Report: Funding remains a huge hurdle for doc makers

Funding remains the most significant challenge for filmmakers working in the documentary space, according to a new report from the Whickers, established fund and recognize original and innovative documentary The third ...
February 21, 2019

Funding remains the most significant challenge for filmmakers working in the documentary space, according to a new report from the Whickers, established fund and recognize original and innovative documentary

The third annual Whickers’ Cost of Docs report, released today (Feb. 21), is carried out between the beginning of December 2018 and mid-January 2019, in association with Sheffield Doc/Fest, and reveals the increasing challenges facing the documentary sector. The survey was completed anonymously by 132 self-selecting documentary filmmakers.

The majority of respondents in 2018/2019 identified as directors (65%) or producers (63%), compared to the 2017 results of 67% and 58%, respectively, and a sizeable proportion of those responding both this year and last seemed to assume the role of both director and producer on their projects. Editors (28%), cinematographers (18%), camera operators (17%), executive producers (8%), production managers (5%) and other (14%) also made up this year’s respondees.

Of those who responded to the survey, 53% had worked less than five years in the industry; 72% were between the ages of 25 and 44; 89% were either currently working on a documentary or have worked on one in the last to two years. The majority of participants were mostly women, with twice as many women as men (62%/35%).

The bulk of respondents were based in the UK, with the remainder based in a range of countries, including Indonesia, Canada, the U.S., Chile, Kenya and Italy.

The crucial concern for those working in the documentary space was poor funding and budget compromises. Of those making docs, 32% of survey respondents said they rely on saving to support themselves while making films and another 30% look to friends and family for financial aid. About 39% of respondents said they freelance on other projects. A majority of filmmakers (71%) noted that they had not been paid an appropriate wage on their most recent doc project.

Asked to compare the budget specifics of their most recent documentary project to a previous work of similar length and ambition, respondents noted that in 11 of 18 categories related to expenses, respondents answered that costs were increasing, indicating an overall upwards crawl in the cost of documentary filmmaking. Rising costs include archive (32%), attending pitches and film festivals (51%) and post-production costs (36%).

For UK-based filmmakers, the consequences of Brexit weighed heavily on their minds, with 20% fearing an end of access to European funding as a result of Britain leaving the European Union. Furthermore, the second largest concern for British respondents (14%) was that travel could be more difficult.

Elsewhere, doc makers working in the television space had jumped to 52% in 2018 compared to 42% in 2017, while the number of doc filmmakers making film for online increased to 61% compared to 39% in 2017.

When it comes to funding, only 36% had never applied for financial support for a documentary. Of those who did apply, only 19% did not receive any funding, with 11% of surveyors receiving less than £10,000 (US$13,073). Crowdsourcing appeared to be a hit with a minority of respondents, with 19% of doc filmmakers saying they have previously used crowdfunding to raise cash for their project.

Despite the uncertainty and challenges of the industry, filmmakers said they continue to work in the documentary space because of their curiosity, passion for storytelling, the need for self-expression, search for truth and social justice.

“I am grateful that in increasingly busy and stressful lives so many independent documentary makers have given such time and thought to this survey,” said Jane Ray, artistic director at The Whickers, in a statement. “Mulling over the results it is sobering to realize that the pressure in this industry to produce ‘more for less’ is intensifying.

“When respondents claim to be cutting back on frivolities such as ‘food’ and ‘accommodation’ to complete their films one wonders if, without more sustainable funding models, we are going to lose the essential range and diversity of real stories that engage viewers in experiencing our world and what it truly is to be human.”

About The Author
Jillian Morgan is a special reports editor at realscreen with a background in journalism and digital marketing. She joined the publication in 2019 after serving as the assistant editor to trade publications HPAC and On-Site. With a bachelor of journalism from the University of King's College in Halifax, she also works as a freelance writer and fact-checker.