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.

Steve Holmes
Michael Lieberman wrote:

<<I've been turned down by a few grants, mostly because I suppose
this is the *wrong* time to be making a film about a veteran, given
the timeliness and the vastness of films about this subject.>>

I know of several Iraq films out there, including two by our own
James Longley and Julia Guest, but timeliness usually means it’s the
*right* time to be doing something.

Where are you in the process? I’m confused. Are you looking for
distribution of a completed film or fundraising to finish it? Those
are two different animals.

<< even though I know filmmakers who have found distribution. When I
ask them, I get a cold shoulder or my question ignored, as if
they're protecting their precious resources.>>

Strange. I can understand being coy about some funding sources,
especially if a filmmaker feels he has a special “in,” but people
around here are quite open with advice about the pros and cons of

<<I've tried some local fundraising, and haven't found any
organizations or individuals willing to put any financial backing.>>

Where are you located? Is there a filmmakers’ group nearby that has
occasional workshops on fundraising and distribution? There’s no
money in doc distribution unless you’re Michael Moore. Most doc
makers get their funding through grants or their own checkbooks.
Very tough to sell this as an investment. You need people who will
put money into it for emotional reasons. They believe in the topic.
They believe in the veteran. They believe in you. Maybe some group
such as Vietnam Veterans against the War. They might not have money,
but should be able to steer you to people who can help you with
cash, in-kind, endorsements or contacts.

Try the Foundation Center (<>). Its site allows
you to search by key word for potential funders. The group also has
placed copies of its core collection of grantwriting books in
libraries around the country. Get the nearest location through the
Ross Williams
In my documentary I want two quick shots of two seperate
celebrities. Unable to afford paying for any usage rights, I'm
wondering about how to get around this.

How I've worked it now, is I've changed photos of them very
significantly, cut them out, messed with them in photoshop and
animated them. I don't know if anybody would ever be able to
recognize them from the original photo.

I thought I'd heard somewhere that if you change a photo more than
50% than it's considered a new image. Is this true? I can't find any
evidence of this anywhere.

Has anyone dealt with this before? Or point me to a website that
would explain this?

Thank you.
Doug Block
call me dense but who do you need to pay the usage rights to, ross?
the photographer? a magazine?

and if you change the phot so much you can't recognize the celebrity,
why are you even using the photo?
Ross Williams
I believe that you would have to pay the photographer, because they
are the copyright owner.

The celebrities are still recognizable, they look more like
charactures now... but the photos aren't recognizable.
Christopher Gallant
Hi everyone,
I also have a usage question. I need to use some footage from some of
the old roman empire b+w epics - ya know "cast of thousands"kinda
ficks. There are a few really old ones from the 30's and 20's which
might be less problematic(?) I would love to write whomever owns the
rights to ask but I have a tight deadline for the finishing of this
documentary... It's for my thesis project. I would like to show the
film more widely later on, but for now I just need to show it on
campus and have a small community gallery/space showing to fulfill my
requirements. Using this footage, a minute or two, will make the
project concept work sooo much better. What's your advice?
David Seidman
I'm a longtime print journalist and non-fiction author who wants
to work in documentary film/video. I've joined IDA, I've started
pitching ideas to various production houses, and now I'm here.
What else should I do to find work in this field?

David Seidman
Robert Goodman
Find work - look elsewhere. Most of us support our habit by working in
peripheral areas. For example, shooters do everything from corporate
work to commercials to weddings. The ranks of the doc makers who earn
their entire living from making docs is slim. The Maysles earned more
from commercial work than they ever did from making docs. Michael
Moore likely earns more from book sales than doc films. Lots of people
teach. Some are independently wealthy. As several famous nonfiction
filmmakers have told me - this is a hobby not a profession.

sorry to disappoint.
Steve Holmes
Excellent advice from Robert, as usual. To find work in this field
as a producer, which is what I infer you want to do, you have to
make your own work. You'll find no ads that say, "Wanted:
Documentary makers." Almost everyone on D-Word has created labors of
love that they have funded by themselves or through grants or co-
production deals and then attempted to sell and distribute. Find an
idea or topic you can stay in love with for at least several years
and begin to pull together funding possibilities and a filmmaking
team. That's how you find work in this field.