Your Best and Worst Advice for Documentary Filmmakers

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Tell Me Something book cover

In Tell Me Something: Documentary Filmmakers, editor Jessica Edwards asked 60 renowned nonfiction filmmakers such as Barbara Kopple, Albert Maysles, Michael Apted and Frederick Wiseman to deliver advice on everything from career development to personal relationships to risk taking to fashion choices.

Remember when we asked you to share your best and worst piece of advice for documentary filmmakers? We’ve collected some of our favorite responses below.

If you want to ask for advice from the filmmakers in person (many of them POV alums!), join DA Pennebaker & Chris Hegedus, Albert Maysles, Rachel Grady, Gary Hustwit, Sam Green and Jessica Edwards at The Strand Bookstore in New York City on Monday, February 24.

Reader’s Best Advice

“Make the movie you want to watch.”

“Never give up and enjoy the journey, regardless of how long and arduous the process may be.”

“Think about your interview question and let the person being interviewed take their time to tell their story. Don’t cut in too fast. Silence allows them to think and reflect, letting the human side come out.”

“A strong documentary ignites a lively discussion, begs a critical question, enlightens a soul, or inspires a solution.”

“Don’t wait for funding or better equipment to come in. Let your passion drive your story, content ends up mattering more than image quality. Also, don’t quit your day job.”

“Relationships of trust and mutual respect with subjects, helping them tell their story, this is the most important thing in documentary filmmaking.”

“Use talents from all your teammates, they are full of resources to guide your success.”

“When picking a story topic or subject for the film you are going to produce make sure it is something you will be willing to eat, sleep and … with for the next 3, 5 or more years before it’s finally completed.”

“Make your own rules.”

“The best camera is the one you have with you.”

“Always have your back-up gear ready to go.”

Reader’s Worst Advice

“Do it alone!”

“Don’t worry about the sound… They can fix that in post.”

“Never read the news.”

“Be sure to ask interview questions in precise order.”

“Best and also worst advice: wear a fanny pack.”

Do you have more advice, good or bad, for documentary filmmakers? Share yours in the comments below.

Read our interview with editor Jessica Edwards on the making of Tell Me Something and an excerpt from filmmaker Shola Lynch’s advice to filmmakers about balancing one’s creative and personal life.

Get more documentary film news and features: Subscribe to POV’s documentary blog, like POV on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @povdocs!

POV Blogger
POV Blogger
Shannon Carroll was Digital Community Associate at POV, where she supported POV's social networks.
  • Monica

    Budget the money for post, don’t ask editors to work for free because is a labor of love, because is your labor of love not theirs.