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.

Doug Block
Host

Stephen, unless you're Spielberg and talking about a big Hollywood movie, directors don't get any percentage of gross income. If they're lucky, they get a percentage of net income. Which, after all the bills are paid off (a BIG if), is known as profit. And how much is pretty much done by negotiation on a case by case basis.

Tony Comstock
Fan

Thom,

If you want to shoot film, shoot film. Five years ago we made the move to shooting Super16 for everything except interviews. I think it's helped our projects both commercially and financially.

Steven Dhoedt
Pro

Thanks Doug for your answer.
it makes sense that giving a percentage of the gross income is not really done, since the production budgets of most documentaries already include distribution advances, tv presales etc., money that is directly in the actual making of the movie, not raising the director's salary. Correct?
I'd been receiving some standard contracts between director and production company and they all included paragraphs where you should fill in the blank percentages for these exploitation rights.
anyways, thanks a lot for your help

Steven Dhoedt
Pro

One more question about exploitation rights:
what is the average length in years that the author/director should concede the exploitation rights of the movie to the producer? 5 years? 10 years?
Can this duration affect future distribution deals or do they not affect each other at all?

Jo-Anne Velin
Pro

Stephen, I won't answer concretely because I don't have the answeres, but can suggest given your interest, you might want to continue by googling independent producers' "terms of trade" and "video on demand rights" for various countries, and also explore through any independent filmmaker unions, where you are involved (Is there one in Belgium? If not, if you can handle German look at AGDOK's website, and the UK's PACT ). Electronic media rights are a hotly contested issue. "Should" concede is different from "do". Your questions are clear but the answer can be very complex and depend on territory, it seems to me. I have no knowledge about the US, please note.

"Terms of trade" are just the rules of the game, as agreed by participants,where the percentages and timeframes are spelled out across a sector of the industry. In the UK for example, terms of trade were recently agreed between PACT (indy producers/directors) and various public broadcasters. If you are in Belgium and working locally, my guess is you really do need to talk directly with your more experienced colleagues working in the same market.

Maybe see if you can access the European Documentary Network's magazine, DOX from this fall. I wrote a piece about VoD rights for them and you will appreciate the companion pieces in the same issue that were extracted from other sources – especially a compact version of the PACT agreements (really useful if you are new to the topic). Try EDN on-line. Good luck!

Riley Morton
Pro

Stephen,
you should get Mark Litwak's book called 'risky business'

Steven Dhoedt
Pro

Thanks Jo-Anne and Riley for the info and suggestions!

Thomas Beach
Fan

In weighing my options regarding format, I am strongly considering SD and the use of the AG-DVX100B camera. This consideration is clearly money-driven. I would appreciate feedback regarding the current viability of SD, given the present wave of multiple HD formats and the market. Am I severly limiting my market potential by shooting SD? I don't expect theatrical release. Thanks in advance for your input.

Tom Beach

Tony Comstock
Fan

I think you've got the cart in front of the horse. Shooting HD (or better yet, film) will expand your market potential, and (perhaps more importantly) your marketing potential.

Doug Block
Host

No need to sign your posts, Tom. It appears LIKE MAGIC automatically above every post.

Brian Boyko
Pro

Tom: With the Canon HV20 shooting HD video for $800 or less in some areas, I so no reason to go HD. You can always downrez to SD but you'll want an HD copy of your tapes to "futureproof" the footage.

Me, I'm shooting in HD because I don't know what I'm going to do with the footage yet.

Brian Boyko
Pro

Speaking of which – anyone know where I can get a Ph.D. in Documentary Film in an English-speaking country outside the United States?

Malgosia Askanas
Fan

Dear All,

On the dust jacket of Vladimir Dedijer's book "The Yugoslav Auschwitz and the Vatican" it says that Gottfried Niemietz, who wrote the Foreword to the book, "has worked on two documentary films about the [then] current civil war in Yugoslavia, which have been broadcast worldwide via satellite." Coud anybody tell me what those two films were, or point me to a possible source of this information? Many thanks for any help you can provide.

Jo-Anne Velin
Pro

I did a quick search but came up with two lawyers by the same name. It is possible he is one of them. Just google (german word for lawyer is Rechtsanwahlt).

Fastest way to the right person is to contact the author or publisher of the book.

If GN has 'worked on' a doc, then maybe just as consultant or researcher or similar that might not show up on a google search.

Alternative, look up films on Jasenovac, and related, then scan credits. Tis possible he will show up that way.

http://www.jasenovac.org/videos.php – Jasenovac research centre in NYC
good luck.

