The Mentoring Room - Ask the Working Pros

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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.

ilona zonnenfeld

Hi all,

Im a producer/editor and working on directing/editing my first feature doc. I edit my own film as well as client projects using FCP 7 on my old mac book pro and i need to replace computer. Question is whether to get a new Mac Book Pro or an imac. The Retina doesnt seem to be a good option for me bc it doesnt have firewire ports and all my footage is on LaCie drives w/Firewire ports (no thunderbolt port). Retina also lacking a dvd drive – so not gonna work for me. I love the portability of my macbookpro which is why im tempted to get a new one – w faster processor, more RAM, etc.... But the imac is tempting bc processor is SO much faster, more RAM, higher graphics card, than the MacBookPro. specs on macbookpro are as follows:

2.6GHz quad-core Intel Core i7
Turbo Boost up to 3.6GHz
8GB 1600MHz memory
750GB 5400-rpm hard drive1
Intel HD Graphics 4000
NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M with 1GB of GDDR5 memory

Whereas specs on imac are:

3.1GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i5
2560 x 1440 resolution
4GB (two 2GB) memory
1TB hard drive1
AMD Radeon HD 6970M with 1GB

BC Im not a full time editor – i do a lot of producing – can I go w MacBookPro or would it be a mistake? Also, is FCP7 going to be extinct soon? I need to finish cutting my film on FCP7. How will this effect me? For new projects, should I be cutting on FCP10 instead? Are bugs worked out?


Chuck Fadely

In reply to ilona zonnenfeld's post on Sun 5 Aug 2012 :

Ilona, you might look at the Apple refurb 17" MacBook Pros. The express card slot, which was only on the 17", lets you add additional firewire or ESATA connectors. I don't understand why they discontinued the 17" – it's a great editing platform. I think the October 2011 model was the last one before being discontinued.

In general, an i7 processor is faster than an i5 processor so don't go by the Ghz rating of the processor – you have to find independent speed tests. And even then take them with a grain of salt. Disk access speed is as important for video than raw processor speed (as long as it's a reasonably fast computer.)

I don't think you can buy Final Cut 7 any more, but it still works fine if you've already got it. FCPX can be useful for short web work but is not what you want for a feature film. I don't think you can get by anymore with just one editing program....

ilona zonnenfeld

In reply to Chuck Fadely's post on Sun 5 Aug 2012 :

Thank you Chuck! Very helpful feedback!

When you say, " I don't think you can get by anymore with just one editing program...." what programs are most editors working on these days? And would you say most editors are working on a desktop or laptop?


Miranda Yousef

In reply to ilona zonnenfeld's post on Mon 6 Aug 2012 :

Hi Ilona,

In terms of the programs editors are working on--I'd say that in my experience, up until the introduction of FCPX, the vast majority were on FCP7. But now that Apple has stopped supporting FCP7, we are in a weird in-between stage where there are still a lot of projects cutting on FCP7, but there is a sense that as the OS continues to get updated, at some point you just won't be able to run FCP7 anymore. So I think a lot of people are transitioning to Avid or Adobe Premiere (in my experience, mostly Avid).

Also, I am not sure that 5400rpm will be fast enough--I've always done 7200.

Right now I am cutting an HD project (FCP7) on a 2010 15" MacBook Pro, and it is working fine (although I should note it is a short, and I'm able to do it using one FW800 drive). If I were you, since you have to finish on FCP7, I might look into getting (or borrowing) a used system, possibly a desktop. My top concerns would be connectivity and drive speed. Because desktops have more connectivity options, and they are just more powerful than laptops, I'd say that usually a desktop model is preferable for cutting features.

Hope this is somewhat helpful.

Tom Dziedzic

In reply to ilona zonnenfeld's post on Mon 6 Aug 2012 :
I'm currently on a 27 inch iMac running Avid Media Composer 6. I'm a big AVID booster as it has been and remains a robust and reliable editing platform for over 20 years. You can download a trial version of Avid off their web site. Having the i7 top iMac 2011 model makes editing easy with all the different versions of HD out thee today.

Olivier Uwayezu

Hello to everyone,
I see Apple stopped to support final cut studio, Most professional editors use Final cut studio since many years ago, why don't we bring our voice up to tell apple our wishes (and now we are suffering into other software) ? I suggest the host of D-word can help us to gather our wishes and voice. May be Apple thought we don't need it any more.

