Amen Jafri - Documentary Filmmaker and Coach, Creator of The Secret Lives of Public Servants

(Amen J.) #1

I discovered my love for film and television (and now web series) only after becoming a working professional. I recently left the 9-5 to pursue my creative ambitions and I am now coaching others on how to do the same. I’ve worked in communications and HR in the federal public service and I have also worked in film and television production: the feature thriller Penthouse North (starring Michael Keaton and Michelle Monaghan), Radio Canada’s Toi et moi: malgré tout and in Acquisitions at the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network. I made my first film and documentary, The City That Fun Forgot?, without any prior experience and it had a local sold-out premiere in 2014, garnering local and national media coverage. Another documentary short, Go Back Home, was shortlisted for the 2016 TVO Short Doc Contest and broadcasted last year. My latest project is the doc web series, The Secret Lives of Public Servants, which picked up award nominations at Brooklyn Web Fest and The Mirror Mountain Film Festival and received press coverage, including front page of The Ottawa Citizen. More info on me:

Here’s what I can provide advice on:

  • How to start making films and work in the industry without prior experience or formal training
  • What is involved in making a documentary series
  • How to attract attention to your project in the media and the public
  • How to connect with local sponsors to support your project
  • How to balance your day job with your passion for filmmaking and web series

I look forward to connecting with all of you!

(Bri Castellini) #2

Welcome to the other side of AMAs! Excited to have you here today. Why did you decide to make a web series instead of a full length documentary?

(Amen J.) #3

Same here! I did originally want to do it as a television show and I was looking around at available options. The local tv station offers an option to do, where they provide you all the support you need. But once I started working with them and developing the script, they required a host. I decided that was not how I wanted to operate. I also prefer short form content and with web series, I get full control on the whole product: look, style, etc.

(Meg Carroway) #4

Hi Amen! WOW you’ve got a resume! I’d love advice on attracting attention from the media and public! I’m not in documentaries but what about for a show made by people with no prior credits that’s a 5-10 minute episode comedy?

(Jaime Lancaster) #5

Welcome! I recognize your username from other AMAs- how cool! What sponsorships did you get for your series, and how did you approach those brands/places without a product to show them?

(Amen J.) #6

Yes, I can help! What kind of attention did you want, like are you trying to get coverage in print media?

(Joseph Steven Heath) #7

How did you get involved in the film and TV industry? What are some of the big differences between working in films and TV and making content for the internet? Did you get to meet Michael Keaton? Is he nice? I bet he’s nice.

(Meg Carroway) #8

Print media, sure, but honestly anyone who isn’t me or my cast and crew is helpful! What are even the options these days?

(Amen J.) #9

I recognize you too! So I tried to think who would be a good fit for the series. For ex we have an episode on a cosplayer, so I approach Comic Cons to see if they would be interested. And I tried to think what I could offer them in return: publicity in the form of our website, social media, posters, etc. I also left it flexible and said I was happy to work with them to make it in a win-win.

(sam lockie-waring) #10

man i really dig it when you guys invite amas from the actual community. cool as hell. what appeals to you about making documentaries?

(Rodrigo Diaz Ricci) #11


How to attract attention to your project in the media and the public.

It’s the key question of everything, I think. Apart from a good investment in advertising, what other ways do you know that can serve to attract the public?

(Jaime Lancaster) #12


(Amen J.) #13

I would think about your audience, where would they look to for info on your show? It doesn’t even have to be mainstream outlets. And try to target specific journalists as individuals. What do they typically write about and cover and would your story be a fit? Is there something particularly interesting about your show, not just the topic, but about the cast and crew, behind-the-scenes info etc., social issues you’re addressing that would make this a selling point to them?

(Jaime Lancaster) #14

But if you don’t really have an audience yet, publicity on a website no one knows about isn’t much of a help for them, right? Did the Comic-Cons give you money or just help you promote?

(Amen J.) #15

Hah! Funny story, I answered a Craiglist ad saying they were looking for interns on a Hollywood feature film and I CAME OUT ALIVE. This was Michael Keaton pre-Birdman and I once opened the door for him to say hello sir and he gave me a weird look. He liked the craft table a lot :smiley:

(Meg Carroway) #16

I guess I’m just looking for any advice that’s different from “write a good press release” because I feel like that isn’t enough anymore. Mostly we just want press to build our credibility… like unless Wired writes about us, our audience is probably not gonna find press, but having that press when we get discovered elsewhere will make us look good. Does that make sense? Or are we thinking about it the wrong way?

(Amen J.) #17

I am insanely curious about people. I love hearing the “secrets” or sides to people they would never reveal in casual conversation. We can be so dismissive of who we think other people are and I am always surprised…

(Bri Castellini) #18

Did you have pre-determined sponsorship “levels” to present them with? As in- $ gets your logo on our websites and in our credits, $$ gets your logo on our poster, $$$ gets you “sponsored by” in the beginning of each episode, etc?

(Amen J.) #19

It goes back to what is compelling about your story - again, not just the topic of your show or how cool your show looks, but if you put yourself in someone else’s shoes, why should they care?

(Amen J.) #20

So that was the kicker. I approached all these places for fiscal sponsorship. Which they didn’t have and of course, I didn’t have any existing community yet. But they liked the idea of the project and local businesses like supporting community initiatives. So they would offer me something else, like free gift certificates, or use of their space for filming, etc. Which is still awesome! And so I re-framed my ask to include other than $, gift certificates, etc.