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DPA publishes set of best practices for doc film financing

The Documentary Producers Alliance (DPA) has published a set of best practices for filmmakers and their partners navigating financial discussions and negotiations. “Guidelines For The Documentary Waterfall” is intended to serve ...
September 14, 2020

The Documentary Producers Alliance (DPA) has published a set of best practices for filmmakers and their partners navigating financial discussions and negotiations.

“Guidelines For The Documentary Waterfall” is intended to serve as a starting point, offering a set of standards for investments, recoupable grants and other tools to serve filmmakers, investors and donors.

Most notably, the DPA recommends filmmakers be compensated at every stage of the film’s cycle, from development through distribution; expenses incurred in the premiere and sale of the film, such as publicity and travel, be deducted off the top; all profit participants are paid equally; unpaid budgeted fees (or deferred fees) are paid back from the first income received from the sale of the film; and earlier investors, who assume greater risk, are rewarded with higher premiums on their investment.

The organization, a coalition of more than 300 producers founded in 2016, created the document with input from more than 30 granting and artist organizations, directors, entertainment lawyers, accountants, investors and investor consortia including Impact Partners, Cinereach and Fork Films.

Additional feedback was collected during Sundance 2020, following the launch of the DPA guide to “Best Practices in Documentary Crediting” at Sundance 2019.

Director/producer Marilyn Ness (pictured) of Big Mouth Productions and co-chair of the DPA Waterfall Committee said in a statement: “Our philosophy was always, ‘A rising tide lifts all boats.’ The field would only be served if everyone had the benefit of better deals, better credits, better networks.

“After spending years watching filmmakers face personal financial hardship with even those most successful films, it was enlightening to go back and dissect what was going so wrong. What became clear to those of us working on drafting the DPA Guidelines, including industry stakeholders, was that by properly and thoughtfully structuring the film’s finances from the beginning, systems could be put in place to prevent deferred fees and personal filmmaker debt. Even more encouraging is seeing all of the various stakeholders want to end these unsustainable practices. The DPA Guidelines provide all of us — from filmmakers to funders — common language and strategies to build more equitable funding structures within independent documentaries.”

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for HMV.com. As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.

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