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.

Nathan Scholtens
Thanks Doug, I ran to the library immediately after receiving
this recommendation Saturday morning, and ran through the
book--cover to cover! It is an excellent guide! I also checked
out--on a tip from an Amazon reviewer--a book called
"Creative Interviewing" by Ken Metzler. Don't be scared off
by the 'artsy' sounding title, creative interviewing is defined
by Metzler as interviewing that 'creates' responses and a flow
of ideas that could not have existed with just _one_ of the
two participants. John Brady's guide is experiential,
anecdotal, like a self-help book. Metzler's book is more
personal (using personal rather than general anecdotes) and
more academic at the same time. It is less prone to the
pitfalls of being outdated (as my Amazon reviewers so
eagerly pointed out), but let me add that it has the most
obnoxious illustrations; reminiscent of junior high textbooks,
or any elementary foreign language book. Both guides,
together, have been invaluable in the preparations made for
my first interview for my new documentary, to be conducted
tomorrow afternoon. Cross your fingers for me!

Doug Block
congrats, nathan. you didn't really have to hide that ;-)
Marc Maurino
Hello there. I introduced myself to the D-word forum at 3.886 and
have spent the last few weeks reading tons of back posts and archives
on line and printed out. I read the entire history (from page 1
forward) of this particular topic and I am so impressed by the
generosity of spirit and talent offered forth by so many of the
regular veterans who post here. It was almost like a master class in
documentary filmmaking to read hundreds of posts more or less back to
back (over a few days) and I'm eager to put some of my questions out
here. (BTW, I have joined the D-word community thanks to Doug's
offer, but I'm hoping to continue to just read a lot over there and
shoot some interviews on my current project before posting there.)

So as I stated in my intro, I am intending to join a medical
delegation of Jewish doctors to the occupied territories of Palestine,
focussing for now on my physician friend who has a very literate blog
about the occupation, Israeli/Palestinian politics, and medical care.
After much discussion it looks like he is comfortable moving forward
with himself as the ("for now") focus of the piece. His trepidation
is that his interest is in healing and bearing witness, not being a
star, and I understand and share that mission but feel I need someone
to be a charismatic and compelling subject to vivify that journey, and
he agrees. We are now waiting to learn more details about the
delegation, and I am in preproduction. So here come the
questions--I'll try to keep them short, direct, and a few at a time!
Thanks in advance.

I'll likely be shooting alone using my Sony DCR TRV 11. (I've
considered bringing a DP or sound person or finding one there; while I
still may, I need to be sensitive to the fact that I myself am already
tagging along with doctors as they do important healing work, and I
don't think I can quite have a crew along, not that I could afford it
anyway.) So I'm going to be a one-man band with a one chip camera (I
can't afford a 3 chip, adn if I could I don't know that the occupied
territories is the first place I'd want to go with it.) I have a
lavaliere mike for staged interviews;
1, any recommendations on affordable shotgun mikes I can mount on the
2, any recommendations for modifications to make to the camera to
return the proper ratio (16:9???) imagery to best boost my chances of
looking professional/selling to TV, cable, foreign markets?
3, any and all advice about one-man shooting, and anywhere on this
site that this has been addressed in detail? I searched a bit in the
Community Nuts and Bolts and as I said throughout the forum but I'd be
grateful if this has been done before to be steered to the right place.
I think that's it for now. I'm getting some books and checking
out other websites (AIVF, IFP, etc.) Any recommendations on any good
how-to will be appreciated; I am checking out Mark Litwak for the
legal et al and some of the books and sites that have been mentioned
here before in the last few years. Eventually I'll also be doing a
lot of looking for like minded filmmakers already in the middle East
for advice and or support; any that are out there now or know of
someone who is please let me know!

I'm trying to write up an overview/interview list/theme
exploration of what I'm trying to do to take place of a script (that I
would be used to!) I'm sure I'll have more basic pre-pro questions as
time goes on. Thanks!
Doug Block
hey, marc, check the d-word community's audio topic for shotgun mike
recommendations. there's also been plenty of discussion of 16:9
modification in the cameras and camcorder topic.

as for one-man shooting, nothing beats practice, practice, practice.
and don't forget close-ups, wide establishing shots and cutaways. all
are easy to forget about amidst the hubbub of shooting.
Ray Wood
Hi Marc, Sounds like an interesting project. Is this connected with
Doctors without borders?. I believe I saw a piece on them in the
past. I would offer a suggestion: There are people in the industry
from that part of the world or live in that part of the world. I
would try and make as many contacts as possible. You can probably
find a sound person over there. I like the thought of you shooting,
just keep in mind that you will have to wear alot of hats. Clearly
defining what your objectives are will prove important. You will have
to focus yourself outside of the lense. While still getting quality
footage. Good Luck and keep me posted.
Marc Maurino
Doug and Ray, thanks for your great words of encouragement. The group
I'm going with is not Doctors W/o borders, but the sentiment is the
same. I'm looking for people already in country--that's great advice.
The "defining objectives" part is hard . . . I'm sort of used to
having a script! I'm trying to work up a list of interviews, ideas,
etc., but I'm also going to just be "tagging along" a bit, so we'll
see what comes up. This whole project has come up for me in the last
few weeks with our trip scheduled in just a few months, so I unf.
don't have the chance to even take an intensive doc making class or
even attempt to raise money or find a producer; right now I'm sort of
looking for a mentor/associate producer that I can ask all my
questions--thank goodness for D-word! I'll be sure to keep you
posted. Thanks again--the encouragement means a lot!
Maureen Futtner
Hi Doug & everyone,

