The Mentoring Room - Ask the Working Pros

Mentoring Room

  • Public

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.

Maureen Futtner
Fan
Ok, Wise Documentary Filmmakers -

I admit I am a novice, albeit a very ambitious one. I am working on a long-
term project about a musician who's returning to her native Cuba
to perform in a series of concerts in Summer 2005. I've been
shooting her periodically and will continue to do so all the way
through her trip next year. I have no written agreement from her
as yet, but she's reassuring me constantly that this is my project.
I am getting concerned, however. I realize I need to broach the
subject of obtaining a release from her, but I also believe we
need a contract of sorts that I have exclusive rights to this project
over x period of time. Probably what I need is a lawyer, I know.
But one filmmaker has said to me, "You don't want to enter into
a "contractual relationship". You just want a release. "
What are the opinions out there? Any help welcome. Maureen
Doug Block
Host
hey maureen, sounds like you and your subject should have a talk.
that said, if she's at all famous, i'd be surprised if she's willing
to sign something that gives a novice filmmaker exclusive rights.

but at leastg get a release from her, and as soon as possible. if
she's unwilling to sign one, you're in deep doo-doo and should
seriously reconsider continuing on with the film.
Maureen Futtner
Fan
Doug & all mentors,

So i have had a discussion today w/my subject about getting a
release from her, and she basically told me she needs to get
paid; she wants a contract that figures in some kind of payment
to her. She said "I'm gonna give you my story, my life, I need
something in return." I told her people do not generally pay their
doc. subjects and she insisted because she's a performer, and
... on and on. This was all over the phone, and we have a real
meeting in a couple of weeks. She is not famous. I told her she
could get great publicity out of this. This didn't seem to sway her.
Seems she's been screwed over before, and while I've
established a great deal of trust with her (she now considers me
her friend), she does not want to feel exploited. She says my
paying her would give me creative control and I would own the
film (well, yea!).

Is this an absurd request? We haven't even broached amount. It
doesn't sound like she wants a mere token, however. At this
point, I've done 20 hours of exploratory shooting, have
researched for the last 8 months, and have mapped out my
future year and a half or more with this project in mind. Is this a
big red flag, or what?

Did Wim Wenders pay the musicians of the Buena Vista S.C? I
rather doubt it. Any wisdom welcome.

Maureen
Doug Block
Host
The subject of the successful French doc, To Be and to Have, famously
sued the filmmaker for a share of the profits last year. It's opened
up a lot of discussion on the subject.

It's not common at all to pay your subject but it's not uncommon, or
IMHO, necessarily wrong to share profits. Of course, profits are
usually dreamworld in the docworld, but if you hit the jackpot then
she shares in it. You might suggest that.

If she insists on payment, I'd be wary. Very very wary.
Maureen Futtner
Fan
Doug,

I'm grateful you're out there. Thanks (as always) for your prompt
response. I'm sure I'll be keeping you posted.

Maureen
Deleted User
Fan
Hi Working Pros,

I'm entirely new to film/video and starting a New York Film Academy
course this summer. Although I don't expect to become a filmmaker
in 12 weeks, I hope to pick up technical skills that will allow me
to start making videos/films and be valuable to potential employers
in the industry.

A couple questions: first, I've heard positive and negative things
about NYFA, and haven't paid yet, so if you think it's not a
worthwhile place to go, I'd be interested in what you have to say
(if you'd like to respond privately so as not to make a public
statement about them, that's fine!).

Second, I'm given a choice between a "film & DV" course or
a "straight DV" course. I'm leaning toward the latter, as I'm most
interested in documentary and like the idea of learning by lots of
shooting, without fear of wasting expensive media.

Miscellaneous advice is also very welcome.

Thanks for the help!
Dave
Rouane Itani
Pro
Maureen,

My understanding about life stories is that it is a case by case
scenario. It is not uncommon for producers to have to pay money to
basically buy the right to the life story. Sometimes even other
members of the family will interfere and want money or say you have no
right to the story, especially if they are somewhat involved in the
story you're telling.

