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.

Maria Nicolás
Hi ! We are an independant group who are making a documentary about
Eva Peron. We almost finished the 48 minutes version and now we are
contacting distributors and networks to sell it around the world.
Many of them just watched the trailer (posting on our web site) and
are asking for us to send them the full version to analyse it and
then send a proposal. My question is regarding of international
rights: We have regustered the documentary here in Argentina, but we
don´t know exactly how it works for the rest of the world, we should
register in every country ? Do we have to get any papel for export
the video ? We are not a company yet, so we have no idea how to
manage the commercial issues...
Thank you very much ! Maria
Doug Block
No need to register elsewhere, Maria. You license your film to
broadcasters on a territory by territory basis. Or you find a
distributor or sales agent who will contact the broadcasters.

Since you are intending to enter into contracts one way or the other,
I suggest that you form a company. Or, at the very least, you need a
lead producer who will sign any contracts on the group's behalf.
Sounds like a company might be better, if only to force your group to
come to terms with the business end of the biz.
Robert Goodman
and I wouldn't send anyone a tape -ever.
The purpose of a tape is to allow distributors
to say we saw that - it's no good. You
need to take the trailer to a market, show
em that only, and make a deal or not. No
deal no show. The alternative is to take
the completed doc to an A list festival
and win a prize. Then let them approach
you with a deal.

Sending tapes out is the kiss of DEATH!
Deleted User
I am currently completing an historical documentary and am having a
hard time locating guidelines for what to include in the credits and
in what order. Any resources or suggestions would be greatly
appreciated. Thanks.
Robert Goodman
there aren't any standards for credits. Suggest you look at a few
other films you admire - and copy.
Deleted User
Thanks. I have looked at a few and am trying to emulate them the
best I can.
Rob Stewart
wish i could ask some vaguely technical question so i wouldn't seem
out of place, but all i really need help with (and i REALLY DO need
help with) is an idea of where to start. What do i mean? Well, I have
an idea that i'd like to turn into a documentary, but in school kid
terms, i'm still in pre-school. In documentary terms,i can't speak
and have no teeth.

Where do i / should i go to find out how i might turn an idea that
i'm passionate about into a film? I need to know everything really -
technicalities, equipment / funding / story telling etc etc. Is a
passion for something and a creative eye enough to go on? Is formal
training totally neccersary?

All i can say is that i'm totally commited to fulfilling this project
and would love to get on with it. I'm based in London and would love
somebody to point me in the right direction.
Rob Stewart
Thanks Doug - interesting.
I've been back through the postings, but is there a definitive line
on writing treatments? The obvious point (and one discussed
previously) is that its impossible to write something other than a
synopsis as your story (assuming its based on unfolding events)
hasn't happened yet.

Can anyone share any thoughts on structuring a synopsis? AIVF has
some thoughts, but not sure how relevant these are to Doc's, perhaps
more features based. I'm currently at concept stage, haven't begun
filming, but am looking to pitch to some production companies I've
targeted here in London.

Be really grateful for this.

This place is a godsend!
Doug Block
Rob, a synopsis is basically just a summary of what the film is
about, told as compellingly as you can. Can be anywhere from one or
two paragraphs to a couple of pages. There's no real formula to it,
but you should try and find some treatments that are on file

If you're in NY, visit the AIVF office: Or try an
organization like NYFA or Film/Video Arts that has been a fiscal
sponsor for many projects and would have proposals on file. Even if
you're not in NY, there should be a local organization in your nearest
city. Doesn't even have to be a film proposal to get the idea.
Doug Block
I meant some synopsis's on file, not treatments.
Riley Morton
and I wouldn't send anyone a tape -ever.
The purpose of a tape is to allow distributors
to say we saw that - it's no good. You
need to take the trailer to a market, show
em that only, and make a deal or not. No
deal no show. The alternative is to take
the completed doc to an A list festival
and win a prize. Then let them approach
you with a deal.

Sending tapes out is the kiss of DEATH!

I'm just curious if the other 'working pros' out there agree with
this Statement of Robert's - and Robert, if you could back this up
with some examples or experience.

