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Overcoming Cynicism in Documentary Filmmaking

Posted by newdoced • Feb 23rd, 2017

PamTyrus-1050x700A few months ago I read a thread on Doculink about how making documentaries can lead to cynicism. One filmmaker felt the herculean effort to fund, make, and distribute a doc was, in hindsight, simply not worth it. Others argued that a labor of love pays off in the end.

I understand how artistic idealism can lead to despair, especially when making a doc drags on for years. Without funding and a clear narrative approach, what’s the point? Not to mention the cost.

And yet, every month I hear from filmmakers that we’ve worked with who tell me their success stories. I offer two examples to inspire you.

First, congratulations to our story consulting client Ronit Bezalel, whose documentary 70 Acres in Chicago had its U.S. television premiere earlier this week on PBS World. If you missed this moving character-driven documentary about Cabrini Green public housing project, you can get it here.

Ronit nurtured her dream film for twenty years! I believe the reason she never lost sight of her goal was her love for her characters, each navigating complex social justice issues. 70 Acres in Chicago will screen this Saturday at the Big Muddy Film Festival.

Like Ronit, filmmaker Pamela Tom had three story consultations with New Doc Editing to shape TYRUS, a biography that shines a spotlight on a genius at Disney, Chinese American artist Tyrus Wong.

She first met Tyrus in 1998 when she had no cash, no crew, and no clear narrative arc. But there was something stirring about this old man. As Pam tells it, fellow filmmaker Freida Lee Mock advised her to just get the interview in the can.

That was nearly two decades ago. Recently Pam emailed me that Tyrus had died at age 106, shortly after the documentary premiered. His obit appeared on the front page of the New York Times.

In post-production, Pam had encountered plenty of editorial hurdles, but she kept reworking the story until she got it right. Bucking the trend against take-down documentaries, TYRUS is an inspiring film, and it took an inspired director to pull it off. “It just goes to prove that uplifting stories will resonate with people,” she told me.

Pam’s film has won eight awards so far, and you can catch it on American Masters later this year. To inspire you, here’s an excerpt from Pam’s email to me:

“Despite it taking me nearly 17 years to finish—with many struggles, rejection and self doubt along the way—I am so grateful to have finished it in time for Tyrus to see it and enjoy so much recognition. I hope my experience gives encouragement to the many doc filmmakers among us who toil away and devote years, sometimes decades, to telling the stories they believe in. It’s a worthy cause.”

Finally, I created our Accelerated Post program so you don’t have to take decades (or even years) to finish your documentary.

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Structuring Your Documentary In Three Acts

Posted by newdoced • Feb 7th, 2017

ThreeactstructureHappy Wednesday! Today I’m giving away the best tutorial you’ll find on applying the Three Act Structure to documentary films:

newdocediting.com/editing_course1/M4DocumentaryArc

We’ve all heard of the three-act structure, and screenwriters have it down to a science. But often I find that documentary filmmakers arbitrarily divide their film into three parts, and label each part an act.

Actually, each act looks very different.

According to screenwriters, Act One (about 25% of film) launches your protagonist’s quest.

Act Two (60%) shows your protagonist facing challenges on that quest.

And in Act Three (15%), we learn if they actually achieve their goal in the climax scene.

For a mind-opening overview of how to apply the three-act structure to documentary films, check out this 33-minute excerpt of my live seminar at the San Francisco Film Society. You can download it for free at:

newdocediting.com/editing_course1/M4DocumentaryArc

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Vetting Documentary Editors

Posted by newdoced • Feb 4th, 2017

edit1If you’re going to be hiring an editor soon, you may be happy to know that I’ve done a lot of the vetting for you.

I’ve reviewed scores of resumes and chosen the best candidates to train in our unique post-production system. We’re excited to be bringing a few more select documentary projects to completion this year.

If you’re interested in exploring a collaboration with one of our talented editors, please contact me for a free consultation. We make a special effort to understand your vision for the film.

You can learn more about our approach here:

newdocediting.com/accelerated-post-program

I also invite you to visit our testimonials page and determine if New Doc Editing is right for you:

“I retained the services of New Doc Editing to create a trailer for my documentary Across The King’s River. It was not only amazed by how swiftly they helped craft the introduction, but by how artfully it was done as well. While it’s true that some editors have lower rates, I liked the satisfaction of knowing that I defended the integrity of my vision by hiring the right team. In addition to Karen’s sharp storytelling instincts, it was a pleasure to work with her staff.”

