Ahead of her weekend course in Filmbase this month, Vanessa Gildea gives 5 tips for documentary producers


Produce documentary subjects that you are passionate about

It could take years to finance and make the film, your love of the subject matter will be the thing that keeps you going through the tough times


Work with talented like-minded people

Find talented creative people to work with and stick with them when possible, especially directors, DoPs and editors. Film is collaborative; you need good people on your team. It brings a joy to the work but it will make all the difference to your film.


Be creative yourself

You can be creative with the budget of course, especially when the budget is low, but you should always aim to be a creative producer. Bring ideas to the table, be present at all stages of development, production and post. It is always the director’s vision but learn to nurture this creativity and support the vision. Be bold in this regard.


Meet people

Also known as ‘networking’ but I dislike that word. If you want documentary producing to be your job, then you have to get to know the people involved in the industry (at home and abroad), commissioning editors, funders, other documentary makers. Arrange to meet them, be yourself, ask for advice, listen to them, and tell them how passionate you are about your ideas, your films, your job. The documentary world is vast and small at the same time; it is a mad exciting club, be a part of it, these relationships will be the difference between making films and not.


“Take a vow of poverty”

These are the words of the late great documentary producer / director Peter Wintonick. It is slightly tongue in cheek but it has an element of truth. If money is your thing then documentary is not for you. You work long hours, you battle tirelessly and you do not get financially rewarded for the level of work you put in. But there are other rewards, they are multifaceted, unexpected and they make documentary filmmaking one of the best jobs you could ever do.


Vanessa Gildea has produced numerous one-off documentatries, a six-part series and feature docs and has received three IFTA nominations including Dambé – The Mali Project (2009), a music doc set in Mali, West Africa and John Ford – Dreaming the Quiet Man (2013) – both in the Best Feature Documentary category.


Click here for details on Vanessa’s upcoming weekend course at Filmbase: Producing a Documentary with Vanessa Gildea (29th & 30th March)

Do you want to know what it takes to produce a documentary film? With experienced documentary producer and director Vanessa Gildea at the helm, this course is designed for anyone setting out to make their first documentary film.



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