Dissecting The Documentary: Find Your Way

Dissecting the Documentary is a series of interviews with filmmakers, sharing their experience and thoughts during the filmmaking process. 

Exploring themes and creativity of a film is likely heard of – but the development process of making the finished film seen by the public and exist outside of production phases is a mystery to viewers. Brian Nunes kindly gave us a few answers to get a clear picture of this process after creating the film Find Your Way, 2014.

To a filmmaker, scheduling can mean multiple things – especially to a documentary filmmaker. The producers and A.D. can be your best friends and closet enemies on set when scheduling, but when planning a documentary you go by your talents schedules and that can be a testament of patience and endurance.

Q: What was the production schedule like?

BN: The production schedule for a documentary is a very different experience than when you’re doing narrative work. It mostly involved showing up and establishing relationships with the musicians. If I tried to call and schedule a time to meet and film, I would be blown off. But if I hung out for hours and hours, becoming part of the environment, suddenly they began opening up and sharing their world with me. That’s when I got the best stuff. I did this for the better part of 2 years and took another year to complete a few select interviews and to finish editing. 2014 was all about festivals and it was the fourth year I spent working on the film in some form, so all in I spent over 4 years from the first day of production to the VOD release date.

Q: What was your budget for the film?

BN: Over those 4 years I estimate $61,000 in cash went into it, not counting my personal time.

Funding your film can all calculate into frustration yet can expanse creatively – throughout all stages of preproduction, production, and postproduction. This could feel like funding will never end. Budgeting is the make or break point of how far you and your crew can go and see the limits of the film. There will be unexpected contingencies to all categories of film, so be prepared!

Q: How did you get your funding?

BN: I succeeded with a modest Kickstarter of $7,600 and the rest was my own money. I was fortunate enough to get some production work in 2010 that helped pay for my habits. After that gig was over I was also lucky enough to get unemployment for a while which helped keep me going in between small client work. I’m also not afraid to admit that if I ever got in trouble or needed a jump-start I could call mom for tiny investments 🙂

Q: What were some things that went wrong through scheduling?

BN: Nothing really went WRONG per say – I would say it was just a process of overcoming challenges. The biggest hurdles were getting interviews with well-known musicians who had experience busking. They were the biggest long shots and I really wanted those to happen.

Q: Where did most of the funds go?

BN: Most of my cash was spent on equipment, travel and assistance. I hired an assistant editor to help me comb through footage right after my Kickstarter (that account for half of the KS money). I spent some of it on upgrading equipment and the rest went in rent so I could take time to focus on the film. Realistically I needed a lot more Kickstarter money because once it ran out I had to turn my attention to small client gigs again. I did spend some money on color correction, but I was VERY lucky to have an amazing sound mixer donate his time to the project (thanks to Amy Enser! Shout out ;). All the editing, graphics and sound design was sweat equity.

Now the distribution process is the real kicker. No one will ever see the film you put everything into if you don’t have a distribution plan. In this modern day in age we have so many options available and it’s all about how you get picked up.

Q: What was the distribution process for your film?

BN: It was mostly self-driven. Before submitting to festivals I contacted The Film Collaborative (a small group of festival professionals with years of experience as programmers) who gave me advice and set me up with VOD distribution. I also submitted to about 32 festivals and got in to 10, which started some conversations with a few different distribution companies. The Portland Film Festival got me on the radar of an educational distributor, the Houston Film Festival got me on the radar of a European TV distributor (who I signed with and is currently pitching it to publicly funded stations right now), and the CBGB Music and Film Festival got me on the radar of Passion River Films who were interested in the DVD market and are currently pitching it to Netflix. All these companies contacted me, so ultimately I learned the festival circuit is simultaneously the biggest opportunity for indie filmmakers and their greatest obstacle since it’s so insanely competitive. Essentially though there are only a handful of festivals that increase your chances of getting a significant distribution DEAL, where money exchanges hands up front. Everything else is going to require sweat equity and equity equity to make it to the market place.

Q: What were some things you learned through scheduling, funding, distributing, etc.?

BN: Oh man where to begin. I learned a lot of things I wouldn’t do again, like start a documentary project by yourself 😉 I also learned grants are your friend and if I were to embark on another personal project I wouldn’t do it without grant support. Not having a partner can be a challenge and if you can secure a grant it would open a lot of doors for surrounding yourself with good people. That’s probably the biggest thing I learned was that having a team of 2-3 people for doc projects is so crucial for sanity, clarity and good story telling. It’s so easy to get lost in the weeds during production and ESPECIALLY during postproduction. Post for feature docs is like climbing a mountain and being totally unsure of whether the view will be worth it in the end. Wow did I just make a cool metaphor? I’m going to go ahead and claim that one.

Something I learned about distribution is it’s best to have a financial partner before hitting the festival circuit if you can.  Of course for first time filmmakers it’s just a minefield.  There’s really no easy way to independently produce your first project – it’s just going to take a ton of dedication and input from your friends and family.  Hopefully you can craft the story you want to and it’s compelling for others.  Of course a viral crowd funding campaign would help!  That’s really all about the subject matter.
Q: What would you have done differently in distributing and marketing the film?

BN: Not much. For a first time film you can’t expect to make money unless you get two standing ovations at Sundance (i.e. Buck – amazing doc from a first time filmmaker in her 60’s!). I do wish I’d had a financial distribution partner (my distro partners aren’t putting capital in – just modest sweat equity through pre-existing channels). I feel like if you have a good product, show at some nice festivals and can put $100k into marketing, you stand a chance of catching a lot of attention. But usually for docs a great deal depends on the subject matter – whether it’s something universally appealing or culturally important. Art films are always going to be a hard sell.

Keeping people interested and aware of the activities you film make is essential as well. With the technology we have these days it’s amazing what we can get to go viral. You and/or your publicist leading the campaigns for recognition, needs a plan to detect whether how it will go viral. 

Q: How did you grow the campaign sites for the film in social media?

BN: I created a Facebook page pretty late in the game (into my 4th year of production) – I would definitely recommend doing that as soon as you start production. So I did do some paid advertising for the FB page and got about 1,200 followers. It’s difficult to get a ton of followers for a project because people are more interested in people than products, projects or brands. I’m not the best at social media so If I personally had a bigger following that would’ve helped.

Q: Did you hire a publicist?

BN: Yes I did. This was another good chunk of money. She helped get the word out there and landed us on Indiewire’s top 11 films to see in November 2014, which was cool. I must admit I was a little disappointed though with the whole PR push since it was a $4,500 investment and the ripples did seem to fade faster than I’d hoped or expected. It’s difficult to know how much of that was my publicist and how much of that was the film’s subject matter. It was also at the height of big budget release dates (November / December), so that didn’t help.

Q: What advice would you give about the film industry?

BN: It’s 70% who you know, 20% what you know and 10% talent 😉

You can find more about Find Your Way here!