Waiting to hear from you

Marcus Torrez

I'm sure this question's been answered several times: What's the best way to secure permission to film a documentary? On screen Ok's. Since mine includes a lot Veteran Support groups, I'm running into an issue.

I'm documenting my experience getting help/lack of help. But the moment I call mention I'm making a documentary, they roll out the red carpet. The Military has always been like that. If it's going to go public, you're the star Soldier.

Can I just shoot first ask later? No pun intended.

Andy Schocken

You don't need permission to film a documentary, unless you're on someone else's private property. You'll need permission from the people on screen if you want to distribute it. To get distribution and the E&O insurance that's required for it, you'll need to have written release forms from your subjects. Google "appearance release" or "talent release" and I'm sure you'll find some boilerplate versions. On-camera releases may be better than nothing, and they're probably fine if you don't have big distribution plans, but I doubt they'll be sufficient to get E&O for a broad distribution.

Mark Barroso

Andy's right if you intend to ask a festival , theater, or broadcaster to show your film. However if the extent of your ambition is to show it on the web or private screenings, written releases are not required. In the US, you have the First Amendment right to shoot anyone you want in public. It's the insurance companies that demand releases (which can also be gotten after the fact). If you are in the beginning of your filmmaking don't get too hung up on getting written permissions for every little thing or person.

Others may disagree, but I advocate for exercising our rights to the fullest extent, particularly if the film isn't going to be on a big screen or broadcast.

Summers Henderson

Marcus, be careful about recording phone conversations. Depending on the state you're in (including California) it can be against the law to record someone else without their knowledge. I don't know about Arizona. However, while it may be illegal in such situations to record someone else, that doesn't necessarily mean it's un-ethical. If you're phoning a health care provider, and you need to document the poor level of care they're providing to you BEFORE you tell them you're making a documentary, then I can see an ethical argument for doing so. You have to weigh that against the likelihood of criminal prosecution, which I would guess is small, but I'm not a lawyer.

In almost every other situation where you're filming someone (short of some crazy hidden camera scenario) they're going to know that they're being filmed, and will behave accordingly. They may or may not be willing to sign an appearance release, but that doesn't impact your right to film. Of course, if you're trespassing on private property, they can try to bust you for that, but the camera doesn't change that one way or the other. And of course, US military property is public, not private.

I agree with Mark that if your primary goal is to get the film made, then you should try to get a release, but don't be stopped if you can't get one. For professional documentary filmmakers, who are motivated by trying to earn money to pay the lease on their Volvo station wagon, it doesn't make sense to film someone without a release. Because they need that release to get E&O insurance, which they need to sell their film to PBS or HBO. But if you're motivated by a passion to document your own experience, then you can still make a film that people will see someday, even if not on HBO.

Good luck!

Todd Johnson

Hi---I am working on a short documentary that has 4-5 talking head interviews. After putting up graphics to identify who is being interviewed for the first time---how often (if ever) would you "re-identify" who is speaking? Is the viewer supposed to remember the name if they haven't seen them on camera for a while? Should you identify them say the first two times they are on camera and then none after that?

What is the rule of thumb so to speak on putting up titles on interview subjects? I keep going around and circles between identifying my interview subjects too much and not enough. Thanks so much in advance for any feedback or advice you can give me. I appreciate anyone taking the time to respond with advice!

Tom Dziedzic

In reply to Todd Johnson's post on Sun 14 Oct 2012 :

Todd, if I ID with a lower third I do it on the speakers first or second on-screen appearance. Sometimes a film may have a montage of opening comments and then the IDs come in after the opening as the narrative opens up.

The old rule of thumb was the ID should be on long enough to read twice but that has gone out the window with lots of other thumb rules. I prefer 4 seconds at least. I've seen many only 2 seconds.

If the piece is long enough, say over 25 or 30 minutes, you can ID again if necessary especially if the person hasn't been on lot in the first section. Sometimes you can get away from on screen IDs by having people introduce themselves or have a narrator introduce them (if there is a narrator).

Ideally the film should give you a sense of who they are because most viewers won't really remember the name but need to know what they do or how they fit into the narrative. Hope that helps.

Todd Johnson

Thanks, Tom---Appreciate your taking the time for that feedback!

I think I'll go with the "old" rule of thumb, and do them twice. That seems to fit mine, which is about 24 minutes or so.

