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.

Maranatha Hay

Can I run the idea by you and see if it grabs you and is good enough to start poking around or shooting? I'd really, really, really appreciate your thoughts on the idea.

Doug Block

Sure thing, Maranatha (sorry for dropping an "a" last time). But lets do it in the Works In Progress topic where everyone will see it and get to weigh in.

Daniel Sharon

Hi all,
I wanted to see if anyone had any suggestions for me. I absolutely love documentary film and am trying to put myself in a position to learn more about this passion. However, I work full time to pay the bills and the jobs / internships I have found conflict with my Monday through Friday work schedule. How can I find something with a flexible schedule that will allow to pursue my dream without going broke?

Christopher Wong

daniel, if you are in the beginning stages of exploring documentary film, there are two very low-cost and time-flexible ways to do this. first, you can read a book about it – Michael Rabiger's Directing the Documentary is probably the best one out there. second, you can watch a lot of documentary films. you've probably already seen many docs, but try watching them not just for the story, but try imagining what the director or camera person is doing when you're watching a certain scene. try to think of what questions were asked to elicit a subject's response. try to imagine what footage the editor had to choose from when constructing the scene. all these things will help you to start thinking like a documentary filmmaker.

Erica Ginsberg

Daniel, I agree with Chris that it should not be difficult to learn about documentary from reading Rabiger's book and immersing yourself in documentaries. However, it is also important to get some practical experience. If you are not ready to give up a dayjob to get some hands-on experience as an intern or production assistant, I would suggest signing up for a class which works with your schedule. It doesn't have to be at a university. It could be at a community media center such as DCTV or a public access television station.

Networking is also a key part. Since you work in another field, there may be a skill you bring from that field that could be beneficial to a documentary filmmaker and might be a means for barter or at least doing some internship-like work which could fit around your schedule. For example, perhaps you do a lot of writing or editing – you could potentially offer to review a filmmaker's proposal. Or you are a numbers guy and could help a filmmaker develop a budget (and learn about documentary budgeting in the process). Or you are willing to work as a PA for lunch on a documentary shoot which might happen on a weekend.

There are many routes to becoming a documentary filmmaker or at least exploring if you want to become one without leaping off the cliff with no parachute.

Susheel Kurien

Hi , I am in production on my documentary about the story of jazz in India. In addition to revealing the historical curve of jazz in India, it highlights the diaspora of African American jazz musicians (many from James Reese Europe's band) who came to India via Paris and Montmatre in the 1930's. My advisors include ethnomusicologists and jazz educators who feel that this film will be of interest to college libraries and jazz studies programs.

I need help understanding the size of this potential market (Colleges, libraries etc) from someone who is in the distribution business and understands this channel. Specifically I am trying to understand – how many potential targets might exist, cost of of sales and pricing etc in order to develop a reasonable assumption that I can use to support a proposal . Much appreciate any insights

Ben Kempas

Susheel, please don't double-post, as we've already seen this in Marketing and Distribution . I know it got a bit lost there in the middle of a longer conversation. But it's also such a niche question that I'm not sure we were in a position to answer it.

You might just want to search for other films on jazz and then contact their respective distributors individually.

Terri Hems Anderson

Hi guys,
This is my first post so I'm not sure if I'm doing this right but I shall give it a go! I'm currently planning a documentary that I wish to pitch as my graduation film from university. I have – I think – a good idea that needs a little work but hopefully will stand a chance at getting picked. The only problem is my subject is based in California and I'm in London. Although I plan to go several times before I shoot I think it is vital that I have a researcher over there to keep on top of things. Just wondering if anyone can offer me some advice on where to start looking for one? I mean I can't really afford to pay anyone other than expenses and obviously credit within the film. Would it be a good idea to approach film schools in the area for example?
Like I said, I'm not sure if you will be able to help me on this at all, but any advice will be greatly appreciated...before I start to panic!