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.

Le Sheng Liu

In reply to Erica Ginsberg's post on DOCULINK WORKS-IN-PROGRESS :

Yes that is true. LA Doculink hosts about one or two (or maybe even more) works-in-progress screenings by its members. We call it the 10x10 because ten submissions are selected for screening and discussion. I don't know when the next one is, but I recommend all D-Worders join Doculink anyway. It's a great resource just like D-Word!!!

Diane Ingino

Hi everybody,
I just posted a question in one of the members-only forums, but thought I'd come here and pick the brains of the general populace. I'm trying to help put a panel together for a talk in NYC on filmmakers' experiences with digital distribution. I need to get some more viewpoints on the topic.

If you – or anyone you know – is making any money with digital/online distribution of a documentary, please contact me: nycdiane "at" gmail "dot" com. If not making money, how would you define success with digital distribution? Thanks!

Ari Mark

Hi – think this is the best place to post this:

I'm about to go on a documentary shoot abroad. I'm relatively new w/shooting video and have a camera guy shooting on a Sony Z1 along with me.

I want a TOP end camcorder that I can plug a kick ass mic into to shoot great b-roll. Here's my question: which camera will give me the closest to pure HD image? I've been directed to the HDC-H100K. I'm thinking of buying it but it takes SD memory cards. Are these superior to tapes? If I edit in Final Cut Pro, will I be able to easily get all this footage from the SD cards w/o a problem? I've heard bad things about the cards...HELP. Thanks so much in advance.

Riley Morton

my advice to you would be to figure out a way to bring a 2nd Z1u.
even if budget is tight, you can still buy one (used), and then sell it after for a net loss of a few hundred bucks probably.
this way, there is no problems with matching footage, etc. and if something goes wrong on your shoot with either z1, then you have a backup.
it also has XLRs which is the only way to work if you want to use a great mic.

Joe Moulins

I use a Sony A1U as a second camera to my Z1U. The image matches nicely, and the A1U costs half as much, is less than half the size and it has XLR audio.

The A1U sucks in low light though.

Robert Shore

Hi All-
I'm currently shooting on the Sony Ex1 and am pretty happy with what I am getting. Does anyone have any suggestions for picture profile settings for various shooting conditions? Thanks. Rob.

Chris Eva

Hi everyone – I have new Hip-Hop film near completion – just wondering for advice on what I should do with it.

Its a Hip-Hop documentary, 'Peace, Love, Unity and Havin' Fun' and I have been filming for the last 3 / 4 years.

I feel it has international appeal and would be of interest to a lot of young people. 'Discover and learn about cross-community relationship, Northern Ireland and the global phenomenon we call Hip-Hop....' (

It is 70 min in length and has some big names in the world of Hip-Hop and performing arts i.e QBert, The Pharcyde, Don Letts, DJ Craze, Ugly Duckling, Skinnyman and Shlomo to name a few.

The film refers to Hip-Hop in relation to popular culture (Hip-Pop) and redefines the term by giving examples of the influence Hip-Hop has on young people today. In particular Northern Ireland, a country of recent conflict.

I have attached a teaser.


Sarah Goldsmith

Hello everyone, this is my first question here and you seem to be a bunch of knowledgeable, informed people so here's hoping someone can help me.

My company is NOT a not-for profit, and we are making a humanitarian-content 3-part documentary series

I have yet to source funding and am finding it increasingly difficult. Does anyone have any advice regarding developing ANOTHER company, such as a social enterprise or other not-for-profit, to work alongside my existing company in order to obtain the many grants etc that would then be available to me?

What would the implications be of having two businesses? Which one would own the films, and what would be the potential for transferring from a not-for-profit, to the profit-making business if it seemed like the film would do well?

Does that make sense? It does to me, but then I know what I mean to say...

Jo-Anne Velin

Why would a grant-making body give funds to a not for profit, that then passes the money on to a for-profit? It sounds like a scam, the way you describe it, regardless what the law says.