Thanks again,


Daniel McGuire

I'm going to be shooting a project on a canon XA10 and a Canon 5d.

I will use one camera for certain applications, – the xa for run and gun, the 5d for interviews and tripod shots.

I'm confused by all the available formats, and wonder what formats would be ideal that would allow all the footage to be dragged to the same timeline in FCP7 and edit with a minimal amount of render time.

Right now I log and transfer footage from both cameras to Prores422.

The XA10 offers this option of quality:
Mxp (24mbps) FXP (17mbps), XP+(12mbps) SP (7mbps) and LP (5mbps).
Frame rates are 60i, PF30, PF24, and 24p

The 5D has a choice of video system NTSC or Pal
If I use NTSC, the
Movie Rec size options are 1320x1080 (30) and 1320x1080 (24)
(it also has SD NTSC)

If I use video system PAL, the
Movie Rec size options are 1320x1080 (25) and 1320x1080 (24)
(it also has SD PAL)

So the question is: What settings for XA10, what settings for 5D, so they cut together as well as possible.

And BTW, what is the difference between PAL 24 and NTSC 24FPS on the 5D?

If this question is off the mark, of if you can point out something I am misunderstanding, please do.


Kevin Wells

In reply to Daniel McGuire's post on Mon 19 Nov 2012 :

No reason for you to film in PAL unless you're shooting specifically for European delivery. Standard here is NTSC. Regarding the resolution, I think you mistyped – it's 1920x1080. Also, the PAL option would be 25p, not 24p, correct? Either way, shoot NTSC.

I would definitely suggest continuing to transcode both sources to ProRes – 422 is great, but you could probably do 422 (LT) to save space (if needed). Shooting 24p or 30p is a completely aesthetic choice. I personally dislike the look of 30p and shoot 24p almost exclusively. Just make sure to pick one and stick to it on both cameras.

Daniel McGuire

You're right about that typo. But if PAL and NTSC are both 1920x1080, and there is a 24 fps both NTSC and PAL – what is the difference?
And what about data rate?

Kevin Wells

Unless you have a reason to film PAL, have it set to NTSC. I don't know the differences between their 24p – for simplicity sake, use NTSC. It's not worth the time researching, testing, looking up the difference, when you have no reason to film in PAL.

For data rate, always shoot the highest possible you camera allows.

Heath Cozens

Hey Dan, there's no difference between the NTSC and PAL 24p. They are both exactly the same – 1080x1920. And both record at a truly cinematic 23.976fps.

It's just a confusing menu interface. There is in fact no such thing as PAL 24p or NTSC 24p. 24p is 24p. To be more precise, it's 23.976p. Which is what film runs at.

Robert Goodman

Your statement is incorrect. A camera set to PAL and recording in 24P will record at a frame rate of 24 frames per second. A camera set to NTSC and recording in 24P will be at a frame rate of 23.976. Film runs at 24 frames per second flat.

The problem will not be in picture but in sound. If your editing system is operating on 60Hz power then you should use the NTSC setting otherwise the sound will drift out of sync.

If you are doing double system sound the issue becomes even more important if you want to have the sound stay in sync.

It may not seem like a big difference but a .004 frame difference over 10 minutes is lip flap and a post production nightmare.

Tymon Ruszkowski


My name is Tymon Ruszkowski and I am a journalism student at Edinburgh Napier University in Scotland in my final year.

I am writing a dissertation on monetizing non broadcast documentaries.

I was wondering if I could ask you some questions about your projects and how posting video online can bring profit to filmmakers.
I am also curious about how audiences had changed and what does it mean for filmmakers.

Is it possible to send some filmmakers few questions over an email?



Jo-Anne Velin

Try asking the people who created Distrify. You can find them through their website. Peter designed the current D-Word website and he and his partner in Distrify, Andy, are filmmakers. Their toolkit was created for especially for filmmakers. Also, look at the – and ask the same questions there perhaps. Onlinefilm grew out of the initiatives of some people associated with AGDOK (the association of doc filmmakers in Germany). They were thinking about this many years ago.

Ellin Jimmerson

I have a mundane question, but one I don't the answer to (I am a first time film maker and first time festival participant). What is the purpose of post cards ? What goes on them?

Jill Morley

Hey Ellin, Postcards are usually made up for screenings. You do all the regular stuff: Title, directed by, artwork/photo, website, sponsors, etc and then leave room for a sticker.

