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Fast Foreward: The Editor's Column, Winter 2019

By Tom White

Dear Readers,

Being the producer on a documentary necessitates a myriad of roles—as an artistic co-conspirator, yes, but in the right brain/left brain fluxus, the producer is the left brain, the one who takes the lead in building and maintaining the administrative/managerial infrastructure to keep the production process running; the one who watches the budget, raises the money, negotiates the deals, maps out the festival, distribution, marketing, impact, marketing and awards-season strategies; navigates the legal shoals…and so much more.

In this issue, we salute the producer, with a series of articles that spotlight a few of the roles that the producer undertakes. 

Over the past couple of years, Beth Levison has been working hard to empower her fellow producers to tackle the sustainability concerns that have driven the conversation in the community. She helped launch the Documentary Producers Alliance (DPA) in 2016, and over the past two years, the DPA has honed in how producers credits ought to truly reflect the creative and financial contributions to a given documentary. As a result of extensive dialogue with key stakeholders in the documentary ecosystem, the DPA has hammered out guidelines for Best Practices in Documentary Crediting—a solid foundation to continue the work on this vital issue. Levison provides us with an executive summary of the Best Practices as well as the back story of how we got to this point and an assessment of what lies ahead.

Producers credits are often tied to funding, and equity financing has emerged over the years as a major revenue stream. One session at the Getting Real conference addressed this subject, and Darianna Cardilli followed up with the panelists to delve deeper into its intricacies. 

Speaking of financing, a comprehensive, detailed production budget provides an essential blueprint for the life of the documentary. Back in 2006, filmmaker Robert Bahar contributed a line-item-by-line-item primer for sensible budgeting. That article is Documentary’s most popular ever—but the landscape has changed considerably since then, so we called upon Bahar to craft a much-anticipated update.

Finally, when you’re in the documentary career for the long haul, it’s wise to form a production company, be it an LLC or a nonprofit. Pamela Yates, Paco de Onis and Peter Kinoy have been making social issue documentaries since the 1980s, but five years ago, they decided to transform their company into a nonprofit. Ken Jacobson sits down with Yates and de Onis to talk about this transformation and the advantages and challenges involved in managing this model.

Yours in actuality,

Tom White