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.

Linda Wasson
Fan

Hi and help please ...

I come from a still doc photo background so working with others on a film is a new experience – it does help I'm in a film grad program but still...

the film I'm working on now is literally exploding with support from the community it's involving – the formerly incarcerated – and is blowing me away with its potential. of course I'm thrilled but for whatever reason my dp is slacking off, breaking scheduled shoots, and generally mucking things up in a major way. he's also a student and I'm not really sure how to go about handling this. we had a good one-on-one the other nite and he assured me he's on board but then turned around and screwed up again the next nite.

I've just posted an ad for a new dp but am wondering if anyone has any words about this situation? I've tried to include him as much as possible in decisions and progress of what's going on – I don't think I'm being too difficult or anything like that – he seriously seems to be sabotaging himself.

comments? suggestions?

Jo-Anne Velin
Pro

... polite but firm separation as soon as you find a reliable DP. Maybe he just needs a little more maturity, or has too much to do to meet his course obligations (?), but if the shooting involves protagonists and others, his unreliability bruises your reputation with them. We all know in the pro, freelance, competitive world, he wouldn't be given a second chance easily.

Linda Wasson
Fan

Jo-Anne – since you're the first one to reply – ok – I'm going to ask the q I didn't before – is this also happening because I'm female?

Jo-Anne Velin
Pro

I wouldn't want to comment, I don't know the situation first-hand.

Doug Block
Host

Linda, it really doesn't matter what the reason is. If he's not doing the job, find someone who will. There are many good, young, hungry DP's out there. Not to mention, highly professional and experienced ones.

Linda Wasson
Fan

ahh Doug – I understand what you mean but every time I post on craig's the posts are flagged and removed since I can't pay anything but a credit and a dvd.

we had another long talk last nite. he's definitely overwhelmed w/the subject matter. it's very intense for both of us; he's from S. Africa and old enough to remember apartheid. I can't imagine what's going on in his mind right now.

I'm kinda stumped I think at the responses here. Yes, I understand he's not doing his job but at the same time, this is a creative industry and especially in social justice documentary, I would think people would be offering a bit more insight into how to practice what we preach. altho I have to say, I've met some documentary filmmakers who seemed more ready to jump on the social justice bandwagon for the status symbolism than they are ready to put it into actual practice.

Jo-Anne – your 2nd comment is exactly what I'm referring to.

I'm here in this industry because I want to make a difference – if I can't put this into practice myself then what's the point?

and before anyone accuses me of anything, I'm only being honest and trying to open up a frank discussion in the mentoring room because I was hoping others would help me become the kind of director that shows the same compassion to my crew as I do to the participants/subjects in one of my films.

Doug Block
Host

I'm not suggesting you be an asshole about it, Linda. There are ways of letting someone go that are honest and humane, and it doesn't necessarily mean that you drop them from your life.

But what can I say, if mentoring or providing opportunities for your DP is more important to you than making the best film you possibly can than go for it. If making a difference is what you're after, I'd argue you'd be making a bigger difference to society by making a great film. And if your DP is more of a hindrance than a help in accomplishing that, I'd do what needs to be done. Again, it can be done compassionately.

Laura Moire Paglin
Pro

It looks as if my previous comment was removed. Was it? It was in no way meant to be insensitive. As JoAnne says – without knowing the exact situation – it's difficult to provide specific suggestions other than practical advise about what one would do in such a general hypothetical situation. As a female director myself – I've concluded that it's a waste of time to speculate about whether one's gender commands more or less respect among crew members. I do believe however that it is a reasonable question to ask when dealing with documentary subjects.

I think sometimes being a director means behaving in ways that might feel contrary to one's nature. If you're generally a friendly laid back sensitive person who likes to avoid confrontation , it's sometimes a difficult thing to muster up the courage to tell someone firmly that things are not working out. But you have to do for the sake of your film – and that is really the only reason.

Linda Wasson
Fan

Hi Laura – donno about your other post – maybe the server had a burp or something?

Doug – I hear you, just wanted to make it clear I didn't want to be too hardnosed and insensitive to other people's issues.

anyway – everything's moot now – my dp is now my former dp – he totally choked, flaked out, flew the coop, whatever you want to call it.

I think most of all I just wanted reassure myself I did my best. This has definitely been a learning experience. I've supervised people before, heck, I'm a teacher (tho just subbing presently) and just didn't want this to be business as usual.

I know now it wasn't, that it was him, for whatever reason, he couldn't cut it.

