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    Is doc length relevant anymore?
    #1
    Senior Member egproductions's Avatar
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    I'm working on my first real documentary (a personal project) and trying to figure out what length I should target. I've felt latley that length should be dictated by the story and the flow. Is this something I shouldn't worry about? If I wanted to try to sell it in the future does it matter if it's 20 minute, 30 minutes or 60 minutes?

    Thanks!
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    Make the film the length it needs to be so it's as good as possible. If you succeed, then if nothing else, you'll have an easier time getting funding to make another film.

    Here's a nice article from The Guardian's Charlie Phillips, commissioning editor for documentaries. They release about one really nice short doc each month. From the article, you can tell that he likes short docs of just about any length (and he pays).

    From Rabbit Hunt to Edith+Eddie, why short documentaries are booming
    The most innovative factual films are often under 40 minutes long – and the best of this growing genre are easy to find online
    https://www.theguardian.com/film/201...ie-rabbit-hunt

    And there's this from a while ago:

    “Shorter is Better”: Sundance Programmer Mike Plante Offers Advice on Short Film Strategy at the Sundance NEXT Festival
    https://filmmakermagazine.com/99583-...next-festival/
    Key bit for us:
    "Shorter is better, Plante assured, because a film that’s less than ten minutes has double the chances of being programmed; however, he confirmed the average length of the shorts submitted to Sundance is 12 minutes. Anything that goes over 15 minutes must be especially impressive in order to beat out other films that could play in that time. For Plante the problem with many longer short films is that “you start introducing plot points, characters, and a feeling like you are watching a feature… and then you gotta end the film. Almost always something about the plot is unfulfilled, or something about the characters is starting to grow, and then the film ends. Don’t try to do a mini feature."

    On the other hand...

    Two Standouts Among the 2018 Oscar-Nominated Documentary Shorts
    https://www.newyorker.com/culture/ri...mentary-shorts
    Nut graph for our conversation:
    "Every winner this century has run longer than a half hour; all but a handful are thirty-nine or forty minutes long. All five of this year’s Documentary Short Subjects run at least twenty-nine minutes; two run forty, and they aren’t really shorts but featurettes that are both so ample in their subjects and so detailed in their presentation that they seem almost like conventional-length features that have been virtually fast-forwarded for short-subject consideration."


    I'm working on a short doc right now that'll probably end up a bit over 20 minutes. Still shooting (it's an observed doc), so we'll see. Also a hired-hand on a couple other short docs...one's looking to be about 12 minutes, the other perhaps 40 (with a 52-minute "TV hour" cut possible if it doesn't end up being too padded out). Hope for sales, or at least significant money from sales, is minimal. These are all grant driven.

    Hope this helps!
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    Jim Feeley
    POV Media


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    Senior Member egproductions's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Feeley View Post
    Hope this helps!
    More than you know, thank you!
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    Senior Member scorsesefan's Avatar
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    I agree with Jim. Just make the best film you can and at any organic length it turns out. If you do get a distributor they may ask you to re-time it (usually cut down) but until then IMO it's fruitless to place an arbitrary length on your film based on hypotheticals (be it distributor, audience, etc.)

    BTW I've had two doc projects picked up by distributors and neither of them asked me to change one frame of the films


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    Senior Member jamedia.uk's Avatar
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    I had the same question and asked in a real face to face networking event.... I know , real people and no internet! :-)

    The general feeling (this was three UK national TV people ) was that if anything length of online programs need to be shorter than broadcast ones. Whilst people will sit down to "watch TV" in the living room and on a large TV and will still watch a 30, 45, 60 minute non-fiction program a lot of people are watching online on smaller screens and generally have a shorter attention span.

    The shorter attention span also seems to be slowly spilling over in to into broadcast TV as those brought up on on-line and smart phones increase and those used to traditional TV grow fewer in number.

    So make it as long as it needs to be but if at any point it coasts, has padding, looses direction, pace etc etc you will loose the audience far faster than you would in the past. People like a sprint not a marathon.

    So it all comes down to the story telling and editing to hold an audience. But you knew that anyway :-)


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    Senior Member Kindredmachine's Avatar
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    We do productions for retail, distributors and broadcast and yes, length matters. If you’re going for short broadcast, aim for 23 minutes for a half hour slot or 46 minutes for a one hour slot (this accounts for commercials). If you’re going for theaters / DVD / Digital etc then to provide the perception of value you should at least hit 80 minutes. Of you’re going through a distributor to pitch networks like Netflix for lisencing then good luck - they’re moving away from indie docs in a big way. Our last documentary which was #1 on Amazon last year and broadcast worldwide on DayStar TV was 100 minutes.
    Last edited by Kindredmachine; 09-20-2018 at 09:57 PM.
    Brent Miller Jr.
    Executive Director, Ingenuity Films LLC
    www.IngenuityFilms.com

    Coming Soon From Ingenuity Films:


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    Senior Member puredrifting's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kindredmachine View Post
    ...Of you’re going through a distributor to pitch networks like Netflix for lisencing then good luck - they’re moving away from indie docs in a big way. Our last documentary which was #1 on Amazon last year and broadcast worldwide on DayStar TV was 100 minutes.
    Do you have any links to substantiate this Netflix trend? This is exactly what we are doing with our feature length documentary along with Hulu and Amazon. We will be ready to sell by late Spring or early Summer of 2019. Last I had heard, Netflix was snapping up feature documentaries at an alarmingly rapid pace, but things often change in this business. We are cutting our feature documentary but will also be cutting up several sub stories in 3-10 minute segments, planning on distribution for plane seat backs, hotels, retail establishments, etc. through distributors and buyers like Banijay Intl. hopefully. Our subject matter is a bit unusual, sports oriented, visually interesting and would have large appeal to women and girls. Fingers crossed.
    It's a business first and a creative outlet second.
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