NYWIFT Blog

Five Takeaways: Finding the Right Documentary Lab for Your Film

By Janine McGoldrick

Being an independent filmmaker can make you feel isolated and lonely. They don’t call it independent for nothing. In the past few years festivals and foundations have created incubator labs to provide a sense of community and mentorship to these intrepid makers of celluloid magic.

What is an incubator lab? It is like a creative bootcamp for filmmakers filled with workshops, pitch sessions, networking meetings and more! Participating in a lab can be a great way to refine your story, develop your creative vision and build partnerships. But which one should you pick? As I learned at NYWIFT’s recent panel, “Documentary Labs: Finding the Right One for Your Film,” labs are as different as the films featured in them.  

If you are thinking a lab might be helpful for you, here are some key learnings…

1) Plan early: Unfortunately, you can’t do a quick Google search, click, sign up and you’re in. You need to apply, usually months prior to the date of the event, and be accepted. Many labs, due to budgets, can only invite 5-10 projects out of the hundreds of entries. Make a schedule of all the labs throughout the year and the deadline to apply.

2) Do your research: Each lab is distinctive when it comes to what types of film they nurture and in what stage of development the project should be in. For example, UnionDocs looks for non-traditional films that step outside of conventional filmmaking and are in the early stages; Tribeca Film Institute Camden Retreat selects films with American stories that have a wider appeal and are more commercially viable and are mid-way through production; Chicken & Egg invites only first or second time filmmakers; Sundance Labs host films that are deep in the rough-cut phase; and Independent Filmmaker Project (IFP) is open to all different stages.

3) Timing: Once you get a feeling for which lab fits your scope of your work, make sure the timing lines up. You shouldn’t apply for a Sundance lab if you will still be in production when the date rolls around.

4) Know What Materials are Required: For many labs a general synopsis won’t be enough for your application. You may need to present a full proposal with an outline of your subjects and their story arcs. Many may require a work sample which could be only 3-5 minutes of footage or perhaps up to 40. 

5) Have faith. Panelist and filmmaker Kirsten Johnson (Cameraperson) encouraged everyone to be kind to themselves, be comfortable with failure and always know you are the only person who can make the film you want to make. Even if there are other projects out there that have a similar theme, yours will be different because of your unique point of view.

Thanks to the other panelists for all of their words of wisdom: Milton Tabbot, Senior Director of Programming at the Independent Feature Project (IFP); Lucila Moctezuma, Director of Programs from Chicken & Egg Pictures; Monika Navarro, Senior Director of Programs at the Tribeca Film Institute; and Christopher Allen, Founder/Executive Artistic Director of of UnionDocs (UNDO) and moderator Marcia Rock, Director of News and Documentary at the NYU Arthur Carter Journalism Institute and Chair of NYWIFT’s Documentary Committee.

(Pictured above: Kirsten Johnson in Cameraperson)

 

NYWIFT produces more than 50 professional development panels and workshops each year, just like this one. See what’s coming up next on our programming calendar.

PUBLISHED BY

Janine McGoldrick

Janine McGoldrick Janine McGoldrick is a veteran entertainment executive who has created and implemented strategic distribution and communications campaigns for television and film, including the 2017 Academy Award winner "The Salesman." Through her company 2nd Chapter Productions, she works as an entertainment strategist and is developing the documentary film "Unheard: The Ears of Meniere's."

View all posts by Janine McGoldrick

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