Challenges for Freelance Documentary Filmmakers in Today’s Market

The findings of a survey authored by Whicker’s World Foundation and launched by Sheffield Doc/Fest and the European Documentary Network in January 2016 are released today.

191 documentary makers responded to the survey, which aimed to find out the cost of making a documentary at today’s prices, and specifically how far the Foundation’s top funding award of £80,000 would go in the current market.

We’d like to thank everyone who took part in the survey. In a climate where funding for documentaries is often scarce and in decline, these findings provide insight into the financial challenges faced by documentary filmmakers. The lack of funding, particularly for emerging documentary filmmakers, means that many in the field work primarily for the passion or experience. We look forward to seeing how much an impact Alan’s legacy will have on emerging talent.

Of the respondents, 75% had made a documentary in the last two years, and pointed up a number of cost pressures.

87% of the documentarians surveyed felt they were not paid enough to recover their costs.

27% of respondents said that if they had been paid for each unpaid day of film production on their latest project, their final salary would have been over £60,000.  In spite of this the majority were prepared to work for little or no pay, even those with more than 30 years’ experience.

Results showed that filmmakers were taking an average of 425 days to make a documentary film, with the cost averaging out at approximately £116,000.

The most rapidly escalating budgetary hurdle identified by respondents was the price of archive footage and music rights.

When asking respondents to summarise what £80,000 could do for them the majority of respondents suggested they could deliver a feature length, locally made documentary for this amount in today’s climate.

One respondent noted, “As far as final product, £80,000 would get you a verité, observational doc with no archival material and limited music, where the filmmaker does all the editing and shooting herself. But for my current film, which does have archival footage and music and travel costs, £80,000 would provide for either all the shooting/travel/production costs, or a sizeable chunk of post-production. It would make a huge difference for the film but would certainly not cover all of our expenses or payroll.

Another seasoned documentary maker said “Documentary makers often pay others on their crew when they don’t pay themselves”

A number of respondents noted that funding is more easily accessed by established filmmakers and producers while less is invested in emerging filmmakers.

Liz McIntyre CEO & Festival Director of Sheffield Doc/Fest said of the findings, “It is clear that for the documentary art form to have a sustainable and brilliant future, the industry as a whole needs to consider how new and emerging talent is supported and enabled. These are themes which we at Doc/Fest are acutely aware of and will continue to champion and contribute to with results based solutions, like this important partnership with the Whicker’s World Foundation.”

Jane Ray, Artistic Director of Whicker’s World Foundation said: “I was shocked to realise that so many, 9 out of 10, are either chronically underpaid or apparently in a position to make documentaries without needing to pull a wage. Neither scenario strikes me as healthy for the future of documentary, but it does make me more grateful than ever for Alan Whicker’s legacy and the fact that we are going to be able to do something tangible to fund something so crucial to a free society”.

Submissions for the Whicker’s World Funding Award have been extended and will remain open until 14 February 2016. Applications may be made via the website:


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