When RealScreen offered survey respondents a hypothetical US$5,000 to spend, we challenged them to think outside the production budget. We also asked poll participants to consider what boosts a doc, other than TV broadcast. Here are the answers.
December 1, 2002

If you had US$5,000 to use on your business for anything other than film financing, what would you spend it on?

When RealScreen was contemplating a ‘wishful thinking’ question for this year’s survey, we considered going big with the dollar value. But in the realm of non-fiction programming, a windfall of millions is as much of a pipe dream as billions, and at a certain point encouraging such fantasies just seemed cruel. Thus, we settled on the more prudent dream of what to do with the pleasant surprise of an additional US$5,000.

Since spending the cash directly on one’s project was not an option, 30% of survey respondents said they would invest in some kind of tech equipment. Non-linear editing systems and DV cams were the most frequently mentioned, though a plasma-screen TV also made the list. A couple of poll participants said they would put the cash toward their websites.

Twenty percent of the vote went to marketing, promotion and advertising. ‘The best docs ain’t being seen, because folks don’t know they exist,’ reasoned one respondent. Doc-makers need look no further than Trembling Before G-D director Sandi DuBowski for an example of the power of publicity. DuBowski did (and still does) everything from hosting Shabbat dinners to participating in radio talk shows to raise his film’s profile, and it has paid off. Trembling has played venues across the U.S. and internationally for over a year.

Travel to industry events and research tied for third among those surveyed, netting 10% each. Of the remaining 40% of respondents, five percent said they would use the money to help young filmmakers. The balance of votes was divided among such practicalities as paying off debt and reorganizing the office.

What is the biggest boost to a doc project other than TV broadcast?

With few exceptions, documentaries rely on the small screen to get noticed – it’s where the funding is and where the eyeballs are. Still, securing a television broadcast isn’t the only way to advance the fortunes of a non-fiction show. Noted one survey respondent, ‘The best boost to our morale is public screenings, where we can get feedback and see the reaction of the audience. It’s a high you can’t get from TV. But, the best boost to a doc is awards at the major festivals – that will help distribute your doc unlike anything else.’

Twenty-nine percent of poll participants agreed that awards are the next best thing to a TV airing, in terms of elevating a program’s status. Plenty of prizes exist, including ones that are genre-specific (Wildscreen’s Panda Awards), national (the U.K.’s Grierson Awards) and industry-wide (the International Documentary Association Awards).

Press coverage was the second-ranked boost among respondents. Specific mentions included ‘a thumbs-up from Roger Ebert’ and ‘a rave review in The New York Times,’ though trade pubs also received a nod (Thanks!).

Theatrical release was a close third. As digital projection gains momentum, a cinematic release will become available to a greater number of non-fiction films.

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