Profiles & Spotlights, Student Profiles

docseed: The Documentary Sensation That’s Sweeping The Nation

Documentaries were/are the best part of high school. Your teachers turn the lights off, you eat the snacks you snuck in, and get tricked into learning. Bam! You found out that education can be fun! Super Size Me, Blackfish, Earthlings, I’ll be shocked/call you a liar if you don’t know at least one person for whom these movies changed something about the way they live their life.

The ladies of Tribe Media.

Tribe Media is a production house to enable documentary filmmakers to up their game. There’s no reason to be making amateur films when you’re at their level. Created by six 4th-year Media Production students, docseed is going to be one of the most innovative projects powered by Ryerson this school year. Dawsyn Borland, the executive producer, was able to take some time to tell me about what exactly this website was going to be.

Hi Dawsyn! How would you describe docseed in one tweet?

@docseed_org is an online hub of information designed specifically for the creative use of emerging documentary filmmakers.

Now, what’s the full story?

Through the creation of short video lectures, articles and interviews sourced from award winning industry professionals, docseed explores the minds and resources that cultivate the documentary film making industry and provides users with an intimate look as to how they can get their films off the ground.

docseed is intended for emerging documentary filmmakers between the ages of 18 and 30 that are looking for an in-depth, interactive educational non-fiction film making experience. Combining the social relevancy of “TEDx” with the youth-oriented spirit of “VICE”, and the academic principals of “Lynda.com”, docseed inspires conversation, education, instant mentorship, and practical application – all at the click of a button.

Our website will be composed of

  • Mentorship Webisodes featuring interviews with filmmakers, editors, cinematographers, entertainment lawyers and distributors, who outline imperative topics and issues within the realm of documentary filmmaking
  • Well-researched Feature Articles that cover different topics deemed as being crucial information for up-and-coming documentarians
  • Blog Posts structured around an easy-to-read format, made visible through the implementation of numerical/categorical lists and “how to” subheadings
  • Production Tutorials that will provide users with a comprehensive step-by-step video guide for filmmaking and editing techniques.
  • Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) for the user who needs the quickest and most simple answer

You’re a documentary filmmaker. What made you want to create a website for your thesis as opposed to a documentary instead?

I had taken a documentary production class in my third year of Media Production at Ryerson, and completely fell in love with the medium. But as soon as I went out into the real world and attempted to do a larger scale production on my own, I ran into so many problems that the project turned into a giant flop within a matter of months. For some reason, I couldn’t find a single resource that could help me with the problems I was encountering, like what I should have done when I felt like my subject was retreating from the project, or how I could have made my subject feel totally comfortable on camera – like they were just speaking to an old friend. There was a ton of information online that dealt with the basics of documentary filmmaking, but nothing that went in depth as to how I could truly persevere as a first-time filmmaker. That’s when docseed came into play. I realized that if I had been having that much trouble putting something together after going through a media program, there must be other aspiring documentary filmmakers who were struggling with the same thing. And sure enough, there were. After attending multiple networking and workshop events for young filmmakers at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Film Festival, it became very clear to me that I was not alone.

What are the biggest struggles you’re facing right now?

We’ve managed to film interviews with fifteen extremely influential players in the Canadian documentary industry, which has truly been an amazing experience as their credibility and insight will be essential in helping us launch our brand. But, most of these industry professionals, ranging from filmmakers, to editors and distributors, have been established in the industry for over twenty years. So, when we try to ask them to think back to what it was like for them as a first time filmmaker, it’s often been fairly difficult for them to be able to go back in that moment, and highlight the exact problems they ran into. Once we launch our platform, we hope that we can build upon the docseed brand and add to our growing list of industry professionals by interviewing esteemed filmmakers between the ages of 18-30 (our target demographic). We’re hoping to make our website as contemporary as possible, and we feel that by mixing in interviewees of different ages and experience levels, we’ll be able to help first-time documentary filmmakers in whatever capacity they require.

And the biggest rewards you’ve received from working on it?

I think that our entire production team can agree that through this project, we’ve learned SO much about what it really takes to succeed in non-fiction. Our interviewees are so passionate about the art of documentary, and that’s extremely exciting for us to see – especially, as documentaries, specifically amongst youth, are becoming more and more popular through platforms like Netflix and Docurama. It’s also been really incredible how welcoming the documentary community has been to us throughout this project. I’ve experienced the same community atmosphere at documentary festivals and conferences, but it’s an entirely different thing when you’re sitting down with someone that’s a four time Emmy Award winner, like John Kastner (director of NCR: Not Criminally Responsible and Out of Mind, Out of Sight) in an intimate setting, like his home, and asking him to share his coveted advice so he can help you get your career started. Every single person we’ve interviewed has been so open to sharing their wisdom. It’s truly been an incredible experience.

What advice would you give for an aspiring documentarian?

Don’t be afraid to screw up. When you do (which you definitely will), admit to yourself that you don’t know what you’re doing, and remind yourself that not being an expert is okay. As students, I think we get caught up in the competitive nature of university and just naturally assume that if we’re excelling in one area, we know everything about everything. Trust me, I’ve been there. But as a first time documentarian, you have to understand that you’re going to make tons of mistakes – that’s just the beauty of reality. Accept this, and learn from it. With that in mind, it’s equally important to be willing to ask for help when you need it. You have a production team for a reason! Seek additional learning opportunities when you can (books and free lectures are my go-to), and try to find someone in the industry that will allow you to use their expertise.

docseed.org will be fully launched by February 2015. If you’re a filmmaker who’s looking for some help with questions you never even knew you had, make sure to check it out! And make sure to check out their Networking event Friday, February 20th! Details here!

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