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.

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