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TIFF ’17: Broderick’s tips on building a career in documentary

Peter Broderick is a veteran of the film industry. As the president of Paradigm Consulting, a firm which helps filmmakers and media companies create strategies to maximize revenue and audience engagement, ...
September 13, 2017

Peter Broderick is a veteran of the film industry.

As the president of Paradigm Consulting, a firm which helps filmmakers and media companies create strategies to maximize revenue and audience engagement, Broderick works with filmmakers around the world, helping them design and implement customized distribution strategies.

And he says the world of documentary filmmaking is changing at an alarming rate.

“It feels like everything is changing every 20 minutes in docs these days,” Broderick told an audience at the TIFF Doc Conference held Sept. 12.

As part of his session, titled “Beating the Odds: How to Build a Sustainable Creative Career”, Broderick highlighted the elements needed for doc filmmakers to be successful. Here are a few points he touched upon:

1. Goals

Broderick says that when he speaks with filmmakers for the first time, he finds that they’ve rarely thought through their goals and what they ultimately want to achieve, whether it’s maximizing their career, revenue or impact.

He says it’s important to have an ultimate goal and to be specific about what you want.

If a filmmaker’s goal is to make a movie, they need to shape that goal by thinking specifically about what that end result will look like. Instead of setting out to make movies, approach the goal as a desire to make certain types of films. Or, instead of wanting to have an impactful film, think about what type of personal audience you can build, or about building relationships with funders, which in turn can help you make more films in the future.

“The clearer you are, the easier it’s going to be to build a strategy,” Broderick says.

2. Next projects

When filmmakers are considering which projects to pursue, Broderick suggests that those projects that ‘choose you’ are often some directors’ finest work.

Broderick says filmmakers often don’t do enough research when they are thinking about their next project. Context needs to be considered in terms of what other films have been made on the topic and how a new film would take a unique approach.

He says it’s wise for the director to think about the core audience of the film from the moment the project is conceptualized. Crowd sourcing is an easy way to accomplish this, gauging public reaction through a community screening or releasing a trailer.

“The more you are able to identify those audiences and test those audiences early, the better it’s going to be in terms of you [deciding] if that is a movie you want to commit yourself to,” he says.

Broderick adds that the filmmaker should use a ‘realism filter’ to determine the viability of the project. How low can the budget be for the movie to still be made? What resources are readily available? Does the director have a relationship with the core audience who would be interested in that film?

3. Partners

Partners are essential when making and distributing a film.

These partnerships range from the production team working on the film, to those working on distribution. The partnership with a personal audience that the director has built film by film is also crucial.

Broderick says Christopher Rufo, the director behind the senior athlete-focused feature Age of Champions, found his partners by putting together a potential list, and then narrowing it down to six. The final list included the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), who ended up supporting the film with a 20-city tour.

“When looking for partners, you are looking for a situation that is a win-win, where it’s going to benefit that partner and you.”

4. Strategy

“I believe every documentary should have a customized strategy. The one size fits all model doesn’t work,” says Broderick.

During the session, Broderick recalled a time when he was asked by a Hollywood agency to talk about the future of distribution. When Broderick pointed out that distribution can be both formulaic and customized, the suits in the room were reluctant to do customized strategies.

It’s important to think about a strategy for distribution and customizing it to your movie, goals and partnerships. Often people fall into a formulaic approach, he says.

“My idea of a great strategy, that applies to both career and distribution, is that you start off with a strategy and you refine it stage by stage.” In each stage, you take what you’ve learnt and use that to make a better strategy.

5. Audience

Just as the the world of distribution is changing for documentaries, Broderick noted there is also a new audience waiting to be reached.

Broderick said audiences are no longer passive consumers who need to be lured off their couch to see a film. Instead, they can be active supporters.

While audience engagement was once an afterthought, online tools such as websites and newsletters can be used to reach a new audience prior to a doc’s release.

 

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