The Mentoring Room - Ask the Working Pros

Mentoring Room

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This is a Public Topic geared towards first-time filmmakers. Professional members of The D-Word will come by and answer your questions about documentary filmmaking.

Susan Cosgrove

Hi All - I am looking for a little advice for budgeting for post production. I am creating a budget for a 60 minute doc and have a few questions, as I have really only dealt with post timelines and schedules for commercials, feature films are altogether different:

  • Edit time - for a 60 min doc, how many hours of edit time should I be allotting for? If I am presented with a day rate - should I plan for 8, 10 or 12 hour days in post?
  • Sound / Mix time - same questions as above. This film will have a lot of music in camera, so there might be a fair amount of work involved.
  • GFX / Credits - Also not sure how much time I should allot for. There may be some subtitles, and of course, opening / closing credits.


Any helpful hints would be great! Hoping to apply for fiscal sponsorship by the end of the summer.




Christopher Wong

Susan, I'll just chime in on the areas that I know about...

As far as edit time, the answer is always "it depends".  But for an hour-long piece, it would be very wise to budget in at least 12 months of editing just to get to picture lock.  That time period includes all logging, capturing, initial viewing, and then editing.  If you have 60 hours of footage (i.e., a shooting ratio of 60:1), then I think 12 months of editing is a decent estimate.  If you have less, and are super-organized, then it is within the realm of possibility to get to picture lock in 9-10 months.  If you have 100+ hours of footage, I think you'd be well-advised to plan on 15-18 months of editing.

A lot of the schedule also hinges on the type of footage you have.  If it's all observational cinema verite moments, then that usually takes longer.  If your documentary is 100% interviews with b-roll laid over the top, then that generally takes a shorter amount of time because you can script out your scenes much more easily.  Since you said that you have a lot of music in-camera, it sounds like you may have a mixture of observational and interviews, with a lot of live performances mixed in.

As far as each editor's dayrate, most of the people that I've worked with operate on a 10-hour day.  Of course, a longer day can be negotiated (or you can be overtime), but on such a long-term project, I don't think you want to burn your editor out by insisting on 12-hour days.  (And eight hours is barely enough time to get started...)

Regarding GFX/Credits, that depends on how complicated a sequence you want to make.  For simple opening and closing credits though, I wouldn't budget out more than 3-5 days.  A lot of that will simply be you as the producer/director tracking down the correct spelling of all the names of your subjects, donors, crew, and technical team.  The actual editing time is quite minimal, and just involves making adjustments here and there to make a crawl smoother, or add in more names to the credit roll.

Hope that helps!

Eli Brown

I'll add that sound mix should be budgeted for something "somewhat complex" somewhere in the $10-20k range, though you can negotiate that rate considerably depending on what your deliverable list is, how complex it is, and how experienced your sound designer/editor might be (i.e. if they're looking for a feature doc credit, they'll be more willing to negotiate, for instance). For a complex title sequence or anything resembling higher-end motion graphics type of stuff, the lowest I've seen is $10k for 30 seconds of animation (this includes 3D, 2.5D with a lot of elements, typography and a high degree of design complexity). You might be able to work out a package deal with an animation house, though, where you can get them to throw in some other graphic templates on top of that, to save you some. As with all line items, most things have a range of negotiation depending on the vendor. The subtitling is probably something that can/should be handled within the edit at some level and usually doesn't require a graphics company to create the output for. Although it's a few years out of date, a really great template for a documentary budget was created by the D-word's Robert Bahar and is still available online, which you might find helpful at this stage.

Russell Hawkins

In reply to Susan Cosgrove's post on Tue 14 Jun 2016:

Christopher and Eli certainly have more experience of editing and schedules than I do.  If your budget is likely to be modest, you can achieve a lot before you sit down with your editor by becoming familiar with your footage, logging material and transcribing key sections.  Logs and transcriptions are really useful to keep track of footage and find that exact phrase when your brain has been fried by months of editing. 

I cut a 52 minute verite documentary with an editor and around 80-100 hours of footage in 5 or 6 months, including finding the structure, and that was after at least a year of me watching everything, logging and transcribing.   I learned a lot sitting with the editor, get someone who has done work you respect.  Chris's edit schedules are probably correct, I'm just clarifying that you may only need to pay an editor for a portion of that 12 month period.

Likewise, simple motion graphics probably wouldn't cost that much if you can find someone proficient in After Effects (or whatever motion graphics software kids are into these days.)  I am not an advocate though for skimping on a smart editor who you get along with, a great sound mixer who can hear all the pops and squeaks that you no longer notice, and a good color grader.

Maria Covell

In reply to Rafael De La Uz's post on Tue 14 Jun 2016:


In reply to Russell Hawkins's post on Tue 14 Jun 2016:


In reply to Ben Crosbie's post on Tue 14 Jun 2016:

 Thank you all very much for your advice and recommendations! All of this information is very helpful to me and I feel that I have a much better idea of where to start! Also didn't even think about shopping used so I am definitely going to be checking that out, as well as considering rental options for those lenses that I do not plan to use as often but want to add in for artistic touch, especially with the fish eye. I plan on shooting different animals so this is where I was going to get creative with the fish eye. Thank you all so much again!

Maria Covell

Do you guys think it's necessary to take any classes if you are inexperienced? I know it's beneficial but do you think the same film quality can be produced by someone who is for the most part self taught?

Erica Ginsberg

I think it depends on you. Some people use their first project as a class, of sorts, to try things out by trial and error. Others prefer to have the security of an educational environment to be able to learn by making mistakes on class exercises as opposed to their own project.

