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.

Joe Scherrman
Anybody know Kevin Costner's Publisist? I would like to get an
interview with him. How about any producers or contacts at netflix?
Doug Block
Ethan, hard to answer that question without knowing your specific
topic. But often you go to experts first and either interview them or
ask who they might recommend you talk to.
Steve Holmes
And as you explore your topic, you'll soon figure out who the
experts are. Wouldn't bother with an ad, but a notice on an online
forum or newsgroup dedicated to the subject might help.
Dustin Ogdin
I hope I'm posting this in the right place. Moderators feel free
to move if you'd like.

I recently found a fiscal sponsor for my project. I want to do
fundraising on my website through paypal. The problem is that my
sponsor is not very tech-savvy. Is it ok for me to collect
donations on my website through MY paypal account, and then give
the funds (or their percentage) to my sponsor? I know the
opposite situation is the typical scenario (sponsor gets money -
takes out their share, then gives money to me.) My sponsor
doesn't have a problem with this - they trust my honesty. I'm
just curious to know if it is legal?

Thanks for any input!
Robert Goodman
It's legal just not tax-deductible. Contributions have to be made
directly to the organization. If people give you money and you give it
to the organization, then you can take the tax deduction. The pay to
line on the check determines whether it's a charitable contribution.

Why not set up the fiscal sponsor with an account?
Dustin Ogdin
Thanks for the clarification, Robert (and for the quick response).
My fiscal sponsor is not too tech savvy, but I'm definitely going
to try to get them to set up an account. Thanks!
Gary Parker
I'm new here. I posted the newbie intro and came over here. I helped
produce a documentary for a local TV station back in the 70's and
haven't been doing anything since. As I said in my intro, I have
several historical documentaries that are in pre-production. One of
the most important things that I'm looking for is a good producer so
I can get the financing for the completion of the first project. The
companies that I plan to approach for funding are not willing to
give money to someone with no track record. I have two production
companies in mind but, as usual, they say they will get back to me.
I'm not holding my breath. What kind of advice can you give me about
getting the financing started? Should I just contact the companies
with the story and hope for the best? Thanks for the suggestion for
Shooting People in a previous post. I signed up there.
Gary Parker
Doug, I watched the trailer for the 51 Birch Street doc. I'm very
impressed! You have a great one there. I would love to see it but,
the Nov. 3 showing in SF is in conflict with me being in Ohio at
that time. And all the others are too far away. I'll be working on
the history doc I'm trying to put together. I'm basically doing
everything right now. I'm writing narration, shooting script, review
of existing film and interviews, document selection and placement,
interviews with experts in the field, etc. This project will take a
few years to complete.
Doug Block
Thanks, Gary. It's scheduled for a one-week run in SF, and if enough
people show up, it can easily be held over. So don't give up yet.

As for getting fundraising started, I suggest you attend as many
markets (IFP, Sunny Side of the Doc, BritDoc), festivals and pitching
forums (Toronto, IDFA is the best) as possible and start to introduce
yourself around, familiarize yourself with the Commissioning Editors
and see how it all works.
Ken Mackenzie
Hello, by the looks of the posts here this sounds like a good place
to get some advice. I am a post production professional (with a
steady job!) that is interested in writing my first doc. I have...a
million questions but I'll keep it to two (for now!). The first: If
I am one of the main subjects within the story how much should I be
involved with in the process? (ie bringing on another writer or
interviewer). The second: Where can I get some solid advice or
resources on the form of documentary writing?
Justin Frimmer
I am in the process of doing a investment memorandum and have a
question regarding the way documentary films are sold and revenue
distributed. Is the documentary model the same as the fiction
model, in that net receipts are distributed between the distribution
company and the producers/investors? Or does the distribution
company simply buy the rights, giving them all the receipts? For
example, the film Wordplay "sold" for 1 million. Is that 1 million
the end of the revenue for the filmmakers as far whatever
domestic/international/theatrical/dvd rights were agreed upon or
will the filmmakers get a percentage of film receipts as well?
Joe Scherrman
I'm having trouble updating my personal info. When I submit it comes up
I am looking for informantion about fiscal sponsors. I have one
interested but they want to know how. Also looking for an example of a
contract between my LLC and the fiscal sponsor 501c3.
I appreciate the help.
Doug Block
Ken, there's no set rule to your first question. As for documentary
writing, most docs these days aren't pre-written or scripted. Tend to
be shoot first, "write" it in the edit room (if there's even narration
at all, that is).