Regarding releases -
if I'm shooting/interviewing someone on several different occasions,
is it enough to have that initial release from our first meeting or
do I need to ask them to sign a release each time?

Thanks for being here, by the way.
Doug Block
Thanks, Maureen. Nice to have you here, too. You're gonna like my
answer - you just need one release. I highly recommend that you make
xeroxs of your releases and keep them in separate locations.
Marc Maurino
Hi folks, a few questions that have come up as my project progresses.
First, what would be considered "not too low to be an insult" to
offer an editor in payment for getting involved in my project now
(before anything is shot) and expecting
involvement/collaboration/editing until it's done? (At this point I'm
imagining 30-60 minute short, POSS a feature.) I'm looking to get
someone quite experienced with editing both technically and shaping
narrative, preferably someone with fairly extensive doc and/or feature
experience. My thoughts were offer $1000 if it turns out to be a
short, $2000-2500 if it turns out to be a feature, and possibly some
points share (how much?) on the back end. (Yes, I know, points
sharing on a no budget doc is not going to be a whole lot if anything
at all!) Am I going to insult a professional with that?
Question 2: I'm looking to focus my doc on one character but
extensively look at and film a larger social justice group that he's
part of; they naturally are interested in a doc about their group and
goals, but also are interested in "ownership" of it b/c it will
reflect on them. Financial investment will be mine alone, and while
I'm hopeful (and expect) that this piece will reflect nicely on this
great progressive social justice group, ultimately it is going to be
my film, which i will direct, edit, control, etc. Naturally I know
about getting releases from everyone and all that, but here's a two
part question: any advice for how to deal professionally and politely
with a group from whom you want access but for artistic reasons can't
give control?
Secondly, do you ever get a release from a GROUP? Does an
organization have any standing regarding its image? (Sorry if this
one's been done before, I've read tons of back posts and haven't seen
it.) Thanks in advance as usual.
Erica Ginsberg

Regarding the editor, the prices you mention are quite low for most
professional editors and probably no editor in his or her right mind
would accept a deal for a doc with points share unless you are
Michael Moore or Ken Burns. That said, there are often professional
editors who are looking either for a labor of love, a project which
addresses a pet social concern of theirs, or something to expand
their portfolio (i.e., someone who does mostly corporate work or
Discovery Channel-style docs looking to work on a creative doc) for
lower pay than they are used to getting. You might even find someone
to barter with (e.g., an editor who wants to direct a film, but who
needs a cinematographer). Key is finding someone who you can sell
the project on with your enthusiasm and passion. You may end up
having to work around his or her higher paid schedule if you go this
route, but it may be worth it to you financially and professionally
to find someone who is as passionate as you about the subject.

In terms of ownership, has the group actually asked you to make a
promotional film about them? As you spend more time with them and
get their trust (presumably your main character can help be an
advocate for you), you can diplomatically state that what you are
making is a documentary and you want the film to reflect the reality
of what they are doing without being compromised by coming across as
an advocacy film. Very often, a doc can be an even more powerful
advocacy tool than an informational video because it is made with an
outsider's eye (a recent example is SEEDS about the Seeds of Peace
Camps; you may wish to contact those filmmakers for their
experiences - link to the website is at
<>). You can
always promise to have a sneak preview fundraising premiere of the
film on behalf of their organization or share some of the proceeds of
a screening or allow them to have a certain number of free copies of
the film to sell or give as a gift to funders, but the key is that
you need to retain creative control.
Marc Maurino
Thanks for your great advice Erica. This is just the answer I needed
and provides me a great tool for being frank and direct with the
group. I haven't been asked to make a promotional film; I want to
document my friend's journey, and he's part of the group, so while it
will reflect well on them, on not looking to make an informational or
advocacy piece; more of an exploratory film. I will def. contact
Seeds of Peace filmmakers as well, if only b/c our projects share
some of the same impulses.