While I don't think everyone needs to go to film school, I do think the other advantage of taking classes - even at a local community media center or public access station -- is that you may meet other people who are interested in the same thing, and form potential collaborations or, at least, folks to bounce ideas off of. D-Word is such a space too, but sometimes it's good to have a peer group in person - especially if you live outside of major film centers.

Maria Covell

In reply to Erica Ginsberg's post on Fri 17 Jun 2016 (

That makes sense Erica, thank you! There are so many different aspects of this whole thing so I am really glad I am taking my time with research and discovery.

I am a Maryland native who bounces back and forth from there and Charleston, SC. I am wishing I was in my home state currently while figuring all his out because there seems to be a lot of folks from the MD/DC area, as well as educational opportunities.

I suppose I will continue to follow my gut instinct. It's funny because I actually never went to school for my current occupation. I am an on the job trained ER vet tech with a major in Sociology and minor in Biology.

Seriously grateful for all of you in this supportive community! Cheers!

Doug Block

Glad to help out, Maria.  We have a weak spot for those who care for animals. Keep up the great work!

Erica Ginsberg

I'm sure both sociology and biology are super helpful being a vet tech since you have to deal with animals and their human companions at their most vulnerable.

Anyway if you do bounce back to Maryland, let me know.

Vivian Kleiman

In reply to Maria Covell's post on Thu 16 Jun 2016:

It's not difficult to teach yourself how to use a camera and how to edit.  But what's not easy to learn is how to tell a story. 

If you take a good class on storytelling, or bite the bullet and go to a good film program, you will be exposed to rigorous review  -- both by instructors and fellow students -- that you cannot get from friends and family.  Some people are natural born storytellers.  But most self-taught filmmakers need the help of a more experienced filmmaker.  And a class is a great way to get that training. 

If you have the resources, it can be helpful to hire someone like myself (a brief moment of self-promotion here!) as a storytelling consultant or consulting producer to get feedback and guidance.

Rene Mayo

In reply to Daniel McGuire's post on Tue 7 Jun 2016:

Hi Daniel, I'm no master, but the answer to your question is yes, but it is also yes if you don't have 4k. Many things are shot with one camera, but with multiple takes to get the shots needed. The reason for this is that the lighting for each subject (and cheating backgrounds to make shots pretty :)) should be different to highlight certain characteristics or to communicate a certain mood or idea with each shot. However, if you don't care about any of that you can shoot one shot with 4k and you essentially have 4-1080HD shots (actually more depending on where  you choose to crop) based on the fact that you can fit 4-1080 shots in one 4k image. I hope that makes sense.

Jesse Zook Mann

In reply to deleted post on Thu 30 Jun 2016:

Documentary cinematography is a lot like a sport, so there is a lot to the advice "keep doing it." Muscle memory is huge, and nothing quite teaches you what to shoot after you mess something up royally. I do think people who keep doing it under some kind higher stress environment... be it a local news network, or cable tv, or weddings do get better faster than someone who keeps doing it on their own.

I think you could learn a years worth of practice in isolation in two weeks on a news/ doc show. If you mess up there are consequences, and there are lots of people who can show you how to work. Online resources can be great for some things. I love them for motion graphics and color. But for longer edits it hard to teach effectively imho. However for story, I think the Save the Cat podcast is stellar. I study from there all the time. That will get you on the path of thinking like a great editor, not just a button pusher. That you can learn the functions of Adobe Premiere on Youtube in a few days.

Russell Hawkins

In reply to deleted post on Fri 1 Jul 2016:

I second Jesse's point that you can learn a lot from working with other people, working in a team environment, or assisting a cinematographer or editor exposes you to proven techniques, workflows and equipment . 

There is a lot of great technical information out there in online forums, but also a lot of misinformation and gear fetishisation.  They each have their own focus and culture, some are good for solving technical problems, others for researching equipment or for tutorials. 


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Daniel McGuire

In reply to Rene Mayo's post on Sat 25 Jun 2016:

I guess I wasn't clear in my question. I was talking about a verite situation - something that only happened once, while you happened to be there. My question was about shooting wide and positioning the (handheld) camera  in relation to 2-4 subjects, who hopefully have some space between them. I wondered if, by shooting with 4k, you could freely crop this wide master shot into multiple singles and medium close-ups in the edit room. Also curious if anyone has done this, or seen it in a doc film. 

Nigel Walker

Lenses are designed to optimally capture the full frame so there could be issues with focus and distortion on the glass edges. This would be a bad idea unless an experimental project.

Doug Block

I plan, likewise.  The race is on to see who gets there first.

Nathan Doody

I am posting to find out if anyone has heard of the state of Vermont's so called (black list) made by the department of children and families. The problem with dcf in Vermont is that they do not have to obey the laws, they are on a power trip and putting everyone they investigate on this list . They are putting people on this list with no warrant to do so, and in turn ruining people's lives. I spoke directly with the director of dcf and she said they are above the law beccause they have backing from legislature. Don't know or care how but it's unjust , the people of Vermont who do not want their homes invaded because of an anonymous phone call with no proof need to stand up. Any thoughts on this anyone???

alexander palmer

Hey Community

I have a question regarding my Canon XA 20

I have only recently starting shooting with it action from a distance 50+ metres

It is terrible and can not focus clearly beyond 50 metres.  It is a fixed lens and f 3.67-73.44 mm ..  20 x optical zoom and 35mm equivalent of 26.8 - 576 mm

Under the specs you would expect it to achieve a decent clarity of focus over 50 metres ( 70 odd yards )  ?  

Any clear feedback would be much appreciated 

Am thinking that maybe the internal lens may hv been damaged ?

thanks in advance


Doug Block

Alexander, this topic is pretty much just for Fans to get advice from our Pro members.  As a Pro, you're much better off asking this in the Cinematography topic where more folks will see it.  We don't usually encourage members to double post, but in this case go right ahead.

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