Nick Broomfield has made almost 30 films in his 40-year career, including Kurt & Courtney, Biggie & Tupac and Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer. A recipient of the BAFTA Lifetime Achievement Award for Contribution to Documentary, Nick – whose latest film is Sarah Palin: You Betcha! – told Tom Seymour about editing until 5am and persistence paying off...
Sarah Palin: You Betcha! raised over $30,000 on the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter. How did you manage that?
We found that, for a while, we were sat around twiddling our thumbs and looking at the screen, so we ended up calling friends and contacts and people who have an interest in politics and talking to them about the film, and that was really how we made the Kickstarter contribution work. You have to get the ball rolling yourself. The film captured people’s imagination and I think it provided some useful information at a particular time in American politics when people were looking for answers about the evangelical right, which Sarah Palin embodies and which has taken centre stage in American politics. It gives light in understanding that.
What makes a good documentary filmmaker?
A good documentary filmmaker needs to have a sixth sense of what’s really going on. They need to find the story. I think too many people sit someone in front of the camera for an interview, and just use filler in between. That’s how they construct the whole film, and that’s something that documentary has evolved past. When documentaries became portable, it opened up a whole vista of possibilities that haven’t by any means been exhausted, but it’s safer to make a more conventional film that you know is going to come in on time and budget. The other films are much more of a contribution to the culture we live in and the people we are, rather than these staid and constructed films.
What’s your advice to someone who wants to make a career out of making documentaries?
A lot of being a documentarian is about being persistent, and making sure you realise your vision. It’s said a lot that you have to get a camera and go and shoot something, and don’t wait for money to come in your direction. That’s true, because it’s really the persistence and the need to try and tell a story in a particular way that will enable you to work in a world that is really very demanding, and where a lot of people are trying to do the same thing. You have to go on and on to be successful, so my advice is to discover as quickly as possible whether this is the right career for you by going out and making something.
What advice would you give the Nick Broomfield making his first film, Who Cares, in 1971?
I remember making that film... I was hiring an editing room in Soho, which I was using between 8pm until 5am in the morning. I was never seeing my girlfriend – we eventually broke up – and I was basically a ragged mess. I met a highly esteemed filmmaker there called Sir Arthur Elton, and I forced him to sit down and watched the film with me, which was in pieces and all over the editing room at the time. He said to me, “I think it’s going to be a great film, but don’t die for it.” I managed to laugh at the time, but I was completely exhausted. That’s what I’d remind myself; there’s more to life than cinema.
Sarah Palin: You Betcha! is out now on DVD.
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