So, while working as a free-lance photographer I did make some contacts such Fran Porter. Her business card says she was a Producer but when I went to the website of the media company she runs “Metal Dog Media” I discover they have made a couple of documentaries; all of them related to music. Then I did research her profile at Linkedin and I did find out that she had been really into documentary for some time.
That’s why I think her answers could be useful for me.
My meeting with Fran Porter was extremely good. We spent one hour and forty minutes talking about documentary , the skills required, how to break into it, what can you expect for it, what is actually the most important thing in this field, the network ideas, the process of development and how to make a live on this. We even talk about the whole media industry in UK and the way of understanding media education.
It was a pleasure to have that chat, to have someone answering honest, just by telling her own experiences.
I put here the link so you can actually listen to the full conversation, I think that transcript 1 h 40 m of conversation is actually a waste of time so I am just going to write down what are most likely to be the answers to the questions I have asked to everyone and put some emphasis on what other people didn’t tell me before.
What are the key skills that you have needed to develop to do your job properly? And which ones are you still improving?
Well, the technical skills can be learnt via tutorials or you can just hire people to shoot or whatever you need. Research is extremely important, although You can always pay someone to do the research because a good research takes about 4 months and you may not have that time, but know how to research is always good.
Be interested in people is the key, to have passion about people and integrity. You have to be passionate and know where your own boundaries are. Your passion is what makes people trust you. You have to build up trust quick, really quick, and let them know this is going to happen. The film is going to be made.
You really have to build up the confidence because usually people are defensive against media.
You, as a woman, will probably make a documentary on a men’s world. You have to deal with that, break into a men’s world. You have to make them believe in you as a filmmaker at least.
It is also really important to know WHEN do you have to make a film. It can be such a huge film but not at that moment, maybe you have to wait five years if you want it to be a success.
You have to understand social moments and take them into account. What the audience wants in each moment. Recession moments are particular moments you have to consider that people is thinking on domestic stuff on survival, they are not really interesting in anything beyond or abroad.
Journalistic skills are also really important. You should go to look for what people are not saying, what they hide. When I meet people, I promise, I see everyone as a potential character.
-How can you get or improve those skills?
All these things with experience, to be honest. You are getting better and better with experience. I have made loads of mistakes. At the beginning terrible mistakes. Being a student making horrible films and getting the camera stolen. But now here we are.
-What are the educational requirements to be a documentary filmmaker?
I do not think there are educational requirements. It is more about passion and having determination, about having the commitment to do it.
-Do you usually work with editors or any other professionals?
My partner is usually the one who shots, I am the producer, then we have upstairs the editing lab so we edit ourselves, and the equipment its also ours. That’s the thing if you want to make money on this you have to own the equipment, if you start hiring this and that you are not going to have profits.
-Which professional networks would be useful to engage in for a documentary professional development?
It must be face to face. I don’t make people to come to my office to have a chat or just phone them. You have to actually meet the people, yesterday this time I was off to the pub to meet the guys from Coventry FC . That’s the way! Go to the pub. Actually, this morning the guy called me and told me that after I left the bar a guy came to him and said he had heard us and that he could help us.
But, for me is not about networking, networking, it is more about ideas, ideas, ideas.
-How do you break into documentary?
You have to start little by little. Just go for it. One day you will make something good, something big. it makes a difference. Our reggae docuemtary really made a point.
I remember Ken Fero also said something similar to this but i am not sure if it was more related to your family or potential clients. What he said is ‘when people see you haven’t given up and one day you make something good they start to take you seriously’.
Reflection on the chat
While talking with her I felt I was on the right way to develop my professional career on documentary. I mean, talking about the skills needed, and even about the process I don’t see myself far away from that. In terms of just breaking into it and living on it this chat made me think deeply about setting up a company, instead of being just a free-lance.
Ken and Lee and well all the references I have had drive me into the direction of free-lance. None of them think working for a documentary production company is really worthy now. But Fran went a bit forward and told me about the financial advantages as a enterprise and also the facilities you can have to find clients and foundation, in terms of trust. When you set up a company you have legal responsibilities so people would rather trust a company than a single person.