The Mentoring Room - Ask the Working Pros

Mentoring Room

  • Public

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.

Marshall Burgtorf

Our latest project is on violence in youth sports. I found a package that aired on Good Morning America last year while surfing Youtube. Does anyone know the best way to approach GMA about the use of their archival footage? My Producer spoke with our film commission and all they said was that we would not be able to afford it. I think she was talking about stock footage in general though. Any ideas?

Mark Barroso

I think ABC charges $65 a second. GMA's video is with ABC in NY. Call 212-456-4040 and ask for archives. It's pretty straight forward, no inside deals.

Amira Dughri

Hi all!

I am so amazed by how helpful everyone is on this forum. I am just finishing up college and about to enter the world of documentaries and this feels like a friendly community to mull about in. Well, I'm posting because I'm working on my first 'real' docs. I have made a 5 minute doc in the past but that was more of an exercise. Now, I'm currently in post-production on a documentary (my final college endeavor) about one of the nation's top college magazines, Flux. I am the director and editor and was one of the camera crew. Anyway, we followed 40+ students, focusing on a handful of people, for apprx 3 months and shot apprx 150 hours of footage. I have only worked on short pieces with around 20 hours of footage. Now I've got 150 hours? Oh geez, this is a whole new ball game. I also have about 30 hours of interviews. I have done my research and read a lot on how people organize footage with scene boards and colored post-its and xml sheets. I even read Walter Murch's book on how he edited Cold Mountain using Final Cut Pro. I decided to log in Avid (which is unfamiliar to me but love how I can organize footage) and export the logs as PDFs for reference as I capture the footage in FCP. I've written a rough outline of all the footage and what I think are the main points so far. But I'm getting a bit overwhelmed with all the footage and the fact that I don't know how to use it to tell a story. I go to a journalism school where I've learned how to report the news. Now, I want to tell a more narrative story through video but don't know even how to begin developing characters and plot. I know story is the key. I know about the basic elements that make a story. But how do I apply those rules I learned in English class to video? Anyone with previous cinema verite documentaries or, well, anyone with any advice as I move into the process of a) logistically organizing the footage and b) using that footage to tell a story would be sooo very much appreciated.

Carlos Gomez

I'm one of the least experienced people here Amira, but one thing that helps me when editing is to first think of what I want to say and then look for the footage I can say it with, instead of going the other way around, which would be something like asking yourself what can I say with all this footage?

Obviously you need to become very familiar with the footage first. Try to be open minded when you're watching it. Then forget about it, just "close your eyes" and "conjure up" your story. Then just try to tell it clearly with the footage you have. This can keep you from being overwhelmed and falling in love with footage you don't need.

As to narrative vs journalistic styles I'd say don't worry about that. Just make sure you know what you're trying to say and that you're saying it. You'll develop your own style over time.

Larry Vaughn

Back in 1984 or so I went to Guatemala with 3 other people and photographed some activities of the Guatemalan army and medical volunteers who traveled from the USA to give aid to the locals there. I stayed with the Guatemalan Army in Nebah, in the mountains, at the Sanidad Militar. At the time I was working for a newspaper but retained the rights to the photos. I still have a quantity of the 35mm Ektachrome slides which I can make available to people who might have an interest.

Larry Vaughn

In reply to Joe Moulins's post on Tue 24 Jun 2008 :

True, I have a MacBook bought 6/2007. Despite what Apple says, I have 3 gigs of ram in it, so you might as well max out the ram as well. The current ones will use 4 gigs. FCP works too, although Motion won't.

Larry Vaughn

In reply to Wolfgang Achtner's post on Fri 23 May 2008 :

I picked up a new Maxtor 300 gigabyte external hard drive with Firewire 400 and USB 2 ports from Office Max back in April for $79.00. It was not advertised but there it was on the shelf. Works fine with my MacBook.

Ramona Diaz

Hi Amira,

After you've logged your footage, come up with a ten best list, or twenty to start and then go down to ten. The ten best list should be comprised of the golden moments of your film – the "I can't believe we got that on film" moments, the moments that you still talk about after hours and months of filming. This is where you should really be disciplined because you can't really have a top fifty list, or forty or thirty, even twenty is pushing it. Then arrange those moments in order (depending on your narrative structure – linear, non linear etc) and the rest is filling the gaps to lead up to those moments in the most effective, dramatic, and magical way. And along the way you'll move things around and loose some moments too.

I know I'm making it sound easier that it seems. It's tough but this is one way to not get overwhelmed by your footage and to somehow get on top of it.

Lora Covrett

Is anyone working on a project at the Democratic National Convention?

Jo-Anne Velin

Ramona, that's a brilliantly simple way of explaining how to work backwards. Ten sounds right.

Erica Ginsberg

Lora, see the hidden section below for something I recently posted in the Classifieds (though I think I only posted in the Members-Only Classifieds). It's not my project – just passing the world along.

Join an ad hoc volunteer collective of doc filmmakers, camerapersons, FCP editors to videotape and edit all the protests and demonstrations at the Democratic National Convention August 24-28 in Denver and the Republican National Convention Sept 1-4 in St. Paul-Minneapolis. Hundreds of thousands of Americans will be protesting and demonstrating against the funding of deadly wars with our tax
money, the erosion of our civil liberties and how we are sliding into an economic depression.

