Results of our latest Cost of Docs survey

In addition to our work in funding and supporting emerging talent, here at The Whickers we seek to be a champion for documentary makers globally and to amplify their voices in the industry as a whole. The initial aim of our first annual Cost of Docs survey, back in 2016, was to ensure that our main funding award of £80,000 was still the game-changing amount that we wanted it to be. This year, however, we have added new questions on role and gender, respondents’ experience of the funding application process, pitching and crowdfunding, and the hopes and fears of UK filmmakers around Brexit.

Our third annual survey is our most comprehensive and international dive into the lived reality of documentary filmmaking so far. Carried out between the beginning of December 2018 and mid-January 2019, in association with Sheffield Doc/Fest, this unique insight reveals the passion, pain points and increasing challenges facing this specialist sector of film production.

Download the 2018/2019 Cost of Docs Report

Who responded:

  • those who have worked less than five years in the industry (53%)
  • 72% aged between 25 and 44
  • 89% of whom are either currently working on a documentary or have worked on one in the last two years
  • twice as many women as men (62% cf 35%)
  • 63% of respondents based in the UK and the remainder based in a range of countries including Serbia, Portugal, India, Indonesia, Vietnam, the US, Canada, Chile, Kenya, the Philippines, Georgia, Martinique, Uganda, Qatar and Italy.

Key findings:

  • Funding remains the most significant challenge
  • 32% rely on savings to support themselves whilst making documentaries (page 8)
  • 30% rely on financial support from family and friends (page 8)
  • 39% rely on freelancing on other projects (page 8)
  • 71% felt they had not been paid what they consider an appropriate wage on their most recent documentary (page 11)
  • 36% of respondents had never applied for funding for a documentary (page 13)
  • Of those who did apply, 19% did not receive any funding and 11% of respondents received less than £10,000 (page 14)
  • The average time spent on a funding application is 8 days (page 15)
  • Just 19% of respondents had ever used a crowdfunding site to raise finance for their documentary (page 16)

“Budgets from broadcasters are becoming increasingly tight – leading to unrealistic schedules and unhappy teams, desperately scrambling to make something unachievable and sacrificing their personal lives in the process.”

  • The majority of documentary makers are not investing in formal training
  • 52% of respondents claim to be self-taught (page 5)
  • Only 26% attended a short course on documentary (page 5)
  • 32% had obtained a postgraduate documentary qualification (page 5)
  • Each year we ask which costs are rising and which are falling or staying the same. In 11 of 18 categories, respondents claim that costs have increased.
  • Rising costs include archive (32%), attending pitches and film festivals (51%) and post production costs (36%) (page 22)
  • Another big surprise is the percentage of respondents making documentaries for TV has increased, 52% this year compared to 42% in 2017 (page 6)
  • 61% made documentary films for online, compared to 39% in 2017 (page 6)
  • 46% of respondents had worked on a documentary that has been broadcast on TV (page 17)
  • 12% had worked on a documentary that had found an audience online (page 17)
  • Unsurprisingly, Brexit was a hot topic for UK-based respondents with 20% fearing an end of access to European funding as a result.
  • The second biggest concern for UK-based respondents, at 14%, was that travel could become more difficult (page 29) 

On Brexit: “I’m concerned about freedom of travel, ability to work with cross-border crews and rising costs. The effect will be massive and hugely problematic.”

And finally, the all-important question of why, despite all of the challenges, filmmakers continue to want to make documentaries. The overriding responses fell into five main camps, with significant overlap between them: passion for storytelling, self-expression, the search for truth, curiosity and social justice.

Artistic Director at The Whickers, Jane Ray, said of this year’s survey: “I am grateful that in increasingly busy and stressful lives so many independent documentary makers have given such time and thought to this survey. Mulling over the results it is sobering to realise that the pressure in this industry to produce ‘more for less’ is intensifying. When respondents claim to be cutting back on frivolities such as “food” and “accommodation” (page 23 of the report) to complete their films one wonders if, without more sustainable funding models, we are going to lose the essential range and diversity of real stories that engage viewers in experiencing our world and what it truly is to be human.”

Download the 2018/2019 Cost of Docs Report

This report was written and designed by Phoebe Hall and Jane Ray.