News & Notes

ScriptDC: State of Documentaries Panel Recap

By Tara Jabbari, WIFV Board Member

I was delighted to moderate the lively and informative discussion at the ScriptDC: State of Documentaries panel in early October. Speaking with experts from various backgrounds and taking questions from attendees, this virtual event brought great insight on how documentaries have evolved and continue to do so. We also touched on the panelists’ predictions that COVID-19 won’t necessarily slow projects down in the long haul and some final thoughts on the importance of networking, how content is always the key, and much more.


We began the panel asking the question, “At what stage do you approach prospects for funding?”


The panelists were in unison that while each project is its own unique story and journey, the earlier you look for funding, the better. Do not be discouraged by any “no’s” you may receive. These are conversations after all and you never know what may come of them, as Nina Gilden Seavey pointed out. Peter Hamilton recommended that you should have a check list and have a few things already marked “accomplished” before looking for funding. The checklist would include an estimation of costs needed, the story’s interesting characters and your access to them, and a concept of the core audience.


The panelists shared their unique backgrounds and how they got their start in documentary filmmaking.


Dan Salerno said he grew up when you watched documentaries as assignments from school on PBS but as he began his career, the Discovery Channel was emerging and changed the outlook of documentaries. He calls this age of streaming the “Renaissance Age of Docs” because of the many ways to access documentaries and wider variety of topics.


Deborah Riley Draper came from an advertising background where she learned how to market ideas and items and used that skill to pitch and produce her films. She encouraged the attendees to think of transferable skills from all parts of their lives to help them break into documentary filmmaking.


Peter Hamilton is from Australia and as a teacher in Melbourne in the 1970s he used documentaries to engage his students and expand their knowledge. Those experiences strengthened his interest in documentaries and he began working for Discovery when it was establishing itself. His regular attendance and conferences and markets has provided him insights from both sides of the desk.


Nina Gilden Seavey taught for more than 30 years at George Washington University and established its Documentary Center. Her students have made notable projects and teaching gave her the time to work on her own documentaries. Gilden Seavey was also a founding director of SilverDocs which became AFI Docs. She now has the opportunity to explore documentary storytelling through podcasting and her current project, MY FUGITIVE, will be released in January 2021.


The panel also addressed how has the current global pandemic effects funding and production for documentaries. The conversation ended on a rather optimistic note that in the long haul, documentaries have always found a way to be made because the content is intriguing and there is an audience yearning to learn and experience things outside their direct experiences. Diversity is often more visible in docs due to the stories being told, budgets, production flexibility, and the way they are funded, yet we all need to make a conscious effort of finding more ways to work together and provide people from diverse backgrounds more access to production and viewing. The panelists closed the panel by sharing that volunteering for film festivals and conferences are a great way to meet people, network and learn.


If you want to learn more about their upcoming projects, you can visit their websites:


Deborah Riley Draper:


Nina Gilden Seavey:


Peter Hamilton: (Be sure to sign up for his free e-newsletter!)


Dan Salerno:

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