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Documentaries/How can documentary filmmakers earn a living?


Dear Sir, often when I read about notable documentaries, I was told it might take one year or more to follow the subjects, edit and finish it.

It is admirable . But I was wondering in that one year, financially speaking, how can the filmmakers live?

Normally, are they rich enough not to worry about their monthly wage?

Thank you.

Really good question... I've asked that question myself for over 30 years!!!

You have to budget yourself a weekly salary when you budget your documentary.  If you're doing this professionally, then that's how you are also making your living.  You likely will have other staff and facilities you have to pay, for instance, sound mixing.  You may have other crew members besides yourself that you have to pay. You have to be able to pay your monthly bills while working full time to make your film.

Often beginning doc makers make their first few films while also having a full time job else where. Usually these are fairly low budget films and ones that are suitable for completing with many weekends worth of work. Most people I know who try to make a career of doing it this way, eventually just focus on their day jobs.  At some point your work has to sale and prove that there is a return on the invested dollar.

Today the doc market is intensely competitive in terms of sales. Go to MIPDOC this Spring in Cannes and you'll see what I mean.  If you want to compete, you have to get to the point that you can raise enough budget which also includes your salary (one that you live on, usually not get rich on) and also have a decent track record selling your work. None of this is easy.  I use to live in Holland and it was a lot easier as I could access European MEDIA Programme funds on my projects.  You being in the UK, I'm sure you can also do that.  The supporting organizations will approve your budget and fund you... you just need to put a fair market salary in the budget for yourself. In America, you can access a few "Grants" but more and more, you've got to raise the funds as if it's a business proposition. In other words, backers of your project expect to make a profit.  Trust me, in terms of documentary filmmaking, this is hard.  You have to create a business model just like you would in any business.


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Mickey Grant


Currently editing a film I spent this past year shooting in Libya called BURNING GREEN. How to produce, direct, write,edit, and market documentaries This would include which camera is best for a particular project and aspects of how to approach story telling of your documentary. Also, it is becoming even more critical to have a buyer at a major network such as the BBC (they are called Programme Editors there) to interact with during your production. It's really important to know the market and the major players to know who you are.


Over 30 years of working on various aspects of documentaries with my primary function today of shooting and directing them. You can find out a great deal about my films and background at my website at Also, several of my films are on Google Video and can be found by going there and typing Mickey Grant in search. They include my latest film, INJECTION which is 80 minutes and shot on HDV. Also, THE CU CHI TUNNELS, which previously was distributed by BBC Worldwide and has played on major broadcssters in over 50 countries.

In the past I've been a member of many organizations such as NABET union but don't find it necessary in today's market place.


BFA from SMU in 1971 in Film Masters in film from UNT in 1986

Awards and Honors
Gold Award, Best Feature Length Documentary, Houston International Film Festival Golden Star Halo Award, Southern California Motion Picture Council Honorable Mention (twice), Chicago Film Festival Second Place, Sinking Creek Film Festival

Past/Present Clients
HBO, BBC, ZDF, CanalPlus

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