Great Advice From 20 Award-Winning Documentary Filmmakers


Documentary filmmakers are some of cinema’s greatest artists, but so rarely is a lens turned toward them. That’s why Jessica Edwards sought out some of the greatest documentarians of our time for her new book, Tell Me Something: Documentary Filmmakers, which includes portraits of bold-faced names like Martin Scorsese, Errol Morris, Barbara Kopple, and Michael Moore. Not only do the filmmakers allow themselves to be the subjects for a change, they also give advice to aspiring artists on how they’ve completed their famous and influential work. After the jump, check out a selection of the portraits included in the book, as well as a piece advice from each filmmaker.

Photo credit: Jessica Sample

“Create your own mythology.” —Brett Morgen

Photo credit: Mauricio Gonzalez

“Documentary is fishing, whereas fiction is hunting” —Luis Ospina

Photo credit: Graham MacIndoe

“One of the greatest things a person can do is change his mind.” — Eugene Jarecki

Photo credit: Greg Jacobs

“Act on light bulb moments — they don’t happen very often.” —Marina Zenovich

Photo credit: Jon Pack

“When you go to people for advice, expect the worst.” —Errol Morris

Photo credit: Johan Rutherhagen

“An ambitious failure is preferable to a mediocre success.” —James Marsh

Photo credit: Gary Howe

“The first rule of making a documentary is, don’t make a documentary. Make a movie.” —Michael Moore

Photo credit: Jessica Sample

“In documentary, you always miss 99% of everything you think you need.” —Lucy Walker

Photo credit: Andrew Walker

“Always listen to your instinct and always follow your heart.” —Barbara Kopple

Photo credit: Alejandro Rojas

“Make a film you really care about.” —Kim Longinotto

Photo credit: Jessica Yu

“Fifteen minutes before screening your rough cut for the first time, pour a glass of wine.” —Jessica Yu

Photo credit: Jon Pack

“Do what you say you are going to do.” —Morgan Spurlock

Photo credit: Rommel Demano

“Enjoy the journey.” —Stanley Nelson, Jr.

Photo credit: Gary Hustwit

“There are three kinds of documentaries about current events: an emphatic examination of life, a journalistic inquiry, and advocacy. It is very important to know which you are doing and not to blur the important lines between them.” —Sebastian Junger

Photo credit: Brigitte Lacombe

“The only thing you need to make a film is to not be afraid of anybody or anything.” —Martin Scorcese

Photo credit: Alejandro Rojas

“Question why you want to work with people and choose your collaborations carefully.” —Eva Weber

Photo credit: Aleysa Young

“If you want to make documentary films, do yoga.” —Ron Mann

Photo credit: Jon Pack

“Authenticity is at the core of good documentary.” —Albert Maysles

Photo credit: Sally Montana

“Longevity is the toughest filmmaking challenge.” —Shola Lynch

Photo credit: Greg Jacobs

“Ultimately, it’s not about you. It’s about your story.” —Doug Pray