AIDC: Days of the individual filmmaker are over

02 March, 2012 by Amanda Diaz

The days of the individual filmmaker are over, according to a panel of documentary-makers at the AIDC earlier this week.

Veteran Bob Connolly, who directed last year's hit Mrs. Carey’s Concert, said he was in a state of despair over the fact that the art of documentary had been reduced to such a conversation.


"If anyone had told me 20 or 30 years ago that I'd find myself in a room participating in a serious discussion about whether or not a TV show about removing stains qualified as a documentary, I'd have come to the embarrassed conclusion that I caught the wrong plane, landed in Surfer's Paradise and blundered into one of those tax dodge conventions so fondly pursued by doctors and dentists, and no doubt the stain removal industry," he said.

"What must the rest of the film industry think of us? The politicians and bureaucrats that control the purse strings of this heavily subsidised so-called art form. How have we gotten to the state of affairs whereby a judge in a court of law has been given license to determine what it is that we do in such a way as to make sensible differentiation virtually impossible?"

Connolly went on to observe that the conference – which also heard that one-off documentaries are no longer in favour with commissioning editors – was mostly devoid of practising filmmakers because many were unable to afford to attend because of their downgraded status on the food chain. With free-to-air commissioning editors preferring to work with production companies rather than freelancers, filmmakers are losing creative control over their own projects.

Writer/director Jennifer Peedom admitted she had carved out her own career by being a "gun for hire" and that it was a cycle that is hard to break out of.

"What that has meant for me is that I don't own the copyright to any of my films, films that I have made…and so that leaves me with no revenue stream by which to support myself to develop my own projects," she said. "And so I finish my next project and I have high childcare overheads and all the rest of it, and a mortgage to pay – and I have to go on to the next gun for hire project."

"It's come to this," said Connolly. "A sausage factory churning out, with few exceptions, what can only be described as product. We are, as an industry busily engaged in eliminating from what we do, the concept of art.

"If we are doing this, and the evidence is mounting that we are digging our own graves, this is not how the great films are made."








  • Peter

    I didn’t get the point of that… what’s the problem? Who’s not allowing them the creative freedom to do good work?

  • Richard Baron

    And we should listen to Bob, not only because he’s a brilliant director, but because MCC is Australia’s most profitable doco ever (after the home video that is Bra Boys).

  • Richard Baron

    And we should listen to Bob, not only because he’s a brilliant director, but because MCC is Australia’s most profitable doco ever (after the home video that is Bra Boys).

  • Elvis Joseph

    Not only do I enjoy Bob Connolly’s commentaries on the state of the industry, I always make a strong note of them.

  • Melissa M. ( Bridwell ) Wilson

    Please say it isn’t so! I can’t even begin to imagine a documentary graveyard! I am a doco junkie and hope to produce one myself in the future but it sounds rather bleak at the moment.
    Perhaps we should put together a doco about the importance of stains virsus an intellegent subject such as “The dying art of documentary making”. Even though it seems bleak, you can’t stop a true Documentarian. So don’t stop on their account, doc them if they don’t like it.

  • Daniel Schultheis

    Is ACMA applying the Australian content regulation tests of actuality and creativity in a way that is progressing the intent of regulation to create compelling Australian documentary programs? The concept of broascasters meeting sub quota obligations through the production of cheap reality style “documentary” series (which are arguable in terms of whether they meet the test of actuality) should be concerning not only to filmmakers, but to Australians as a whole. The model of production companies employing independent documentary makers to produce a Slate of films is perhaps not a bad one, and we would hope that the production companies that succeed are the ones that are also willing to take risks, the real threat comes from cheap content or poorly produced series which qualify as documentary content and which threaten the serious independent voice. The only way this can be addressed is through more stringent application of content tests, which may also help stem the bleeding of shrinking production budgets. ;

  • Sue Land

    Every Tom, Dick, Harry or Peggy can buy a camera and all of a sudden they are documentary producers. That is what I see is happening to the documentary Genre. I spent several years working with young independant producers, I learned how to make a documentary from those years, I earned very little money but I know what I enjoy watching and what I enjoy doing. Will not give up on making documentaries.

  • Russell Hess

    It would seem that there is a lack of enthusiasm due to lack of knowledge in this piece. Not to say that these people are not quality filmmakers, but I can tell you from personal experience that this is not accurate. My company not only facilitates distribution for documentary and narrative films, but we can distribute on any platform the same way the studios do it with marketing campaigns that will rival any major or mini-major. We also co-own a patent-pending IPTV player that works on anything with an IP address and on Facebook. Combine these two elements alone and indie filmmakers now have the ability to reach well over a Billion potential viewers and ALL of that with not hard-copy medium cost. Never before has such power been directly in the hands of the independent filmmaker. When before in history could small films be pushed to a smart phone with such ease and direct monetization? There are over 1/2 of 1 BILLION smart phones in China alone! The bottom line here is that filmmakers (documentary or narrative) need to be creating the kind of quality content designed to be delivered to such platforms. Stop trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Maybe…just maybe, instead of continuing to make the movie YOU want to make, how about aligning your company with the kinds of distribution companies that assist with the packaging? Raise sufficient capital to not only create the film, but also to have enough P&A funds to have your film marketed properly. Real and solid distribution happens before you produce the film and stop letting people convince you otherwise. The advertising campaigns need to start a year in advance. We can duplicate the kinds of campaigns both on and offline in order to find your audience before you’re even finished with the film. Then imagine, even if you only do a digital release (which a great number of productions are doing these days) and you could get a half million viewers in the first week. It’s not only possible, it’s about to be the norm. We are literally changing the game for the independent filmmaker and we can show you significant data on how this process works. I challenge you to do a little research and find out how many films had a pre-distribution deal and compare those to the ones who waited and relied of festival exhibition to attract attention. See which ones (with proper marketing) got significant traction. What you’ll find is that a pre-distribution deal is LITERALLY an insurance policy for your investors. Can we guarantee people are going to watch your movie? No. No company can. But we can guarantee that we can expose your project to the kinds of numbers described in this post. ..and more. So before you sit on or listen to a panel on show biz complaints, find out how real and true distribution works. My name is Russell Hess and my company is Commodity Films. We distributed the independent documentary “inGREEDients,” a film about chemical food additives. Under my supervision, this first-time filmmaker saw his film released in over 70 countries around the world and in multiple languages. He’d never made a film before and in ONE transaction, we put the film in the black. So no panel from anywhere in the world will convince me that documentaries or the “individual filmmaker” are dying. We’re leveling the playing field for the indie filmmaker and changing the game. You can find me anywhere on the internet, Facebook, Linkedin, etc. If you want to talk about how REAL distribution works, contact me. We can help you bring your projects to the entire planet! -Russell Hess, President/CEO Commodity Films.