What’s Up Doc? Carving Out a Lucrative Career Path in Non-Fiction Storytelling

March 16, 2021 A DGA Women's Steering Committee Virtual Event

On March 16, ahead of their online meeting, the Women’s Steering Committee (WSC) hosted the discussion, What’s Up Doc? Carving Out a Lucrative Career Path in Non-Fiction Storytelling. The event featured Directors Chai Vasarhelyi and Alex Stapleton and DGA Associate Western Executive Director Lisa Layer in a conversation moderated by Director Eda Benjakul, that revolved around finding community and opportunities within Documentary realm.

The conversation kicked off with an introduction from DGA Documentary Committee Chair James Moll, who outlined the mission of the Committee. During the discussion, Vasarhelyi talked about her career and how she found success in the documentary space; Stapleton spoke about career paths and taking charge of the opportunities currently available in the documentary world; and Layer discussed the DGA’s contracts for documentaries and how they protect the members in this area.

Following the moderated portion of the conversation, the panelists fielded questions submitted by the online audience.

About the Panelists:
Alex StapletonAlex Stapleton
Stapleton’s directorial credits include the feature length documentary, Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel, the television documentaries Raising an OlympianTakePart LiveHello, Privilege. It's Me, Chelsea and Shut Up & Dribble; and episodes of the series The Playbook and Artbound. She also served as the showrunner of the a six-part FX docu- series Pride, which chronicles the American LGBTQ+ Civil Rights movement. Stapleton is currently directing a project for HBO entitled God Save Texas. She has been a DGA member since 2013 and serves as a member of the DGA Special Projects Committee and as a co-chair of the Committee’s Global Cinema Series subcommittee. 
Chai Vasarhelyi Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi
Vasarhelyi’s directorial credits include the DGA Award-nominated and Academy Award-winning documentary Free Solo and the DGA Award-nominated documentary Meru (both co-directed with Jimmy Chin); as well as the documentaries Incorruptible, Youssou N’Dour: I Bring What I Love, A Normal Life and Touba; and episodes of the series Abstract and Enhanced. She is currently filming an untitled documentary about the rescue of a youth soccer team who got trapped in a Thai cave in 2018 and is also in pre-production for a film about 64-year-old marathon swimmer, Diana Nyad. Vasarhelyi joined the DGA in 2016 and serves as a co-chair of the Documentary Awards Committee
Lisa LayerLisa Layer
Layer serves as the DGA Associate Western Executive Director, where her duties include working with the Western AD/SM/PA Council and the Guild’s efforts in the areas of documentary, reality television and independent film. Layer joined the DGA in 1997 as an Administrative Assistant and Field Representative in the Guild’s Chicago office.  She was promoted to Special Assignments Executive in 2008, and Assistant Executive Director in 2010. 
Eda BenjakulEda Benjakul (moderator)
Benjakul’s directorial credits include the movie for television, Shrinking Violet; an episode of the series, Switched!; the mini-series short, Hope Builders: Making a Difference in the Inland Empire; and the short films Home Restaurant and Ugly Sweet. Benjakul joined the DGA in 2015 and has served as the co-chair of the WSC ad-hoc committee, Best DirectHer, since 2019. 

See video from this event in the gallery below


The Women's Steering Committee (WSC) was created to advance the professional interests of its members, and to heighten their visibility and career opportunities in the entertainment industry. The WSC currently promotes diversity through sponsoring net-working events, screenings and seminars, and fosters relationships between the members to provide support, mentoring and networking opportunities. The WSC’s current Co-Chairs are Maria Burton, Hanelle Culpepper and Liz Ryan.

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