(The economical way to do it) The stickers will change with each screening. This way you can use the same postcard for festivals as well as theatrical screenings or even if it will appear on cable. You can just put the info on the sticker and make a new sticker when the info changes.

You might redo the card later with reviews, festivals your film has played at, etc. When you go to a fest, you see a lot of people handing out postcards or postcards in the local restaurants, hangouts, etc. I used to get them at 1800Postcards, but not sure where the best place is these days. Hope that helps!

Doug Block

Ellin, in the future no need for you to ask questions in the Mentoring Room as you're a professional member. This is more for "enthusiasts" who don't have access to most of the topics. And professional members rarely come here to answer questions (Jill being a very nice exception).

Doug Block

That said, feel free to come back here to answer questions asked by enthusiasts.

Sam Rabeeh

I have a few questions surrounding footage ownership and distribution of a documentary.

Two years ago I was hired as a DOP to shoot a bullying documentary in a high school for two days. Letters were sent to all the parents by the school and approval from the teachers, school and families was full. The goal was to follow one student who was popular until an accident forced him to see bullying from the other side. Everyone involved expected the project to be screened in the school, broadcast, provide to other schools around north america who showed interest in the story. The documentary was screened and there were teary eyes everywhere at the school. But the school thought that the different groups being critical of each other (i.e. cheerleaders being critical of another group), and some other factors I'm not aware of created a rift between the school and the student and his mother (protaganists).

I am not aware of any model releases held by the production company.

I was never paid for the work I performed and don't expect to. I did not sign any contracts and still have the original footage.

My question is, what are my options in distributing or broadcasting this documentary if I edit a new one that is.

We had open access to any student who was willing to talk. I could possibly secure model releases from some of the principal characters as I would see them being supportive of moving forward.

Thanks for the ongoing support.

Doug Block

I'm curious, Sam, did you speak to the parents of the student? I wonder if they agree with the school that the film caused a rift. If not, is there any reason the film can't be distributed as is? After all, everyone has apparently signed off on it.

Sam Rabeeh

Hi Doug. Thanks for taking the time to respond, and so fast!

I haven't spoken to the students mother since the shoot. I don't have the full story on the rift and I have tried to investigate it further with the Director. Both of us are in the dark as we found the production company had not been honest on several issues.

That being said, after I wrote my post I thought to myself there shouldn't be any barrier to them signing a model release. Or any other students for that matter if that is the barrier to broadcasters and distributors.

The barrier to releasing the current version is that there is no master copy. I didn't edit the original and identified many issues with the final product.

Recently I captured the footage and began editing to re-tell the story.

I could distribute the new version to YouTube for example as per some previous posts without the model releases. I'm curious what other options there are for that scenario.

Arya Lalloo

In reply to Marianne Shaneen's post on Sat 29 Dec 2007 :

Hi Marianne, I was wondering whether you found/designed an exclusivity agreement. I'm looking for precisely the same thing, also having no luck and was hoping you could perhaps point me in the right direction?


Daniel harren

Hey everybody I am in the U.S. Navy and I am about to deploy for 6+ months very soon. I came up with the idea to shoot a documentary over the course the entire deployment from a sailors perspective. There isnt any films that have showed what life aboard a ship of over 5,000 people is actually like, that I know of. I have a few friends that I will show they're stories and what its it's like to leave wives, friends and loved ones behind for an unknow period of time. This has come from an idea to actually shooting in an extremely short time and I really am looking for advice. I do not have very good camera equipment nor do I have the money to get any on such short notice. Does the quality of the video really matter when the film is supposed to be the good, bad, and ugly of a real deployment? Most of it will be impromptu and on the go. I have a vision of how it will all come together to tell a great story but I don't want the lack of video quality to overshadow the story. I currently have a GoPro and a canon sx160. Any tips would be very helpfull. Thank you!

Jill Woodward

Daniel, I would suggest to capture the best quality video you can afford. The quality really does matter, especially if you would like it to screen in a theatrical setting one day. But, even if you decide image quality takes a backseat, you MUST have decent audio. You need a real microphone, possibly from a separate sound recorder, depending on how cheap a camera you end up using. I'm sure there will be all sorts of wind noise aboard, plus many other distracting sounds. You want to be able to isolate your subjects' voices as best as possible. Hopefully some others will chime in on the best way to achieve that.

