Choices & Chores

Despite moans and groans about the industry, people who work in non-fiction love what they do - not all aspects, but overall. Here's what survey respondents had to say about what brought them into the business, and the least favorite aspect of their jobs.
December 1, 2002

Why did you do it?

When times are tough in the industry (like now), it can be hard to recall what originally inspired the choice of a career in non-fiction. One tongue-in-cheek response was, ‘Girls, fast cars and a beach house in Miami.’ But for 42% of respondents, the simple answer was a love for documentaries. ‘The people are real, the issues are important and docs can change perceptions,’ commented one person. ‘I don’t get the same feeling working on features that I do from working on docs,’ noted another. Perhaps the most revealing observation about what keeps the flame alive: ‘I didn’t realize it was a business; I thought it was an obsession.’

Thirty percent of those surveyed said they were spurred by the desire to contribute to the greater good. For some, that meant ‘to shine an educational light on human behavior and the realities of modern life.’ For others, it was even more grandiose: ‘To change the world in some way.’ Still, doc-makers by their vocation are grounded in reality and, therefore, tend to temper their idealism. One respondent acknowledged that he/she wanted ‘to tell stories that are meaningful to me, and help others see the world,’ then added, ‘Play ‘Impossible Dream’ here.’

Pragmatism motivated 12% of poll participants to head down the factual path. A few people said doc-making was a natural outgrowth of a career in journalism. One respondent noted plainly, ‘It was easier to be a bigger fish in a small pond.’ Another individual detailed several reasons: ‘Because the budgets were lower, the process was more accessible to me as a woman starting out in the industry, and because I love making and seeing creative, innovative, unpredictable documentaries.’

Only five percent confessed to being drawn by the thrill of adventure, though it’s likely the true number is higher. Said one admitted thrill-seeker, ‘I’m a voyeur and a dilettante. I get to be a perennial graduate student, and to go into worlds I would never otherwise see.’

What do you wish you didn’t have to do?

After encouraging survey respondents to reminisce about what attracted them to the industry, RealScreen asked participants to reflect on the less savory aspects of their jobs – specifically, what chore they would choose not to do if they could. Chasing dollars (or euros, or currency of any sort, for that matter) came first, garnering 37% of the vote. The less bitter among those polled registered a dislike of fund-raising and selling, while the truly offended used terms such as ‘begging’ and ‘pimping programs to broadcasters.’

Paperwork in general – including annual budgets, income reporting, grant applications and contracts – ranked second on the list of least-favorite tasks, at 18%. Coming in third among those surveyed was people issues, everything from managing personnel conflicts to dealing with BBC legal and ‘decision-makers who are hampered/ hog-tied and without passion or knowledge.’ Pitching came in fourth.

Commissioning editors and producers each had particular duties they wished to abandon. Producers: ‘The necessity of having to venture through the soulless, bloodsucking world of development’ and ‘Making changes to already approved and finished films that do not make the show any better.’ Broadcasters: ‘Explaining over and over again to producers that we can’t finance 100% of their film’ and ‘Watching audience figures and justifying programs that do not reach high [levels].’

Now, return to the top of the page for another dose of inspiration.

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