Our Episode #42 interview with PBS Executive Producer Lois Vossen of Independent Lens was very comprehensive and revealing. Lois has been running the show since it started over a decade ago and they produce 22 new documentaries every season. If you can get on the Independent Lens bandwagon, it's the best deal in town as they pay fair (and sometimes better than fair) and the filmmaker gets to keep the copyright of the film! Not too many other networks are allowing that unless you bring in most of the budget from the outside. To find out what the budgets are for the hour and feature docs, take a look at the full episode. You may be surprised. We run clips from the new season and some of the titles are; Bedlam, Rewind, Always in Season, and Made in Boise.
Today, November 11, 2019, The Hollywood Reporter has a story about the Critics Choice Documentary Awards (https://bit.ly/2qLBtpj). Apollo 11 was named best doc and there is a substantial list of other docs in other categories that will give you an idea of the fierce competition ongoing for the Oscar nomination.
The International Documentary Association just announced their nominations for the best docs of the year. Of the ten docs nominated, Westdoc Online has already produced episodes on three of the nominees. Episode #35 features the directors of "For Sama." #33 is with the director of "Sea of Shadows." And #36 is with the directors of "Honeyland." Take a look.
Episode 41, Avi Belkin. To say that I have been lax in keeping up with these show notes, would be a gross understatement. I just posted episode #41 and am still amazed by what I learned from director Avi Belkin. This young man came to America from Israel three years ago with two ideas in his head. He wanted to make a documentary about the status of broadcast journalism and he knew about a murder in a small town called Skidmore in Missouri. It's still not completely clear how he did it. But with the help of a couple of producers, he ended up producing and directing two really terrific films. "Mike Wallace is Here" is a razor-sharp biography about the former "60 Minutes" correspondent that is in theatrical distribution with Magnolia Pictures and will eventually air on Hulu. If you are not of a certain age, you probably didn't know that Wallace had a long career as a commercial pitch-man, game show host and an actor before joining CBS News. Turns out he was just as human as all of us as we learn about his severe depression and his regrets about putting his career before his family. "No One Saw a Thing" is another doc, but it feels like a dramatic feature film that runs over multiple episodes on Sundance TV. It's about the town bully and how 60 people witnessed his murder but no one saw a thing. Great films from a new rising director, Avi Belkin.
Episode 15, Three Identical Strangers. When I first saw the description and the picture of this film in the Hotdocs catalog, I knew I had to see it. I missed it at Hotdocs but went to a screening at the Motion Picture Academy that had a Q&A with the director, Tim Wardle. At the end I introduced myself to him and told him about the series and asked if he would be on the show. Fortunately we were able to work it out and the results are in the episode. He was very open, honest, and candid about the making of the film, There were earlier attempts to produce the story by other producers, but I think Tim's persistence and patience really paid off. Following is a story in the Los Angeles Times about the film. Spoiler alert; I would not read it until after seeing the movie;
New rules just released by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for next year's documentaries. You can find them here. If you are producing a doc short, here is the link to the list of festivals that will qualify you for entry instead of having to book your film in a theater in LA and NY.
Episode 11 is about the Hot Docs International Film Festival. I have traveled to Toronto several times and each time I come home inspired by all the great new docs I saw and the new ones coming down the road. Within Hot Docs they have "The Forum," which is a two day pitching event. Each producer team is given about six or seven minutes to pitch in front of an audience and a panel of international buyers. They show a clip from their new documentary and the panel comments on why this new film might or might not work for their network. It is great to see all the films that will be in theaters or on tv a year from now. And they sell about 125,000 tickets to half a dozen theaters in the ten day festival period. If you make documentaries and want to go to the biggest doc festival in North America, this is the one.
Episode 10 is about The Making of "Shot In the Dark." A terrific new series on Netflix. It is about "stringers," or freelance news cameramen. Truth be told, I was very interested in this subject because I supported my self through school as a stringer. I had the police and fire department radios in my car and at home. I loved the adventure and adrenaline rush and was learning how to shoot and what was needed by the tv stations for a good story. A couple years ago my son Max suggested I produce a show based on stringers so I contacted one of the better known guys who told me he had a pending deal with another company. So I went on to something else. And probably a good thing as I think that these guys made a great show that captures much of the rush and feelings that are going on in the middle of the night while most of us sleep. Try and catch the show on Netflix and then watch this ep.
