Top 5 Things to Know About Being a Documentary Filmmaker

Between 2006 and 2011, documentary filmmaker Peter Richardson had two films accepted to Sundance Film Festival, among other prestigious outlets. The young filmmaker from Philomath recently took a minute from a shoot on Catalina Island to tell us his advice for budding filmmakers.

1 – Be Flexible and Enjoy the Ride

The biggest lesson I learned when making my first film, Clear Cut: The Story of Philomath, Oregon is that real life is unpredictable and may not fit your plans or story as a filmmaker, but ultimately can be far more interesting than what you originally may have envisioned.

2 – Diversify

It took me about two years to make my first documentary, and nearly four to make my second, How to Die in Oregon. Working in other areas of film, including directing commercials and acting as director of photography on other directors’ documentaries, gave me the flexibility to spend the time needed to make my own features.

3 – Be Interested

One of the most rewarding aspects of making documentaries is the opportunity to meet new people and learn about their lives. It’s a great profession if you’re naturally curious. Making a film can give you remarkable access to situations and people. Some people call it “cinematic immunity.”

4 – Learn How to Tell a Good Story

Ultimately, it really does come down to story. I think some people are born with storytelling ability, but more often than not I think this is a skill you learn over time, trial and error, and study. Before I started making documentaries, I studied fiction filmmaking, and I think the storytelling principles I learned at that time have been enormously helpful in my documentary career.

5 – Learn as Many Roles of the Filmmaking Process as Possible

If you know how to shoot, edit and light, not only will you be able to fill more roles on smaller films (your passion project documentary, for instance) but you’ll earn the respect of crew when working on bigger productions, as well, by understanding what they need in order to do their best work.