The only problem now is that it's the middle of the semester and everyone is working on someone's film or their own so I might be really screwed with this project. I have reached out so hopefully will be able to continue but am making a plan B just in case.

sigh, live and learn, huh?

Doug Block
Host

yup.

and laura, your post wasn't removed, at least as far as i know. what was so horrible that you wrote?

Jo-Anne Velin
Pro

Everyone here recalls that this is a publicly-viewable topic, right?

Laura Moire Paglin
Pro

Well Doug – I certainly didn't think so – a little tough perhaps – could have been construed as a bit sarcastic.

Jo Anne – thanks for reminding us! Truth be told, I had completely forgotten. Since Linda is a member, she should probably be posting this sort of thing in the production topic don't you think?

Jo-Anne Velin
Pro

This is mainly for Linda (LW, you may know this): If you are not logged into D-Word when you google your name, you will see what everyone with an internet access will see. (the host(s) can delete anything here that was added inadvertantly).

Linda Wasson
Fan

uh ok ? I guess? am not sure what I'm supposed to acknowledge but yeah, I stay logged in...

and no, I don't think this should have been posted in production because I'm a grad student, this is a student film, and I'm new at a lot of this and was looking for mentor remarks, as opposed to mngmnt advice. as a business person, the answer was all too clear but I wanted to make sure I had everything else in mind to consider.

moving on, please see my next q

Linda Wasson
Fan

this film I'm working on, about the formerly incarcerated, seems it's growing day by day and is becoming very exciting to work on.

in school they stress over and over again to concentrate on making shorts (this one will be maxed out at 20min) and IF there is interest and IF there is more to shoot, etc., etc., then consider using the short as an intro to the longer version.

I'm just wondering if anyone here has gone that route before – from a short to a longer version? and how did it work out? how did you make various decisions, like what to use in the short? how long did it take to make the longer version (and how long was it?), etc.

Ian Hawkins
Fan

Hi everyone,
This is my first post for the D-Word but I wonder if you can help?

Sheffield DocFest have invited me to take part in their Mini-Meet Market at the end of the week. They chose and idea I proposed for a doc and now I have to pitch it to them on Friday. There's a panel of film and documentary professionals and I have just three minutes to pitch my idea.

I've never pitched before. Does anyone have any tips on pitching?
What should I concentrate on in such a short amount of time?

Thanks in advance of any help you can offer.

Nicola Lees
Pro

Hi Ian
Congratulations – that's exciting!

First – and most importantly – make sure you really know your idea inside out. What length is it? What's the story? Where does the story begin and how does it get to the end? Over what period are you shooting? Whose point of view are you focusing on? Who are the key characters? How are you telling the story on screen? Using talking head interviews? Ob doc? Rare archive? Animation? And why does this story need to be told now? And indeed, why does this story best told as a documentary rather than a book, magazine feature or photo essay?

Once you've got it straight in your mind you can plan your pitch. Make sure you pitch the story and not the issue or research. The execs will be trying to 'see' your documentary as you pitch it, so make it unfold in their minds with some vivid visual details to bring it to life.

And you only have 3 mins so you don't have to tell the whole story from beginning to end (they'll start glazing over)- summarize it in one sentence e.g. "This is the story of...who...and then discovers that...until... happens". You can then fill in some of the details – how you came to the story, who the characters are and what their challenges are, for example.

The pitch should be a tease that leads to a dialogue. Once they start asking questions – shut up and listen. You can talk yourself out of a pitch by not listening and responding to feedback.

There are a number of articles on pitching here: http://www.tvmole.com/category/tvdevelopmenttips/pitching/page/2/ – scroll down the page and start with the one titled "Six Ways..."

Good luck – and enjoy the experience!

Ian Hawkins
Fan

Hi Nicola, what a helpful answer! You've given real detail and that's what I was lacking. Plus 'shut up and listen' – great advice.

Thanks for the link too. I think my time this week will be spent talking to myself with a stopwatch.

Many thanks.

Doug Block
Host

Along the lines of "shut up and listen," whatever you do don't be defensive. If one of the commissioning editors says only a martian would be interested in your film, nod as if the person is a certified genius. Good luck, Ian.

Sebastian Serrano
Fan

Hi, i have a question about how much Natgeo or History pays for a chapter of 50 min for the US market. Can you help me with it?
Thank you

John Burgan
Host

Welcome, Sebastian. Everyone at The D-Word registers with their full name, so please add your surname to your profile.

Sebastian Serrano
Fan

Hello John, nice to meet you. Can you help me with my question? Thank you

John Burgan
Host

I'm afraid I can't, Sebastian, but hopefully one of our many members can...