— James Weeks, Producer, Across The King’s River

Please email me today to schedule a free consultation.

Note that I am offering all of my popular online documentary seminars at no charge to directors who use from our editing or story consulting services.

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Savings on Film Funding Class with Carole Dean

Posted by newdoced • Jan 24th, 2017

Need help getting your documentary funded?   Film funding experts Carole Dean and Tom Malloy are returning with their successful Intentional Filmmaking Mastermind Class to show you how to get it done.

Joshua-Tree-3-1-300x205Carole is the author of “The Art of Film Funding, 2nd Edition: Alternative Financing Concepts” as well as founder of From the Heart Productions. She helped me raise more than $100,000 for my own documentary, and she’s a powerhouse with a big heart. Tom is a successful producer who has raised over $20 million for his own films.

Helping you create a funding plan, the 4 month class also teaches you how to use the power of your intention and passion for your project to get funded. Conducted via conference calls, you can take the class anywhere. As a bonus, each class member gets a monthly private hour consultation on their project.

The class is $730, but you can save $100 by enrolling by February 3rd by using this unique link

fromtheheartproductions.com/intentional-filmmaking

Now, in its 5th year, the class has been invaluable to filmmakers looking to complete their projects.   Here is what award winning documentary producer LeeAnn Dance said about the class:

“This class has already paid for itself with all the great advice and leads. I’ve re-done my Web site, crafted a pitch packet, revised our trailer, and am confidently gearing up for fundraising. “

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Five Ways to Create an Inciting Incident

Posted by newdoced • Jan 16th, 2017

article-0-14D5E8D1000005DC-987_638x453What’s your film’s inciting incident? This is an important question. What’s the catalyst moment that sends your protagonist on a quest, thereby grabbing your viewer’s attention in the first act?

To help you answer this question, I’m giving away module #1 of my live seminar, shot at the San Francisco Film Society:

newdocediting.com/editing_course1

Here are some examples of an inciting incident:

In Doug Block’s acclaimed personal documentary, 51 Birch Street, his mother’s unexpected death and his father’s swift remarriage leads the director on a quest to explore his assumptions about his parents’ “good marriage”.

In Murderball, a tough match of wheelchair rugby sets off an intense rivalry between the U.S. and Canadian teams leading up to the 2004 Paralympic Games.

And in My Crazy Sexy Cancer, a medical diagnosis sends Kim Carr on a search for healing.

Hollywood has a rule: the inciting incident is so important to the story arc that it must unfold visually on screen.

That’s a problem for us documentary filmmakers. By the time we’ve decided to make a film, the inciting incident has usually already happened. And no one was there to film it.

So how do we make this critical scene unfold cinematically?

In this excerpt from my live seminar, you’ll learn five ways to make your inciting incident come to life visually. Download it for free here:

newdocediting.com/editing_course1

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Logging Documentary Footage Quickly

Posted by newdoced • Jan 15th, 2017

quickly-logoToday I’m going to explain a radical new way to log your footage quickly.

Let’s say you have 200 hours of footage and you want to cull your best 30 hours to hand over to an editor. (Disclaimer: this logging system is not recommended if you have funds to hire an editor to watch all your footage.)

First, we’re going to jettison the traditional, time-consuming method of logging footage from A – Z, so let go of your perfectionist mindset.

Second, try to get all your important interviews transcribed. Transcripts help editors cut more quickly.

Third, with transcripts in hand, take the first pass at editing your interviews. Organize only the best sound bites into sequences.

Name some sound bite sequences by topic, for the essay portion of your film. For example, in a documentary about Alzheimer’s, you might call one sequence “Benefits of Early Intervention”. Create sub-clips (or chunks) of 3-6 sentences. Don’t fine cut! Save that for your editor.

Name other interview sequences by plot point, such as “Derek Meets Coach” or “Team Wins Championship”, for any interview comments about story-related aspects of your film.

Ready for the intrepid fourth step?

Examine a list of your remaining verite scenes and B-roll. From memory, identify the best ten percent and watch that footage. In making your selections, ask yourself, “Could I make a good film without this?”

