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IDFA: How DOK.Incubator Helps Documentary Filmmakers Raise Their Game

In the space of just four years, Prague-based rough-cut workshop DOK.Incubator has become a vital presence in the world of documentary filmmaking. Taking just eight projects a year, the company offers a half-year advisory service that aims to give support at a time when creative teams need it the most.

“So far we have developed 32 films,” says program coordinator Tereza Simikova. “It doesn’t sound like a lot, but one third of those films have premiered at IDFA. This year we have six films here” – festival opener “A Family Affair,” “Ukrainian Sheriffs,” “Thy Father’s Chair,” “Life Of a Butterfly” and “K2: Touching The Sky” – “and last year we had four films here, so it’s increasingly successful.

“But it’s not only IDFA. We are waiting now, anxiously, to see whether we’ll have our third film at Sundance, after ‘The Machine Which Makes Everything Disappear’ in 2013 and ‘Chuck Norris Versus Communism’ this year.”

Simikova says the idea was inspired by a conversation with the director of a major international film festival. “He used to say, ‘Look, I am getting so many potentially good films – the story’s there, there are some great characters and the film itself is kind of interesting – but there are so few really excellent films.’ So we started to think about it, and we realized that to go from good to excellent is the hardest part for a filmmaker, especially after, say, five years of working on your film. You have shot for so many years, you had an idea at the beginning, but then you got into the editing room and maybe the material was different – that’s the great thing about documentary filmmaking, because life is unpredictable. So you need to get rid of all your original constructs and ideas and find the real film, not the one that’s in your head.”

The result was DOK.Incubator, training project founded in 2011 by project manager Andrea Prenghyova in conjunction with DOK Leipzig. Says Simikova, “The intention was to make a lab that would help filmmakers in this rough-cut stage. It was the first unique workshop in Europe that actually worked during the filmmaking process. There are so many development workshops that work with the original idea and financing in the beginning, and there are distribution workshops who help you with the finished film. But when you are actually making the film, you are always alone. So we started inviting filmmakers in the rough-cut stage, when they have no money left, the energy has gone and the story has to be rebuilt from scratch, after all those years.”

Once the eight films are selected in the spring, the workshop consists of three residential sessions, all a week long and roughly two months apart. The first looks at the rough cut, the second assembles a fine cut and the third works towards locking, with an emphasis on marketing.

“This is something that distinguishes us very much from the other editing workshops,” says Prenghyova. “We include the strategy of marketing – in the broadest sense. It’s the positioning of the film in the market, what you want to say and to whom. What is unique about us is that we combine this kind of thinking about marketing as well as the editing. The first step is to find out your message: What is your film in two or three sentences? And we try to show directors that it’s the same way of thinking, it’s about dramaturgy, condensing a lot of material into a clear narrative. The poster, for example. What’s the most important thing in your film? That should be on poster! And many times after doing this, they return to the editing room and they are much better able to sharpen the story.”

Simikova agrees. “We really think you have to be active in finding your audience now,” she says. “You need to think about that as a filmmaker now. It used to be enough to make the film, but that’s only half the work now. You really need to establish your audience, find them, and give them a strong reason to see your film. That’s why we work on editing, distribution and marketing altogether.”

(Pictured: “Chuck Norris Versus Communism”)

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