How Star Power Can Help Your Documentary
You’re passionate about making a documentary – but how can you fund it? How can you get people to see it? Even if your documentary topic has nothing to do with the entertainment industry, you can contact a celebrity and get them involved. An actor, musician, athlete, journalist or other public figure can help you secure interviews and funding; they can also help attract viewers to your movie once it’s released.
Lisa Dapolito, the director of the new documentary Love, Gilda – about Gilda Radner, the beloved Saturday Night Live star who passed away from cancer in 1989 – says that Amy Poehler was the key to getting her project off the ground.
“From the beginning, I always wanted people inspired by Gilda to be a part of the film and it was really hard to get anybody,” she told No Film School. “I finally got Amy Poehler, who was really supportive, and after that, I got everybody within three weeks. It just takes the first person to say ‘yes.'”
Don’t underestimate the power of a celebrity who is passionate about something. They can then make calls to get their friends and colleagues involved; you can also use the person’s name as you do your own recruiting. The ability to say “Amy Poehler’s involved” will lend more legitimacy and cache to your project – whether you’re looking for more interview subjects, distribution, publicity, etc.
Lisa continues: “Once I got the celebrities, David cut a really good trailer and I got into the Hot Docs Dealmaker program and had one-on-one interviews with PBS, CNN, HBO, A&E….everybody was interested. CNN then came in and gave me the money to finish the film. That’s why I was able to hire a full-time editor, an assistant editor, a supervising editor, a photo retoucher, and an animator. At that point, we had all this stuff and it’s like, ‘How are we really going to put this together?’ That part took about seven months.”
Of course, it helps that Love, Gilda is about a celebrity that other famous people know personally. And it can be hard to successfully contact a celebrity who is constantly bombarded with requests for involvement in all types of projects. So how can you break through the noise?
Use ANY contact you might have
You can try to officially contact a celebrity through their agent, manager or publicist (or an assistant to any of these people). You can often find out who represents a celebrity (and how to email or send physical mail to them) with a quick Google search. Yes, this might be a longshot – but you only need ONE person to get on board if they then reach out to their contacts.
Make your query simple and professional so that it’s easy to get through quickly; be clear about what it is that you’re looking for. Do you want to interview the celebrity? Ask them to narrate? Have them host a screening? Get them to appear in marketing materials?
Also don’t be afraid to leverage more unusual connections – perhaps a friend or relative of yours knows someone in the celebrity’s life – a neighbor, a cousin, a teacher at their kid’s school. It sounds farfetched, but these kinds of connections are made all the time. You can also try to reach out to the celebrity directly on Twitter.
You can also contact a celebrity by reaching out to famous alumni of your high school or college – being able to say “fellow wildcat here!” can break the ice and make the celebrity more likely to help. You might be able to find contact information through your school’s alumni association.
Many of these efforts may yield no results – but remember, you just need one person.
Choose an idea that will appeal to celebrities
You might want to keep star power in mind in the very beginning stages of when you brainstorm your documentary idea. Many celebrities are passionate about particular issues and causes; a little internet research will show you that Leonardo DiCaprio is passionate about environmentalism, while Ben Affleck is known for his work in the Eastern Congo and Natalie Portman has been involved with girls’ education. If you choose the right topic and find the right celebrity, it might be easier to get someone to say yes. You might also be able to contact someone through their charitable foundation.
Be creative in how you might involve a celebrity in your doc. For example, after seeing early footage of education documentary Waiting For Superman, Grammy-winning musician John Legend wrote a song for the closing credits.
“We thought, if we’re going to talk about what the civil rights issue of our time is, let’s do something to expose what’s going on in our schools,” Legend explained. Maybe you don’t have connections to an actor, but you can reach a musician, journalist, or other media professional.