Jason Perryman
Fan

Well this seems weird posting in here but after trying t figure this place out, I was told to post my questions here.

So I have made a 23 minute DOCUMENTARY on TIGER SHARKS that I need help trying to DISTRIBUTE. It's about diving with Tigers and then how they get killed in the beach nets, wounding their population etc. It's categorized as part amateur part professional in that it was shot on a home movie SD camera, but I got professional people in post production on it, animation, music etc.

How do I distribute this film to it's potential? What Distribution companies or Acquisition companies can I find to get this film to? How do I find these companies? If so, what's the process of approaching them?

I'm interested in getting this shown anywhere. TV, internet any small channels or being inflight movies etc. I know there's loads of different avenues that could show this film. Does anyone know how to do this or where to basically start? Any help would be a MAJOR push, thank you.

(Nat Geo turned me down. Discovery are useless, can't find a proper person to get it to there)

Rick Dillwood
Pro

Has anyone had any experience with CFMDC (Canadian Filmmakers Distribution Centre)?

I got an email from them expressing interest in a short doc I made last year (exciting!), but I wondered how many of these kinds of offers are legitimate.

They're asking for a $75 lifetime membership fee and a list of deliverables.

Any help would be appreciated,

Rick

Jo-Anne Velin
Pro

Perhaps contact the DOC association of Canada, either the HQ in Toronto or the regional people, and ask who knows what, or find out from CFMDC which filmmakers are with them and talk to the producers or directors. DOC can help connect you with people who know more, or you may hear about their informal reputation (especially if there are "issues"). Hopefully this is a good outfit – I have no opinion. Good luck!

Mark Wojahn
Fan

I am starting an edit with some HD files on an external drive and am not able to open the files up in QuickTime Player10 or in Final cut Pro 5.1.4. When I double click on the file to open it up in the viewer I get the warning bubble that says "Codec not found. You may be using a compression type w/out the corresponding hardware card" I am running an Intel imac on OX 10.6.4. Has anyone had this problem too? Whats the fix? Thanks.

James Longley
Pro

In reply to Rick Dillwood's post on Fri 12 Nov 2010 :

Personally, I wouldn't trust any distributor that sends you an email and asks you to pay them money to distribute your film. A good distributor could offer an advance against future earnings if they actually anticipate being able to distribute your film in a mutually profitable way. But a distributor that asks you to pay them is just a scam operation.

Timoty Gibbs
Fan

Can anyone talk about the Oprah Winfrey Documentary Club that's premiering in 2011? I understand she's featuring one documentary a month? Anyone think this is a good opportunity? I can't imagine how having Oprah involved with your film could be bad. How can one get a film to Oprah?

Doug Block
Host

Timoty, I think you submit through Annie Roney at RoCo Films.

Jason, wish we could be more helpful with suggestions about distributing your short. They're just very tough to get out there, and you already contacted the two most logical broadcasters.

Timoty Gibbs
Fan

Thanks, Doug, I'll investigate. Have you heard anything about this "club"? I'd think if someone like Oprah was looking for documentaries, it would be another great broadcast opportunity but no one seems to be talking about it. Do filmmakers not know about it or is it a bad thing?

James Longley
Pro

It is a good thing. Any invitation to watch documentary films is a good thing. Shun the Frumious Bandersnatch! But watch docs. We live in the real world.

Jason Osder
Pro

Here is info on the OWN documentary project – you need to click into the Flash site from this link.

http://www.rocofilms.com/

The "club" is based on the book club: one doc per month on cable TV and DVD mail order – an invitation to "get off the couch" have a discussion, do something.

I agree with James says: a good thing.

To me, it's sort of like a new model: traditional, digital, hybrid, Oprah.

Laura Moire Paglin
Pro

My hunch is – to be broadcast by "the club' that your a doc already has to be successful – a hit on the festival scene, awards, nominations, etc. – I could be wrong of course....

S.Tavaris Belle
Fan

I cant remember where I got the information from on the website but a post was made about documentary researchers with there name and contact information. Could somebody help me find it again? I tried using the research tool but couldnt find it

Nadia Hennrich
Pro

In reply to Bill Jackson's post on Mon 23 Aug 2010 :

Hi there Bill, I haven't figured out how to post a new thread here, so i am replying to you hoping someone will see this post: fact is I know there are some sound studios specialising on inexpensive sound mix for docs in LA, would you know any places? sorry to bug & thx

Christopher Wong
Pro

for my sound mix, i used a really great guy who has a nice little studio in downtown LA. his name is Nathan Smith and he runs a company called NL3 Audio. very inexpensive rates, and he is absolutely obsessive-compulsive about good, clean sound. we had some troublesome air conditioning and street noises in various scenes, and Nathan did a great job with it. tell him i referred you! you can check out his work at www.nl3audio.com

Derek A. Reuter
Pro

Hello, my name is Derek and althought I have commissioned documentaries and non-fiction film work before. I am now taking a step to be D.I.Y. and do one myself for a bit of a change of pace and discovery.