What I have seen, not in film but other fields, is profit from a for-profit, being directed to a not for profit, or foundation, partly to lessen a tax bill, but often just to provide the not for profit with operating capital. So, exactly the opposite flow of what I understand you're describing here.

Sarah Goldsmith

In reply to Jo-Anne Velin's post on Wed 17 Dec 2008 : Yes Jo-Anne, you are right, oh dear, it does sound like a scam the way I've described it! It isn't meant to be at all. I don't mean I want to transfer the money from a not-for-profit, my question is, if I had a not-for-profit and the film was funded by a grant(s), would that film be 'optioned/owned' by that funder for a period of time, or would it be available later on for a for-profit company? (the film itself, not the money... please forgive me for not knowing, but the funding issue is new to me). The film is being raised to make profit to further research into a humanitarian issue. I want it to make as much money as possible for the benificiaries, yet, unless I am a not-for-profit, I am finding initial and finishing funding difficult to source – hence my badly-phrased question :)

James Longley

It is possible to find non-profit organizations to sponsor your project for the purpose of applying for and receiving grants as an individual filmmaker. I have not done this, but I know it can be done.

Not sure about the laws where you are, but it might not hurt to consult with a professional legal/financial advisor.

Skyler Buffmeyer

I am starting on a doc about body image and how women feel about themselves. One of the main parts in my film is having women send in video diaries about themselves and how body image affects them. I am wondering, since I will probably never face to face meet i still need "rights"? I know most people have their subjects sign an agreement saying they have the right to use the footage in their film but, i am wondering if i need to do that. if i do, how should i go about that?

Doug Block

Yes, Skyler, you still need rights. Send them a release form to sign. Examples can be found through a Google search, I'm sure.

Joe Scherrman

Sarah Goldsmith

In order to get grants for my project I partnered with our local community foundation that is 501C3. At first they didn’t think they could accept money and give it to me, a for-profit. It took the help from Robert Richter D-worder
and Karen Shatzkin (Shatzkin & Mayer, P.C.) to convince our local foundation.

I could of used Robert’s generous offer to provide the 501C3 but I wanted to educate our local community that this can and should be done. (I am on a mission to get our area hip to the production of films.) It also took the help and legal opinion from Karen Shatzkin.
The information from Karen and the offer from Robert helped convince the foundation to look into it. The foundation got their legal people and they then agreed that my project was with-in the foundations mission statement and have now partnered with me. Since I have received over 40,000 in grants.
The hidden section is the opinion I gave the foundation.

