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New study highlights challenges for documentary filmmakers

Whicker's World FoundationThe findings of a survey carried out by Whicker’s World Foundation for Sheffield Doc/Fest and the European Documentary Network (EDN) highlight rising costs and low pay. 

A total of 191 documentary makers responded to the survey, which aimed to find out the cost of making a documentary at today’s prices, and specifically how far the Foundation’s top funding award of £80,000 would go in the current market.

Of the respondents, 75% percent had made a documentary in the last two years, and pointed at a number of cost pressures.

Results showed that filmmakers were taking an average of 425 days to make a documentary film, with the cost averaging out at approximately £116,000. The most rapidly escalating budgetary hurdle identified was the price of archive footage and music rights.

The survey shows that 87% of the documentarians included felt they were not paid enough to recover their costs.

However, 27% of respondents said that if they had been paid for each unpaid day of film production on their latest project, their final salary would have been over £60,000.  In spite of this, the majority were prepared to work for little or no pay, even those with more than 30 years’ experience.

When asked by the foundation to summarise what £80,000 could do for the filmmakers, the majority of respondents suggested they could deliver a feature-length, locally-made documentary for this amount in today’s climate.

Including travel and archive material would change matters. One respondent said: “As far as final product, £80,000 would get you a verité, observational doc with no archival material and limited music, where the filmmaker does all the editing and shooting herself. But for my current film, which does have archival footage and music and travel costs, £80,000 would provide for either all the shooting/travel/production costs, or a sizable chunk of post-production. It would make a huge difference for the film but would certainly not cover all of our expenses or payroll.”

A number of respondents noted that funding is more easily accessed by established filmmakers and producers while less is invested in emerging filmmakers.

Liz McIntyre CEO & Festival Director of Sheffield Doc/Fest said of the findings: “It is clear that for the documentary art form to have a sustainable and brilliant future, the industry as a whole needs to consider how new and emerging talent is supported and enabled. These are themes which we at Doc/Fest are acutely aware of and will continue to champion and contribute to with results based solutions, like this important partnership with the Whicker’s World Foundation.”

Jane Ray, Artistic Director of Whicker’s World Foundation said: “I was shocked to realise that so many, 9 out of 10, are either chronically underpaid or apparently in a position to make documentaries without needing to pull a wage. Neither scenario strikes me as healthy for the future of documentary, but it does make me more grateful than ever for Alan Whicker’s legacy and the fact that we are going to be able to do something tangible to fund something so crucial to a free society.”

If you are a documentary filmmaker and would like to apply for the Whicker’s World Funding Award, you can do so until 14 February 2016. Applications may be made via the website:



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Alexandra Zeevalkink is a Dutch-born journalist living in London who founded DocGeeks in August 2011 in order to have a legitimate excuse to watch every documentary under the sun. She freelances for various publications and writes mainly about documentaries and the film production industry. When she is not blogging or watching films, she enjoys theater, photography and reading loads of books. She is always on the look out for potential partnerships with other creative minds.

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