Industry / Market - UK
Industry Report: Documentary
The fifth The Whickers’ Cost of Docs Survey published
The latest edition of the survey finds that the cost of documentary making continues to rise, leading many to “cut corners” but far fewer to compromise on editing costs
The fifth edition of The Whickers’ Cost of Docs Survey, compiled in partnership with Sheffield DocFest, is finally out. The result of months of research and analysis, the document looks specifically at the changing landscape for documentary makers in the UK and internationally.
On this occasion, the survey was completed anonymously by 169 self-selecting documentary makers. 62% of them have worked for less than ten years in the industry, and 55% are aged 25-44. 83% are either currently working on a documentary or have worked on one in the last two years.
49% of the respondents are based outside of the UK, from a range of countries including Kenya, Afghanistan, Sweden, Ghana, Australia, South Africa and India. 36% are white British/Irish, 29% BAME and 12% marked as “other white”. The participants filled in the survey before the war in Ukraine and the ongoing energy crisis.
In detail, the document highlights three key findings. Firstly, the cost of documentary making continues to rise, as prices have increased across all 18 categories. Travel is the cost increase cited by most respondents (65%), with production crew (61%) and post-production costs (53%) coming in in second and third place. This ongoing escalation of costs is the main reason why The Whickers has increased its top funding award from £80,000 (circa €92,000) to £100,000 (€115,000).
Secondly, increased production costs have inevitably led to corner cutting. The three most common ways of making ends meet have been to multi-task, reduce crew payments and reduce the filmmaker’s own wage. 48% have used these methods, with 16% saying they have cut down on the number of shooting days.
Nevertheless, far fewer are willing to compromise on editing costs. Only 3% have dared cut editing days, and more than 60% of filmmakers now hire in a craft editor. A few years ago, this figure stood at 39%.
Among other aspects emerging through the survey, we find that less than one-fifth of respondents (18%) believe that they have been paid fairly for the time and effort they have poured into their documentary making. However, this is not because respondents are valuing their time at a higher daily rate. The opposite appears to be true: in 2016, 26% of respondents felt that their contribution was worth a fee in excess of £60,000 (€69,000), and now that figure stands at 2%.
Speaking about the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, respondents seem to have fallen out of love with online pitching (from 57% to 13%) and prefer face-to-face meetings, with one-quarter recommending hybrid solutions.
Predictably, the report sheds light on the massive funding gaps between developing countries and the West. This year, in particular, has seen a surge in the number of failed applications, with 31% of all respondents who have applied for funding having received none whatsoever (+8%). Moreover, despite inflation and increased costs, the most common amount of funding received is below £10,000 (€11,500), and the least common is above £100,000 (€115,000).
On the topic of filming techniques, shooting footage on smartphones decreased by 6% after three years of growth, the use of high-end cinema cameras declined by 10%, and drones are now utilised by almost one-third of the respondents.
On a more positive note, 2022 has seen a boost in the number of respondents whose documentaries have found an audience on VoD platforms, in cinemas and at festivals, with only 39% of the participants saying their documentary is not available to a paying audience (as against 63% in 2020).
Written and designed by Emily Copley and Jane Ray, with additional research by Curtis Gallant, the 2021/2022 report is fully accessible here.
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