On the subject of editors, I knew the $ amounts were a pittance, I
also agree, I need to sell someone who both sees it as a labor of
love and wants to be part of the creative team, and also someone
maybe looking to step their own game up a notch. I hope my doc
subject is compelling enough to find someone who will say, yeah,
that's worth my time. Thanks again for all the generous advice!
Doug Block
marc, figure any editor with real professional experience and talent
comes at a minimum of $1500/wk. you can get someone less experienced,
of course (at your peril), but it'll be hard to keep them on for any
length of time just because it's your labor of love.
Marc Maurino
Thanks Doug, for us newbies having an idea of what professionals
should reasonably expect is a great post-production planning tool.
Happy holidays to all!
Jim Wharton
Okay, I am new to the site and have introduced myself on the other
thread so here goes the question.
I am prepping a doc about 2 unsolved murders and the effects of non-
closure on the family members. Much of the content will be their
ongoing search for answers and frustrations with the investigating
agencies. In shooting the interviews, I want to give a face to the
victims and show my audience who they were. I know that "talking
heads" can be VERY boring. Any tips on composing these interviews to
make them really interesting?
Doug Block
it's not the composition that makes an interview compelling, jim. it
helps, of course, as does lighting, as does focus, as does good sound.
but worry about the interview itself and trust that the subject matter
is inherently interesting. there are lots of terrific docs out there
that rely on talking head interviews. this fella named errol morris
has made few.
Maureen Futtner
HI, again, oh Brain Trust.

Looks like I'll be posting to this site often in the next few
months, as I'm embarking on a new project.

OK - making a road trip from San Francisco (my home) to Santa
Barbara in mid-Jan to interview a man I hope to be a supporting
character for my documentary. In this initial visit I probably only
have 1 "session" of 4-5 hours with him, and have never been to Santa
Barbara. We are a 2-person crew, relying on natural light - hoping
to shoot outside. My subject lives in an apartment building, but I
was hoping to shoot him in a park or outside a cafe and walking,
maybe to the beach - out and about. My problem is I don't know
Santa Barbara at all. Is it ok to rely on your subject to "scout"
for you? I have already asked him if he wouldn't mind thinking of
such places where we might go. We'll probably shoot a little in his
house, but ideally I want the atmosphere of his city.
So, how does one "research" such a thing? Maybe we should show up a
couple hours early and scout on our own? Should we just rely on our
subject's recommendations? Visit websites? Any ideas?

Thanks, in advance. And happy & safe new year to all!
Doug Block
maureen, i'd simply ask him to take me to some of his favorite local
spots. done all the time - by me, at least. while you're out and
about you can keep your eyes open but i'd go where the subject is most
Erica Ginsberg
I'd recommend you ask him for ideas in advance and, if you can, get
to SB a day or two before your shoot to check out the locations to
plan how you want to set up the shot. A subject may have a favorite
park or cafe but may not be thinking about such things as noise or
available light. For instance, he may like to go to a certain park,
but always sits in a part of it that is very crowded and noisy.
Might be better to find a quieter spot for the interview or perhaps
consider one section for the interview and another for him
interacting with other people (if you want anything more verite).
Also not sure whether the city plays a sub-character to this
character; if so, the extra time will give you the opportunity to get
some beauty locale shots.
Jim Wharton
Doug and Robert, thank you very much for your input!
X Ali
Hello All & a happy 2005
Read a few of the very useful and practical guidelines offered here
and am very excited. Am based in Nairobi Kenya and am in pre-prod.
for a docu. on the youth and issues that affect them especially in
high school and college.

Has anyone done a similar project or any thoughts?

Doug Block
hi xali,

if you've had any professional experience as a documentarian please
feel welcomed to join the d-word community, which requires another
regisration step (you've already done part one):

that's where you'll meet your docu colleagues.
Maureen Futtner
Yet another question about releases, however this one is about web
pages. My project is begging for some footage of internet sites.

At our facility, I have access to a scan-converter so that means I
can get fairly decent images off of computer and onto tape. But my
question, of course, is ... are the "release rules" regarding web
sites the same as they would be for using still photos, archival
footage, etc. Do I have to email the web master of each site and
get their permission?

Any info/experience regarding this stuff would be very helpful.
Thanks so much. - Maureen
Doug Block
When I made Home Page I made sure to write each web site I filmed and
get the owner's permission. They were personal web sites, though. It
was pretty simple. I would try in your case, too.
Maureen Futtner
Thanks so much for your wisdom, Doug. I appreciate this forum so
much. You're going to see me posting more and more in the coming

All the best, Maureen
Michelle Plett
Hi, i'm new here. I recently introduced myself on another posting.
I'm working for my cousin and she'd like some questions answered if
possible. We're working on a documentary called Childless by Choice.
We're interviewing couples who have made the choice not to have
children. As neither of us have much practical experience, we need
some help. Thanks in advance.

1. Are d-makers copyrighting their treatments or proposals before
sending them out to funders and prospective partners?

2. Do we need Errors and Omissions insurance for a TV Doc that will
be marketed toward both US and Canadian broadcasters?

3. What percentage of a doc budget is typically allotted for post-
prod and marketing? If a dco budget is $100,000, what percentage is
likely to go towards post production, how much to market it?

4. Should an indy filmmaker put in a lump sum payment for her
services (into the budget), even though typically the filmmaker
doesn't get paid until there is money left over?

