Tom RostonIndependent journalist Tom Roston checks in and writes about the world of documentaries in his column, Doc Soup.

You can follow Tom on Twitter @DocSoupMan.

“Tell Me Something” Features Advice From Fifty of the World’s Best Documentary Filmmakers

by |

Tell Me Something, edited by New York filmmaker Jessica Edwards, has a Kickstarter Campaign until April 6th, 2013.

We all need good advice, now and then. And who better to provide that advice than a person who has dedicated him or her self to telling the truth, albeit in a mediated form, for aesthetic expression, greater social good and even greater personal self-growth?

That, in my words, is the reason for being for the upcoming book, Tell Me Something, edited by budding filmmaker Jessica Edwards, and articulated by an impressively long list of seasoned documentary filmmakers, including Albert Maysles, Barbara Kopple, Morgan Spurlock, Frederick Wiseman, Kim Longinotto and Steve James. Each filmmaker — many of whom are POV vets — doles out advice that ranges from love to filmmaking, accompanied by a photographic portrait of said director.

The book should be ready by the fall, but in order to get there, Edwards has started a Kickstarter campaign, offering some awesome rewards for your generosity.

I like the ones that get you the book and a signature from a filmmaker, like Spurlock or Kopple. It’s almost like they’re ranked, which has given me the awesome idea to start a Fantasy Doc Filmmaker League soon. (Look for it. I’m serious.) In the higher range, if you give $3,000, three filmmakers will come to your company or school to conduct an in-depth talk about creativity. I bet that discussion will be well worth its weight in gold.

You got to give it up to Edwards: she’s managed to wed two industries — book publishing and documentary filmmaking — that are practically guaranteed to not make money. Which is why you should hear what she has to say below, and help her defy the odds with some cold, hard, cash.

How’d the idea for the book come up?
I had been working as a film publicist for years, but I was always a closeted filmmaker, making short documentaries in my spare time, with my own money. When I stopped doing publicity last year after having a baby, I started to work on some long form documentary ideas. But as I was researching, plotting ideas, considering angles and story lines I was suddenly stuck. Nothing seemed to connect. Ideas I had been working on for years fell apart in my head, and it seemed impossible to focus on new concepts. I hit a wall creatively and I didn’t know how to work through it. My partner is also a filmmaker (Helvetica filmmaker, Gary Hustwit) and we were talking about a way to get through the fog. He mentioned how it would be great to take every filmmaker you love for coffee to pick their brain for advice. And that is how Tell Me Something was born.

I’ve been lucky to have met and worked with so many great documentary filmmakers over the years and I wanted to find a way to distill some of their knowledge for anyone to use. I imagined the book being something you could pull off the shelf when you were stuck and it would give you a little shock of inspiration or motivation to keep working. Luckily the filmmakers have been really responsive to the idea and have provided insightful, funny, thoughtful and above all inspirational advice.

Can you describe any revelations or surprises after asking so many doc directors advice?
Documentary folks tend to be really open and kind people. They are in the filmmaking trenches day in and day out, so I’m not surprised by how genuine and honest and thoughtful the advice is. But contrary to popular myth, documentary filmmakers aren’t only serious and sullen and burdened by changing the world one movie at a time! They are also hilarious. Take Amir Bar-Lev’s advice about how to sneak into film festival parties. It sounds crazy, but it’s practical advice for a new filmmaker fresh on the festival scene.

Can you give me one of your favorite quotes?
Too many to list! But one of my favorites is from James Marsh: “An ambitious failure is preferable to a mediocre success.”

How do you plan to distribute the book?
We’re running a Kickstarter campaign for the project, so that’ll be the initial way the books get out there, to people who back the project. We’ll also be doing some release events at film festivals this fall when the book is published. Then of course selling it via the web, on Amazon, at our favorite movie houses and gift shops, etc.

How many copies do you plan to publish?
It’ll depend on the demand, we’ll see. But the response so far has been great.

Is $20,000 going to pay for everything? (Really?)
That’ll pay for the photographers, the book design, a modest first print run and related shipping costs. Everyone involved is doing this because they like the idea of the project. And at the end of the day, I’m a filmmaker, I don’t have any illusions of becoming a big time book publisher!

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

Tom Roston
Tom Roston
Tom Roston is a guest columnist for POV's documentary blog. He comes to us as a ten-year veteran of Premiere magazine, where he was a Senior Editor, and where he wrote the column, Notes from the Dream Factory. Tom was born and raised in New York City. He graduated from Brown University and started his career in journalism at The Nation and then Vanity Fair. Tom has also written for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, GQ, New York, Elle and other publications. Tom's favorite documentaries are: 1. Koyanisqaatsi - Godfrey Reggio 2. Hoop Dreams - Steve James 3. The Up series - Michael Apted 4. Crumb - Terry Zwigoff 5. Capturing the Friedmans - Andrew Jarecki