Film Production: Clive Patterson on how to become a documentarian

Our Film Production students got the opportunity to meet Clive Patterson, award-winning documentary maker and producer, for a special masterclass about the journey from a film student to a successful film professional. It was a fantastic opportunity to ask questions about his career and projects to see how they can learn from his knowledge to make their stories as robust as possible.

“Find companies out there that are making those kinds of films, find filmmakers out there that are making those kinds of films and get in touch with them. I think it’s important not to be shy. There’s a lot of hustle out there.

My name is Clive Patterson. I’m a producer and director of documentaries. The advice I’d give to people starting out trying to become documentarians is, number one, what are you learning from this? What is it telling you about the world? What kind of perspective are you gaining by watching this documentary? How is it providing insight into the world?

For me, that’s the kind of film that I want to make. It’s the kind of film that I feel more committed to making. Locate your passion. Figure out what it is that you. What kind of stories you want to tell and why. Be assertive in your pursuit of companies, filmmakers, broadcasters that are working in that space. Don’t be annoying and don’t be like. Don’t pester them with countless emails. But people respect, understand, and admire passionate people that are willing to articulate that passion in terms of the route that people can take into the documentary world.

And whether you go for a job at a big company or whether you ply your own sort of furrow trying to make your own films, people find success through both avenues. But I do think there’s something about if you’re willing to go out there and start making your film independently, that does show an initiative and a drive, which I think is essential in the business.

You do need to understand the economics of documentaries. Where’s the money coming from? I mean, if you’ve got money just to self finance for the rest of your life, great. Most people don’t have that. So it is important to look at the ecosystem and to look at the kinds of documentaries that are getting financed and by who. If you love this type of documentary, who is funding them?

Look for your sort of top 5, 10 favorite films of that type, who funded them, and look at what they’re saying on their websites about what they’re looking for. So in that sense, on the one hand, lead with your pass option, lead with your interest, but also be clever and be strategic about the reality of financing and in some cases, how you have to adapt an idea, even if it’s a little bit to help it, give it a better chance of securing financing.”

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