As someone who has made a few films, but hasn't had much
luck with broadcast, I'm still mystified by this idea. Why would a
broadcaster agree to buy a film if they haven't seen more than a


Doug Block
Riley, there's a big difference between a trailer and a sample and
sometimes the terms can get confused. A trailer is basically a minute
or two long. A sample can be anywhere from a few minutes to, well,
almost any length. I helped produce a doc called "Silverlake Life"
and the sample was almost a half-hour. And very effective, too.

If you have a contact or previous experience with a broadcaster,
sending a cassette out is perfectly fine. If you don't, then a market
like the IFP's is better. But there aren't many like them out there.
Robert Goodman

For confirmation please check a recent issue of the Independent Film
& Video Monthly - I think Dec/Jan with the Open City folks on the
cover. Jason and Joanna Kliot.
they wrote a piece about distribution that confirmed everything I've
learned and made the points i posted.
Deleted User
Dear Pros-
Is it necessary to secure "life story rights" for a documentary?
Is it ever kosher to pay a subject for appearing in a doc? The
subject of my film feels he needs some kind of compensation, beyond
publicity-- He also needs the money, which I totally understand.
Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks--
Robert Goodman
we all need money but paying for participation seems unethical to
most. What can and does happen is if the project is successful, the
participants share in the wealth, e.g., hoop dreams - the players
and parents received a share of the pie.

It's a very good idea to secure "life rights" because Small Wonders
becaming Playing with Strings with Meryl Streep and the life rights
holder benefited from Hollywood's interest after the doc was
Doug Block
Nothing wrong with the participant reaping much, if not all, of any
profits. Not that docs make profits ;-)
Rhonda Moskowitz
Robert- What are life rights? Is this something that all documentary
filmmakers need to get from their subjects?
Doug Block
Rhonda, as I understand it, life rights are rights to the life story
of the main character(s) in your doc, which are nice for you to secure
in writing in case someone wants to make a fiction film based on their
lives after seeing the documentary.

Not always easy to get. It brings up possible issues of the subjects
feeling exploited, so you should tread carefully and find out from an
entertainment lawyer how to go about it. Also, wouldn't do it unless
you feel your character and his or her situation is so compelling that
Hollywood is sure to come calling.
Rhonda Moskowitz
Thanks Doug. You are right about treading carefully. I'm just in
the beginning stages of production, so I won't deal with this until
further down the road. Speaking of an entertainment lawyer, is there
a difference between an entertainment lawyer and a producer's rep?
Also, is this the place on D-Word where I can ask specific questions
about my film-in-progress? This is my first film.
Doug Block
the lines are getting increasingly blurry with the john sloss types
out there doing both, but generally an entertainment lawyer is paid by
the hour and a producer's rep gets a percentage of any distribution
advance and, depending, other sales.
Deleted User
hi there, new to the board.
i am thinking of making a doc, i have very limited resources
in terms of money.just curious what is fair compensation for a main
character(s) in terms of percentages if the film makes any money?
Doug Block
it's your choice, jennifer. most doc makers don't give their
subjects a profit share. some give up to 50%. it all depends on your
relationship to the subjects, what they want, what you want to give,

just make it clear to them that the chances of making any profit is
excedingly small.
Rhonda Moskowitz
Thanks Doug.You are a wealth of information and very generous in
sharing it! Which would you advise for someone like me? An
entertainment lawyer or a producer's rep?
Rhonda Moskowitz
Hi Doug, Just saw the list of Sundance grant recipients and saw you
just received a development grant. Congratulations! That's
Doug Block
thanks, rhonda. i'd recommend an entertainment lawyer until you're
confident your film will start a bidding war at sundance next year.
then, hey, give me a call ;-)
Doug Block
Well, I like my lawyer, Robert Freedman: 212-974-7474. He's been
very involved with AIVF over the years and is very sympathetic to
indie filmmakers. Say hi from me.
Rhonda Moskowitz
Thanks Doug. Also, I called Fernanda Rossi, because I don't like my
demo reel and she was extremely helpful and knowledgable. I saw that
you mentioned her in this "Mentoring Room", and I trust your
referrals. She made some terrific suggestions and she's also
extremely nice. You are very hooked in to the documentary film scene
and are a wealth of knowledge. As I've mentioned,I'm making my first
film and I find your suggestions and this whole doc film site an
invaluable resource. (For other people reading this I am not related
to Doug, and I'm not earning any extra income from him for my
feedback, which he didn't ask for.)
Deleted User
Hi There!
First time filmmaker here, I want to begin shooting a documentary
about a club and the exotic dancers who work in the club, is there
any legal protocal I should follow in terms of releases, life story
rights, and location releases? Can anyone also recommend a book or
online website that would have similar legal contracts and releases?
Any info from you pro's would be greatly appreciated. Thanks in

