Documentary Producer  What They Do

Just the Facts

Insider Info

dotA documentary producer is the person who makes a documentary film happen. The producer may have to act as a manager, a financier, a visionary and an entrepreneur. Sometimes they're directors, cinematographers and writers. These are the people in charge of all aspects of making a documentary film.

dotGenerating the money to make a film is one of the most important parts of a documentary producer's job. The producer has to secure all the funding for the movie, hire all the people needed and make sure the project is finished on time and without going over budget.

"Being a producer means you have to do everything if you want to see the project through," says Christine Venegas. She is a documentary producer in Los Angeles. "Most documentaries are done on a shoestring budget, and you wear many hats in the course of the project."

dotMoney doesn't come easy in this type of film producing. Because documentaries are almost never big commercial successes, finding funding for them can be tough work.

Producers can expect to spend a great deal of their time getting the finances for their film from individual donors, foundations and federal and state film agencies.

"You have to have perseverance," says award-winning documentary producer Alexis Krasilovsky. "I know one filmmaker who spent seven years raising the money for her film."

dotThe job involves a lot of responsibility. Anything that goes wrong during the making of a film -- running out of money, conflicts between staff members or even the uncontrollable situations that come with filming nature documentaries -- eventually involves the producer.

dotDepending on what kind of work they're doing, documentary producers may be required to travel to work on their project. The hours can be long and the work can be intense.

"When I'm making a film, I live with it 20 hours a day," says Krasilovsky. "It takes over my life."

dotIn addition to all their other duties, producers must also keep afloat in what is often a sea of paperwork. Producers handle all the business details. And they're often kept busy with grant and funding applications, accounting and other paperwork.

dotOnce the paperwork is done, producers get to be involved in the creative process. In fact, in small, low-budget documentary companies, the producer is often also the director. It will continue to be common for producers to wear a lot of different hats. With arts funding drying up, they are being forced to do more with less to get their films made.

At a Glance

Put life and events on film

  • Finding funding can be tough work
  • You'll deal with anything that goes wrong during filming
  • A college or university film studies program is your best ticket