I would deeply appreciate any help and advice experienced people like yourselves can offer someone as crazy and adventurous as me. I do enjoy diving head first into a new medium that I have no previous formal training. If anything this allows me to innovate, but none-the-less there are plenty of mistakes I could make that could greatly hinder the products production/budget/success etc and nothing is more important than the product itself and its purpose.

My first question has to do with affordable resources and crew suppliments.
I am mapping out the film schedule, travel arrangements, and appointments with talent and talking heads. Already there is multiple conflicts with traveling with my current DP. So understanding that I can't always drag him with me to every opportunity to film or meet with an individual.

So is there a network out there where I can cherry pick videographers, sound engineers, etc that are affordable or willing to do in-kind work from various parts of the country?

My next question has to do with fiscal agents. I am currently investigating and informing my associates about CID (Center for Independent Documentaries) and am in love with what I have found. Especially as someone who is normally playing the role of being the Fiscal Agent/nonprofit resouce. But these relationships can be competative and there is no guarentee that the board and staff will feel inspired to work with us on our topic/film. Are their other non-fiction film organizations that have a good track record and are experienced at being a fiscal agent? Certainly a documentary based FA would have much greater advice and resources to guide or film to reach the market and viewers.

Last but not least. Considering we still have a few months before filming starts. I have yet to invest budget monies towards the bulk of video and sound equipment needed. Our documentary will be taping multiple live performances/jam out sessions, talking head interviews, stills, and moving shots.

Rigs and all aside. We are currently looking at a Canon EOS Mark ii for filming and stills, can anyone recommend a sound setup that can pair with this camera that will caption quality sound? Or better yet, recommend a video/audio pair that you have found most effective in capturing the essense of asceticism in video and sensation of good sound at a comparable price.

I would appreciate any and all advice on these questions and am always willing to be of service should you have any questions for areas I am experienced in. Agreed these are more questions for the member area but I have no creditals thus far in the genre so membership is doubtful.

Maybe in trade of consulting I can help in your films with an environmental, activist, natural resource management, policy, elections, music festivals, community organizing, nonprofit themes.

Always open and always willing,

Derek A. Reuter

Derek A. Reuter
Pro

Thank's john, logging the links now.

I often do things for an altruistic purpose and try to cut costs everywhere I can so that the objective and community benefits are achieved or not compremised. Volunteering professional services on a chartiable or education project is in-kind time. If possible maybe some of these videographers would be willing to help for a day for recognition on the credit rolls, webiste, etc instead of wanting a chunk of the funding. By having a nonprofit umbrella the project and leverage their designation it allows for any person to get a tax write-off (in some cases monies paid later by foundation/invoices not project budget) for the hours, materials, supplies, services supplied towards the project.

Derek A. Reuter
Pro

As for "in-kind" work I am offering. Simply ask, each situation I have encountered in regards for help has always been different. If I am unable to help myself I may have a list of resources to direct you to.

Linda Wasson
Fan

I'm confused about the various "no student films" or "no student funding" or "film must not have been made while a student" etc. ad nauseum....

what's this about exactly? and does the fact that I'm a student and making a film, even outside of class, automatically target me as someone not eligible for funding??

it's sooo frustrating and just a bit unnerving... the current film I'm seeking finishing funds for and other guidance – it's grown outside of my original class project and truly taken on a life of its own. I'm happy of course and no longer see it as a student film (again, am not sure what that is even supposed to mean!).

can someone help explain this to me please??

Jo-Anne Velin
Pro

As far as I know, student films are classified as this because they are made with film school resources. If this disqualifies you for certain finishing funds, maybe the school can point you to an alternative. Take this up in the NAmerica funding topic?

Linda Wasson
Fan

Jo-Anne, thanks but I'm still not clear what exactly constitutes a "student film."

also it raises a new question – what you said about school resources – why would that make any difference?

and no, my school knows no more resources than anyone else.

Linda Wasson
Fan

*this is posted here because the term "student film" is used in a number of designations not just for funding, i.e., film festivals, etc. sometimes there's even a separate category.

maybe every instance "student film" has its own definition??? it's so exasperating....!

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