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Fast Foreword: The Editor's Column, Spring 2012

By Tom White

Dear Readers,

In the Fall 2011 issue, we tackled the different components that comprise the craft of documentary making. Here, we provide a left-brain counterpoint, of sorts, in which we explore the business side of doc-making.

Over the past decade or so, documentary makers have been savvy about taking on the marketing and distribution of their work themselves. The digital revolution, along with its attendant tools of social media and networking, has made that all possible--and has impelled filmmakers to apply their innate artistic and creative sensibilities to the managerial and administrative apparatus of long- and short-term strategic planning.

Jon Reiss is one filmmaker who has parlayed the business side of the documentary-making process into an art. His 2009 book Think Outside the Box Office earned him both acclaim and a second career as a consultant. His 2011 follow-up, Selling Your Film without Selling Your Soul, which he authored with The Film Collaborative and Sheri Candler, is a compendium of case studies in independent film distribution. Reiss shares his chapter on the journey that filmmaker Ben Niles took with his film Note by Note.

One mainstay area of distribution is academia, and with the right film and a carefully conceived campaign, this area can reap significant benefits, often over a long period of time. Judith Dancoff, a filmmaker-turned-consultant in what she dubs "Academic DIY," advises on how to breach the ivied walls and get your film in the classroom.

As the Internet continues to expand its possibilities as a distribution medium, pirates also loom, wreaking havoc over the availability of free content, much to the dismay of content creators such as Hillari Scarl, who has seen her film See What I'm Saying pop up in torrent sites on a monthly basis. Scarl talks with distributors, investigators, attorneys and consultants about possible remedies filmmakers can take to protect their work and minimize the effectiveness of piracy.

Cynthia's Close's review of Pat Aufderheide and Peter Jaszi's Reclaiming Fair Use: How to Put Balance Back in Copyright in the Winter 2012 issue triggered a flurry of letters from the documentary community, to which Close also responds here. While the Fair Use doctrine has been instrumental in clarifying the reasonable limits and best practices in usage of copyrighted material in filmmakers' work, there have been ramifications for individuals like Close, president of the nonprofit distributor Documentary Education Resources. IDA recently presented a Doc U on fair use that clarified the doctrine, with the help of entertainment attorney Michael Donaldson and insurance broker Russell Hickey, but also provided equal time to a voice from the other side, producer/educator/distributor Mitchell Block. The conversation was spirited and certainly bodes future discussions, both here and at IDA forums like Doc U.

Speaking of fair use, insurance broker Winnie Wong offers a step-by-step primer for acquiring Errors and Omissions insurance--including vetting fair use application with a clearance attorney.

Finally, as most of you know, IDA is collaborating with the USC School of Cinematic Arts to produce the American Film Showcase, a cultural diplomacy program funded by the US Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The American Film Showcase follows the past success of the American Documentary Showcase. You'll be reading extensively about the global activities of the new Showcase both here and online. Stay tuned.

Yours in actuality,


Thomas White