Making a documentary can be a hugely rewarding experience, but as any experienced filmmaker will tell you, it can also be an incredibly trying one.

Even experienced filmmakers such as  Michael Moore and Louis Theroux experience challenges, so no matter if you’re a seasoned professional or are planning on making your first documentary, get ready for a rollercoaster ride! Before you start penning your Palme d’Or acceptance speech there are many things to think about before you even get to the pre-production phase, and so here we take a look at some of the best bits of advice to consider when embarking on your documentary-making journey…

Have a long-term vision  

If you’ve found something about which you’re passionate, whether it’s the subject matter or the film making process itself, it can be easy to get carried away with the desire to get stuck in right away. While it’s tempting, make sure you have a long-term plan in place – for example,  where will it be distributed? Who is the audience? How will you receive funding and recoup your investment? Having this in mind will help you make some important decisions that can steer you away from (often expensive) mistakes.

Join a community

By working as part of a community, not only can you can find sources for potential collaboration or funding, but you can also obtain moral support, which can be invaluable when times get tough. You can use this network of fellow documentary filmmakers to troubleshoot and problem-solve, and if you are embarking on your first production, meeting a mentor could provide you with some excellent support as well.

Have a PR strategy  

If like many documentary makers you are working with a limited budget, one area in which you can save valuable pennies is in marketing your project. That’s not to say you won’t need to outlay money to publicise your project (trust us, you will), but there are some effective methods that don’t cost as much as traditional outlets. For example, a PR strategy can help you gain lots of exposure, as can mounting a social media campaign and encouraging people who would be interested in your production to follow and stay up to date with progress.

Choose interesting subject matter

According to acclaimed filmmaker Michael Moore, a key rule of making documentaries is choosing subject matter worthy of exploration. “Don’t tell me that nuclear power is bad. I know it’s bad. I’m not going to give up two hours of my life to have you tell me it’s bad. All right? Seriously, I don’t want to hear anything I already know. I don’t like watching a movie where the filmmakers obviously thinks they’re the first people to discover something might be wrong with genetically modified foods. You think that you’re the only one who knows that?” Some of the best documentaries ever were successful because they dared to go where no filmmakers had gone before, so bear that in mind when choosing what you want to film.

Consider the facts about funding

Funding can be a major issue for documentary makers – either the lack of it or caveats attached to receiving it can alter the shape your project takes. For example, if you are self-financing through a method such as Kickstarter, you can retain artistic control as it’s your own money. If you receive a grant or third-party funding however, you may have to relinquish some of this control to work within their parameters.

Have you made a documentary before? If so, what was your experience? Leave us a comment and let us know!