08/20/2012 09:19 am ET Updated Oct 20, 2012

How Not to Make a Documentary

I originally wrote this piece two years ago, then hung on to it because, well, optimism won out over experience.

But in the past month, with the deaths of Judith Crist and Helen Gurley Brown -- both of whom were interviewed for my documentary, Do You Sleep in the Nude -- I thought, well, what am I waiting for?

I'd originally written this in early 2010, after seeing two documentaries at Sundance that dealt with facets of the same subject: Adrian Grenier's Teenage Paparazzo and Leon Gast's Smash His Camera. They both focused on the ravenous appetite of celebrity journalism, and how it is serviced by what have become camera-wielding hordes, who make their living taking pictures of celebrities in their private moments.

Both films looked back at the history of celebrity journalism and how it made the leap from the days when the studios closely guarded the reputations of their stars to the current anything-goes era of TMZ, Perez Hilton and the glossy weeklies.

My film covered the same subject from a different angle. But, six years after we finished shooting, and four years after its last festival showing, the film is still sitting on the shelf. Which, I've finally accepted, is where it probably will stay.

By this point, several of the people I interviewed are dead. Many more have moved on from the jobs they were in when I interviewed them. Just to bring it up to date would be time-consuming. But it doesn't really matter at this point.

My story is hardly unique. There are thousands of films submitted each year to the major festivals that don't make the cut. And even the ones that are chosen -- for Sundance or Toronto or Tribeca -- aren't guaranteed a release. Indeed, there are hundreds of film festivals around the country that show tens of thousands of films each year -- films that subsequently go no further.

I knew what the odds were when we started (though, of course, I was convinced I could beat them). I'd heard the horror stories from filmmakers I'd interviewed over the years: unscrupulous and inept producers, financiers and film companies, and so forth.

Still, I thought I knew the pitfalls and could outsmart the system. Let's just say that it's humbling when you find out you're not as brilliant as you think.

So I'm writing this to admit that, no, I'm not as smart as I thought -- and to answer the question I still occasionally get from people who knew what I was involved in: Whatever happened to your movie?

My film is a documentary called Do You Sleep in the Nude and is a profile of film critic and journalist Rex Reed. I had the idea in the summer of 2005 while at lunch with some publicist friends. At the time, I had just finished writing a biography of actor-director John Cassavetes and was starting to get the itch to do another project. But, having written three biographies, I also had the urge to try something different -- a documentary, perhaps, instead of a biography.

I thought of Rex for a couple of reasons: For one thing, I knew him and was friendly with him, having gotten to know him through the New York Film Critics Circle and seeing him at screenings. To me, he was exactly the kind of character you build a documentary around: funny, outspoken, with an opinion on everything and no inhibition about sharing it.

More to the point, I saw him as a historic figure, a writer who had been part of the so-called New Journalism of the 1960s, someone who had changed and shaped celebrity journalism.

This commentary continues on my website.