Episode 9 is all about money and how to get grants. I had an epiphany recently about us filmmakers. I think there are two kinds. The kind that pitch shows to networks, and the kind that are able to write grants and get their budget in dribs and drabs from various sources. I prefer getting one yes and a check to pay for the whole film. But of course, the devil is in the details and this method often comes with some serious drawbacks. If someone is paying for the entire budget of your documentary, they may want to influence you about how to make and or cut the film. On the other hand, grant money usually appears with few restrictions. Either way, take a look at this episode to see how some people are financing their projects and what is best for you.
Episode 8 is a one on one interview with the Oscar winning Frank Stiefel who produced, directed, and shot the doc short "Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405." (https://vimeo.com/253169028 Password is "mindy." Frank had no networks, distribution, or any major backing for his film. After the nominations, he worried about the big time corporate backers of the other documentaries. But he tells us how he pushed forward on his own. Here is link to Frank's first film Ingelore https://vimeo.com/210497639 and the password is "ingelore1."
Episode 7 was difficult to book because I changed the date from Tuesdays to Wednesday a week before we went live. As it turned out I ended up with some great insights into the online business and the thinking behind these very talented online pioneers. I personally am amazed at the number of views that some people are getting on YouTube. Far more than most of the "television" networks. These guys seem to care more for the quality of their work and less about the gross number of viewers. Brandon Li logged in live from Hong Kong where it was 2 in the morning. Josh was in Oxnard, California, Erik Naso in San Diego, and Ton Antos was in NYC.
Episode 6 Steve James produced, edited, and directed Hoop Dreams, winner of every major critics prize including a Peabody and Robert F. Kennedy Award. Other award winning films include Sundance award winner, Stevie; IDA winning miniseries The New Americans; The Interrupters, which won an Emmy, Independent Spirit Award, and the DuPont Columbia Journalism Award; and the Emmy-winning Life Itself, named the best documentary of 2014 by over a dozen critics associations, including The Critic’s Choice Awards, The National Board of Review, and The Producers Guild of America. His most recent film, Abacus: Small Enough to Jail, has earned James a fourth DGA nomination, won the “Best Political Documentary” by The Critics Choice Awards, and has been nominated for an Academy Award.
Episode 5 is all about licensing clips for your documentary film project. We have a great expert panel starting with Lisa Callif who works with several attorneys including Michael Donaldson who literally wrote the book on Fair Use and intellectual property rights. If you have any project you want to sell to television or any major distribution, you will be required before release to have E&O (errors and omissions) insurance. And in order to get that you have to have an expert attorney in that area sign off on your film. This is what Donaldson and Callif do every day. Jason Teichman is the CEO of Pond5 and tells us about the inside workings of their stock footage organization that has much more than just footage. It amazed me when he said they upload about 10,000 new video clips every day! Steve Kozak is a clearance expert who worked on the Tonight Show for ten years and now is on the Jimmy Kimmel show. He started and is the head of AMCUP, the Association of Media Content Users & Providers. Jonathan Chinn is the partner with his cousin of Lightbox, a production company with offices in Burbank and London. They produced the Oscar short listed feature doc "LA '92" which is remarkable because the entire film is all from stock footage and there is no announcer telling you what you are watching. It was produced for the National Geographic Channel.
We continue to solve some tech issues as others pop up. The audio and video on this show was better even though we were live from London, New York, and L.A. But the software running the program crashed causing us to restart and then pull together the two parts of the program. The best place to watch it is on our home page.
Episode 4 An interview with the director Mari Bakke Riise and the complete 32 minute film
All the films that were nominated this year for an Academy Award in the Documentary Shorts category (episode 3 below) are well deserving and should be seen. One film that was seen as a favorite by most who saw it was "Kayayo." It tells the heart breaking story of a very young girl in Ghana who is used as a human shopping basket by other women in a town not close to her village.
I was so confident that this short listed film would be nominated that I asked the director to be on Episode 3 live if she got the nod. And when she told me that she expected to be on national television in Norway and couldn't make our show, I pre-recorded an interview with her to put on the episode in anticipation of the nomination she did not receive.
