“It Exposed Me To What Funding Was Like in Canada”: How The Breakthrough Program Can Help Your Career

In 2016, Lisa Rideout embarked on the Breakthrough Program with her project Act Three. Her film Take A Walk on the Wildside evolved out of feedback from the program. A short year later, it was premiering at the prestigious Hot Docs Film Festival. The film, which scored a BravoFactual grant, is still travelling on its festival tour. Its most recent stop was the Austin Film Festival, where it landed on the shortlist for Best Short Doc. We spoke to Lisa about short films, what she’s up to right now, and how Breakthrough changed her career.

What are you working on right now?

I’m in post-production on a short documentary, One Leg In, One Leg Out, for CBC Digital. It’s about a sex worker going back to school to become a social worker. I’m also pitching another short doc and working on a short narrative script right now. A lot of shorts.


Why shorts?

A huge takeaway for me from the Breakthrough Program was how challenging it is to get a feature documentary funded. And not just funding, but what sort of story elements you need to sustain a feature-length documentary. It made me realize that I did not have those elements in the project I was pitching.

Breakthrough made me take a step back and view shorts as more manageable in terms of funding and finishing a film. Through shorts, I’ve been able to develop my voice and style. Which has been so important for me, career-wise.

How did Breakthrough help with your pitching process?

I saw the difference between projects that were pitched with visual materials and projects that were not. Especially at an early stage in your career, you need to have visual material along with a pitch. And that’s helped me to secure funding.

Because we were going into Hot Docs, I remember that some of the advice was about how not to pitch people. That’s important. Don’t pitch people when it’s not the right time. Have conversations with them. Don’t always try to sell your film — you have to build these relationships with broadcasters.

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Any suggestions for filmmakers breaking into documentary? 

Look for experience outside of documentary. Some of the most valuable experience I’ve had is on narrative film sets. It showed me the value of a team, which can often be lost in documentary.

Seek out team members. When you’re just starting out, you need to pair with a strong producer. It’s great to find people who fill in your knowledge gaps and bring collaboration and talent to your film.

How did Breakthrough help you career-wise?

It exposed me to what funding is like in Canada. It’s so rare to speak to almost everyone who’s likely going to fund your work over the course of a few weeks, to perfect a pitch, and get feedback from some of the most important people in documentary. I can’t say enough good things.

To apply for the 2018 Breakthrough program, click here. Application deadline is December 5, 2017.