Kenneth Eng: What It's Really Like to be a Documentary Filmmaker

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Ken Eng

About Our Guest 

Kenneth Eng is a director, editor and executive producer. After graduating from Boston Latin School, Ken left for New York in 1994 to study film at the School of Visual Arts. His thesis Scratching Windows, a short documentary film about graffiti writers, was broadcast as part of the doc series REEL NY on WNET - NY PBS. In 2001, Ken directed and edited Take Me to The River a feature length documentary about the Maha Kumbh Mela festival in Allahabad, India. Kokoyakyu: High School Baseball, his film about the famous Koshien Tournament in Japan was nationally broadcast on PBS as part of POV and continues to play in Japan on NHK-TV. In 2007, Ken was awarded the Guggenheim Fellowship to launch My Life In China. Recently, he edited Tested for director Curtis Chin, and is currently developing projects on post-genocide reconciliation in Rwanda and the rise of baseball in China.

Learn more about Kenneth's latest film, My Life in China:, and his interview with PBS.

Helpful Links and Resources for Documentary Filmmakers

  • International Documentary Association (IDA): -- This is a fantastic resource for ALL things related to documentary filmmaking. My favorite section is Grants and Fiscal Sponsorships. IDA created a Core Application, which allows you to use the same application to apply to multiple grants. This alone will save you hundreds of hours)

  • Desktop Documentaries offers courses and resources for first-time filmmakers. Their newsletters are often very helpful as well.

Funding and Support for First-time Filmmakers

  • A fully researched list of ALL the grants for filmmakers from many backgrounds:

  • PBS's POV - one of the most recommended resources:

  • Sundance:

  • National Geographic Filmmaking Grant:

  • MacArthur Foundation:

Show Notes 

Part 1

  • [02:00] Please tell us about some of your current projects.

  • [06:00] How do you explain to other people what you do? What’s your current explanation about the process of filmmaking?

  • [09:00] How do you balance working on your passion (filmmaking) vs making enough money to live?

  • [12:00] What are some of the differences and similarities from the vision you had about being a filmmaker when you first started vs now? What are some of the lessons you’ve learned? (Things you wish you knew?).

  • [16:00] Is the market/scene much more competitive now, compared to 20 years ago? What has the currently technology enabled vs made harder?

  • [19:00] What’s your opinion about documentaries?

Part 2

  • [25:00] Please tell us about the timeline for the film festivals. What’s the process like?

  • [28:00] How would you recommend applying to film festivals?

  • [29:00] What are the most rated vs. underground festivals?

  • [31:00] What are filmmaking workshops? Would you recommend them to people starting?

  • [35:00] What are some websites with resources for filmmakers?

  • [37:00] How would recommend writing the one-pager with the story behind a movie? How can you make the pitch more compelling?

  • [40:00] How do you know that you are creating a good movie? Do you feel it?

  • [42:00] What was the story behind your first baseball movie?

  • [44:00] What are some tricks to attract the audience?

  • [47:00] What would you like to say to you 20 year old version of yourself?


Favorite Quotes

[08:00] Work on videos or films and tell stories that resonate with you. You want to be able to do it truthfully, have great access, and you want to be able to do it in an honest way that allows you to infuse yourself, to be able to communicate with your own self in a way that is truthful and honest and sympathetic to the story you are telling.

[09:00] Fame and fortune is not in the journey right now. For me it has never been about that. For me it’s all about being able to make a career out of it, being able to travel to places, make relationships with people, meet people, make friends…

[19:00] With this technology we can do that. Before you had to buy Encyclopedia, and buy updates to keep up with all the information. Now you can use this technology to communicate your ideas to people in a very simple and quick way.

[21:00] It’s a privilege to do this work, we can change society and make it better. Try to change minds, build understanding and have more compassion.


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