Here is that short interview recorded before the nominations with the director Mari Bakke Riise and instead of a two minute clip, I have been given permission to run the entire film. Your friends can watch it here, or pay a very small rental fee at Vimeo on Demand at
And a big thanks to our sponsors for their continuing support. Media Central, Pond5, and Lummaforge. cb
Episode 2 January 9, 2018
RICHARD ABRAMOWITZ is an innovative leader with more than 35 years of experience in the distribution and marketing of independent films. His company, Abramorama, takes a personalized, focused form of film marketing and distribution that bypasses traditional film studios and their methodology, providing valuable distribution alternatives to content makers and owners.
Abramowitz’s many distribution projects include Ron Howard’s Grammy-winning documentary The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years; Cameron Crowe’s Pearl Jam Twenty; Amir Bar-Lev’s definitive film on The Grateful Dead, Long Strange Trip; Laurie Anderson’s acclaimed Heart of a Dog; Peabody Award-winner Listen to Me Marlon; Banksy’s Spirit Award winner and Academy Award nominee Exit Through the Gift Shop; Sacha Gervasi’s Spirit Award-winning Anvil! The Story of Anvil; and Spike Lee's Oscar-nominated 4 Little Girls. He has been a consultant to Neil Young’s Shakey Pictures for more than 15 years and worked with Jonathan Demme from 1984 until his untimely passing in 2017.
Abramowitz was a co-founder of Stratosphere Entertainment, the independent distribution and production company financed by Carl Icahn. Previously, he was President/COO of RKO Pictures Distribution. Prior to that, as a senior executive at Cinecom he distributed films by Tom Stoppard, Volker Schlondorff, Mira Nair, John Salyes, Robert Bresson and Merchant Ivory, including the multiple Academy Award-winner A Room with a View.
Abramowitz is on the Board of Directors of the Jacob Burns Film Center and teaches at the film conservatory at Purchase College.
CRISTINE DEWEY is Managing Director of ro*co films International. She builds and maintains relationships with media buyers and acquisition executives around the world to ensure that our documentaries get the attention they deserve. She manages the international contracts and works collaboratively with filmmakers to maintain a long-term international distribution presence for each of our films.
Cristine joined ro*co in 2005 after several years of experience as a community activist. She has a B. A. in English from Carleton College and a professional back-ground in development and grants administration.
JONATHAN DANA has been a pioneer in the independent film business since 1971. He served as Director of Acquisitions and Development at The Samuel Goldwyn Company, President of Motion Pictures and Television at Atlantic Releasing, CEO of specialized distribution company Triton Pictures, and is a long time executive producing partner with CODE Entertainment.
Among other awards, his movies have won numerous prizes at both Sundance and Cannes. His films include dramas The Spitfire Grill, A World Apart, Patty Hearst, Extremities, Mindwalk, Stormy Monday, Palmetto, Noel, and Kill the Irishman; comedies Valley Girl, Teen Wolf, Night of the Comet, Wish You Were Here, Drowning Mona, Scorched, and You Kill Me; foreign language Soldier of Orange, The Hairdresser’s Husband, and Toto the Hero; and documentaries Ballets Russes, Standing in the Shadows of Motown, Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmakers Apocalypse, Oscar nominee Colors Straight Up and his own directorial debut Sandstone (1975), recently profiled on CNN's The Seventies. As producer's representative Dana’s credits include sleeper hit What the Bleep Do We Know, 2012 Spirit Award nominee We Were Here, and 2012 Sundance Audience Award winner and 2013 Spirit winner and Oscar nominee, The Invisible War. He was executive producer of The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden, which premiered at Telluride 2014, and The Forger, starring John Travolta, Christopher Plummer, and Tye Sheridan, Toronto 2015. He is currently Consulting Producer on music biodioc WAYNE SHORTER: Zero Gravity, in post production, extreme rowing doc LOSING SIGHT OF SHORE, now streaming worldwide on NETFLIX, and executive producing HALLELUJAH: IT GOES LIKE THIS, the story and times of Leonard Cohen's iconic anthem, now shooting. Dana was an initial investor and supervised the launch of the online indie film community Withoutabox.com, subsequently purchased as an operating division of Amazon’s IMDb. He is a graduate of Dartmouth College and holds an MBA and a PhD from Stanford Business School. He is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts.