Videotaping all actions will take place every day, and editors will digitize selected clips. Video footage from inside the DNC and RNC will also be obtained. A rough cut of a cinema verite doc will be done at the end of each Convention which can then be fine tuned.

Please contact me for this important project for the whole world to see. People around the world consider Americans to be apathetic so, let's prove them wrong!

Joan Sekler
cell: 310 968-6566

Andrew David Watson

Lora, I'll be shooting at the DNC for the IFC. We are set with crew but if i hear of anything i'll post it here. Denver is going to be a mighty interesting place come aug 25th!

Marilyn Perez

Hello wonderful community.
It is great to connect again especially now since I find myself looking for a magician and am very behind schedule.
Most of all I need a senior EDITRIX OR EDITOR.

Pressing Onward in spite of setbacks "SMOKE SCREEN" the documentary is (like a virtual cigar) quite oceanic. In all of this there is a particular magic to articulate real or imagined separations between people in Cuba and people in the USA while at the same time revealing many similarities and shared interests.

The character of this isolated island of Cuba is seen not so much in the great moments, but in the small ones. Most folks know that in 1962 Kennedy declared a blockade against the island but he died tragically before he could reverse the embargo.

I've got over 70 hours of footage. In places I open aperture allowing for a transporting feeling through the people I meet especially farmers. I feel grateful to experience being under the radar of this 'evil eye' that wants to steal attention from Cuba and latch tight another notch in the harness of the mask that binds and blinds.

My "Papi" suggested to me that there is magic, mirth and mischief in those intricate swirling gossamer vapors appearing form the tip of his beloved cigar. My travels to Cuba go against the tide of many other Cubans. There are people who refuse to help me because this film is about Cuban cigars, community and family oceans apart. (Pedestrian protest rallies against smoke are not about to subside any time soon.)

This doc has the potential to unite the folks who abide in 'el Che' together with the exile embittered embargo backing folks like my sweet aunt!

Please help make this 'socially irreverent' and 'highly relevant' film find its audience now!

I have 2 versions one 42 minutes and another 50 minutes and both lack the "ability" to insist on being noticed by the vast audience that this topic deserves. Also if you know of any slight of hand tricks please don't hold back!

I am open to receiving help.
You are invited to participate at any level.
I thank you for your time.

Elizabeth A. Dillion-Stelling

Any suggestions on where to look for a possible camera person to work with me on my project, I checked which someone suggested but nothing there. Any films schools in NJ you might recommend, otherwise I am running around with a new handcam scaring the beheba's out of all my friends trying practice on my own.

Robert Goodman

contact the Philadelphia Film Office or the New Jersey Film Office for lists of camera operators.

Michael Beckelhimer

Hello. I recently bought an XH-A1 and I'm looking for recommendations on microphones. I need a lav and a shotgun. I have been directing a documentary and using professional shooters and equipment, but on my next shoot I'd like to use my own equipment. Most of the audio will be interviews in controlled environments, with some interviews conducted as we walk through the city. My budget is flexible. I was thinking $500-$800 per mic. Also, someone in an earlier post mentioned the possibility of wireless mics experiencing interference or having problems in Europe. Is this a widespread problem? How can it be avoided? (I am filming in Russia.) Thanks!

Michael Jacoby


I'm a first time documentary filmmaker who just completed a feature doc called Ten More Good Years about the challenges lgbt elders face in America today. I've licensed the film to The Sundance Channel and Logo for five years giving up only national broadcast rights. I want very much to self distribute the film to universities, institutions, libraries, etc. I was hoping to get into New Day, but was denied. Is anyone aware of a good distribution solution? I am happy to do the work myself, but would like time to move on to my next project. If there is another co-op of filmmakers that distribute educationally I would love to know about it. Hell, if anyone knows of a decent distribution company that won't bend me over backwards and take 75% of the profits that would be good. I've had offers from several distribution outlets but the deals seem way to off point for me.

Any suggestions from seasoned veterans?

Best to you! Mike

Michael Wisniewski

Hi, beginning editor here, getting into it with my rear end facing the wrong direction if you know what I mean. I would love to hear what techniques you use to organize large amounts of footage for the editing process, think 200+ hours of footage. And what other practical things do you do to help the editing process be more efficient?

Mark Barroso

I found this tutorial from a Creative Cow moderator useful to me. If you want, I'll sell you my copy of Shane's DVD at half price. Whoops, is that allowed here? Email me at There's also Ken Stone and others.

Mark Charles Berlin

Anyone from michigan that could tell me of some good film festivals in the state.

Chico Colvard

hey michael,

i'm only 6-7 years into filmmaking... but my advice to you is to organize your footage by 1) characters or subjects in the film 2) then interviews of those people vs. verite footage of them 3) next i'd separate the footage by topic or themes that you/director have identified and 4) b-roll: driving footage – night/day... kentucky, new york, interior mom's house, exterior prison, etc... AND of course you'll have separate folders for your stock/archival footage/pics

hope this helps. good luck

In reply to Michael Wisniewski's post on Fri 1 Aug 2008 :

Erica Ginsberg

Mark, if you like experimental film, Ann Arbor has a good fest. I would imagine there is also a festival in Detroit itself.