re: Fiscal sponsorship

Dear Joe:
You have asked my firm to comment on your proposal to arrange a fiscal sponsorship for your proposed documentary film entitled "Ghost Players" by a local community organizations having tax-exempt status under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, such as the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque and the Dubuque County Historical Society.
I understand that you may forward this letter to the community organizations and/or others, so let me clarify expressly that your doing so will not entail an assumption by us of, and we expressly disclaim, any duty of care toward anyone with whom you may share this letter. Such parties should rely on the independent advice of their own legal advisors regarding the matters discussed in this letter.
As you may be aware, there are numerous 501(c)(3) organizations that exist for the express purpose of acting as fiscal sponsors for documentary filmmakers. However, the principles and procedures relating to fiscal sponsorship can equally apply when a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that is formed with other, more general tax-exempt purposes – such as the preservation and celebration of a community's local history – undertakes to assist the production of a particular documentary film that furthers those purposes.
A review of these general principles and procedures should be helpful. The sponsoring organization commits to make a grant to the filmmaker that is contingent upon the sponsor's receipt of outside funds for the film project. The filmmaker-grantee, in turn, commits to solicit gifts, contributions and grants to be paid to the sponsor, designated for a restricted fund created by the sponsor for the filmmaker's project. The contributions are tax-deductible to the contributors.
Any contributions received in the sponsor's designated fund, less any administrative charges (quite modest, as a rule) that the sponsor may deduct, will then be paid to the filmmaker, pursuant to procedures and a schedule agreed upon by the sponsor and the filmmaker. (Generally, the filmmaker will be asked to submit written requests, and disbursements may be made pursuant to a schedule, such as monthly – contingent, of course, on the availability of sufficient money in the restricted fund.)
It is entirely appropriate for the sponsor to require advance notice of any funding solicitations the filmmaker makes and to reserve the right to approve the choice of funding sources and the content of the fundraising materials. The filmmaker normally agrees not to make any material change in his fundraising strategy or the film proposal itself without the sponsor's approval, so that the sponsor can ensure that the project remains at all times consistent with its purposes.
The filmmaker commits to use best efforts to produce the film consistent with the grant proposal; to use the grant funds solely for the project and as specified in the requests for disbursements from the restricted fund; and to repay to the sponsor any money that is not used for the project. The filmmaker needs to keep accurate records of how all grant money is spent and will generally be required to submit periodic accounting and progress reports to the sponsor.
The sponsor and filmmaker are not in an agency, partnership or similar relationship. Under this fiscal sponsorship model, the filmmaker has the freedom to make the film (within the limits of the project description and purposes) without the sponsor's involvement. All rights (including copyright) in the film belong to the filmmaker, and all income that may be realized from the film is the property of the filmmaker. The filmmaker is responsible for all tax returns, insurance, debts and legal obligations relating to the film.
However, if the filmmaker fails to live up to his undertakings (not submitting timely and accurate progress reports, noncompliance with any fundraising limitations set by the sponsor, failure to spend the grant on the approved production, etc.) or otherwise acts in a manner that would jeopardize the sponsor's tax status, the sponsor has the right to withhold, withdraw or demand the return of the grant funds and spend them so as to accomplish the purposes of the project or in such other way as will accomplish the donors' intention as nearly as possible.
It certainly seems that this model is appropriate for your proposed film relating to the project you described to me.

Hope this helps

Nicholas Taylor

I'm producing a documentary about this particular family, and they have a lot of home movies and pictures that I'm going to use as B-roll. I have consent forms for the interviews and images, but I need a form specifically to handle the rights for the B-roll. Does anybody have a form like that, or know where I could get one?

Prabha Nag

I am using a HV 20 with DOF adaptor to make films. The quality of video is really good, but sound is very tinny. Is there anyway I can improve the quality of sound without spending a fortune? I'm still learning film-making, so want to get some experience before investing in higher-end equipment
Appreciate any suggestions please!

Craig Schneider

For those of you who have ever done pure editing jobs, what did you use to determine your hourly or daily rate? An old editor of mine from my journalism days hired me to edit some footage that I didn't shoot into a short doc for the web. While he didn't end up using the piece, which i actually never got to finish b/c of he killed the project, and we didn't agree to a set price upfront, I spent about 20 hours all told putting it together. NOTE: I took this work outside my day job (I'm a financial writer to pay the bills). How much do I work the cost of my Final Cut Studio 2 software and new iMac and storage into charging him for the HD edit if at all? Do I base my rate on my current salaried writing job? What's the going editing rate for New York City? It's tricky pricing because I don't want to price myself out of future jobs (shooting and editing) for him in 2009. He asked me to send him an invoice. Any help would be appreciated.


Doug Block

Craig, it varies widely. Top editors working on feature docs get $500-600/day. On the other hand, the guy who edited my last work-in-progress sample, who was an experienced ass't editor, and a talented but only somewhat experienced editor, charged $20/hr. Because you're tossing in your own equipment, I'd say a minimum of $25/hr is fair. Anything above that you feel like charging is up to your comfort level.

Andrew David Watson

And your in NYC where the rates are higher... so you can factor that in as well.

Aaron B. Smith

In reply to James Longley's post on Thu 18 Dec 2008 :

Yes, IDA has a "fiscal sponsorship" program. There is a detailed application process, but it can happen for you. Nots sure how hard it is to get approved for their program however. If your doc is of a massive budget – over $50,000 (last time i checked) – they start taking a percentage. I paid a lawyer to read over their legal documents regarding fiscal sponsorship and nothing seemed amiss to him.

Membership is required to apply for fiscal sponsorship.