5. Do you need a location release in addition to a talent release
when you interview in peoples homes? what about in a hotel?

6.Is there a ay to convert film from PC Adobe Premier to Mac Final
cut pro without losing?

Thanks so much
Robert Goodman
My answers to your questions.

1. No.
2. Yes.
3. Post - depends on how much material you shoot and how quickly you
can edit. Marketing - depends on profile - high profile project -
typical marketing expenses can run from $30,000 to 100,000 after
completion of the project and before a distributor starts spending
money. Also include money for outreach activities - reaching the
affected communities.

4. Better to create line items knowing full well you'll never see a

5. No location release needed for people's homes. Insurance is
needed in case you break or damage something. Hotels - as long as
the hotel isn't recognizable I wouldn't bother. Get you into more
difficulty asking than just doing it.

6. Not sure what you are asking. Adobe Premiere doesn't use film. It
edits digital media files that must be captured if analog or
transferred if using firewire into the program. The media files are
not compatible with Final Cut Pro. The timeline may work. So you
might be able to edit and create an edl that can be transferred to
FCP. The media will need to be re-transferred into the mac.
Michelle Plett
Thanks for the info..

as far as #6, that's what I meant...sorry, should have been more
clear or read my post over again!
Doug Block
ditto what robert says. v. good advice (as usual).
Erica Ginsberg
ditto ditto. I'd just add on question 1 that, while you can't
copyright an idea or a proposal, you can protect yourself a little by
keeping good documentation of the different stages of production and
perhaps finding a way to make sure that the story will be unique to
you (i.e., you have special access to the subject, etc.)

Outreach can be a major part of the budget depending on what you are
planning to do. You should consider it separately from post-
production. Not sure where you are based, but you might want to
check out an upcoming workshop on outreach strategies that is being
sponsored by the Center for Social Media in Washington DC on February
7. More info at
< > Also
there was an online forum on outreach here in D-Word a few years back
with Robert West from Working Films. The thread should still be
Michelle Plett
thanks! I'm going to get Laura (the director) to get out to that!
She's in Virginia.
Richard Levitt
Hey there!
I'm in the prep stage for a doc on a former CIA station chief who
helped turn central Africa into the wonderful and happy place it is
today. Brushing aside his usual disdain for agents who have gone
public, he's talking--and it's only to us! We're getting some quick
interest, and we are in the process of putting together a preliminary
budget--around $500k--for a potential investor. A basic question
please: What would be a sensible amount to enter for a
producer/director in terms of salary--given the overall budget? I
know there are no rules, but let's have a figure for the budget and
if the universe allows, I may actually see some of it!
Doug Block
That's always a tricky question, but I figure anywhere between 50 to
75k wouldn't raise any eyebrows. you'll have considerably more
trouble explaining to an investor how he or she will see a profit with
that high a budget on a doc.
Richard Levitt
Thanks for you quick response! I suspect I will make it through with
much less than that, but it's good to have some general numbers. My
partner, who is in fact used to working on small budget productions,
reminds me that no filmaker she ever met got paid during production;
but frankley, the scope of this film is more expansive and, in
addition, there would be no other source of income during the making
of the doc. Is it completely unreasonable to expect at least
something to live on?
Doug Block
absolutely not. most experienced funders actually worry more about
filmmakers who don't put ENOUGH salary for themselves to live on. it's
a big red flag pointing to their inexperience. still, even the most
experienced often pay themselves last. like, um, me...
Richard Levitt
Thanks again!! Two more questions--two major producers want to see a
three-minute pitch reel (it might, in addition to everything else,
help us retain creative control over this project--which one producer
has already tried to grab away). Our DP suggests we go with the 24p
package he has, for the pitch and maybe the doc itself. Not knowing
where this will be distributed (cable television has expressed an
interest), should we be thinking higher in the quality universe?

Also, the person who recommended an investor, wants a hefty
commission--have you heard of that before and, if so, how was that
Robert Goodman
finder's fee - worth 5-10%.
which 24P package - a DVX100A? a SDX900? a VariCam? a Cinealta? 16mm?
35MM? If the answer is DVX100a, I'd suggest unless you don't get
your 500K, moving up the production scale.
Doug Block
hey, you're talking to a guy who had a film shown on hbo, at sundance
and many other fests, and even limited theatrical that was shot on
good ol' hi-8! so a dvx100a seems perfectly tasty to me.
Robert Goodman
doug - not what I meant. If the budget is $500K think the
expectation is that you will shoot on something better than Hi8. Now
if you're talking Pixelvision I could understand. And was I talking
to you?
Robert Goodman
re-read the posts. Doug you didn't ask the question. Richard did. If
I were the investor, I'd opt for better quality for my $500,000.
Just my 2 cents.
Doug Block
assuming richard raises 500k, as opposed to 2 cents ;-) given that
he may well need to shoot in stages, should add that nobody's ever
been arrested for upgrading camera quality mid-stream. or mixing
Karen Loeb
I'm wondering if anyone out there has some advice about how to get
advice on writing a budget for a full-length documentary film. Are
there any online mentorship programs? I'm in Canada, by the way....
Robert Goodman
I'd second Doug's suggestion and also suggest you look at the CBC's
website. There's a wealth of info there and I believe at the Film
Board website.
Christopher Gallant
Hello all,
I'm starting taping on a documentary concerning my father and a
boyhood story. I've watched Alan Berliner's "Nobody's Business". Any
other suggestions on material to watch, books, etc? Any advice
Doug Block
"my architect" and "capturing the friedmans" are the most obvious
recent choices. i'm doing a similar film and i think the main
question is can you treat your own role in the film with the necessary
objectivity and distance? in other words, can you treat yourself as a
character in a movie? other than that, my own rule of thumb is that
no one in the film can come off looking worse than me. a sense of
humor about oneself never hurts, either.

