Producing documentaries sounds alluring or terrifying. It depends on where you’re sitting. Today, we’re sitting with Sundance fellow and TV producer Amanda Spain. Amanda is one of those rare people who’s managed to bring her talents to both the doc and unscripted TV worlds. As a seasoned filmmaker and newly minted Sundance fellow, she has strong opinions about producing documentaries. She also offers priceless advice and take-aways for aspiring producers and seasoned documentarians alike. If you’ve ever thought about producing documentaries, today’s post and podcast episode are for you.
Producing Documentaries – A Journey, Not a Destination
Amanda should know. She has over a decade experience making docs. She’s one of the elite few honored by being named a 2016 Sundance Producing Fellow. Amanda is currently producing a handful of documentaries. One of them, The Industrial Musicals Movie, is even executive produced by David Letterman (someone we also have a unique connection with!)
Amanda’s produced and directed two documentaries for ESPN: a 30 For 30 short called Wrestling The Curse and another short for their Versus series about basketball star Manute Bol, entitled Son of South Sudan.
She also produced and directed In Their Boots, a series covering how the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan affect us here at home. It was nominated for an IDA award in the Limited Series category.
Oh, and luckily for us, Amanda’s also been working with our company Joke Productions for the last four years, most recently on our new true crime TV series Three Days to Live. We first worked together on our MTV docs True Life special.
So she knows what she’s talking about!
Some Great Docs to Watch
If you’re new to the documentaries, Amanda says there’s a documentary genre for everyone. Even if you think you’re not into docs, you’ll probably find one or two genres you fall in love with.
With that in mind, Amanda has a list of some of her favorite docs you might want to check out. Amanda points out this list is in no particular order, so dive in with any film you like:
- Grizzly Man
- The War Room (one of the first docs Amanda remembers watching. She LOVED IT…got her hooked on politics and docs.)
- Private Violence (changed the way Amanda views how domestic violence is handled in the country)
- Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight For Freedom (triumph in editing)
- Strong Island (Amanda saw it this year at Sundance and says it is a beautiful, thoughtful and artful film)
- Queen of Versailles
- The Umbrella Man (A short by Errol Morris)
- OJ Made In America (If you haven’t already seen it, Amanda says watch it!)
- God Loves Uganda
- Hands on a Hard Body
- The Internet’s Own Boy
- Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger
Real Advice from Amanda on Producing Documentaries
Just some of what we cover today:
- Misconceptions about documentaries
- What makes a good documentary versus a good TV show
- How to decide if you want to make a specific documentary
- When is it time to let a documentary project go? Ever?
- Different genres of documentaries
- How do you fund documentaries?
- What is the process like to get grants?
- Becoming a Sundance Fellow
- Documentary genres that will always have a market
- The journey from new producer to established documentarian
- Where new filmmakers can connect with established documentary producers
- What gear you need to shoot docs today, and the minimum you need to get started
Amanda Spain has a lot to share with you about producing documentaries! Hit that giant “play” button above for amazing, useable advice on to help you produce your own documentary films.
Transcript Coming Soon!
Helpful and Related Links
- Keep with with Amanda on her website
- Find Amanda on Twitter
- Check out clips from some of Amanda’s films
- Follow us on Twitter: @JokeAndBiagio – we pop in a lot and try to respond to most tweets.
- Check out our own award-winning documentary, Dying to do Letterman
- A list of Kickstarter Tips we put together that helped us raise almost $60,000 for our documentary
- A fun Indiewire story about our Kickstarter journey: The 21 Secrets to the Success of the Kickstarter Oscar Campaign
Let’s Make Some TV Together
Trying to break into unscripted television, reality TV, documentary series, or true crime? Want to pitch to our company? Here’s how:
Read our in-depth page about how to pitch us a show. It also talks about what it’s really like to work in our business, the unscripted TV and film industry.