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3 Mistakes All New Documentary Investors Make

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September 5, 2015

Investing in a documentary can be hugely rewarding and also fill you with pride when you see the production you helped fund screened on television or at the cinema. 

However, in order for the profits to roll in, you need to become involved in the right production. There is a infinite range of studios out there looking to make the next Super Size Me.
Super Size Me Stats

Budget: $65,000

US Box Office:$11,529,368

Int Box Office: $10,704,440

World Wide Sales: $22,233,808



But, how do you know what the next Super Size Me looks like? Well, before we talk about what you need to look for, you need to know that Feature Documentaries like Super Size Me, Fahrenheit 9/11 (Grossed $119M), Jackass 3D (Grossed $117M) are the film industry's equivalent to a Silicon Valley Unicorn. The affectionate reference to the mythical Unicorn emphasises just how rare these companies are.   


Unless you're a Russian Astronaut returning from a 10 year stint on the International Space Station you'll be aware of Unicorn companies such as Uber, Airbnb, Dropbox, Pinterest and Spotify. These are rarities, the tech start up sector has thousands of companies that have dive bombed into bankruptcy. There are only 80 Unicorn (net worth min $1B) companies currently with a market cap of over $1B 

The film and documentary industry is the same. One must always remember that film is a people’s business and not based on technical analysis. However, there are certain signals that even the novice film investor can look for in order to ascertain if a film has a chance of success. As a company, The Media Development Lounge will only represent a Feature Documentary production if the following three boxes are ticked. 

Signal 1: The Producer: He or she must have a proven track record of not just making films and documentaries, but must also be able to display a clear track record of creating commercially viable projects. We will not introduce a Producer to our clients who does not have the experience of commercial success within film making. If the Producer making the Feature Documentary is well known and has a robust track record of making profitable and intelligent films there is a much higher chance of the film being licensed and distributed around the world. 

Signal 2:Strong script or story: Documentaries must have a wide appeal to be commercially viable. We only take interest in studios that produce documentaries on subjects that will stand the test of time and possess a long lasting appeal to their potential audience.

Signal 3: Is there a sales process in place? Making a production that has great commercial appeal is one thing, getting it sold is another. We will only work with a studio that either has it’s own film sales department or a history of working with film sales agents such as BBC Worldwide, Fremantle etcetera. There has to be an established sales process in place before we will represent a studio. 

Always try to look at a film as if you were a Distributor! Does the film have worldwide appeal? Is there a proven Director and/or Producers involved? Does it have the right budget? And most importantly, is the story compelling? All of these elements matter and if you can put yourself in the shoes of the distributor then you are already ahead of the game.
I hope this helps and as always, if you want any assistance in learning more about investing in Feature Documentaries then click the button below and we'll talk soon. 
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Have a great day!

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Jeff Clarke
Documentary Consultant


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