but my best advice is find a great editor. or, if you can't afford
one, find one to be a consulting editor.
Maureen Futtner
I am mailing a letter requesting an interview with a gentleman named
Ernest Callenbach - known mostly for his visionary 70's sci-fi
novel "Ecotopia".
Frankly, I'm a novice filmmaker and am wondering if established
people like Mr. Callenbach would want to be offered, from the get-
go, an honorarium? I have no budget and little money, but if that
might help me get an interview w/him, I might be able to up front
offer $75-100.

ANy thoughts on this? Is that simply insultingly low? Should I not
offer at first and see what happens?
Doug Block
maureen, i've been involved with many docs and have never paid for an
interview, never offered pay, never been asked for pay. more than
likely he'll be more than happy that a filmmaker knows who he is and
appreciates his work, and wants to put him in her film. if he's so
inclined, offer to take him out to lunch or dinner, instead. and
shoot a really terrific interview.
Richard Davis
Could anyone suggest a source(s) one could refer to in order to
attempt to forecast potential revenues from televised doc's in the US
and Canada? I'm budgeting and need to ball park potentials and wish
to provide precendence for support of proforma. Thanks.
Doug Block
richard, read jan rofekamp's archived conference here on "selling in
the international marketplace."
Tim Pope
Hello everyone. I am venturing into my 1st documentary and I was
wondering what kind of inexpensive choices I had for recording
dialogue. I will be interviewing subjects at their homes and
dictating from notes to use as narrative. I was told that minidisc
recorders such as the Sony MZ-B10 were good and inexpensive ways to
go, any advice?
David Randle
Just came into the forum from cafe Utne what a tresure chest of minds. Great
Ben Kempas
Thanks, David. So why don't you tell us a bit more about yourself in
the Introduce Yourself topic {LINK NOT IMPORTED}?
Christian Saladores
hey all, im very new at filming anything. i've done most of my
research from the net, but if anybody can lead me to a site or book
perhaps on how to come up with a good line of questions... i only have
one day of shooting and i've never done anything like this... but i
know i have to be prepared.

the topic is mostly concerned on the elements of hip hop and most of
the potential interviewees are teenagers who have there own
distinctive lingo...

cheers, any help will be most appreciated
Doug Block
there's a great book on interviewing that i've noted here before (you
can check back posts), i think called "the craft of the interview" by
a guy named brady. do a search on amazon and i'm sure you'll turn it
Tim Pope
I guess everyone is too busy to help the "newbie", guess everyone
here was born a professional and never needed help from their peers.
Doug Block
calm down, tim, everyone IS busy, and i'm simply no sound expert. i
generally use a senheisser directional mike as an auxillary mike
plugged into the camera. works for me but it'll cost you at least a
few hundred dollars. the most inexpensive way, of course, is to use
the built-in camera mike, but i don't recommend it. nor do i
recommend cheap mikes. sound is too important.
Tim Pope
Sorry about the rant, plan "A" wasn't working and this project is
looming closer, so I resorted to plan "B". I appreciate the response
and the advice is well taken. Thank you
Kyoko Yokoma
Hi all

I just posted in intro-section, but this is probably the place. I am
trying to finish my first doc. It's about a New York- based Japanese
dancer who lost her whole family in earthquake in 1995, and later
marry with a son of Holocaust survivors. The film is 80min. long, and
moving but also humorous. I started filming in 1995 with a little hi-
8, and finished filming with DV in 2004. The editing is almost all
done with my pocket money, but need funding for some rights
clearance, lawyer, insurance and so on. Because I am basaed in
Toronto, but the story has nothing to do with Canada, it has been
hard to find suitable funders. National Film Board threw me a small
grant though. I am wondering what's the choices for funding for an
almost-finished doc?
Doug Block
lots of choices, kyoko. i highly recommend you read two forums here:
selling in the international marketplace and fundraising for docs. you
should also join the d-word community:
good luck with the film: "moving but also humorous" is always a great
Richard Davis
Thanks Doug for your referal to, conference "Selling in the
International Marketplace". I think I need to join the D-Word
Nathan Scholtens
Hi Tim, I know I'm late in posting this, but it has been a wild few weeks.