Doug Block
Hi, Jennifer. I highly recommend you check out entertainment lawyer
Mark Litwak's website: Get releases from
everyone you can, including patrons whose faces are recognizable (good
luck!). Get a release from the club, absolutely. As for life rights,
it seems premature. I'd deal with that a little later down the line -
might spook your subject(s) unnecessarily.
Doug Block
Are you perchance the same Jennifer Fleming who worked on An American
Love Story?
Deleted User
Darn . . . there is another Jennifer Fleming filmmaker out there? No
Doug, I am not her. I am a first-time doc filmmaker - I wish I can
claim her experience instead of her name.
Thanks again for your help. I am certain that my questions will be
posting frequently over the next several weeks as I embark on this
storytelling journey. :)
Deleted User
Can you give some advice on music copyright for documentaries. What
do you need to get/do to use an artists music in your film? Thanks!
Deleted User
Hello to all,

I came across this forum whilst looking for information
on successfully producing/directing my first doco. I may have the
opportunity to film a doco and I'm really not sure where to start.
Can anyone please tell me where do I start first. I have the subject
and I have written down a few notes but that's all I've done.
Any help would be appreciated.

Deleted User
It's actually for the 20th anniversary for an AIDS organisation. They
are planning to have a year long awareness campaign in all areas of
of media, so I thought why not a documentary! It will give me a
chance to get my feet wet, and have a credit etc.

Hope that helps you Ben.

Doug Block
start first by getting a digital camcorder, learning how to shoot,
and diving right in.

ignorance is bliss ;-)
Deleted User
Thanks Doug, that's what I'm hoping also. I do have a very good eye
and I am a published writer as well as a classically trained pianist.
It would appear that anything I do in the arts I do it to perfection,
so I believe the trend will continue whilst filming this documentary.

The organisation I'm involved in, has access to the right people in
the media, so I thought why not take advantage. I will have access to
equiptment as well as a facility. I will certainly post regularly now
that I hvae found this site.

This is GREAT!!!
Thanks for all and future help.

Diane Bernard
This is my first posting to the board though I've been reading it for a few
weeks now. First, Doug, your advice here is very helpful, especially for us
newbies (or semi-newbie in this case). Thanks.

My question is: I just finished a 15-minute sample tape/trailer for a
documentary I've been working on. It's about a failed Hollywood film
production that wound up in the hands of the CIA. There's a great story
behind it and I think this has good commercial potential. I'd like to target
more commercial funding sources than grant organizations. But I'm a little
stuck as to how to do this. How do you market a sample tape
around for broadcast/theatrical (i.e., commercial vs. grant) production money?
Where do I go? And would a producer's rep help in this early stage?

Thanks for any and all advice.
Diane Bernard
Thanks Doug--yes, I'd heard about this and even joined IFP just last week.
But do they take sample tapes/trailers rather than works-in-progress? Also,
do you get a guaranteed audience with market people? Or is it luck of the
Doug Block
Yes, they screen samples in their works-in-progress section, which is
where they put their emphasis.

As far as guaranteed audiences, there are never guarantees. You'll
have to work your little fanny off to get their fannies in the seats.
If you do a google search, or look closely at the IFP's website, I'm
sure there are numerous articles that have been written over the years
about how to "work" the market.

Lots of luck.
Deleted User
Is there any word out there about how people are finding Final Cut
Express. I am planning to shoot only on an XL1s and am about to
purchase software. The savings on Express would really help but am I
going to regret it later?

Thanks in advance, this is such a helpful site!