Executing this 4-step logging strategy really depends on your ability to be ruthless and discerning in step four.

For B-roll, include your most beautiful shots.

For verite scenes, select only chunks of key moments, such as the winning play. If your editor determines the scene is good enough to include in the film, she can always search for any ancillary footage needed to cut the scene, such as set up and cutaway shots.

What if your memory fails and you’ve missed something? Accept that this is bound to happen. Remember, we’re letting go of our perfectionism.

The goal is to make a great film with the budget you have. If the footage you cull doesn’t produce a good rough cut, then it’s time to go hunting again through your selects—or shoot more.

Learn more about how to speed up the editing process in our Accelerated Post™ program. I’m still have openings for a few more filmmakers.

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Online Course on DIY Distribution

Posted by newdoced • Jan 11th, 2017

screen-shot-2017-01-11-at-12-58-45A few years ago, I consulted with documentary filmmakers Christopher Rufo and Keith Ochwat. After successfully premiering at AFI Docs, Chris and Keith thought their documentary Age of Champions about the Senior Olympics was going to get some attention from distributors. They ended up receiving measly offers and decided to self-distribute. Over the course of two years they ended up organizing over 3,000 screenings and grossed over $1.5 million in online sales.

Chris and Keith have since launched the Filmmaker.MBA, an online community and course teaching documentary filmmakers how to find an audience, distribute their work, and build long-term careers. The course includes video lessons, case studies, action plans, and interactive webinars on direct distribution strategy and tactics.

Chris and Keith have shared a 10% off discount code if you’d like to sign up — just enter the discount code EDIT when you check out. You can also sign up for their free seven day email course on their site.

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Editing With An Indian Engineer

Posted by newdoced • Jan 8th, 2017

screen-shot-2017-01-08-at-12-05-36I’ve wanted to go to India for years. Here’s the story of how I’ll be traveling in style in just two weeks to promote a stellar documentary we edited.

Last fall I met Mandar Apte, a former Shell engineer who managed their social innovation program. Deeply pained by the ongoing violence in the U.S., this Indian engineer decided to direct a documentary to promote non-violence.

But when Mandar first told me he needed to edit his documentary From India With Love within four weeks, I replied that was “impossible”. He agreed to cull his best footage in advance, and we were able to edit an Assembly Cut in only three weeks.

Then something interesting happened. Leveraging his engineering and managing skills, we created a detailed, prioritized list that allowed us to edit his rough cut in just two weeks.

Also, because our editor paid close attention to Mandar’s vision, he trusted us enough to accept our storytelling suggestions and finish the film for far less money than a normal post-production budget.

My experience with Mandar grew into our new Accelerated Post™ program, aimed at film producers who need their documentaries edited under budget.

In a few weeks, I’ll be joining Mandar and a delegation of visionary leaders in New Delhi, and then spending a few nights in a Himalayan ashram in Rishikesh. We will launch From India With Love during our trip; details will be shared soon.

Many thanks to Mandar for this opportunity and testimonial:

“I’m extremely grateful to Karen for providing me with an editor who resonated deeply with the cause of non-violence and brought her personal passion to the table. The film was completed in record time, and Karen’s expert guidance during the periodic editorial reviews was very useful and timely. All in all, it was a super team effort of which I am very proud.”

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Editing A Documentary Climax

Posted by newdoced • Jan 4th, 2017

dramatic_curveTo start off your New Year with a bang, I’m giving away module #9 of my 12-part series The Ultimate Guide to Structuring Your Documentary. You can download this primer on editing a climax scene for free here:

newdocediting.com/ultimateguide

You’ll learn what it takes to edit a suspenseful and satisfying Act Three.

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Accelerated Post Production Program

Posted by newdoced • Jan 4th, 2017

New Doc EditingIn case you missed our New Year’s Day announcement, Open Call has now begun for our Accelerated Post™ program.

This unique editing system is aimed at providing directors with a talented editor and story consultant at an affordable cost. Depending on where you are in post-production, we’ll finish editing your doc quickly, within 3-10 weeks.

I’m now talking with visionary filmmakers who are in–or will soon be entering–post-production. If that’s you and you need a way to finish your film under budget, email me about a free consultation.

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