Born in Israel, raised in Manhattan, and living in Los Angeles, Orly Ravid is the founder/co-executive director of the distribution non-profit The Film Collaborative (TFC) and an entertainment attorney at MSK (Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp LLP). Non-profit on purpose, TFC specializes in distribution of documentaries and arthouse cinema without taking filmmakers' rights. TFC is proud to have included on its slate such films as The Invisible War(Sundance/Oscar-nominee), Unrest (Sundance), The Hunting Ground (Sundance), The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin (SXSW), More Art Upstairs (Hot Docs), The Last Laugh (Tribeca), For the Love of Spock (Tribeca), Tower (SXSW), A Suitable Girl (Tribeca),Racing Extinction (Sundance), to name just a few. TFC offers free educational resources and advice regarding distribution and provides distribution services including: sales/licensing, festival, theatrical and digital distribution, as well as fiscal sponsorship. TFC recently co-published How Not to Sign a Film Contract: Know What You're Saying Yes To and co-authored and published the case study book series Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul. Orly has a 17-year career in independent film as an acquisitions and business affairs executive, and her experience encompasses all aspects of distribution, domestic and international sales/licensing, development, production, grassroots marketing, and festival programming. Orly regularly speaks at film schools and on film festival panels about film distribution, new media, splitting rights, and entertainment legal issues, and is a passionate advocate for filmmakers.
Episode 3 was going to be chaotic and unpredictable. Because, up until 5:38 on the morning of the show, I didn't know who the guests were going to be. I was hoping to have some of the newly named documentary Oscar nominees but who knew who would get the nods from the Academy? So I picked the ones I thought would be the chosen ones and set up interviews on the premise that they would receive a nomination. Fortunately, I was mostly right. As it turned out, some of the feature doc directors were at Sundance the day of the Oscar noms and others weren't available. So I stuck with the shorts which are usually every bit as good and we got four out of the five new nominees.
The biggest surprise of the day for me was the one short doc which I thought was a slam dunk to get a nomination and did not. And that was "Kayayo" the film by Mari Bakke Risse from Oslo, Norway about a young girl who is a human shopping basket in Ghana. If you click on the title of the film just above, the link will take you to their Vimeo page where you can watch the trailer and see the complete short on demand. It's a very strong film and worth taking a look.
The four new short doc nominees we have on this episode were all charming, insightful, and informative about their film and the process of making a short. The best advice might have been from Frank Stiefel who told the story of his long career in the commercial business and it seemed like he was always waiting for permission to do something. And now, making his own documentary, he didn't need permission to start shooting.
DOCUMENTARY (SHORTS) NOMINEES
Laura Checkoway and Thomas Lee Wright
HEAVEN IS A TRAFFIC JAM ON THE 405
Frank Stiefel Oscar Winner
HEROIN(E) (available on Netflix)
Elaine McMillion Sheldon and Kerrin Sheldon
KNIFE SKILLS (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U7cW60vhP4Y)
TRAFFIC STOP (now on HBO)
Kate Davis and David Heilbroner
Laura Checkoway's documentary short Edith+Eddie has won numerous awards including the IDA Documentary Awards Best Short 2017. The film is executive produced by Steve James and Cher. Her award-winning debut film LUCKY (also executive produced by Steve James) screened at festivals across the globe and premiered on television in 2014. With a background in journalism, Laura penned revealing profiles and investigative features for numerous publications and has authored acclaimed celebrity autobiographies.
Elaine McMillion Sheldon is a Peabody award-winning documentary filmmaker based in West Virginia. Her work explores universal stories of roots, survival, resilience, and hope. Sheldon is the director of "Heroin(e)" a Netflix Original Documentary short that follows three women fighting the opioid crisis in Huntington, West Virginia. In 2013, she released "Hollow," an interactive documentary that examines the future of rural America through the eyes and voices of West Virginians. Hollow received a Peabody, Emmy nomination and 3rd Prize in the World Press Photo Multimedia Awards. In 2016, Chicken & Egg Pictures awarded her with the inaugural "Breakthrough Filmmaker" award. Sheldon was a 2013 Future of Storytelling Fellow, and named one of the "25 New Faces of Independent Film" by Filmmaker Magazine and one of "50 People Changing The South" by Southern Living Magazine. She's a founding member of All Y'all Southern Documentary Collective. She has been commissioned by Frontline PBS, PBS NewsHour, Center for Investigative Reporting, New York Times Op-Docs, TEDWomen, People Magazine, Lifetime, Field of Vision, Mashable, The Washington Post, and The Bitter Southerner. She was recently named a 2018 USA Fellow by United States Artists.
