While documentary film audiences are experiencing a ‘golden age’ of documentary with more film choices than ever, the independent producers who work tirelessly to bring these films to viewers are facing grave financial and career instability. The current financial model is unsustainable, requiring independent producers to take on debt, defer payment, get a second or third job, lean on a safety net (if they have one), or work for nothing. This financial insecurity is further exacerbated by a general lack of understanding or recognition of the documentary producer’s role, even within our own industry. Without new awareness, support or financial models for documentary producers, we risk burning people out. The field—and films—will suffer.
And the elephant in the room—the COVID-19 crisis has only magnified the issues that producers routinely face. Now, producers find themselves on the bleeding edge, working to keep their projects on track, their crews employed and their distribution options open, all while struggling to keep themselves afloat. At the same time, the opportunity to radically alter the documentary film industry seems uniquely possible, and producers—with their grit and sharp problem-solving skills—are particularly poised to do so. The DPA is working to rise to this challenge—to buoy our members, their work and their films, and to navigate a new path forward for the field.
The DPA’s efforts are executed by eight committees helmed by self-selected committee chairs.
They are as follows:
The crediting committee works to clarify the documentary producer role, and other production and financing credits, for filmmakers, funders and industry. In 2019, following two years of research and with the endorsement of 25 industry organizations, the committee released its Guide to Best Practices in Documentary Crediting, which has already become a widely consulted, industry standard. The guide, which we plan to update in 2020, can be downloaded for free from our website.
2. DEVELOPMENT FUNDING
The development committee works to: educate the field about the significance of funding development in the filmmaking process; raise awareness about the implications of development funding shortages on filmmaker career sustainability and diversity; and advocate for increased development resources on filmmaker-friendly terms that are accessible to producers.
3. INCLUSION AND STRUCTURAL EQUALITY
The inclusion and structural equality committee seeks to: promote dialogue and actions that create authentically inclusive productions; collaborate with groups and organizations already working to support filmmakers from under-represented groups; create resources and materials to guide and inform our colleagues on the meaning and importance of authentic inclusivity; and encourage and support upcoming filmmakers from all backgrounds to become producers through mentoring and guidance.
4. LABOR AND ECONOMIC SUSTAINABILITY
DPA Producers want to make great work and earn a living wage that allows them to have long-term, sustainable careers and afford comprehensive health insurance. The labor and economic sustainability committee is exploring concrete pathways to achieve these goals on both an individual freelancer level and a larger industry scale.
The operations committee oversees the DPA membership and communications, including the DPA website and social media channels. The committee also manages the relationship with the organization's fiscal sponsor.
6. REGIONAL COMMITTEE
DPA membership traverses the entire US as well as seven international countries. The regional committee creates a supportive community and opportunities for producers in and out of the major cities to share resources, build coalitions, and highlight region-specific needs to the wider industry.
7. RESEARCH AND DATA
The research and data committee designs, collects, and analyzes research and data about the realities for DPA members, our careers, and our industry. Working on long-term projects, as well as in response to immediate needs, we collect both anecdotal evidence and hard numbers to support the DPA in advancing its advocacy.
The waterfall committee is working to identify best practices for financing structures, provide transparency for filmmakers and investors alike, and support increased fairness for all involved. While the committee intended to release its DPA Guidelines for the Documentary Waterfall in Spring 2020, that release is now on hold.