Justin, it's pretty much the same regarding the kinds of sales to
distributors you refer to (the big "Wordplay" ones), that are the big
exceptions, btw. It's one in a thousand docs, at the least, that make
that kind of a sale. And in almost all cases (including Farenheit
911, I've heard), the advance is the last money the filmmakers ever
saw. And don't forget that in that advance the filmmakers are
required to pay for the deliverables, which can take a huge bite out
of it.
Robert Goodman
Never believe the "sales $$" sold for hype. I really really doubt
Wordplay sold for $1 million.
Elena Ghanotakis
I am working on a documentary following rape survivors through
a rape clinic in South Africa. I am shooting the project in HD
format. I would like to backup all of the footage on an external
hard drive. Does anyone have advice about which is the best
external hard drive on which to do this? I am looking at Western
Digital, Lacie and Seagate. Also, is it better to go with a
larger drive, i.e. 1TB or break it down into 2 500GB drives. Do
the larger drives have more problems?

Would appreciate any feedback!

Robert Goodman
Single drive 1TB units not generally available.
The cost/GB sweet spot is around 350GB. Seagate.
Are you backing up HDV, HDCAM, DVCPROHD, or HDCAM-SR footage?
All have different needs - from USB to Fiber Channel connections and
from a single drive to RAID arrays.
Robert Goodman
It's not 1TB drive - it's two drives in a box. Read the description.
I'd forgo the huge single unit and get multiple drives as you go. HDV
uses the same space as miniDV - a 350GB drive holds a lot of footage.
Cheap so you can buy two and make two backups.
Gary Ballen
This is the first Documentary I have been involved with. We are
doing a piece on the history of the Negro Baseball League and the
Negro Baseball League Museum. We are putting a business plan
together and I have to research potential income streams for the
1. aquisition from a network and cable station
2. potential sponsorship income
3. Advertising Income
4. DVD sales
5. E commerce
6. cd soundtrack income
7. Grant $
8. Military Sales
9. Infomercial Sales
10. Licensing Income
11. Ancillery $$

I would really appreciate any help I can get on this.

Thank You,
Erica Ginsberg
Is the museum sponsoring your project? How many visitors do they
get a year and what partnerships do they have with other
organizations -- both baseball and African-American orgs? I would
think your best bets are grants and DVDs sales through the museum's
existing network of contacts. Depending on how the project is
developed, you may be able to sell it to PBS or a cable channel, but
don't expect to make back any money from those sales.
Gary Ballen
The museum is not sponsoring us but they are supporting us, it will
be an authorized documentry if that means anything. We are looking
for funding right now, got any cash?


Gary Ballen
Joe Scherrman
Shaking the Money Tree, 2nd Edition: How to Get Grants and Donations for
Film and Video: Books: Morrie Warshawski by Morrie Warshawski.
Barry, I enjoyed talking with you the other day. I know you are pressed
for time so grants may be out of the question. I'm on my first doc that
needs funding. It seems to me that finding a 501C3 partner is my best
bet. Good luck and keep me in the loop. We're both doing baseball
related stuff.
Erica Ginsberg
Ha, Gary. Last place you want to raise serious funds is from other
doc filmmakers. We're all in the same sinking boat. Good luck!
Ana Da Silva

I'm new here and looking for further guidance. I want to get into
documentary film making to cover issues in children rights
(broadly). I studied Communications for both my BA and my MA and
have a day job to pay the bills. I've been reading more and more
about docs and I want to do it for a living (or try anyway).

Any ideas on where to go from here? If you ask me what I'd like to
be doing (in the field) in 10 years, I'd say producing and still
writing, which is what I'd like to do soon.

I hope this is a clear intro and I hope you guys will be able to give
me some constructive advice.

Thank you very much!