The New York Times recently published an article on Snag Films expanding their distribution of documentary films to Comcast and Verizon FiOS, as well as iTunes, YouTube premium channels, and the Apple iPad. In the article Michael Lumpkin, director of the International Documentary Association was quoted out of context saying,
“The costs of making a documentary in some respects have disappeared.”
This quote, in an article that played out like a press release for Leonisis’ Snag Films, had documentary filmmakers up in arms. Larry Daressa, of California Newsreel asks,
“…is this the message we want an organization nominally representing
our field to be putting out in the country’s most influential
newspaper? Is this what we want foundations, networks and other
possible funders to believe?”
Quickly and graciously, Michael Lumpkin replied,
“Yesterday I was quoted in an article in the business section of the New York Times, stating “The costs of making a documentary in some respects have disappeared.” This was said in a discussion about the changing landscape of media consumption, media distribution and media production. My comment was part of a wider conversation about DIY filmmaking and the fact that today cameras are in the hands of more people than ever before and that more people have access to editing software than ever before. That professionals should not be paid for their work is not something I believe or support – or meant to imply. I apologize to all of the hard working filmmakers out there for my very poor choice of words. I am also unhappy that the Times piece provided little, if any, context for my statement.
Anyone who knows me, and my thirty years of work in the nonprofit media arts world, is aware that I understand what it takes to produce a documentary film. As co-producer on a feature documentary myself, I know how much it costs to make a film and how difficult it is to raise the funds to do so. Since coming to IDA a year and a half ago I have become even more aware of the problems involved in acquiring funding for documentary films. One of my top priorities is to see that more funds are available to documentary filmmakers. So, once again, I wish to express my regrets for the impression given by my remarks in the article. And I promise to never again take a call from a reporter as I drive the freeways of LA in the middle of a very busy and hectic day.”
It is hard as ever these days in a waning economy to procure funding for documentary films and it is precisely this type of hype and disinformation about how ‘easy’ it is to make a film (i.e. buy a consumer model HD camcorder, shoot a doc, distribute online for free, and the money comes rolling in via some third party distribution service) that’s gnawing at seasoned filmmakers. Clearly, in Lumpkin’s case he was quoted out of context and knows that making a quality documentary costs real money. Many filmmakers are questioning whether this ‘pay-per-view’ model for documentaries will help to supplement the already in place mid-roll 15 second ads that currently run during the embeddable, lives streaming films that Snag Films is hosting. Whether or not these added channels of distribution will help to generate revenue for independent filmmakers has yet to be seen. Producers and filmmakers alike, for a more realistic take on digital distribution and digital rights management should check out Newsreel’s Producers’ Guide To Digital Rights Management.