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 Online Mentorship For Documentary Filmmakers



Research has shown that mentorship has positive impact on job satisfaction and career outcomes.

However, formal documentary film mentorship opportunities are exclusive and competitive, making it hard to find mentors. To fix this problem, I began crafting an online mentorship platform for documentary filmmakers. 

After conducting interviews with some documentary filmmakers, I created a prototype.  With this project, I wanted to further understand users' needs and improve upon the prototype.


What I found was that mentees have a knowledge gap and are self conscious about their experience level which makes them easily intimated by more veteran filmmakers, so they put very little effort into finding mentors. Some resort to having parasocial mentors or someone they follow closely on social media. Mentees also prefer someone more relatable (i.e. close in experience, same race) and having filters that allow those selections makes the mentor search faster and more enjoyable. In the age of COVID, mentees miss in person connection so facilitating those meetings in addition to an online option is important.



Lack of open mentorship opportunities for new, emerging, and career changing documentary filmmakers


Develop an online mentorship platform for documentary filmmakers


Learn the needs of mentees to improve prototype


 Independent Researcher

  • Elodie Edjang

Advisory Committee

  • Stephen Nelson, Back-End Developer 

  • David Teague, Co-Creator of BIPOC Doc Editors Database


Recruitment Timeline for Doc Mentor


Doc Mentor Process

Research Statement

We want to better understand how documentary filmmakers find and select mentors in order to create a satisfactory online mentorship experience.

Research Goals

  1. Understand how prospective mentees might find mentorship to understand their current user journey

  2. Understand mentees definitions of a mentor to properly design service and set expectations 

  3. Learn what information mentees are typically seeking to provide suggestions for mentorship sessions

  4. Learn what information is most important to mentees when self selecting a mentor to build an appropriate interface

  5. Discover what information is most used when self selecting a mentor to build appropriate filters

  6. Discover potential design flaws in similar products to design a better interface

Recruitment Criteria & Process


I interviewed 4 people. Participants were selected if they previously showed interest and/or involvement in documentary filmmaking. I recruited from my personal and professional network. I reached out to participants from previous interviews and recruited additional participants through individual outreach in the film community.

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Research Methodology

Competitive Usability Test

20 mins


35 mins

Contextual Inquiry

25 mins

Zoom Interview

In order to learn about the mentees’ user journeys and behaviors I conducted four 35-minute interviews about previous mentorship experience and learned about mentee desires.

Sample Questions
Elodie Edjang, black woman
  1. Tell me about the last time you needed career advice? How did you go about finding a solution to your problem? 

  2. How do you find people to connect with in the documentary field?

  3. Who do you consider your film community and where did you meet?

  4. What is your biggest question or anxiety about filmmaking? What do you want to learn more about?

  5. What online community or program is doing it right and why?

  6. What is a mentor to you?

  7. Describe your ideal mentor

  8. Tell me about your last mentorship experience

  9. Can you think of time when you felt the most supported as a filmmaker?

Laptop screen with Alma Har'el and text document

I asked participants to use the think out loud protocol as they completed a scenario.

"Your favorite director is Alma Har’el and you want to contact her with hopes that she becomes your mentor. Show me how would you go about doing that?"

Contextual Inquiry
Competitive Usability Test 
Screenshot of Brown Girls Doc Mafia online database

The current prototype interface and filters are similar. My prototype does not include content. In order to understand how the filters would be used and to determine what real-world content attracts mentees and contributes to their mentor selection process, I decided to use an existing site. This permitted me to have a fuller understanding of the user journey.


1. Read transcript of interview and highlight insights, themes, and quotes relevant to the research statement and goals

2. Gather key insights from session into single document incorporating quotes throughout

Screenshot of Descript transcript of participant interview
Screenshot of Doc Mentor interview and task summary Google Doc

3. Analyze all interview and task summaries and note recurring themes into new document

Recurring Themes Screenshot

Key Takeaways

 "A mentor is a guide, someone who has expertise in a specific area that they want to share.”   

   -Interviewee #4

Mentees are looking for someone relatable, a few years ahead of them in their career, who shares a similar background, can serve as a guide, provide feedback on personal projects, and lead to work opportunities.

"I feel like I have one shot to reach out to a mentor"-Interviewee #1

Mentees are intimidated by veteran filmmakers due to a perceived knowledge gap and will spend hours or days researching them and writing correspondence before doing any outreach. 

"These two seem like people I've passed on the street before" - Interviewee #3

When using an online database to find a mentor, mentees gravitate towards friendly (smiling and inviting) and familiar looking (shared racial background) faces.

“I would prefer in person mentors for sure."-Interviewee #2

Mentees prefer in-person mentorship. COVID-19 has limited a lot of networking, making the desire for in-person mentorship even stronger. However, mentee's are still interested in online mentorship due to the opportunity to access more mentors . One participant stated, "I live in a completely different continent. So the kind of mentors that I'm looking for may not be available here." While another stated, "Zoom has opened up the world to me and it's just made everything so much more accessible. I'm all for it [online mentorship].

Next Steps & Recommendations

  1. Refine service and prototype to Include in-person meeting option

  2. Add option to embed work samples into mentor profile

  3. Retain demographic filters in prototype

  4. Provide prompts and conversation guides for mentees to aid in initial correspondence

  5. Encourage mentors to use clear smiling photos in profiles 


1. Used insights to validate prototype filters

Doc Mentor prototype search
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2. Discovered new persona type

and gained deeper understanding of existing persona types’ needs

3. Mapped mentee journey to design against pain points

Kerri_Mentee Journey Map.png
Brown Girls Doc Mafia Database

3. Helped filmmakers' networking process by making them aware of databases and their networking capabilities

 "I definitely would go back to this and dig through because like I said, I've never been on their website. I'm not sure I even knew they had one."



This case study began as an informal project that I then adapted into a more formal research project. I revised the discussion guide to incorporate questions about the user journey. 

There was an additional task I assigned to the first mentee I interviewed. However, after receiving feedback from the mentee that there were too many tasks, I eliminated the first task which helped ease future sessions.

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