Doc Researcher?Complications Ensue
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Friday, October 03, 2008

Q. I would love to do background research and write scripts for documentaries. I would be more at ease with historical, scientific or nature-related topics.

1) Do I need to go to a film school for that? Or are my training in the history of science and my experience as a freelance journalist enough to start working on a project?

2) Where should I start? Where are the producers looking for researchers/writers for that type of docs?

3) If I limit myself to this genre, could I make a living out of it?
I certainly wouldn't go to film school to learn to research docs. I have major doubts about the value of film school. (See my many posts in this department.) But research is a skill you learn by doing it. If you've been to college, you ought to know how to do research. Especially if you've made a living as a journalist.

There isn't a hell of a lot of money in docs. Many people working in docs are their own research. And their own director, writer, producer, financier and driver.

There are companies that hire researchers from time to time. See who's doing e.g. wildlife series for Discovery Channel, find their production company contact info and call them up.

But it's not high paid work. There are too many really smart people already working as professional researchers; it keeps the pay down.

Showbiz is an entrepreneurial business. Much of the work you get, you have to create for yourself. That goes for screenwriting, and it goes for research too, I'm afraid. You may need to finance and shoot your own doc in order to pay yourself for the research.



In my experience...

1) No, no need for film school. Most full time researchers come from Humanities backgrounds, mostly English and Anthropology.

2) Doc production companies are everywhere, but almost uniformly tiny. Few can afford someone to do research exclusively, so you'll have to be game for more diverse duties. Also, be warned that jobs at smaller outfits are brief and sporadic. The bigger operations DO have full time research departments and do actually hire occasionally. Most of these are in Washington, DC - New York - and LA in that order. You would need to be local. In all cases, call them up, ask for the research group and ask if they're hiring or if you can pass along a resume.

3) At the bigger companies you can make a decent living as a researcher, but there's little upward mobility. Nobody is in doc for the riches and glory, but you can probably make enough to live comfortably.

By Blogger Owen, at 6:05 PM  


By Blogger SolShine7, at 6:23 PM  

Whoops, I meant to put that comment on the McCain post. Somehow it ended up on here.

By Blogger SolShine7, at 6:51 PM  

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