April 10, 2014 · Tips & Insights

5 Tips for Filmmakers from the Director of “Life Itself”


How to Run a Successful Crowdfunding Campaign Google Hangout Series
Guest author Amanda Connon-Unda is a writer, cross-platform creator and communicator in Toronto covering all things crowdfunding in Canada. Follow the latest at @indiegogoCA.

For over six years, filmmakers across the globe have used Indiegogo to fund some of the hottest new documentaries. These stories touch on the ideas, issues, and people that matter to the world. Life Itself, a feature documentary based on the life of movie critic Roger Ebert, is no exception. Directed by legendary documentary filmmaker Steve James, Life Itself raised more than $150,000 from over 1,600 contributors for its completion funds after Ebert’s death.

In partnership with Indiegogo, The Documentary Organization of Canada (DOC) hosted Steve James for a Masterclass, where he spoke with film producers about his seminal documentaries Hoop Dreams and The Interrupters, as well as Life Itself. The Toronto audience also saw a sneak peek of the film that Indiegogo contributors had exclusive access to during its Sundance premiere.


The Q & A with Steve James featured helpful advice for filmmakers, including these five tips:

1. Documentary filmmaking is a collaborative process

James talked about the power of the collaborative process of documentaries and the importance of letting your subjects trust you enough to reveal the sometimes painful or awkward moments of their lives.

2. Build trust first, film later

You won’t get the access you need if you don’t build trust with your subjects. Building trust is an ongoing process, and the farther along you are in filming, the more you’ll need it.

3. Respect your subject’s decisions

It’s important you acknowledge your subjects are equal participants in the filming process. The late Roger Ebert trusted James when he let him film some of the last weeks of his life, but he also told James when to stop the camera.

4. Let your subjects reveal important larger stories

Like other great documentaries, Life Itself is not only about one remarkable man’s life, it also speaks to an emotional passage we’ll all go through.

5. Consider crowdfunding as a part of your launch strategy

Life Itself, among other documentaries, benefited greatly from crowdfunding. It’s a genre that deserves support at a time when partnerships and grant money are in short supply. In many ways, documentaries and crowdfunding seem a natural fit: not only do documentarians engage communities throughout production, they also gain valuable feedback on their work.

For more information, check out this earlier blog post detailing the campaign.