Nigel Walker

Mudding is an art though, you have to make sure the room is at the right temperature between coats otherwise the seams will pop up right after the contractor cashes the check.

$25 is a good price, three coats if you own your house, two if you don't.

Lucia Duncan

I searched through the d-word archives for info on subtitles and found suggestions for Belle Nuit subtitler. For some strange reason I can't read the font on the company's website. Would appreciate any explanations of what this software does and why it's preferable to doing subtitles in FCP.

Ethan Steinman

In reply to Lucia Duncan's post on Fri 2 Jan 2009 :

In FCP you can hard code subtitles, that is, when rendered they become part of the image. There is no changing between one subtitle stream and another. Nor can you see the image without any subtitles.

Belle Nuit allows you to generate a separate subtitle file which can be added as a subtitle track when you burn a DVD, allowing the viewer to remove them or change languages.

If you're not concerned with seeing the image "clean", then you can subtitle in FCP without a problem.

Ben Kempas

Lucia, you'll find more info if you do a search for "belle nuit" on The D-Word.

Also, as a member, feel free to post these kind of questions in the Editing topic.

John Burgan

Lucia – Belle Nuit is the way to go if you're subtitling a feature-length film, you can get pretty fast and it has all the advantages that Ethan mentions. If budget is a problem, there's a cheap subtitling plug-in from Digital Heaven that might do the trick for you.

PS if the Belle Nuit website is not displaying properly, you might try a different browser.

Jeannie Belgrave

Hi everyone...:)New year!!! It's so cool being here and meeting you all. I'm in the legal stage, looking for samples of release forms, current budget samples in USD amounts, simple and documented ways to prepare myself before standing in front of a potential financial partner. How far can I go legally before joining a production studio? I'm my own everything right now. ~J~

James McNally

Hoping I can get some good advice here. I'm a film blogger, and I'm looking for a reputable film studies program that offers courses online. I'm looking for a general grounding in critical theory and film history more than a practical program in filmmaking, but am hopeful that this very wise and connected community can help me out.

James McNally

Exactly, Doug. To pull myself up from the ranks of the "hobbyist" and to get a little respect from the rest of the film world (including documentary filmmakers), I'm feeling the need to get a little edumacation. Your comment confirms exactly what I'm feeling.

By the way, Doug. No posts since September? Bad blogger! :)

Sarah Evershed

Hi I'm beginning work on a documentary that involves animals, birds specifically. Does anyone know if I need the owners to sign some kind of release form to use the birds images? Thanks!

James Longley

if the images are under copyright, then yes, assuming you plan to sell the film or show it in public.

Sahand Sahebdivani

What if it's clearly communicated to the animals that they're being filmed?

Mark Barroso

They could still be minor birds. And don't pay them chicken feed, either.

Ivana Todorovic

Hello guys!

Im working on a short documentary about broken relation between mother and son due to youth gun violence as graduate student at New School in NYC. Im following mother who made " Harlem Mothers" organization to prevent illegal gun selling, to educate youth about non conflict resolution and to organize support meetings for other mothers. Her son who was killed on the street few years ago when he was 26 made 5 minutes documentary about himself, his dad and mother. He will be character in the film.

Can you recommend me any documentary I should see with same topic?

Thanks in advance!

James Longley

"Guns and Mothers" by Thom Powers. I haven't seen it, but the title seems right.

Chahid Charbel Akoury

hello everyone,i'm in the process of buying a camera, nothing fancy just the right equipment for guerilla filmmaking .....and i've set my eyes and choice on either a Sony PMW-EX3 XDCAM or the Panasonic AG-HVX200A P2 HD... i've never tried the Panasonic, but i've seen it's popular around independent filmmakers especially documentarists..what would you advise?
i haven't found any review that compares both cameras... although P2 and XD are quite a different storage system , i'm not sure which is of a better quality and compatibility with say a macbook running final cut...