I use minidiscs frequently, both for recording sound in the field and for
conveniently transfering audio from place to place (i.e. from my home
computer to the video editing house where I work). The encoding is
mp2, I believe, it IS compressed audio; but you should be fine using
minidisc recorders in place of a NagraIV.

When I worked in fiction, a lot of low budget shoots would employ
separate minidisc recorders for each character in a scene, using
omnidirectional lavalier mics. At the end of the shoot, the producer
would just sell all the minidisc recorders (sometimes numbering 6+) on
ebay and the total sound line in the film's budget would come out
pretty close to $0. One producer I know profited on the reselling of her
minidisc recorders! Also note that minidiscs can be overwritten, so you
can get by with little expense in media.

A good minidisc recorder will allow you to set recording levels. (Check
this on the MZ-B10, I am not familiar with model numbers).
Jan Cohen
Hi everyone. I am at the very beginnin stages of working on my first
documentary film project and would like to know if anyone could
suggest a source to find out if my particular idea has been filmed
Doug Block
good question, jan. i'd start by calling a couple of documentary
distributors and asking them. aivf has information about distributors
and great reference books, too:
Ross Williams
Hey all. I just made my first post in the introduction section. Now it's time
for some questions. :-)

I'm in the post production phase of my first feature length documentary. I plan on
editing it all myself, but I'd like to have an estimate on what it'd cost to finish the
film right. I want to give the film the slickest feel possible on a minimal budget.
So I need good sound design and professional color correcting. Can anybody
give me a sort of round figure on what I'd be looking to pay for each of those?
Also what other services am I going to need to finish the film right?

I'm trying to put together a budget, so I can start looking for potential investors.

I've got more questions, but I'll save those for later.

Thanks in advance,
Doug Block
budget for sound design - 0 to 10k, depending on the level of
experience you need (okay, i exagerate to make a point - figure a few
thou, minimally). but then again you don't distinguish between sound
design (which most docs don't have much of) and sound cleaning/repair,
which most docs need a lot of because their original sound sucks.

budget for color correcting - $150-300/hr (don't know what city
you're in)

btw, good luck finding investors for a first doc. if you find any,
please report back. i'd be very curious.

as for other post costs, there are a number of good books on
budgeting. try googling or check on for the michael weise
Kyoko Yokoma

My question is about licenses fee for music scores to be included in my first low
budget doc.

I want to use two jazz standard songs for about 1 minute each performed by my
friend in a party. So, I only need publishing right. They are owned by big publishers in
New York. Because I do not have any broadcasters on board yet, I would like to get
festival rights first with options for limited theatre run (Japan, US and Europe) and
DVD/North America and Japan. I am trying to use Canada's clearing system that starts
with an users' offer. I have no budget, but rather, I will have to raise budget according
to the cost, and I have no idea if it's gonna be hundreds or thousands or tens of
thousand. If it's astronomical figures, I will have to give up. How should I start ? What
is a good strategy?

By the way, I do have another music from a CD published in Germany. The score is
public domain classic. So, I need only master right for this. It's about 2 and half

Any suggestions will be appreciated.
Ross Williams

Thanks for your answer. By "budget for color correcting - $150-300/hr" -
You mean for the hrs that the color corrector works, not the length of the
film, correct? What would your estimated time involved be for a 90 min film?

I'm working with a producer in Seattle right now. We'll see how the fundraising
goes, I'm sure it won't be easy. I'll keep everyone updated. And definitely let
people know what worked and maybe what didn't.
Doug Block
kyoko, publishing rights can run from the hundreds to generally the
low thousands, but you should be able to clear it for festivals on the
lower side, i'd think. here's a great article (by a d-word member) on
music clearances:

ross, i meant hours the corrector works. and the hours it will take
for a 90 min film will vary according to how much correction you feel
you need (funny how the less money you have the less correction you
tend to think it needs). my film "home page" was 117 minutes when we
corrected it (later cut down to 102) and i seem to remember it took us
about 12 hours. hard to be precise because we were doing things like
titles at the same time.
Melissa Dopp
Hi Tim,

You might want to look under the TOOLS section of is an experiment in channeling new work and voices to public radio through the Internet. The TOOLS section includes info and guides covering the technical aspects of recording/ interviewing. There is a "Mini-Disc Guide" guide as well as "Remote Recording Survival Guide."

