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Alternative Funding

Documentary Funding: The Need to Be Cunning… and Funny

Photo by JD Hancock CC BY 2.0

Photo by JD Hancock CC BY 2.0


“The more idealistic you are about your work the more cunning and savvy you have to be about the business side” of it says, Ira Glass, presenter of NPR’s This American Life. In this lecture to journalism students he describes what makes good journalism, and how to tell important stories in a way that does them justice. Some of his other observations include:

  1. Don’t wait for permission to make the work you want to make… just start
  2. Be super-ambitious – keep trying things until luck kicks in and you find your story
  3. Amuse yourself – it’s not enough just to be idealistic, you have to love your work if it’s going to move the audience and ultimately make a difference to the world. Provoke a reaction – and humour is a good reaction.
  4. It should be your goal to make memorable work – people remember things that make them smile

Interestingly, much of his advice applies to making effective pitch tapes – anyone who has sat in pitch forums at festivals will have noticed that those that provoke a laugh in the first 30 seconds are usually favouably received by commissioning editors and other buyers. Even if they don’t want to fund the film they will likely remember the filmmaker and be more inclined to take their next pitch, and perhaps even fund it. So try to find the funny in your pitch, especially if you want to make a documentary about a serious subject.

Watch the whole lecture to find out why not every subject should be turned into a story:


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