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Are You Ready For Some Feedback?

By Amy Halpin

Your shoulders and back ache; you've eaten way too much junk food and gotten far too little sunlight and exercise in the last few months.  The obvious perils of the documentary edit. You and your editor (or maybe just you) have cut and re-cut, watched and re-watched, obsessed, argued and compromised your way to an early cut. Now what?

If you are in the early rough-cut stage, it's time to call in your advisors. Having subject specific advisors weigh in on premise, accuracy, tone, balance and general fact checking early enough will give you plenty of time to address any major content issues long before you have a festival deadline looming.  

The next step for feedback probably involves reaching out to experienced documentary professionals and trusted colleagues. Talking structure, character development, pacing and story arc with a few seasoned pros who aren't intimately involved with your film or it's subject will give you a fresh perspective in the late rough cut stages of your project.

Finally, when you have an early fine cut, it's time to reach out to a more general audience to see what's working and what needs more polishing before locking picture and delivering a finished film. No matter how many times you've watched your film alone in a darkened room, it's not until you see it with an audience of first time viewers that you truly understand all the dynamics involved.

With all this in mind, IDA and collaborator Venice Arts launched the FIRST LOOKS Works-in-Progress documentary screening series early this year.  The Works-in-Progress series was designed to give our fiscally sponsored projects a way to solicit valuable feedback in a collaborative and supportive environment, as well as to provide a venue for filmmakers and documentary lovers to meet and make connections.  In January our audience got the first look at I Am Divine shortly before its world premiere at SXSW, and more recently gave feedback to the filmmakers from Ride With Larry, which should be hitting the festival circuit in the Fall.
If you are ready for feedback and are interested in participating in an upcoming screening please reach out to us by sending a brief email to Let us know what phase of production you’re in, when you think you’ll be ready to screen and what you hope to get out of participating in a FIRST LOOKS screening.  Right now we have slots available on August 1st and November 7th with future dates to be announced.  

A few tips for a productive work-in-progress screening:

  • Approach the screening with a thick skin, an open mind and a spirit of collaboration. When you ask for feedback, most people are going to focus on the handful of things that aren’t working.
  • Be specific - Asking "did you like it" isn’t enough. If you want to know if a particular sequence is too long or a character with a thick accent is understandable without subtitles, ask directly.
  • Consider your audience - The definition of “general audience” for your film will likely be different from your average Hollywood blockbuster. Now is the time to re-visit the idea of identifying your "core audience".  When inviting people to your screening consider who you want to impact with your film and reach out strategically.