Monica Williams
Pro

Hello everyone,

I could use some advice on organizing my last phase of production. I have already shot an extensive interview with the author of the book I'm adapting. I have a pretty good idea of the structure I will be using for the film, but I'm not locked into it. I now have images to research and gather and some more people to interview. For a historical/essay documentary (Ken Burns and Adam Curtis are my best models) which should come first – the interviews or the gathering of images. I can see the good in doing both first. I have a background in art history and the 20th century, so I have a pretty good idea of what images are out there. Thanks!

Riley Morton
Pro

Never having made a film in the Ken Burns style myself, here is how i would approach the next steps on (what i know about) this film:

view post production as the place where the film will likely find its voice. as such, you'll want to assemble the foundation and structure of the film AS you acquire the Broll and illustrating material. Even if you know right where to go for all the images that you hope to use in the film, it will undboubtedly take much longer than you anticipate to get the rights to use all those stills and Broll/archival material. Of course, you may claim fair use on all that material, and decide not to pay for rights – but that is a bigger question for you and an entertainment lawyer to answer together after much research.

do this simultaneously with shooting interviews and other scenes that you want to include. But I'd recomend starting right now. You say that you've got a structure that you want to use in the film – sounds like using this big interview as the skeleton. Open up a new FCP project, and save it as "Evil01" import all the usable clips from your big interview, and start laying it down on the timeline in the structure that you imagine. How does it flow so far? Did you get everything you needed from your subject? what else do you need to add? which concepts need to (or can) be explained by other interviewees/sources? which examples in history have stills/film that you can cull from? are you finding the right balance to make the material engaging for your audience? start work on getting all those assets, and by repeating the questions above over and over for many many months, you can start to see your film take shape in the way that you want to get your message through. a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step – and making a great documentary is in many ways a longer journey than that. you've already taken a few big steps, which is more than 98% of wannabe doc makers take, but now its time to jump in the difficult questions of how to best tell your story. it seems to me that jumping into post production, along with creating the beginnings of a paper edit and maybe a white board to outline structure – and you are well on your way! its going to be a great learning experience – and hopefully you'll have a great film in the end as well!

Monica Williams
Pro

Thanks so much Riley for the thoughtful and valuable advice! It makes perfect sense to go about it this way and I don't know why I was thinking there had to be an order. This is a huge journey, I'd say closer to a million miles. I began two years ago with no idea the work that goes into these films. I Can't believe how much respect I've developed for the people behind this craft. Hope everything is alright in Seattle – stay dry!

Riley Morton
Pro

my basement got a touch damp – but its dry now...;)

good luck, Monica- keep us posted.

Evan Thomas
Fan

Hey there,

Can anyone point me in the direction of some decent info about streaming my documentary online, i mean how to actually set something like that up. I'm making a documentary short that i'd like to show exclusively on the web.

I now find myself in need of finishing the film and creating a website from which to stream it. I want to go 100% DIY and just put it out there and maybe charge a minimal fee. I guess i should be trawling website development forums (!)

Lisa Salem
Pro

Hey Evan

Check out: http://nomadsland.com/content/view/56/138/, http://arincrumley.com (look for the video podcasts from the London Film Festival 'Power to the Pixel' event and especially watch the two videos where Lance Weiler of 'Head Trauma' and Susan Buice / Arin Crumley of 'Four Eyed Monsters' detail the processes they went through for getting their films out there – levering their web presences as much as possible). And after you've looked at those, and best of all, check out http://workbookproject.com for all things DIY filmmaking. It's a big subject and you'll probably initially only want to take on a small section of it by the sounds of what you're trying to do, but it's good to know the bigger picture before starting out I think. Nomadsland might be a simpler way of catering to your needs though too and I've given you the link for their 'About' page. http://www.selfreliantfilm.com is another one to look at.

Doug Block
Host

Good suggestions, Lisa. Have you introduced yourself yet? There's no info about you in your profile so no idea whether you qualify to be a Member. But sounds like you know your stuff, so consider it. You'd have access to many more discussion topics here.

Evan Thomas
Fan

Cheers Lisa. I've had the workbook project bookmarked for a few months and it's one of my favourite sites to visit. Thank you for the link to the "Power to the Pixel" panel discussion, i just watched it, very interesting and just what i needed to watch right now.

I think i know what i have to do but i need to learn the technical stuff so i can put it into practice. I'm off to scour the web.

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