Learning the Ropes

The doc industry is unlike most. That goes without saying....
November 1, 2000

The doc industry is unlike most. That goes without saying.

Abandon all claims to conventional logic as you enter, for this is a world that has its own wisdom. Trying to make sense of it can cause one to want to bash things against one’s own skull (à la Monty Python’s Gumby). What follows is a partial list of things you might learn from talking to factual movers and shakers.

Lessons in documentary logic:

Lesson #1 – Taking credit

If you agree to it (and sometimes if you don’t), it’s perfectly alright for someone to take your name off your film and replace it with their own, thus taking credit for it. (Like opening a used book store, tearing out the author pages, writing your name under the title, and putting the books back on the shelf.)

Lesson #2 – Making deals

If you are offered $15,000 from a local station for a one-year exclusive deal in a small European country, or $3,000 for a three-year exclusive all-European deal by an international broadcaster, the second is the better deal. The bigger the broadcaster, the more incredulous they’ll be if you don’t take it.

Lesson #3 – The rule of controlling interest

When a company buys majority/controlling interest in your company/channel, it means: a) you will retain complete control of everything that happens at your company, and b) the new owners will never want to interfere. (Also known as the Titanic rule: If your feet are wet, start looking for the lifeboats.)

Lesson#4 – Public relations

When you’ve got something to hide, denial works best – the louder the better. It sometimes helps if you attack the person who’s asking the questions. That never makes them suspicious.

Lesson#5 – The law of inverse reality

The longer the explanation – and the greater the numbers attached to it – the less that is being done. For example: ‘We’re spending $30 million on our website to prepare for the digital world… Convergence… it’s a priority… doing webcasting… brand… etc…’ really means: ‘My nephew’s in the office for the summer, and I’m paying him in donuts.’

Of course, these are only a few examples, and they pale in comparison to the logic at work in the publishing world.

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