Skip to main content

Documentary Producers Alliance Unveils Crediting Guidelines

By Beth Levison

Editor’s Note: What follows is a statement from the IDA regarding the Documentary Producers Alliance’s “ Best Practices in Documentary Crediting.”

Over the last several years, the IDA has engaged in and convened numerous conversations across our field about critical sustainability issues facing documentary filmmakers. One issue that has consistently emerged is that filmmakers and their financial partners lack standards around crediting, pointing to the fact that there has been little agreement on what credits reflect in terms of actual work or financing. Given the extreme competition and financial pressures that documentary makers face, even experienced producers and directors have expressed feeling disempowered to negotiate credits, or to push back against the blurring of creative and financial producer credits or requests for up-front, high-level credits from some lower-level financiers.

The IDA sees the Documentary Producers Alliance (DPA)’s work on crediting as a critical step forward in an ongoing conversation between those who make and those who support documentaries. The group’s “Best Practices in Documentary Crediting” is a document that offers producers and other key documentary professionals, donors, investors and grantors a much-needed, clear and well-reasoned starting point for a thoughtful and deliberate dialogue about crediting. It defines previously looseterms,
and sketches out options for meaningful recognition of all the parties who contribute, both creatively and financially, to the successful development, production and dissemination of a documentary. 

The DPA’s statement of best practices recognizes that it cannot exhaust all the possible scenarios that documentary makers and their financial partners may negotiate in the course of their work, and, therefore, what’s presented is a series of helpful guidelines. IDA recognizes that an overly rigid approach to crediting compliance would not be appropriate for our field and that there is a need for a continued conversation on the subject of crediting. We look forward to supporting the DPA’s efforts by providing a platform to disseminate their work and by facilitating an ongoing conversation around documentary crediting practices. In 2019, we’ll administer a crediting survey of our members and constituents to gather input and feedback on these recommendations and assist the DPA in ensuring that these guidelines are a living document that is broadly responsive to the needs of our diverse field. 

In 2016, six seasoned producers (all women) started gathering to share their experiences in the field at that time. All of us were spent—emotionally and financially. Many of us felt overwhelmed by our films and their demands, and yet under-represented as key creatives in their making. Over time, much conversation and many glasses of wine, we came to realize that the issues we were facing—and others that we would begin to parse—were not due to our professional failures, but to systemic ones.

With that, we formed the Documentary Producers Alliance (the DPA) to address career sustainability challenges affecting documentary film producers, and to secure the health and welfare of the field. In the two years since, we have both broadened and focused our mission to embrace issues pertaining to wage and labor practices, structural inequality, the paucity of development funds, and the relationship between financiers and filmmakers as expressed through investor agreements. Through collaboration with key stakeholders, including funders, financiers, artist organizations, crowdfunding platforms and fellow grassroots filmmaker alliances, we are working to establish best practices in the field wherever we see the need for them—and wherever we can have impact. Documentary filmmakers are almost unmatched in their gutsiness and skill in turning a lens on inequity, systems and power structures that don’t work for all. Now, and with the support of our colleagues, we’re looking inward, and as producers do, we’re trying to identify actionable solutions so that documentary filmmaking can be a viable and gratifying career path for all who choose to pursue it.

DPA 1.0

That the DPA’s formation was initially rooted in this idea that many people—including members of industry—have no clear idea of what a producer does, prompted us to tackle the clarification of the producer’s role and our own sustainability, first. This was expressed in our “White Paper,” published by RealScreen in advance of Getting Real 2016.  “It is uniquely the producer who is expected by directors, funders and distributors alike to perform the Herculean task of reconciling the ever-diversifying facets of documentary filmmaking—all the creative, budgeting, fundraising, production, operations, legal, tax, and marketing and outreach considerations—with fewer resources and support,” we wrote. “In this climate, it’s clear that the artistic, entertainment value, social impact and market promise of the documentary will not be realized if the crucial role of the producer in documentary film is not considered from a sustainability perspective.”

We knew then—and we know now—that without intervention, the field might stand to lose us. And we bring tremendous value. In the White Paper, we asserted that we are professionals who have the experience and relationships to navigate the most complex of projects and the know-how to manage and staff productions on budget, on time and with creative vision. We reminded the industry that we are also role models and mentors who will not only help nurture the next generation of producers, but also guide documentary film into the future. The publication of the White Paper was a key first step in our genesis: a pronouncement of who we are; an invitation to producers to join us; a call-to-action for potential partners and allies; and a chance for us deepen our own thinking and shape our priorities to come.

