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.

Kristen Kellogg

I am returning to Bali to film my first documentary. Last year I had the idea, but realized there was still too much I needed to learn before shooting. I took the last few months and worked with a local filmmaker who produces commercials and also makes documentaries. I am now feeling confident and ready to make my film. I am looking for another filmmaker who would like work with me. I could shoot it on my own, but would be great to have another camera and set of ears and eyes. Any suggestions for looking for someone who might be interested. The dates are October 26th-Nov. 11th. Any suggestions to finding someone who is in the area would be greatly appreciated!

Reid B. Kimball


I apologize for this being so long, but hopefully it's not overly complex a question. In summary, I am trying to decide if for my first documentary I should go big or make it small and then at a later time do my grand vision.

I am faced with a decision that I need some help with from those who are more experienced than I.

I am directing and self-funding my first ever documentary. It’s a passion project and I am teaching myself the art of documentary filmmaking, along with all the technical equipment and editing skills needed along the way as I develop the film.

I work on the film part time with my other part time paying the bills and film costs. I realized the other day that if I want to accomplish my grand vision for the film, it will likely take me 2 or 3 more years at this current rate of production.

I’m confident I can do that, but I am worried about the film coming out in 2 or 3 years. My topic is health related, one that I feel can help nearly 60 million in the US alone who suffer from devastating digestive conditions such as IBS, Celiac and Crohn’s disease, the latter I have.

The grand vision of my film is about people with those digestive conditions who use alternative medicine instead of the conventional approaches when they don’t work.

Additionally, it will ask the question, if people like me and the patients I interview can overcome an incurable disease like Crohn’s disease without using conventional medications and surgery, why aren’t more people doing this?

That question will lead to exposing the systemic healthcare and government failings that are prohibiting patient access to healthy food and alternative treatments.

There are also concepts about modern western society being out of alignment with the natural laws of life and so we are seeing more diseases.

Lots of interconnected and heavy topics, and I feel they are important to make the film help as many people as possible. But people need help right now, people are dying frequently from the ravages of Crohn’s disease which eats away at a person’s intestines.

The other option I have is to make a smaller, tighter focused documentary that only discusses the patients and the treatments that have worked for them along with a few key medical experts. I could probably wrap production this year if I haul ass and release it next year.

But I’m afraid of doing that because I want to make my grand vision and I fear that if I make a smaller version first, something will happen and I’ll never get to make that original version of the film I really wanted. Are my fears warranted based on your experiences?
What do you think I should do?

Stay colonized,

-Reid B. Kimball

Rob Rooy

Reid, is there any way you can go for the more tightly focused documentary now, and then still do the big one later? You say you're worried that if you go the easier route, "something will happen" and you won't get around to making your grand vision; isn't also possible that something will happen anyway if you embark on a much longer path to completion?

As someone who has also learned by doing, I would encourage you to choose the more immediate goal first. Especially if you want this film to be seen and be of immediate benefit to others who suffer similar diseases. And, as a newly minted filmmaker, all the things you learn the hard way on the smaller film can greatly benefit you on your next film, when you get to start with a clean slate! My experience is that docs can take twice as long and cost twice as much as you think they will. Unless you're a real glutton for punishment, I'd start small(er).

John Burgan

It's good advice – learn to walk before you run. Good luck Reid and keep us posted.

Reid B. Kimball

Thanks John.

I have a gear question now. I'm using a Sanken CS-1 shotgun mic that requires 48v phantom power. Can anyone recommend a battery operated 48v phantom power supply? I find it's drawing too battery power from my Zoom H4n.

I'm looking for AA battery powered and ultra portability.

Here's a great example of what I'm looking for, but I think it only works for Sennheiser shotgun mics.

Bill Jackson

Reid, this one looks good to me. Phantom Power I haven't used it, but it uses a 9 volt battery and seems to be a good design.

Karina Whitmarsh

Just started out and need to put a production log book together. How is this done. I'm the director and my one and only producer just told me he is going to join the Navy. I'm all alone now and need to continue making my doc. film. We never started one out in the first place..been only working with him for the last 2 months and only two shoots, so not much work to be done..however now I'm wearing all the hats. Help, please.

Doug Block

Karina, as you're a professional member, you should probably ask this question in the Editing topic where you're bound to get more eyeballs. This is more for "enthusiasts" who don't have access to much beyond this topic.

