contributing to something bigger than ourselves.
- Substantially lowered costs via technological innovations in consumer-level videography equipment.
Just because more nonprofits and individuals are pursuing documentary filmmaking does not mean it is effortless though. Documentary filmmaking for the modern nonprofit is just one part of having a solid media program, while owning your own small studio as an individual still isn’t super cheap.
Our nonprofit has built a successful media program, one that focuses on a warzone half a world away, from scratch over the past three years. It’s been hard work, but well worth it as we continue to advance in our mission of seeing peace and justice in Sudan in our lifetime.
Like many documentary filmmakers, we started down this road because we are passionate about storytelling and a specific issue. We still don’t have all the equipment and expertise we need, but we’ve made a lot of noteworthy progress. Here’s a few things we’ve learned along the way.
Story Is Everything
Human history is built on breathtaking stories. Our world wouldn’t be the same without them.
If there’s one thing every human being in the world has in common, it is our collective love of stories and storytelling. The world’s most ancient texts are filled with sweeping stories of early civilization. Today, we can’t get enough of big-budget films, post-apocalyptic books, and real-life stories of ordinary people becoming heroes. We’re wired to come together around those who who create, write, and show.
A good documentary film does a lot more than simply provide the facts. A good documentary film will also provide a story. An excellent documentary film will have you so riveted to the story that you barely even realize you are learning a lot about the social issue the filmmaker wants you to focus on.
So, how do you tell a good story? There’s lots of methods and approaches, but we want to provide you with just a few tips just to get started:
Understand your focus issue. If you don’t understand at least the basics of the issue your film will focus on, it will be extremely difficult to have a good final product. Knowing the issue means you know what questions to ask the people who are living through it. Context is king.
Know your target audience.There are very few films in the world that have the ability to deeply move every type of person. Odds are you are in a position to make a film because some people already care about the issue. Who are they and how do you grow that group?
Intentionally choose the focus.The best documentary films tell the true story of only a single person or a small group of people. The wider issue is the backdrop that weaves into their experience. Intentionally focus on people who have directly experienced the issue.
Make a plan, but stay nimble.We work in a warzone, so just about everything we do never goes according plan. When everything goes off the rails keep your eyes open for a new opportunity. Our best film to date was the one we never planned to make.
Documentary filmmaking, even with a lot of information up front, is a learning process that never ends. There’s no shortcut to getting or understanding that gut-feeling that drives documentary filmmakers to create truly incredible films despite the challanges they face. At the end of the day your passion is your greatest asset. Pursue it with full-heart and open-mind, and one day the gut-feeling that leads you to success will arrive.
Reaching Your Audience
Your target audience will largely determine how your film is released into the world.
- Make a powerful trailer.
- Enter into small film festivals.
- Make an official press kit.
- Set a release date with info.
— Read the entire article with much more detail https://medium.com/@OBSilence/documentary-films-101-95841cc8089c. I will publish a post about self-distributing my first documentary in a few days where I’ll elaborate about these last four points as well.