How much money to pay and whether to pay at all depends on situations,
stories, people. What the subject is asking for is not surprising,
perhaps only the attitude.

There are different ways of doing that, where perhaps a small amount
could be offered initially and additional amounts to be paid if the
film gets distributed and makes any money. and yes a release and a
contract would be signed. It is in a way like optioning a book.
There is a possibility that you could "option" the story for a term
[2-3 years for example], and pay a specific amount of money that gives
you exclusive right to tell her story. After that time expires, if you
secure additional funding or a distribution deal, then you can pay her
additional money.

There are many versions of this. I am not an expert, so you might
want to check elsewhere on this, but that is my general understanding.
and a lawyer could help draft a contract. Some samples are available
online and in some books and one could edit them to fit the case.

Hope this helps. This is an interesting experience and I would be very
curious to learn what happens as you keep negotiating with her.

Perhaps if she realises you're not interested in paying and that it
would mean that she would loose the chance of having her story told,
she might reconsider. Perhaps a small token might be convincing.

let me know if you find out some of what I said was completely wrong.
I am testing my knowledge here. so take it with a grain of salt. sorry
for this long post.
Adele Schmidt
Pro
Perhaps you are interested:

Are You a Documentary Filmmaker Desperate for Feedback?
Been working on your film for so long that you can’t think straight
anymore? DOCS IN PROGRESS may be for you.

At the heart of DOCS IN PROGRESS is a monthly workshop
where film professionals and the general public screen
documentary rough cuts and offer constructive criticism to help
filmmakers get to the next stage of the editing process. The
workshops are moderated by D-Word's own Adele Schmidt
and Erica Ginsberg.

We are now soliciting submissions for the DOCS IN
PROGRESS workshop to take place on the evening of Tuesday,
July 13 at the Warehouse Theater in Washington DC.
Filmmakers do not have to be based in the area, but must be
available to attend the screening/feedback session at their own
expense.

To be considered for the July screening, you just need to send a
brief, written description via our website by May 31. See our
website for details: http://www.docsinprogress.org or contact us
at: contact@docsinprogress.org

If you would like to check out our next workshop, details are
below.

DOCS IN PROGRESS JUNE WORKSHOP
When? Tuesday, June 8 at 7:30 pm
Where? Warehouse Theater (1021 Seventh Street Washington
DC - walking distance from the Gallery Place or Mt. Vernon
Square Metro stations)

THE LAST COLONY - Rebecca Kingsley
In Washington DC, the capital of the world's best known
democracy, local citizens continue to be denied political rights
that other Americans take for granted -- the right to be governed
by their ownlocally-elected leaders rather than by the U.S.
Congress. This film looks at the history of Washington DC's
unique relationship with the federal government and its impact
on the city's residents.

DAUGHTERS of THE LEVANT - Rouane Itani
Women have often been at the forefront of immigrant families
and Arab-American women are no exception. This film traces
the stories of Lebanese and Syrian women immigrants to the
United States who settled with their families in cities and small
towns across the country and emerged as entrepreneurs,
artists, and activists in their new communities.
Doug Block
Host
Adele, this goes in the Classifieds and Announcements topic, not the
Mentoring Room.
Deleted User
Fan
A friend (amateur videographer) is documenting a travel
journey and the footage was originally just going to be
for family viewing. But as things develop it looks like some
interesting stories and people have emerged. Some footage
includes informal spontaneous responses from people along
the way, and a few people have given voluntary on camera
interviews with informal verbal approval. I'm going to send my
friend some written performance release forms in case he wants
to use them. We think we "might" be able to edit the material
eventually into some educational documentary or similar program
- who know if there would ever be any profit. Where do you
draw the line about who needs to sign a performance release
eg.,people on the street spontaneous interviews, etc. For those
interviews with no release he might eventually be able to track
down some but not all of the people to get a release. What
would you advise?
Loading...