Investing in Your Film’s Digital Component

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A trusted partner can help navigate the funding landscape

I’ll admit it, I’m not only a computer nerd, I’m also a media nerd. Graduating from Concordia University with a degree in Communication Studies, I had the opportunity to spend a solid 3 years consuming and thinking about as much media as possible. So whenever given the chance, I’ve gone out of my way to work on media, and especially documentary projects, which some people consider Canada’s official art form.

Plank helped Michael Moore – America’s favourite film renegade – to connect with his audience and take full advantage of online tools for political engagement. 

My love of documentary very quickly became Plank’s love. Soon after we founded the company, we found ourselves working with one of the most important documentary filmmakers, Michael Moore. That 8-year-long working relationship made me go “all-in” on docs and I’ve been attending Hot Docs in Toronto every year since 2010. Since then Plank has also had the opportunity to work on the digital companions projects for three other documentary films; Last Woman Standing, One Sweet App and Celtic Soul.

A changing landscape

Over all this time, I’ve seen the landscape of the documentary world change enormously. Early documentary film websites had the primary goal of driving audiences to screenings. Once the CRTC and the Government of Canada began supporting the development of digital companions and projects, the type of work began to evolve into vehicles of creative expression and storytelling. Currently, the best and most interesting digital platforms are the ones that stand on their own by finding a unique way to complement the original documentary film. While there are still many digital projects that are mainly social media or marketing focussed, there are lots of interesting projects that are being funded and supported by the Canadian Media Fund, various broadcaster funds and other alternative avenues to funding.

The funding conundrum

Whenever I’m asked about the types of projects that we work on and I say “documentaries” I usually get a sly little wink and the inevitable question, “How do you make any money on that?” The answer is simple; thanks to the funding system mandated by the Canadian Government, documentary filmmakers have an opportunity to make a living. While for some the traditional funding heyday is long past, those that do get funded will see the time of day. Now that a digital component is an important (and in most cases a mandatory) part of any film’s plan, when we get involved in helping to develop a funded project, we can be fairly compensated for our work.

While money isn’t the driving factor for passionate storytellers, the past decade has obviously been harder for them. As cultural funding was deprioritized by recent federal governments, many filmmakers felt abandoned and despondent. Encouraged to look at alternative funding models many found themselves looking towards crowdsourcing, foundations and even private / corporate investment. Luckily, this trend is currently moving in the other direction with new government priorities, especially with Heritage Canada’s bullish attitude to digital.

Don’t let digital be an afterthought

We realise that the current situation is not rosy for all documentary filmmakers. There are many times that I’ve had discussions with artists who consider it a distraction that they are expected to invest time, money and effort to digital. I understand this — as a filmmaker, they want to focus on making their films. As a result, digital becomes an afterthought rather than an essential part of the plan. In this situation, the digital partner is usually only brought on at the last minute, not integrated into the whole project and seen as a supplier and not a creative partner.

In this scenario, the project is destined to be average at best and at worst, a failure.

This situation can also be made more tenuous when funders’ expectations don’t line up with those of filmmakers, commissioners and broadcasters. While organisations like the CMF can make substantial funds available for the development of digital projects, there are times when we’ve seen broadcaster not willing to invest even a tiny part of their triggering funds, which hampers the quality and success of the project. 

Early investment with a trusted partner

It’s because of these key issues that we want to get involved very early on in the development of any project. By investing ourselves right at the beginning of the process as a creative partner, we can use our expertise and experience to shape a project that will meet the criteria to garner serious interest from the broadcast partner. By working with you on funding applications, we can help to increase your project’s chance of success. We understand digital and want to help to craft a project outline that serves your film and broadens your audience. 

This means that we only get involved with projects and teams that we believe in. Our investment into any project will be deep and vast, so as a result we only select a few projects that we know our team will enjoy working on over the multi-year development cycle. By taking a selective approach, we can be sure that our work will be of the highest quality, and that the project will be a success.

So here’s the deal.

We are a creative team that is excited about developing digital documentary projects. We have experience not only developing these types of projects but also in helping to get them funded. Our goal is to find projects that we can be passionate about and do the best work possible. 

If that sounds like your project, we encourage you to reach out. We’d love to hear from you.