We interviewed David Kornfield – director of The Red Umbrella Diaries and nine-time Emmy Award-winning producer. We wanted to know what it was like making a documentary about sex workers and the film’s message, his tips to aspiring filmmakers on managing a tight budget and whole loads more!

A brief introduction of yourself and The Red Umbrella Diaries team

My Name is David Kornfield. I started out in sports television as a field producer and director, dabbled in food TV, and directed documentary content for several years. I then moved onto line producing for commercials and digital content as I grew tired of directing content as dumb and as obvious as humanly possible.

The most important thing I learned is know your audience. If you want to make a film for yourself, make it for yourself, but don’t get upset when the audience isn’t there for you.

My creative partner and editor, Chris Fiore felt very much the same way over the years we’ve worked together. He’s edited professionally in New York City for over 25 years, and between the two of us, we had so many ideas on how to do a project “our way” and get out of the fairly limited box that TV has created for documentary content.


Chris and I really were the core of the Red Umbrella Diaries production. But we were lucky enough to get help from wonderful cinematographers like Rob Hobson, a long time friend and associate better known for shooting shows like Real Housewives and Man Vs. Food, William Atherton (originally from the UK, and a fantastic travel cinematographer), and Gabriel Judet-Weinshel, another independent filmmaker and dear friend.

Can you tell us how the The Red Umbrella Diaries came about, how did this all start?

I had been shooting a very similar concept for Madison Square Garden Network for the previous 5 years or so. Basically, it was a Slam Poetry contest for NYC kids to earn money for college. But it was still spoken word, interviews, etc. I was supremely comfortable with that kind of format, having done it for so long.

When I met Audacia Ray, she had been running the Red Umbrella Diaries for several years. After seeing a few shows, it became clear to me they had incredible potential for entertaining and educating a much larger audience. It occurred to me, all they really needed was a bigger room, taller stage, and the cameras. The real genius of these individuals had always been there, we just figured out a way to format it for a theatrical film.

What was the most challenging experience for you during the making of this film, if any?

The real challenge came after the film was shot and edited. We had budgeted enough money to end up with a great little doc, but not enough for pesky things like PR, marketing, film festival submissions, or sales agents. So a tip to all you aspiring documentarians, don’t forget to budget for PR and marketing costs!

Otherwise, I think the biggest challenge has come from our decision to leave the film’s conclusions wide open. I think modern documentaries are too concerned with telling an audience what they should think.

I had no interest in preaching. As Audacia says in the film, so many people want a simple answer to sex work, “is it empowering or degrading” is it “good or bad”.

WATCH: The Red Umbrella Diaries (USA) – Trailer

I don’t think anything in life is that simple, let alone a topic as complicated and nuanced as ours. It was my goal, and the goal of the performers to leave our audience perhaps even more conflicted and confused about the topic then before they came into the theater. Its not a one size fits all answer. Its different for every single person who considers working in that business.

But most of all, I think our choice to straddle the line hurt us with festivals and media coverage. Surprisingly, many liberals still see sex work as a dirty phrase and not a legitimate form of labor, to say nothing of conservatives. In a world where Lena Dunham can’t distinguish the difference between sex work and sex traffic, a movie that suggests “maybe sex work isn’t the worst thing in the world” isn’t going to be accepted by many “well meaning liberals” as I call them.

What was the most important thing you have learnt during the process of making this film?

The most important thing I learned is know your audience. If you want to make a film for yourself, make it for yourself, but don’t get upset when the audience isn’t there for you.

What do you feel is the most important message you want audiences to understand from the film?

I think normalizing and accepting sex work and sex workers is important and the best way to do that is not unlike what the LGBT community had to go through in the US. LGBT rights really took off when people started realizing that they have a brother or a cousin or a daughter who might be LGBT. Their friends and coworkers.

When you remove the veil and show people who you really are, its got a powerful affect. That’s why this film has no voice over, and no commentary from Non-sex workers.

If we’re going to talk about the work, the only voices that matter to me are those of the people doing the work.

They are their own experts. You would not believe how many people have confided in me since I made this movie that they once did or are doing sex work on the side. Its out there. I promise you, you know folks who are doing it. And they deserve the same amount of respect and legal protection as your dentist. Maybe more!

So quick version? Respect Sex Workers and their right to use their body for the kind of labor they choose.

Thanks so much David!

The Red Umbrella Diaries (USA) will be screened at No Gloss Film Festival 2016.