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Entry Level Positions on Documentaries


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#1 Charlie Read

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Posted 19 July 2018 - 02:25 PM

 I currently work in a post production house in London. My goal is to become an offline editors of documentaries. I'd really like to learn more about the full process of creating a documentary, however.

 

I was wondering if anyone could offer some advice on how to best find entry level roles working on documentaries?

 

 

Thanks!

 


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#2 Macks Fiiod

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Posted 19 July 2018 - 03:30 PM

Maybe offer to be a production assistant on a Docu shoot for free one day?


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#3 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 19 July 2018 - 04:34 PM

No reason why you couldn't make a short documentary yourself, the process is no different to a long form one. You don't need a crew, many docs are shot by the director.


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#4 Charlie Read

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Posted 20 July 2018 - 03:34 PM

No reason why you couldn't make a short documentary yourself, the process is no different to a long form one. You don't need a crew, many docs are shot by the director.

Does this carry much weight (provided it is well made)? I've thought of doing this before, but I wasn't sure if it would lead to more professional opportunities.


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#5 Tyler Purcell

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Posted 20 July 2018 - 03:49 PM

Depends on what you wanna do. If you wanna edit a documentary, you'd probably be more of an assistant as most doc filmmakers have editing chops and know what they want. It's only when you get into the real high end stuff, where the budgets can afford real post production support, that things change. 

 

I'm a documentary filmmaker, I've been specializing in the field for nearly my entire life, mostly because I like telling stories and it takes years to tell stories in narrative forum. I've found the documentary process very entertaining and pretty fun, especially when I'm given a challenge of telling a story in limited amount of shooting and post time. 

 

I'm always prepping, shooting and editing a documentary. Right this second I'm finishing a cut of one for a friend, I'm shooting two (both on film) and I'm prepping another that will be shot next year. I find the process to be a 360 degree turn from conventional narrative, commercial/industrial work. Like most doc filmmakers, I'm a one man band with zero crew. Yes I do have a producer, but she doesn't do much besides setup interviews and help schedule things. This is pretty typical for documentary filmmakers, they run the camera, they even setup the lighting/mic's and such. You've gotta be super technical and understand your limitations on set, like what you can and can't bring with you etc. I have two very nice travel kits, one digital and one film, both fit into super small backpacks. Nobody would know I was off shooting a documentary film. You can see some of the highlights in my cinematography.com blog: http://www.cinematog...showtopic=76110

 

Anyway, I'd just go out and make my own doc really. I think trying to cling onto someone else isn't the right idea unless you just wanna shoot and/or edit, in which case, it's only about your demo reel at that point. 

 

[shamless_plug] Here is a link for a teaser of my upcoming doc about shooting on film. Sadly, I had a major setback recently where two of my interviewee's backed out due to financial constraints and they aren't shooting their movies at all now. So I need to find a few more people to interview on this subject and shoot BTS.  . [/shameless_plug]


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#6 Macks Fiiod

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Posted 20 July 2018 - 03:49 PM

Does this carry much weight (provided it is well made)? I've thought of doing this before, but I wasn't sure if it would lead to more professional opportunities.

Have wondered this myself. I've self produced multiple documentaries with far more production value than local studios but I'm not sure they'd be as respected because they weren't produced under a studio.


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#7 Jaron Berman

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Posted 22 July 2018 - 05:33 PM

There are basically two models of doc production (simplifying bit here) - distributed and non-distributed.  Non-distributed is the passion model - you're making a doc because the subject matter is important for you to share.  Often that means you've concepted it, shot it, directed it, edited it, mixed it, etc...and funded it (or fundraised it).  Essentially you're working spec to shoot and finish it with the hopes it "goes somewhere." 

Distributed means someone wants a doc about a specific subject and has a budget to produce that doc.  It may find a life different at the end - but from the get-go there's a client with and idea of what it is and who the audience is.  That can mean theatrical distribution or TV/streaming.  In general, because there is a budget and client, this model has more complete crewing from research to field to post.  If your goal is to work as an editor in doc, then you're basically looking at this style of production and you can focus your efforts on finding companies that specialize in doc/reality.  Yes, some spec docs do hire editors but I wouldn't plan on making a career of editing spec docs.

 

Making a passion doc is absolutely a great thing to do, BUT unless you hit it out of the park it's probably not going to lead you to job after job doing what you're looking to do.  You'll certainly learn a lot.  That said, there is so much to learn by working FOR as many people as possible and paying attention to the ways they deal with various situations that may have nothing to do with technical skills.  In the US, in terms of getting a relatively intro understanding of the top-to-bottom of doc production the best position to aim for is AP (associate producer).  AP's in doc here tend to have a hand in every pot from the research phase to the field shoots to the post process.  Most doc AP's I know develop very tight relationships with their EP's, Producers,  DP's and Editors and, at times, will be trusted to do elements of all those roles.  Especially once footage comes back - often AP's will help the producers string-out sequences for the editors. 

 

Editors aren't often on-set outside of the spec passion projects where they're producer/director/dp/audio/editor / / / / .  They rely heavily on the notes from the field, transcriptions, and those string outs that the producers assembled in order to speed-up the process.  If your goal is to work into offline editing, it's super important to pay attention to the process as it passes from stage to stage.  Taking a wholistic approach, seeing how elements are acquired in the field, how the producers tell the story, how the sequences are built - and finished by the editors - helps understand what does and doesn't work.  Even seeing a talented editor take a string out and turn it into a segment is important in learning the nuance of editing which is a lot more than simply knowing some software.

 

AP isn't an entry-level position.  But often doc companies are loyal to their people and will promote PA's that show good work ethic and attitude relatively quickly to AP positions.  It's important to communicate your goals to the people you work for so they can help you get there. 

 

Best approach is to work for people WHILE making your own doc.  You get to try everything and apply lessons learned. 


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#8 Phil Connolly

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Posted 23 July 2018 - 05:26 AM

Do you work in a post house that does documentaries? If so having conversations with you clients might allow you set up some work experience.  

 

It can be hard to move up in a large post house. So maybe look at getting a job at a prod co that does its editing in house. You could leverage you post house experience to get in the door. I would say a smaller prod co (that does doco's) would probably give you more opportunities to do different things and learn. 

 

I got stuck at a big post house because I was good a QC's - so I was booked on QC's and nothing else. I had colleagues that had been stuck at Edit Assistant level for year. An edit assistant at a big prod co - could be doing broadcast off-lines within 1 or 2 years if motivated.


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#9 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 23 July 2018 - 06:42 AM

Does this carry much weight (provided it is well made)? I've thought of doing this before, but I wasn't sure if it would lead to more professional opportunities.

 I doubt working for a day would have much impart, since there are interns working for free all the time on documentaries, you would have to around for some time. I suspect the best would be working as an editor in a production company that does a lot of post in house, rather than farming it out to a post house.. 


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#10 aapo lettinen

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Posted 24 July 2018 - 01:45 AM

if you know editors and prod companies who do documentaries you can ask for assistant editor work/internship. 

if I understood correctly you would like to be the main editor on documentary films and the assistant editor work is exactly what would help you to get there.  

 

Post houses generally do online and mastering related work which does not help with learning the actual EDITING work, you will need to get involved in the actual editing process early on in the project... 

you can get good contacts for this from the post house so it will help that way. if you can find a way for it to be beneficial for the post house as well they could even arrange some opportunities for you, it might be useful for them if they'd have good editor in house  :)

 

making your own docs at the same time would help a lot as well as others said


Edited by aapo lettinen, 24 July 2018 - 01:48 AM.

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