Jennifer Reiman

Hi everyone :)
I am editing a political documentary which is my first full length project, and find myself in need of some good tips. I have a lot of creative control as to the direction of the film as well.
I watched 'The Cutting Edge' and found it very helpful. I would love some suggestions on more educational videos, and free courses to take.
Other than that, if anyone has some time they would like to share to help me along, please message/email me, or let me know if you are available for a phone chat or two.

Thanks :) positivecontact (at)

John Burgan

Jennifer, we don't appreciate links to illegal downloads at The D-Word, which is why your post has been edited.

As it happens, The Cutting Edge, The Magic of Movie Editing is available new and second-hand at Amazon

As you are currently editing your first full-length project, it might be worth thinking about how you plan to survive in a business where the fruits of your labours are made available for free. It's basically the difference between a hobby and being able to pay the rent.

Jennifer Reiman

Hi John,

I was wondering after I posted that if someone would say something.

First, just because a file is available for download through a bittorrent site does not mean it's 'illegal', and also in my case, I will make my documentary available for people to see for free, as well as purchase hard copies, as many in the genre I am working in are doing.

I support people in the industry by buying documentaries from them (usually after I have watched them) and I often give them away to people.

That being said, I appreciate you communicating with me about your edit

John Burgan

The movie in question is not available legally through any bittorrent or download site, Jennifer – if you believe it is, please email the link and we will happily post it. It may be available on Netflix to subscribers in the US for online streaming – but that's not bittorrent.

Jeremy Ansell

Actually John it is available. You can watch it on Youtube and it has a standard license. It can be found via a simple search. The first part has over 90,000 views and was posted in 2006 so the assumption would be that it is legally available to watch for free.

Documentary filmakers might want to think about how they plan to survive in the business without considering other ways of distribution. This is the reality, embrace and think outside the box.

John Burgan

Although some sections are there on Youtube, the whole movie is not available to watch, as you acknowledged in your original post.

The bittorrent link that you posted which we removed was certainly not legal – is that what you meant by "thinking outside the box"? :)

As it is, D-Worders are already exploring alternative methods of distribution online, such as our Distrify and The D-Word Topic.

Jeremy Ansell

That was my original post? I've not posted a bit torrent link. I wouldn't encourage illegal downloading but I would encourage 'thinking outside of the box' when it comes to distribution and not just assuming that making your film available for free is not part of a viable distribution plan. This is a model that threatens the more established filmmaker and it shouldn't. You get what you pay for.

John Burgan

Sorry Jeremy, the illegal link was posted here by the other poster which we removed – and I think the smiley shows that she knew it was content you didn't have to pay for. I mixed the two posts up – my mistake.

Nick Ravich


Hello all-

For some reason having a really hard time getting folks to talk to me about this issue so wanted to throw it out to the D-word community (doesn't seem to have been really covered in past forum posts.)

I work for a small, non-profit arts organization that produces a pretty high profile nat'l documentary series for PBS. We’ve got a growing amount of digital original video material (multi-GB, broadcast-intended digital video files; mostly XDcam EX and P2 original) and we need to get serious about more long term/archival preservation – a system where I can reliably expect to access the media 5/10/20 years down the line. Currently all this media lives on multiple, but non-networked, non-RAIDED external drives; given the life expectancy for these kind of drives, I realize they’re really only a short term solution. Up to the last couple of years, almost all of our original footage was shot to tape; we’ve been creating protection masters, and storing masters and protections in separate climate controlled facilities. Obviously digital material requires a different solution.

One important thing to know about us – we have serious aspirations to preserve all of our originally-produced footage beyond the life of the organization, to eventually make publicly available for researchers, students, etc. So this is not a client-mandated need but instead something generated internally, motivated by our contemporary art and media centered mission. Being smart now about how we ensure the longevity/future usability of this material is crucial for us.

I know the terms "archival" and "long term" probably bring up more questions than answers but I'm wondering how folks in similar positions – smaller production companies producing a consistent (if not broadcaster level volume) of digital original material, who own their media and have a vested interest in preserving it – have dealt with this. Transferring to LTO5 tape? Some kind of cloud/network-based solution? In house? Out-sourced?

Honestly, very surprised there isn't more discussion out there about this. Really hoping I can spark something here.

Sincerely, Nick