2013 Peer Awards – $500 Prize for Best Documentary Film

Docs In Progress logo   TIVA DC Peer Awards logo

The annual DC Peer Awards is always a special event, celebrating the best artists in the DC production community and bringing them together to reward their hard work. Word Wizards Inc. has been a proud sponsor for many years because we believe they honor the absolute best in the field and encourage aspiring professionals to continue their quest for excellence. This year however, the ceremony has a new award thanks to Word Wizards, with the inclusion of a unique Docs In Progress category that focuses on documentary works that have been produced with the assistance of Docs In Progress. The category, proudly sponsored by Word Wizards Inc., gives the winner a $500 cash reward. This new prize is meant to help promote organizations that help filmmakers who want to make their vision a reality but don’t know where to start. For almost a decade, Docs In Progress and it’s founder Erica Ginsberg have been a huge part of the DC film community has and helped dozens of filmmakers, both experienced veterans and fresh novices, tell meaningful stories and reach audiences.

Humble Beginnings

Photograph of founders Erica Ginsberg and Adele Schmidt
Erica Ginsberg and Adele Schmidt
Photo from Docs In Progress Website

The time was way back in 2004 and two DC area filmmakers, Erica Ginsberg and Adele Schmidt, were sharing a dinner and talking about their craft. They talked about their desire to create a space where artists and filmmakers could come together to give each other valuable feedback on their works in progress and thus the seeds of Docs In Progress were planted.  The first DIP screening took place at the Warehouse Theater on 7th Street in May of that year. The first films to be screened were Swing Legends and Up to the Mountain, Down to the Village. It wasn’t long before these screenings started attracting artists from all over the DC film community who came to critique each other’s work. Over the next nine years, the organization has grown to not only include screenings of under construction films but also production workshops to educate others, peer pitch programs which allows artists in the early stages of their films to receive peer feedback, a youth summer camp and even the first Silver Spring Stories Film Festival.

Modern Day

Docs In Progress screening
A typically packed Docs In Progress screening
Photo from Docs In Progress Website

Even though Docs In Progress has grown by leaps and bounds in it’s almost decade long history, the organization still strives every day to remain true to its founding mission and values. This mission includes programs that help nurture a vibrant documentary community as well as discussion groups and screenings to help grow public appreciation for the documentary art form. The DIP values are also important and are composed of cultivating community partnerships, building a supportive artistic environment and connecting the public with documentary filmmakers. It’s these values that made Word Wizards Inc, want to honor Docs In Progress with this special category at the Peer Awards. DIP helps people tell compelling real life stories and works tirelessly to bring these important stories to the forefront of people’s minds. Ever more impressive is their desire to help any filmmaker who is driven enough whether they are brand new to the biz or seasoned film veterans.

A Bright Future

With 2014 almost upon us, Docs In Progress is set to reach a milestone as the organization celebrates 10 years. As Erica puts it “In 2014, we celebrate 10 years of Docs in Progress in the DC-area film community.  In that time hundreds of aspiring, emerging, and established documentary filmmakers from Washington DC, Maryland, Virginia and beyond have found purpose, professional development, and community through our offerings. We look forward to continuing to support films and filmmakers who have opened our eyes, our minds, and our hearts to the world around us.” Erica is an accomplished documentary filmmaker herself who’s work includes Taking Threats about international student reaction to 9/11 as well as the in progress  American’s Park which looks at changes in American society and urban development specifically DC’s Meridian Hill Park and the surrounding neighborhood.

 




Funding Your Film Into The Marketplace

 

Sundance         Docs in progress     DC Peer Awards logo NEW5

I recently ran across an interesting little article, written by Kathy A. McDonald, which was all about prepping your documentary for the market place and some basic tips to follow. Each year the Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program and Fund holds a number of labs or discussions, one of which is the Sundance Institute Creative Documentary Lab. This past summer they held a week’s worth of discussions, bringing together seven documentary producers to talk about their respective films and other related issues. One of the main talking points was the all too real challenge of fundraising and securing additional money to finish your project. Since transcription and talking heads footage, the meat of most documentaries, is Word Wizards, Inc. area of expertise we know how challenging it can be to get them off the ground. This helped inspire us to offer a cash prize to the winner of the Docs in Progress category in the 2013 Peer Awards.

Financing Tips

Some of the participants of the lab were director/producer Elizabeth “Chai” Vasarhelyi, co-directors and producers Rachel Lears and Robin Blotnick, director/producer Carola Fuentes, director/producer Hillevi Loven, producer Chris Talbott and producer Sarah Archambault. One of the first topics covered was equity financing and where to take risks when trying to build capital for your project. As producer Boni Cohen pointed out, you should always be careful about bringing in outside financiers. While the money they bring will help the project move forward towards the market, it also means you may have to deal with issues of creative control. Crowd funding is also something producers should be weary of since it can be a double edged sword. While many campaigns offer donors goodies and some swag depending on how much is given, the man power and expenses needed to make good on these offers is something to be mindful of. A good bit of advice is to study what has worked previously with other projects that were similar to yours and see how they did crowd funding.

You’re Subject

Another important aspect of your film that you always need to be aware of is exactly how to deal with the subject at the heart of the film. If you have an especially vulnerable subject, you need to make sure that they are prepped for what they might encounter at a screening or Q&A. Additionally all producers needs to make sure that the subject is aware that the film is not an economic lifeline and that they don’t have those types of expectations. If you think your subject could be the source of any controversy, make sure you have a tight grip on any social media and be cautious before the world premiere. Many films and projects have been damaged before their release because someone close to the production sent information out via twitter and Facebook that was then picked up.

Selling and the Importance of Festivals

When you do finally have something to sell, make sure that you, your agent, distribution partners and publicist are all on the same page working as one cohesive unit. As Josh Braun, co-president of Submarine Entertainment, stressed “You have to dream and think big and understand limitations at the same time.” While producers may have lofty expectations for their films, it often falls to the sales agents to peacefully combine those expectations with the very real financial obligations. Everyone agreed that festivals still play a key role since a films successful festival run is seen as a reassuring signs to many potential buyers. While they may not all be accepted into Sundance, a series of screenings and well placed publicity can still be a major draw. To read the rest of the article in more detail, head on over to its site here.