DPA 2.0

Following the industry’s receptiveness to our White Paper and to our presence at Getting Real 2016, we saw clearly that there was an opening for the DPA. We decided to roll up our sleeves. We increased our membership 20-fold (we now number over 125 producers nationwide); started conducting focused, bi-monthly video Zoom-call meetings with as much as half of our membership in attendance; and broke out into committees to distribute the work and make it manageable.  And by early 2017, with many initiatives underway, we decided that our next public statement would focus on equitable crediting. Our feeling was that this aspect of documentary film, perhaps unlike any other, had become something of a Wild West, and that some standards and best practices might be in order so that moving forward, funders and investors receive the recognition that they are due (and that filmmakers want them to have!); filmmakers can offer and leverage fair credits to funding prospects to get their films made; and the value and meaning of credits are protected for filmmakers and their financial partners.
With the guidelines, we make some specific recommendations. For example, the DPA does not endorse:

  1. Granting the Producer, Co-Producer, or Associate Producer credits to financiers. Our position is that these are day-to-day producing credits only and may not be bought or sold.

  2. The use of the Creative Producer credit. We firmly believe that the Producer role is inherent to the creative process and that no qualifying adjective needs to precede the Producer credit. We also believe that by distinguishing between financier and day-to-day Producer credits, we eliminate the need for the Creative Producing credit, which in recent years has resulted in confusion in crediting practices and around the Producer’s role.

At the same time, the DPA does endorse:

  1. Our budget-agnostic financing tiers, according to which Company Presentation, In Association with, Executive Producer and Co-Executive Producer credits, for example, are accorded.

  2. The adoption and industry-wide use/acceptance of a new Contributing Producer credit, which is for financiers only, who contribute financing to a film but at a level lower to that of the Executive Producer or Co-Executive Producer.  

  3. The authentic inclusion and fair crediting of filmmakers of color and other storytellers who have been historically excluded from the power and resources of documentary filmmaking.

  4. A distinction between first money in and later money, and investment versus donor support.

And lest it appear that the guidelines were imposed by the DPA and its membership, it is important for the DPA to give credit where credit is due. The guidelines were developed in collaboration with the field: through meetings, conversations and discussions with representatives from more than 30 granting and artist organizations, filmmaker alliances and investor consortia, and many directors, producers and industry leaders; and, over the course of the IDA’s 2018 Getting Real documentary conference, where crediting was the subject of a panel discussion and talkback session.  In addition to our guidelines suggesting best crediting practices for US-based productions, they are unprecedented in their depth, offering a glossary of definitions for more than 20 documentary film producing roles.

Ultimately, we believe that credits are an expression of filmmaker and industry values. Our hope is that our crediting standards will serve film investors, donors and filmmakers alike in credit discussions and negotiations and that they will be adopted widely. Importantly, the recommendations outlined in our guidelines are crafted as best practices rather than laws, recognizing that some situations may warrant filmmakers and their partners to deviate from them. In such circumstances, we encourage filmmakers and their partners to use these standards as a starting place, with the specificities of a project dictating where, when and how exceptions are applied.

And lastly, our broader intention is that our guide, in keeping with all of the DPA’s efforts, facilitates greater transparency, benefitting the documentary industry as a whole; and that as the field continues to evolve, the documentary industry keeps a vigilant eye on crediting standards, adjusting as needed.


The publication of our “Best Practices in Documentary Crediting” guidelines marks a stop in the road, not an end-point.  They were developed and drafted over the course of 12+ months, hundreds of hours of volunteer time, and scores of difficult conversations with industry leadership, resulting in early endorsements from A-Doc, Brown Girls Doc Mafia, the Center for Media & Social Impact, Chicken & Egg Pictures, Firelight Media, Fork Films, Impact Partners, Points North and others. And yet, many conversations have yet to occur—with major broadcasters such as A&E Films, CNN Films, HBO and PBS; streaming platforms such as Amazon, Hulu and Netflix; and awards organizations such as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences (the Oscars), the Television Academy (the Emmys), and others. We know that it will take the full participation of all aspects of industry—festivals, funders, distributors, publicists, awarding entities and filmmakers themselves—for the guidelines to firmly land. There is work on all of our parts to do.

And some of that work—that’s the tough stuff.  The industry-wide adoption of these guidelines does require the distinction between filmmakers and funders, and the understanding that each makes its own contribution to the life of a film. It also requires the recognition that credits are industry currency, with real-world value. There’s more to these “Best Practices in Documentary Crediting” guidelines than at first may meet the eye, and their acceptance may require some to depart from their established status quo. It may not be a straight path, but very possibly, it may be a win-win for all.

Click here to access the guildelines

The Documentary Producers Alliance (DPA), founded in 2016 and currently comprising more than 125 documentary producers nationwide, advocates on behalf of producers for the health and welfare of the documentary industry. Current DPA committees are addressing structural inequality and inclusion; labor and economic sustainability; development funding; equitable contracts; crediting; and the running of DPA operations. For future updates, please follow DPA's website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Beth Levison is an independent documentary film producer, the founder of Hazel Pictures, a teacher at SVA’s MFA program in Social Documentary Film, and the chair of the DPA’s Crediting Committee.