Sundance and the Single Documentary Economy: The $1.3 Billion Cost of Missing Out

The documentary niche has remarkable financial scale, as measured by the films seeking selection at Sundance. Let’s assume that the average production cost of all 2,649 Sundance submissions for 2019 is $500,000. Actual budgets range from around $200,000 up to $5+ million. $500K is a conservative average. Production Cost: 2,600 documentaries were “Not Accepted” in 2019. The …

Sundance Film Festival Selections 2019: What are the Odds for Documentaries?

A Sundance Film Festival award lags only behind an Oscar nomination as a measure of success for documentarians. But what are the odds that a U.S. or international documentary will earn a slot on the program? Submissions 2,649 Documentary Features were submitted to the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, which opens on January 24: 767 were from the …


Lifetime’s Hit Docuseries Surviving R. Kelly Busts Through Our Netflix Fixation

Surviving R. Kelly is a timely reminder that a well-told docuseries can ignite a popular conversation, even if its not on Netflix. The three-night, six-hour Lifetime series features multiple women who say they were sexually abused by the singer.  Many of them were minors when they met the “Pied Piper of R&B”. Trailer: Audience Surviving R. …

Distributing Documentaries & Non-fiction Programs. A Podcast with Ludo Dufour, Off The Fence’s MD for Sales & Copro’s

Ludo Dufour is the Managing Director, Sales & Co-Productions for OFF THE FENCE, the leading independent non-fiction specialist based in Amsterdam. We connected last June in Durban at NEWF, that super-exciting African conference linking Conservation and Filmmaking. I was taken by Ludo’s presentation on the nuts and bolts of financing and distributing quality documentaries and unscripted programs. …

Letters from Baghdad: A Case Study of an Archive-based Documentary With a $1.2 Mn Budget

Letters From Baghdad is a beautiful documentary that uncovers the story of British adventurer, diplomat and Arabist, Gertrude Bell. (Republished December 11, 2018 to mark the PBS premiere. Original publication: 6/6/2017) Filmmakers Zeva Oelbaum and Sabine Krayenbühl reveal the struggles of a brilliant, lone woman in an all-male world. Their research uncovered a largely forgotten but mesmerizing film …

The Development History of NATIVE AMERICA, a $3-4 million Signature PBS Series. A Case Study

NATIVE AMERICA is a premium PBS series that explores the world created by America’s first peoples. It describes their foundational belief systems that synthesize science and spirituality. The 4-part series captures the incredible diversity of the expressions of these beliefs across North, Central and South America. Providence Pictures’ President and Executive Producer/Director, Gary Glassman was preparing …