Roles & Participation

This section covers editorial control, the input process, as well as the real-life contingencies of documentary filmmaking. Editorial control is one of the most contentious issues in relationships between filmmakers and funders. Who has what kinds of control over what gets in the film and how those decisions are made is the topic of this section.

Both parties have understandably strong interests. Filmmakers work passionately on their films for a long time and often for little pay, and editorial control may be a “deal breaker.” Funders want to invest every dollar to maximum effect, and leaving editorial control to a filmmaker who may or may not share their goals feels like an awfully big risk. There are two extremes when it comes to editorial control—either the funder or the filmmaker has final say over what goes into a film.

This section of the Prenups is for people in between those extremes or who have not yet defined what their collaboration will look like. In addition, this section covers some of the real-life changes that happen in cinema verité documentary, when film subjects’ lives can change unexpectedly. Filmmakers are used to the notion that they follow a story rather than direct it. That prospect might not be so comfortable for a funder who wants a film to go in a particular direction or make a certain point.

It’s these real-life questions that funders and filmmakers should discuss:

•  What does each party want in terms of editorial control and input? What arrangement would benefit the project, and how and why?
•  What other funders are there, and what sort of control or input do they expect to have?

•  Who has “final cut” or final editorial control? Does more than one party have sign-off on the final cut?

•  What kinds of input can the funder give? For example, input on who is in the film, what issues are covered or the style of the film?

•  Under what conditions, if any, should the filmmaker have to accept the funder’s input?

•  At what points exactly should funders have a chance to review a film?

•  Who gives the input—the funder himself, an intermediary representing the funder or a committee?
•  Do the subjects of the film—whether individuals or institutions—have any editorial control or input, and if so, how does this affect the filmmaker-funder relationship?

•  What possible changes in the subjects’ lives might the filmmaker anticipate? How might those changes affect the characters, story, schedule and budget?

•  What if a subject turns out to be not very interesting or sympathetic??
•  How comfortable does each party feel about the changes they anticipate might occur?

Share Your Perspective
Tell us about your own thoughts and experiences in dealing with the issues raised in the Prenups.

The Prenups are a work-in-progress and need your input! Did we miss an important question? Did you have a great collaboration you want to tell us about? Or do you believe that all independent films need heat-proof editorial firewalls to protect the filmmaker?

Let us know—we may ask your permission to publish your perspectives, either attributed or anonymously. (You decide.)