by Federica Mennella

       Day two focused on several topics related to documentary films. The first panel discussion, "Crossing The Lens", offers a reflection of how a documentary filmmaker can get close to his subjects without crossing the subtle and unspoken line of trust.






This would disrespect the privacy of his character and/or take advantage of the trust he gained. For Tracy Droz Tragos (Rich Hill, 2014), trying to reach a level of intimacy and connection with her subjects is very important, but always honoring that and paying attention to not becoming exploitive. The line for her is also that of taking self-care measures, to not lose herself in getting too close to her subjects, who sometimes live in very difficult life conditions.

According to Marshall Curry (Point & Shoot, 2014), earning trust is very important to get close to your subject. The risk for him is that sometimes the subject doesn’t perceive how they will come across on camera, so his job as a filmmaker is to help them to better understand and restructure what they say.

When asked how they gain their subjects’ trust, the directors agreed that spending time getting to know them before starting to film is fundamental: having conversations, sharing dinner and letting the relationship evolve over time. During this process though it’s essential to be honest and upfront about where the film will end up being shown from the very beginning.


      “Measuring Your Doc’s Impact” offered a discussion on the current methods available to measure the impact of non-fiction storytelling. A general overview of the current methodology and leading institutes engaged in this type of research was offered (Harmony Institute, The Fledgling Fund, Active Voice, Media Impact Funders, etc). A lot of useful case-studies were examined (several examples can be found at The panelists offered advice on a series of low cost things filmmakers can do by themselves to measure the impact of their film: spreadsheets to register for example all the locations where the film was shown, opinion surveys, the number of people at each screening and in general, the emails of people who attended the screenings etc.




     "Striking The Right Note" discussed the function of music in film and how to establish the right tone in a film. The music needs to give the audience the space to synthesize what they have seen, to process the film rather than pushing an emotion, (which is what inappropriate use of music often does). Music composer T. Griffin talked about the process he goes through to score music for a film. He first meets with the director and tries to get a feel for the type of music they like and the type of film they are making. Only after establishing a common language with the director, he starts composing the music. The composer doesn’t write individual pieces for specific parts of the film but rather writes to his reaction to the entire film.

In documentaries there’s a tendency to put too much music, said music supervisor Sue Jacobs. For her, writing the music for a certain story is like writing the narrative of the film, to pull people into the story, instead of suggest how they should feel about it.


      "And You Get A Doc Series" considered how the current market offers a growing number of opportunities for documentary filmmakers in television, online and VOD platforms and on how networks are beginning their own doc series with a particular audience in mind. Among the panelists were Jed Weintrob (Conde Nast Entertainment), Dan Silver (ESPN Films) and Jason Spingarn-Koff (New York Times Op-Docs). Each of them talked about their doc series, explaining what is the specific focus they are interested in, their audience and above all tried to give filmmakers specific advice.


      A don’t when pitching your story is to propose a general idea. It’s very important the filmmaker crafts a story in his/her unique way. They all agreed they are not looking for generic treatments, but for a story with a beginning, middle and end.

Jason Spingarn-Koff said what’s often missing is a clear sense of the intended execution of the movie, and omitting that is a mistake.

Another common mistake is when a filmmaker goes to pitch a story for a TV show and since it doesn’t go well, automatically recycle it into a documentary story pitch. They warned that this approach never works.

 According to J. Spingarn-Koff, the short form is still so unexplored and can be structurally innovative. He wishes more filmmakers would explore and reinvigorate the short format, rather than making short movies out of compressed feature length stories.