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Career as Documentary Filmmaker

Career as a Documentary Filmmaker

About Documentary Filmmaker

Becoming a documentary filmmaker is among the most challenging and promising career options of today. The field of documentary filmmaking is a perfect blend of reality, creativity, and technicality. To excel in this field of filmmaking, one has to be creative, innovative, decisive, open-minded and technologically savvy. A documentary filmmaker is responsible for taking the concept for a film project and turning it into a finished film by assembling a cast and/or crew and “shooting” the sequences.

The job of a documentary filmmaker involves managing a large production crew of the film or TV production, hiring and appointing members of the technical crew and cast, managing the actors working in the film/TV, securing or procuring finance, studying the documents and retrieving relevant information. Hence, a successful documentary filmmaker needs to be a visionary, who possesses the quality of creative interpretation of reality.

Eligibility to become Documentary Filmmaker

Pursuing a degree in a media-related core subject or professional courses can be a good step towards becoming a documentary filmmaker. Additionally, being a documentary filmmaker will give you the skills that one needs for a wide variety of filmmaking jobs.

The academic qualifications required for becoming a certified documentary filmmaker are listed below:

Subject Combination – Completing class 12 in any stream from any recognized board is an advantage.

Exam – FTII Entrance Exam, National School of Drama (NSD) Screening Test

Eligibility -

  • In the field of documentary filmmaking, the basic eligibility is 10+2 for technical courses, however, for other courses it is graduation.
  • Candidates should have a bachelor's degree in a field related to films. In order to gain the knowledge and skills needed to become a filmmaker, candidates may enroll themselves in a bachelor's degree program in film and television production.
  • For master degree courses, if candidates have finished their graduation or diploma in film producing/making from any acknowledged institute, then they are considered to be eligible.
  • Candidates who wish to join the PG diploma course in film producing/making must have done graduation in the relevant subject.

Note: There are various universities/institutes that offer diploma, post diploma and even certificate courses in each area of specialisation like in animation, production, direction, editing, cinematography, film processing, acting, sound engineering, make-up, photography and so on. Candidates must note that the duration of courses depends on the course one opts for and the institution chosen.

Types of Job Roles Documentary Filmmaker

There are a number of job profiles that one can target based on the level of interest. Following are some of the documentary filmmaker job profiles that one can opt for:

Documentary Producer: One of the most important jobs of a documentary producer is to generate money to make a film. He/she oversees the creation of the entire film and manages the budget and the staff. He/she also works with the director to hire production staff for production assistance.

Documentary Director: The job role of a documentary director includes central duties in pre-production, the actual filming, editing and post-production work. The job of a documentary director also includes creating a production schedule, gathering existing footage and other production elements like photos, documents etc and writing a script outline.

Programme Researcher: A programme researcher generates programme ideas, prepares cost accounts, organises meetings and interviews with appropriate people. He/she also organises, plans and coordinates the production of films/ television and undertake relevant background research.

Documentary Sound Designer: He/she is responsible for creating the overall auditory effects of a film, or TV show. He/she can choose, edit and remix music, work with live musicians in the theatre or work with a composer to make original music.

Writer: The job of the documentary writer includes working with the director and editor to shape the narrative of the film/ TV show as a whole. He/she understands the different ways that films affect audiences and have an in-depth understanding of the story, plot and narrative.

Employment Opportunities for Documentary Filmmaker

Documentary filmmaking is a dynamic and challenging field in which new opportunities open every day. For a documentary filmmaker, the employment opportunities are numerous. One can begin his/her own business enterprise in this field by working independently or one can also find jobs of documentary filmmaking in abroad as well. Some of the top sectors that require a documentary filmmaker are mentioned below:

  • Film Studios
  • Production companies
  • Advertising agencies
  • NGOs
  • Television production firms
  • Colleges and universities
  • Theatres
  • Event management companies

Top Recruiting Companies for Documentary Filmmaker

Some of the leading companies where a documentary filmmaker can find employment opportunities are listed below:

  • Dharma Productions
  • UTV Motion Pictures
  • Phantom Films
  • Balaji Motion Pictures
  • Excel Entertainment
  • Sony Pictures
  • Red Chillies Entertainment
  • Yash Raj Films(YRF)
  • National Geographic
  • Blue Sky Studios
  • Fox Star Studios
  • BBC Films

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Pay Scale/Salary of Documentary Filmmaker

In the field of documentary filmmaking, no fixed per month salary can be expected. A documentary filmmaker generates income on the basis of his/her projects and the salary of a documentary filmmaker ranges widely, depending on his/her talent level and experience.

Books & Study Material to Become Documentary Filmmaker

Documentary filmmaking is a skill based career option. To pursue a career in the field of documentary filmmaking, one must have both technical and artistic skills, communication skills for production and direction, ability to bring out talent in others, leadership qualities, creative instincts as well as managerial and administrative abilities. Hence, there are no specific books or study material that can prepare you for a career in documentary filmmaking.

However, here are some best books that can be referred to study documentary filmmaking:

  • Directing the Documentary by Michael Rabiger
  • Documentary Storytelling: Creative Nonfiction on Screen by Sheila Curran Bernard
  • Filmmaking for Change: Make Films That Transform the World by Jon Fitzgerald
  • Adventures in the Lives of Others: Ethical Dilemmas in Factual Filmmaking by James Quinn

Pros of becoming a Documentary Filmmaker

  • As a documentary filmmaker, you have time to work on your own film projects.
  • This profession gives you the freedom to make your own schedule.
  • New opportunities arise through meeting and networking with other professionals.
  • Working as a documentary filmmaker gives you a chance to create a name for yourself in the film industry.

Cons of becoming a Documentary Filmmaker

  • Filmmaking industry is a cutthroat industry where the level of competition is fierce. One may not have consistent work.
  • Documentary filmmaker works very long hours during a film, including evenings and weekends.
  • A documentary filmmaker has many responsibilities including technical, financial, administrative etc.

Paths for Being Documentary Filmmaker

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