Artist interview: documentary filmmaker Chris Parkhurst
I’m super excited to bring this interview to you. Chris Parkhurst is a #doclifer and the presenter of the popular podcast The Documentary Life. Read on for insight on living the documentary life and how Chris puts it all together.
Thanks for joining us Chris, can you give us your filmmaking credentials? How long have you been making documentaries? What sort of films do you make? How did you get started etc.?
Have been working in film/tv - both commercials and documentary - since 2004. Doc films have included Bombhunters (sound, editor), Journey to Kathmandu (producer, director, editor, Elvis of Cambodia (director, camera), PC594: The Art of Rebellion (camera), Born in a Ballroom (editor). Commercials and tv shows that I have worked on: Little People, Big World (camera), Best Bottle (director for episode), Nike spots, Intel spots, Glukos sports drink (DP, editor)
I make documentary films that hopefully highlight the stories of people in parts of the world many of us may never get to, in hopes of building some sort of human connection with people we may otherwise never think about.
I got started in 2004 when I was part of a two person crew shooting in Cambodia for six months on a the Fulbright, US State Dept, Sundance Documentary Fund-sponsored documentary called Bombhunters, a film that I was also later on hired to edit. After that experience in Cambodia working on that film, I knew that I wanted to do documentary, in some capacity, for the rest of my life, and that I wanted to do them in developing countries like Cambodia!
Why did you start The Documentary Life?
I started The Documentary Life podcast (www.thedocumentarylife.com) because I felt a need for documentary filmmakers around the world to be better networked. So many times, we doc filmmakers - or #doclifers as we call ourselves now - are doing our projects on our own, often operating with little to no budgets. It can tend to feel a bit isolated, doing these projects on our own. I wanted to start disseminating important & inspiring information to doc filmmakers, and ultimately to bring us all together in some sort of community.
Do you have a team producing the podcast with you? Can you introduce your team?
Currently, the team consists of my wife, Stephanie Vincenti and myself. Whereas much of my experience was more commercially-orientated, Steph's was from working in the feature films industry in both the UK and Malaysia. I am sort of the face and voice, if you will, of the podcast, well Steph helps with producing the show and writing the majority of the content for our online courses business, The Documentary Academy.
What challenges have you met along the way to podcast success?
Well, to be honest, everything about podcasting! I knew next to nothing about the podcast industry, let alone how to produce one and get it out into the world. I really had to learn everything on my own - from establishing an RSS feed, building a website for the show, lining up guests, writing content, recording and editing, finding/building an audience, etc. You name it, I've had to learn it!
Do you still find time to make documentaries yourself?
I mean, it’s not easy. We have a 2 and a 4 year old. I still freelance. We're producing the podcast and running The Documentary Academy biz, but at the end of the day, it's still all about being able to pursue our number one passion: documentary filmmaking. But we're not alone. What I have just described could be said by probably half (if not maybe more!) of our audience! So is our doc lives!
What projects do you have on your slate at the moment?
We are currently - and have been for four years! - on our documentary film, Elvis of Cambodia (www.elvisofcambodia.com), a film about legendary Cambodian singer, Sinn Sisamouth, who was brutally executed by the Khmer Rouge during the Cambodian Genocide, and the many Cambodian refugees worldwide, who live their lives in ways directly connected to the inspirational words of Sinn.
Are there parallels between filmmaking and podcasting?
Yes. They're both challenging, time consuming, sometimes full of headaches, but at the end of the day, are some of the most gratifying moments in my life!
What aspect of filmmaking are you most passionate about?
While I love shooting and editing has been my bread and butter for years, I'd have to say directing is what I am most passionate. I truly never feel more alive and in the zone then when I am out in the field and am interacting with my crew and my subjects. It is just the most exciting, gratifying feeling in the world for me.
You run workshops that are something of a survival guide for filmmakers - what would you say characterises 'the doc life'?
The workshops that we run - both online and in-person - are a direct extension of subjects that we've talked about on the show. And so we not only discuss how-to aspects of doc filmmaker, we also concentrate a good portion on discussion and instruction on the lifestyle aspects associated with living the life of a doc filmmaker.
You've got thousands of listeners for your podcast - what have been the marketing techniques that have proved most effective?
Honestly, we're still very much learning the marketing aspects of this whole podcast thing. For the most part, though we of course use social media and have a blog, we're really relying heavily on word of mouth! And to show up when people search for documentary podcasts.
It’s been great to find out more about your film work and The Documentary Life. What's the best episode to start with for someone that hasn't listened to any of The Documentary Life?
That's a pretty difficult question to answer, since everyone is at different stages in their documentary films or their careers. And they most certainly have different interests and needs and therefore might benefit from different shows. But if I must give an answer to this, I would probably just direct you to the episode that I did with Academy-nominee director, Steve James (Hoop Dreams, Abacus: Small Enough to Jail). Other than the obvious - he's a freaking legend! - he's also an inspiration to so so many doc filmmakers, myself included. He's also a super down-to-earth person who seems to really appreciate his doc life, and he details some humbling beginnings which, I know, that most of us doc filmmakers can relate to.