Another idea--consider this deployment as like a scouting trip. Shoot some stuff with your current gear and use that as a guide for what you'd like to do on your next deployment when you've had time to raise some funds. Possibly having the scouting images will help funders see the potential.

Matt Dubuque

Also, remember that the weak link for any film is often sound.... try to get the best quality sound you can.

also, reach out to contacts within the military who make promotional films and ads for the navy and they can help you greatly as well and perhaps fund you.

Vivian Kleiman

In reply to Daniel harren's post on Tue 19 Mar 2013 :

First and foremost is to consider a core question: what is the story you wish to tell? Two or 3 people can be on that same ship for those same 6 months and emerge with completely different films. What's your purpose in undertaking this challenge? Is it merely to document? Or to do something like reality tv shows? Or is it to probe a bit further into questions such as: how do people negotiate difference? assumptions of masculinity? sexuality? how are 3 people changed/impacted over time by the experience of...

Ron Osgood

In reply to Daniel harren's post on Tue 19 Mar 2013 :

Daniel,Have you seen the 10 part PBS series "Carrier?" It was shot on board the Nimitz in 2005. The series is a documentary with some reality show drama but the character development is pretty good.

Having served on an aircraft carrier in Vietnam I was fascinated by what I saw on the Nimitz, both good and bad. Showing my age since I left the USS Oriskany CVA 34 in September 1972.

Jill, Matt and Vivian have offered really important advice. I might add that on one hand you have incredible access and on the other hand you are so close to the story that you may not see the forest from the trees.

I'm wondering if you have considered talking to the ship's public affairs officer or your supervisor. Have you poked around the ship's tv facility to see how they might help? Perhaps loan you a microphone.

Lots of potential directions for you to take the story.

Matt Dubuque

One shot I would try to get is a zoom out from the deck of the ship so that at the end the entire carrier is in the field of view.

Zoom outs are awesome. Bring a wide angle.

Daniel harren

Thank you to everybody for all the help! I wanted to try and work in the industry when i get out and seeing as this is my last deployment I just wanted to take advantage of the opportunity and make a positive of it. What I wanted to show was how people interact with one another and mainly the ups and downs and overall change in attitude and mood. After last cruise I was a little different for a while for some reason that I couldn't even figure out and I want to explore that (and throw in some action shots from the cockpit and flight deck of course!). Ron, I have seen "Carrier" but it didnt really like it too much honestly. I wanted to do something with a more insider feel i guess. Another problem I started to think of is the whole legality thing. I will actually be going out on the Nimitz too and I don't know if the Nimitz would be too happy with me showing the not so great aspects of everything! I think this deployment I will look at as a opportunity to get some good practice and learn how and what I want to do when the time comes for me to get out. Thank you again everybody for answering me back so quickly and helpfully!

Sara Jalali

Hi everybody :)

My name is Sara. I'm a grad student of the Master of Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology program at University of Waterloo. My start-up is about promoting documentary films online. I'm interested in your views on online documentary films promotion and consumption. Please take a moment to fill out this survey. Your participation will be much appreciated.


Mark Barroso

In reply to Daniel harren's post on Fri 22 Mar 2013 :

Shoot first and let them ask questions later. The thing is, you have to shoot A LOT for people to forget you have a camera in front of your face. In the first week of shooting people will either be hamming for the camera, doing all that stupid clowning most people do when someone points a lens their way, OR being stiff and official, like you're filming a training film. In order for people to let their guard down and act naturally, they need to get all of that out of their system and not think it's strange that a camera is pointed at them.

Randy Hall

I've been thinking of using a teleprompter hood to obscure the camera and the lens from the interview subject. From that perspective, I think Errol Morris has a leg up on making people feel comfortable using his tech-laden interview rig.

Michael LaPointe

Hello D-Worders:) I am curious, as I am always searching for producing partners and whatnot (as I am trying to do a few films a year and am stretching my generous collaborators thin); what has been the best way for anyone on meeting new collaborators?

Rodrigo Dorfman

I never use the word "interview" – it carries a lot of cultural baggage that can negatively influence the demeanor of your subject. They hear "interview" and they think TV – Oprah – etc... it may force them into culturally engrained ways of being or simply stiffing. Not always, but you never know – especially if you are dealing with quasi-illiterate folks who have only been exposed to western media as a model for how to be "on TV".