Kyoko Yokoma
Hi, Doug,

Thank you very much for your information and the related article. It was the most
helpful and practical info I have received till now. I have read a number of music
rights related articles and some books and talked to researchers, all of which
explain the same things over and over, but none of them explain the real
procedures or actual $ amount. Thanks again.
Doug Block
welcome, kyoko. denise ohio is a longtime d-word community member
and i agree it's a great article.
Sam Chance
Hi all, err. I'm sam chance, struggling media student type in ol'
england and i am looking for opinions basically on the state of
documentary production at the moment in relation to digital tech.
From what i can tell so far people think that the market is gonna
become pretty flooded with all the new makers appearing through the
cheapness of broadcast quality equipment. Sorry could have worded a
lot better. I am also looking into how this is going to effect the
ethics of the documentary, e.g. how flaherty restaged a lot of nanook
of the north and if you kind find any examples of this nowadays

Well, that was a mouth full
Erica Ginsberg
hey sam, we understand you just fine. yes the market is flooded and
this is both a good and bad thing - anyone can make a doc. not
everything is of good quality. but there are some very well made
docs made by lone filmmakers and edited in basements that couldn't
have been done years ago when the equipment was too expensive. not
sure that cheap equipment affects the ethics in and of itself (beyond
the ease of including downloaded elements in films).
restaging/reenactments/docudrama is neither new nor old -- will
always be an element in docs. one recent example you may want to
look at is story of the weeping camel.
Sam Chance
So are they trying to do it like flaherty did in the 20's? I thought
he staged most of that?
Christopher Gallant
About a year ago I started videoing my wife going through surgery for
a cancerous brain tumor. She recovered and has done very well. She's
the one who actually asked me to do the taping, saying that she wanted
it for our future children to see. She also thought it would help to
get me through the experience. I had alot of reservations, but I shot
quite a few things that have happened before her surgery and after,
during recovery. During this timke her father was ill and just died a
month and a half ago. I didn't shoot much of him during the 3 1/2
years I knew him, but there are pics and some footage. I'd like to
produce a documentary about their struggles and my observations of
their and my experiences. I don't want to have the piece be too sad.
There was humor in it all. Have there been other docs on similar
subjects, or is there anything anyone thinks I should read to help me
make some sense of this? I've already watched Judith Helfand's "A
Healthy Baby Girl". There's more but I don't want to make this too
unreadable. Any advice would be appreciated.
Doug Block
sounds like a compelling film to me, christopher. particularly when
you mentioned there's a lot of humor. that makes a huge difference
when you're dealing with a potentially grim subject.

i co-produced a film called "silverlake life" about two gay men dying
of aids who kept a video diary of the last year of their lives. it
was hard to tell at the time what kind of film it would make but it
turned out very successful -- grand jury prize at sundance, premiere
program of that year's p.o.v. program on pbs, theatrical release in 80
u.s. cities, among many other highlights.

so i say... go for it! good luck.
Ray Wood
If you are still around Christopher I would suggest you follow your
heart when it comes to the sturcure of your project. I have learned
in my brief time in this that the details might have to be slightly
over looked, think about how this will be you and your wifes story
the imagery is there already. Be prepared you may not be able to tell
the direction of your piece before hand.
Andrés Livov

as i'm starting to schedule the feature doc i'll shoot during this
year (my first one!) I would like to ask if anyone knows approx how
much time it takes to edit a film of the same characteristics
of "etre et avoir" or "story of the weeping camel" or "the chimera of
The NFB recommend 10-26 weeks minimum, but i guess they have the
resources for that...

thank you!
Marj Safinia
Andres. it depends on how much footage you have, how easily and well
your story comes together, and how skilled the editor is. As a rule of
thumb, it usually takes at least twice as long as you would
anticipate. The more homework you can do up from in terms of knowing
your footage really well, having an idea of structure etc, the faster
it should make the first cut go, but after that, it's a process of
refinement and playing to get it right. Also, money is often a hurdle
that causes filmmakers to have to stop and start with editing, which
can drag things out.

I would anticipate nothing less than 6 months, and anything up to
12-14 months, if things go smoothly.
Steve Holmes
Agree with Marj on twice as long as you budget. Also depends on the
style of the piece. Quick cuts = lots of time. I heard that, for a
rough cut, allow 1.5 hours per finished minute. Rarely make that mark
myself. Also, how disciplined are you? Willing to declare victory
when an edit decision is 90% of what it could be or do you have the
time and money to get it as close to perfection as possible?
Christopher Kadish
Dear Filmmakers, (never understood why spell check doesn't like
putting "film" and "makers" together...)

In 5 weeks I leave LA in my little car to travel alone around the
country with a mini DV camera (I still have not purchased on
credit), some camping gear and an ass cushion. I am a man who has
yearned since childhood to make a film, and after 10 years as a
professional actor, I am finally doing it. When asked what my film
will be about, I say I don't know, and I won't know until I have all
of my footage. I will be interviewing people all along the way
asking them to tell me about themselves, their stories, how they
know or don't know what they "should do" with their lives, how they
have been influenced by family and friends and even God, if they
lean that way. This is my coming of age and that is a key to this.
It is my journey seeking my meaning, asking others about theirs'.
I am new at this, and do know I will need an all-inclusive
release form (documentary and feature film together). I am on a
budget of the lowest order right now (Vienna sausage and canned fish
any one?) and can't afford a lawyer's fee to make one. Does anybody
have a resource for such things? My good friend and documentary
filmmaker Jeff Chapman (rape in a small town: HBO) tells me its very
expensive and getting more and more complicated.
Since I don't know what this film will be exactly, I want to
cover my butt for both possibilities. I see it as a documentary,
but it may turn into something else. ie. filmming and recreating
one of the stories I heard or using my own family stories in fiction
Please, if anybody finds it in their heart to share some good
advice, I am so very grateful and willing to hear it.
Thank you!
Christopher K.
Christopher Kadish
thank you, doug. i'm doing oodles of googles. I'll check out your
have a great weekend.
Ron Rice
New to NLE...

