Because of pressure to keep costs low, nonfiction directors and producers often don't take fees. Established documentary producer Jessica Devaney shares how she builds fees into her budgets so that she and her directors can more sustainably work as filmmakers, and why you should place monetary value on your work.
Key Insights
  • Regardless of your background (racial, class, gender, etc.), it is important that you understand your work has value. Even though it can be scary, make sure you set the expectation that you will be compensated from the approved budget, so you can continue to grow and sustain your career. 
  • Producers need to manage expectations with funders by letting them know the real costs and timelines for projects. Although everyone is trying to make more for less, you also need to protect the well-being of your creative team.
  • There are ways to cut costs on a project, but taking on an unsustainable amount of roles or not paying yourself, should not be the go-to budget solution.
  • Have a discussion with your director about giving yourself fees (even minimal amounts) over the course of the project. The fees can be paid out at different intervals (including deferment), but begin to cultivate the practice of setting expectations for yourself and your team, and then sticking to it. 
Jessica Devaney (they/she) is a Brooklyn-based producer and Founder & President of Multitude Films. Her latest films include LOWNDES COUNTY AND THE ROAD TO BLACK POWER, presented by Participant (Peacock); Emmy-nominated Netflix Original PRAY AWAY, executive produced by Ryan Murphy and Blumhouse; Oscar-shortlisted CALL CENTER BLUES (Topic Studios); and APART, a NAACP- and Emmy-nominated episode of the series THROUGH OUR EYES (HBO Max). She also produced Sundance Award-winning ALWAYS IN SEASON (Independent Lens), THE FEELING OF BEING WATCHED (POV), dubbed “a real-world conspiracy thriller” by Variety, Critics' Choice Documentary Award-nominated SPEED SISTERS (Netflix), and Peabody-nominated ROLL RED ROLL (POV, Netflix), among others. Her films have been programmed at top festivals including Sundance, SXSW, Tribeca, BlackStar, and Telluride. Jessica founded QueerDoc and was a Sundance Institute Documentary Edit and Story Lab fellow, Women at Sundance fellow, and Sundance Institute Creative Producing Lab advisor. She received DOC NYC and Topic Studios' inaugural 40 Under 40 Award, Cinereach Producers Award, and Doc10’s inaugural Vanguard Award. more...

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