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.

Doug Block
Actually, I could use an intern this summer, Stephanie. I'm also a
Cornell alum. Work in NYC. Let's talk more on email:
Shazia Malik
ok...I seemed to have created a bit of a crisis for myself... I've
been in New Zealand for about two years now but feel I dont know the
country well enough to have an "opinion" or a "perspective" and
consequently be able to question. I really want to make something
that I strongly feel about... how do i start off??
Erica Ginsberg
What about the perspective of someone who has only been in a country
for two years and surely must have some perspective on what it feels
like to be experiencing a different culture?

Alternatively, does your film program encourage collaborations?
Sometimes finding someone else who does have a stronger (or at least
clearer) opinion and ability to question can help bring out your own

Good luck!
Deleted User
Hi, I'm wondering whether any of you have ideas about affordable
storage of original footage shot for a doc., preferably in the NY
area. Are any of you interested in sharing space?
Johanna Kloot
Hi there. How do I protect my ideas/stories as I go about pitching
and looking for professional partners? Is there a format for
pitching that works well for the doco? It seems some countries buy
finished docos and others, like my Australia, strongly prefer pre-
sales. What are the advantages of either system and is there a
trade proforma/secret on how to secure pre-sales?
Thank you for your valuable time donations.
Doug Block
Johanna, those are great questions and each one requires a long,
detailed answer, so I can't get to all of them.

The short answer to the first is... you can't protect your ideas. Not
fully. You can't copyright an idea. So the more fully developed they
are when you present them, the more it's clear that you've done the
work and someone would be foolish to try to do it themselves when
you're imminently going into production, well... hopefully, that does
the trick.

As far as format for pitching, TDF at Hot Docs, IDFA and a number of
other places have formal pitching sessions for international docs
during the year and they all have a similar format. You can read up
on it at the TDF website:

The only trade secret on securing pre-sales is to shoot a lot of
great footage and make it into a fantastic sample tape. And, if you
can, allign yourself with producers who have international experience
and contacts (all but necessary in int'l co-pros and presales).

Lots of luck.
Johanna Kloot
Thank you so much for your valuable advice. I will take heed. It
must feel great to know you are making a difference.
Thank you again, Johanna.
Sarah Richards
Does anyone have any tips on getting into the industry for a lawyer
turned documentary filmmaker? Do I need to go back to school? Is it
realistic to want a career in documentary? Am I crazy???! Cheers,
Doug Block
Yes, Sarah, you're crazy! Totally bonkers!!! Then again, so are all
of us. So, you're in good company. But you're also ahead of the game
since much of producing is doing all the agreements yourself that you
wish you had the money to pay a lawyer to do.

I'd also say don't go back to school. What for? Use all that money
you save towards making your film. There are plenty of ways to learn
outside of school. Just one recommendation: if you're gonna wind up
shooting yourself, get a camera and practice, practice, practice.
Doug Block
Sarah, just noticed you applied to the community. We don't normally
let in inexperienced doc makers, but if you promise to hang out in our
Legal Issues topic and restrain from asking too many basic questions
we'll make an exception. When you get in (later today), please
introduce yourself again there.