Most of my editing experience was on Steinbeck and Moviola flatbeds. I
also spent a couple years cutting commercials on a A/B roll analog
video system. That was back before nonlinear editing took off
(obviously, I haven't been editing for a while).

So here I am, back in the edit room after a long hiatus, getting
started with my first NLE system: Avid XPress Pro. Did I make the
right choice? What NLE's are other documentary filmmakers using? Does
it matter?

Skip Hobbie
I'm only a student with a few films to my belt, but I'll chime in anyway. I've worked with
Xpress Pro and Final Cut HD, and I have to say that Xpress Pro is still my preference. I see
the trend amongst fellow students moving more and more towards final cut. With apple's
shake, motion and DVD Studio Pro programs all getting better and better, I think the way
FCP fits into that work flow is pretty appealling, but it probably comes down more and
more to personal preference. Avid is probably more intuitive to someone learning who
has an editing background, but FCP is more natural for people used to working with
computers. An example of this would be Avid's "bins" a film term, versus "folders" in final
Doug Block
From what I've heard, their are passionate defenders of both systems,
so you certainly didn't go wrong, ron.
Laura Mchugh

At the moment I am completing my Dissertation which is researching
how well documentaries can be used as historical documents. I was
wondering if you would be able to tell me a bit about yourself and
the films you have worked on, and if you believe they are valid
representations of the subject matter. Also if you personally
believe they could be used as historical sources in the future.

I look forwarding to hearing your responses and your co-operation
would be much appreciated.



P.S I’m a student at the University College Winchester, UK.
Erica Ginsberg

Others here may disagree but I generally draw a distinction between
documentation and documentary. Both can certainly be used as
historical resources, but the distinction is like the distinction
between a primary source and a book by a historian. The historian's
book and the documentary will always have a point of view, even if it
is representing a historical event or figure and captures all the
facts accurately. Because it is not just about the facts, but
how/when/where/who presents them. I produced a film called Crucible
of War which looks at postwar life in former Yugoslavia from the
perspectives of ordinary citizens. We aimed to get a good cross-
section of society in terms of nationality, gender, age, class,
profession, and life experiences. But no matter what, the film still
had a point of view by the very fact of the characters we chose to
keep, the interviews we chose to use, and our interest in documenting
their personal realities more than factchecking whether their stated
beliefs, memories, and experiences were accurate. Truth is elusive
in the Balkans anyway. No matter how balanced we tried to make the
film, in the end, the viewer will choose to see the film from his/her
own perceptions, experiences, beliefs, trusts, and distrusts. So all
this to say that a documentary, like a historian's book, can be
viewed as a valid historical source, but not necessarily in isolation
because it represents one point of view and cannot be objective.
Ron Rice

My two cents... as far as subject matter is concerned, documentaries
are secondary resources and should be treated like all other secondary
resources: books, journal articles, etc. One should not think of the
documentary film as a primary historical resource just because it
seems somehow more "direct". All documentaries are subjective.

HOWEVER, documentaries ARE a primary source in one respect. They
record the dynamic processes of reportage, storytelling, sense-making,
etc. It's important to study not just the content of documentaries,
but also how documentaries express that content, and how these
expressions are fundamentally linked to the socio-political conditions
in which they were formed.

Skip Hobbie
I agree with the above postings. You can look at a doc as a secondary source on whatever
its subject matter might be. OR you can look at a doc as a primary source about the
context in which it was made. Not a real michael moore fan, but for an easy example.
Farenheit 911 can't be taken as more than a very biased secondary source about 911 and
the bush administration, however it can become a primary source for the context in which
it was made. By examining Moore, his slant on things, how he was funded, why he reacts
the way he does, what was going on at that time, you can use the film as a window for
looking at the political climate of that time period. Thus the doc isn't a great historical
source about the events of 911, it is a great primary source about a school of politcal
thought and dissent that arose during that time period.
Maureen Futtner
Hi, Documentary Mentors.

I have nearly all the footage for my doc, minus about 3 more
segments. I am at a stage where I'd like to cut a trailer (or at
least begin to think about it) - potentially to be used for funding. I
understand 3-5 mins. is the target length.
Can anyone give me some more tips on what to think about/look
for as I begin thinking about the trailer? Maybe that's too broad a
question, but I guess I'm trying to figure out to highlight all the
characters or highlight the plot or simply the theme.

Hope this questions makes sense. Thanks, in advance, for your
help. I really appreciate this forum