BTW Mr. Longley i'm an avid fan of your work .... as a middle eastern i have to say Gaza Strip , Iraq in Fragments , and Sari's Mother are the best documentaries to have been ever made in this truly capture the essence , the texture, the feeling, the traits.....what can i say ..thank you for such adorable on screen experiences.....i heard you are in the process of making a documentary in Iran .... good luck with that ..eagerly looking forward to seeing it....

John Burgan

Chahid, I'll let the others chip in, but as well as the HVX200, you should also consider the (tapeless/P2 only) HVX170 which has the advantage of being lighter than the 200 which may be a factor for handheld work.

Diane Johnson

Hello – I have a question about casting subjects. Is there ever a time where Producers have to pay experts in order for them to be interviewed for a documentary?

I have always been able to convince experts to be a part of my student documentaries, but now that I'm graduating Im wondering if subjects for PBS docs or indie docs pay their experts.

Matt Dubuque

Hello Mr. Longley-

I too have found your work profoundly inspirational. I have finally obtained my DVX 100b and have several documentaries ready to be actualized, as it were.

In fact you were a key reason why I joined this group about a year ago. Somehow I learned you were in it.

I wanted to commend you for one aspect of your work which I have not seen publicly acknowledged.

That is the fantastic music that you score for your films. As if it were not enough to do so much fantastic solo work on courageous topics, when I learned you did the music as well, that just took the cake!

I have a few questions. Do you ever shoot footage with a particular tune or tone piece in mind? The syncopation of your edits goes so well with your music. It seems likely that you score the music last, but I wondered if you ever made the visual image fit the music, a la Fantasia.

I'd even be interested in conducting an interview with you on this subject for a good magazine. I'm confident that this topic and aspect of your work has not been adequately explored by others and it would help to justifiably broaden your brand. I put you right up there with Vertov, Bunuel and Kurosawa (whom I have totally immersed myself in pending acquisition of the DVX 100b).

I imagine Russian film school must have really been amazing. Since I learned of your attendance there, I decided to immerse myself in a fair amount of Russian montage and I remain stupefied and in awe of Vertov, especially The Man With the Movie Camera.
I've been meaning to ask you, do you know any way how I might obtain a DVD of Vertov's "A Sixth of the World" or "A History of the Revolution"? These seem like essential items for me to study, especially the former. It's been a pretty solitary journey for me, everyone has been very nice, but nobody seems to know much about Vertov (or Kurosawa for that matter). Perhaps I am in the wrong circles.

I picked up a copy of Constructivism in Film by Vlada Petric (50 bucks!) and it was a revelation for me. As you probably know, this contains a frame by frame analysis of Man With the Movie Camera. Incredible.

I eagerly await your next film and hope that some day you feel my films are worth watching. I'm an extremely serious student. My motto is "Film that Matters, Films that Matter".

My first film will be complete by August 2009. The way things are flowing it seems likely it will be televised on HBO or The Documentary Channel or some such. I have some very good momentum established.


Matt Dubuque

James Longley

Thanks for the nice email exchange, Matt.

Chahid – I am using the HVX200 in Iran and I find it works well, particularly with four 32GB cards (a bit expensive) – I would second John Burgan's advice about looking into the HPX170 – (smaller/lighter/wider lens/better picture) – unless you really want to be able to shoot standard definition material onto DV tape, in which case the HVX200A would be the right choice. But it's a much bigger camera, and if you don't need DV tape recording there's no reason to get it now.

I haven't tried the Sony cameras, but other people here say they're good.

With all of these cameras that record on solid-state cards, the biggest thing to get used to is the new workflow. At first it can be fairly daunting to have to back up all your material onto multiple hard drives or other media, but I have found the more I work this way the easier it gets. It's very much "drag-and-drop" to get the material off your P2 cards and into hard drives for editing. I'm using 500GB Lacie portable drives in the field – I have 12 of them and they're very light and seem durable – it's enough space for about 100 hours of HD material, all backed up on separate drives. These drives also run off the Firewire cable power from a Mac Powerbook, so you don't need an extra power cable, and they're small enough to put in a baggy pants pocket.

John Burgan

James has very baggy pants. He's the MC Hammer of doc filmmakers.