Episode 1 December 5, 2018 - went off with a couple of tech issues at first, but once we got over the opening hump, the guests had great information to share about the race for the Documentary Oscars, both feature length and short. The scheduled moderator bailed out after his computer audio failed and Chuck filled in. Among other things discussed were some of the specific films that were hoping to qualify for the Oscar short list and we picked at least two of those chosen. Here is the Academy's press release later that afternoon for the 10 Oscar documentary shorts; And click here for the new short list of 15 feature documentaries. The nominations for all the Oscars will be announced Tuesday, January 23rd and we will be airing a live special that same day. Watch our first program on our home page. Scroll down the page to the full video or watch just 90 seconds below the main video.
Here is an interesting article from the Daily Variety on December 8th about the current state of Oscar campaigning. Pros and Cons of Oscar Campaigning.
Julie Goldman, Producer founded Motto Pictures in 2009. She is an Oscar nominated and Emmy Award-winning producer and executive producer of documentary feature films. Julie is producer of Life, Animated and executive producer of Weiner, both of which premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. Life, Animated won the U.S. Documentary Directing Award, was released by The Orchard and was nominated for the 2017 Academy Award. Weiner won the U.S. Documentary Grand Jury Prize, was released by IFC Films & Showtime and was shortlisted for the 2017 Academy Award. Current releases include Steve James’ Abacus: Small Enough To Jail* and 2017 Toronto International Film Festival premiere The Final Year. In 2016 Julie also produced and executive produced features including: The Music of Strangers, Indian Point, Solitary, Enlighten Us, Southwest of Salem and Chicken People. Previously, she executive produced Emmy Award winning Best of Enemies and several Emmy-nominated films: 3½ Minutes, Ten Bullets, The Kill Team, Art and Craft and 1971. Julie produced Gideon’s Army, Manhunt, the Oscar shortlisted God Loves Uganda, The Great Invisible, the Oscar shortlisted Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry and Buck, which was Oscar shortlisted and one of 2011’s top five grossing documentaries. Julie consulted on the Academy Award-winning The Cove and produced the Oscar shortlisted Sergio. Julie is on the Board of the Producers Guild of America (PGA) and a member of Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS).
David Magdael, Publicist has more than 18 years of experience in public relations, strategic planning, development, marketing, community outreach and entertainment and media relations in North America, Europe and Asia. As founder and president of DAVID MADGAEL & ASSOCIATES, INC, Magdael continues to specialize in documentaries, indie films, directors, and public affairs. From developing Oscar® campaigns to festival strategies to theatrical and broadcast press unit publicity, his company has emerged as an important entertainment communications firm boasting a client roster including numerous Oscar® winning and nominated documentary, animated and short films and festival standouts. Magdael’s firm works with all distributors, content creators and broadcast networks along with representing award winning directors including Morgan Spurlock, Justin Lin, Brian Knappenberger, Chris Perkel, and Lucy Walker, Jehane Noujaim, Kief Davidson, and others.
Films this year include ABACUS: SMALL ENOUGH TO JAIL*; LA 92*; THE WORK; MOTHERLAND; WHITNEY - CAN I BE ME?; SAMMY DAVIS JR., I’VE GOTTA BE ME; MACHINES, SWIM TEAM; FINDING OSCAR; UNREST; QUEST; PLASTIC CHINA; NOBODY SPEAK: THE TRIALS OF A FREE PRESS; BOMBSHELL: THE HEDY LAMARR STORY; KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS; TICKLING GIANTS;VEGAS BABY; CLIVE DAVIS: THE SOUNDTRACK OF OUR LIVES and others.
Magdael is also a member of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) and is the Co-Director for the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival since 1997. He serves as a mentor at the Sundance Institute Documentary Producers Lab and continues to share his expertise in panels and workshops at Sundance Film Festival, South by Southwest (SXSW), Full Frame Film Festival, Silver Docs, Hawaii International Film Festival, Los Angeles Film Festival, AFI Festival Los Angeles, Ashland International Film Festival, Film Independent Forum, Visual Communications, Center for Asian American Media, San Diego Asian Film Festival, Los Angeles Asian Film Festival, San Francisco Asian Film Festival, Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles (IFFLA), the International Documentary Association, Temple University Division of Film, The Documentary Summit at Columbia College of Film and others.
*Short listed this year.