Most documentaries that get made will never be seen by more than a handful of people. I know this because as both a documentary consultant and as an occasional film festival selector I see many turkeys. By turkey I mean boring, unstructured and ultimately unwatchable films. The great documentaries that get picked up by top film festivals and ultimately sell have an element of the entertaining, inspiring or visionary to them; the turkeys do not. A documentary consultant helps with their vast experience. You won’t need to make their mistakes!

So what can you do to make a truly great, entertaining documentary that sells? One thing I would highly recommend is to book a consultation with a good documentary consultant. 

How it works is you meet them in person or on Skype and talk about your idea or show them the first cut of your film. The documentary consultant will then give you suggestions about how you can transform your film (or idea for a film) into a better, more inspiring and commercially successful film. You’re basically leap-frogging off their years of creativity and experience as a filmmaker.

Most people who leave consultations with me look as if a huge weight has been lifted from their shoulders and do indeed often go out on to make films that are selected for film festivals or commissioned by major broadcasters.

How a documentary consultant helps you make a documentary that  sells:

1.Check Whether Your Film Has Legs 

The best time to bring in a documentary consultant is before you go out shooting your film. If your idea is great they can encourage you to the next step, however if it isn’t that great they’ll give you ideas about ways to improve it – possibly from an angle you hadn’t thought about. The right structure has to be in place before your film will engage a viewer and so I believe it’s crucial that you really know what your film is and how it will work before you go out to make it – otherwise all those good intentions, lucky breaks, time and cash are wasted.

2. Help You Find The Best Way To Direct It

Once you’ve checked if your film is likely to connect with a paying audience or broadcaster a consultant will then work with you on finding the appropriate way to make it – for instance they might give you suggestions about how to make it more entertaining, or just give you ideas about the over-arching vision of your film, or just give you some thoughts about a possible presenter.

3. If Your Edited Film Isn’t Working You’ll Get Ideas About How To Make It Work. 

Sometimes you’re just too close to your film; sometimes it’s hard to see the wood for the trees. A smart consultant will watch your film, listen to what you want to achieve and then give you suggestions. Though it isn’t ideal to come in after the film is shot there are often ways to completely re-invent the film so that it manages to emotionally speak to the audience. As a consultant it’s a very exciting thing to come up with fixes which transform the film.

4. You’ll Know How To Make Your Next Film Much Better

The experience of working with a great documentary consultant helps a lot. It’s a bit like a little crash-course in directing documentaries. You’ll learn so much from watching a good documentary consultant go to work on your film. Things that would never occur to you may be suggested. You’ll see how by acting on those suggestions your film will suddenly be transformed. What’s more, by using these tried and tested techniques all the films you make in the future will be improved. As one person who got me in to help them said: “I learned more about documentary making over two sessions than I did over my entire filmmaking MA.”

5.  You Only Get One Attempt To Enter Your Film To Festivals Or A Broadcaster

Don’t Blow It!

A documentary consultant can potentially save your film idea or finished film IF ISN’T up to the grade. So don’t waste that one chance or throw even more money away entering a sub-standard film to film festivals when a solution could be two or three hours of consultancy away!

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About 

BA (Hons) Film & TV London College of Printing, Raindance MA in Film . Col is an award-winning writer/director who started in non-fiction at the BBC and now works primarily in fiction: writing and directing feature films for the cinema. He also runs his own documentary consultancy business.