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.

Karen Yaeger
many thanks doug...i'll check out the website... it seems to be a
good way to get doc shooting experience... and also pay some
bills... must be some nervous people... i guess remaining calm
Danny Lurie
I've been working in the advertising industry for a couple of years...
a thankless job. Anyway I have the opportunity to produce a
documantary that I think is going to make a difference to my country.
How and where do I go to learn about the in's and out's of funding,
distribution and selling a documantary to broadcasters around the world.
Hope you can help.
Erica Ginsberg
Continuing the discussion from {LINK NOT IMPORTED}...


Sounds like an interesting project. Would love to know more about
these singers (what country?)

I think your biggest challenge coming from a radio background is
making your story visual enough and also thinking about length and
pacing (I am not sure what sort of programs you have been doing for
radio; with the exception of things like SOUNDPRINT, it seems to me,
most radio documentaries are 7 minutes or shorter -- your film sounds
like it could be at least 1/2 hour or maybe even an hour).

While you may have in mind to use a narrator, avoid a narrator, or
bring yourself in as a character/"host", you could probably shoot for
all three possibilities. For instance, if you want to incorporate
the historical context of their music, you should ask them about it
so that you have the potential to use their own words if you decide
to forego traditional narration. Similarly, you may want to make
sure you are getting footage and/or commentary of yourself while you
are in the region filming them. I am currently producing a film that
wasn't originally intended to have the director as a character, but
it has evolved that way -- thankfully, we had a little bit of footage
of him there, but could have used way more.

The fact that you mention that the singers come from a beautiful
place may help a bit. The place probably figures prominently in
their songs and could help illustrate them. Also you say some of
these folks are real characters. So make sure those characters are
reflected on screen. Is the film only about the music or is it
really about the people who choose to keep up the life of the music?
Focus on a few of the most interesting characters and make sure to
include some footage of them in their daily life, as well as
singing. Whether you choose to do formal interviews is up to you --
some filmmakers prefer to shoot everything verite and people will
sort of open up about their lives at some point. Others prefer to
combine formal sit-down interviews with b-roll footage. Take a look
at other films on similar subjects so you can get a sense of
different ways of approaching the same material.

As far as whether to do it in English or in another language, you
probably want to think about where you plan to try to market the
film. Even on public TV, it is still difficult to get a subtitled
documentary on TV (in the U.S. anyway). We're trying with our
project, but it will still be a major handicap for us. On the other
hand, if the language is intrinsic to the music, then you might want
to make the decision to keep it. Do your subjects speak English -
i.e., would you want to interview them in English? I would recommend
if you do interviews to do them in whatever language they are most
comfortable speaking from the heart. You could always opt to do
English voiceovers later.

Just a few thoughts.
Stephanie Conn
Thanks so much for your thoughtful consideration of my questions.

I like the idea of leaving my options open -- the same thing happens
in radio -- ex., sometimes you wish you'd asked the questions on
tape, as their answers don't always end up being stand-alone. Might
incorporate athird party to be 'chatting' to the singers. But must
pick the right one from the start...

I hate being onscreen -- I bet many folks do, to - so I am reluctant
to go that route although some say I should. I also dislike the idea
of narration in this case. Although I know it could work in some
cases -- maybe in a personal doc.

My singers speak English and their own language but I feel since it
is a dying, minority language you don't often get to hear, and the
songs are in this lang., it's important to hear it on screen. I was
thinking of doing my interviews in english, then repeat part of them
in the other language, in order to intercut the interview for the
film. i think that would give a good flavour, without alienating
English-speaking audiences.

In Europe apparently they must overdub everything anyway so... that's
a whole other issue i guess.

I like the verite approach but i think I need a camerman to help me
do that right. whoa, a lot to think abotu but thanks very much.

yes, sorry, I'm being a bit vague about details as I know this is a
public forum so anyone could read it. My friend worked for a long
time on a film and did some shooting, was in the middle of pitching,
etc, and then found out other people were doing the same project.
not sure how she will resolve this but it was a huge blow to her.
I guess there can always be different interpretations etc but it is
a drag if they happen at the same time.

Is there a website/organization that keeps track of films in
I thought this was referred to in another thread but have been unable
to find the answer. If anyone knows about this I would be very
Erica Ginsberg
If you have unique access to this community, I wouldn't worry too
much about someone stealing your idea. Chances are, someone else
could be doing a similar project but if you have particular people
who really stand out, it's not something you should fret over.

Dubbing in Europe varies country to country. Some countries actually
prefer subtitles. Of course, if they speak a very pronounced
regional dialect of English, you may need English subtitles for some
audiences ;-)

If this is your first doc and you want the verite approach, you are
right that you may want to work with an experienced cameraperson.
However, if you are still at the fundraising stage and you live near
your subjects, there's no reason you can't do some shooting on your
own just to give potential funders the flavor of your subjects and
how they are on-camera (sometimes people -- even performers -- may be
comfy with a mic but clam up with camera, so you'll want to know that
as you choose who your main subjects will be).
Stephanie Conn
Thanks, I do like the idea of doing a bit of shooting on my own , if
only to show people a taste of what it might look like.
But I have zero camera experience so... not sure if it will be
usable. I'm going to try anyway, this weekend.

I have actually thought myself, that I might need english subtitles
for the english! LOL!

I think someone else might be doing something involved with the same
community, but with a very different focus to it. That one other
project I can handle, but any more than that and I'll feel pretty
Laura Hayes
I am a new member looking for websites or resources regarding the
laws for documentaries. When I started shooting my documentary I
didn't have a clue, I just shot it as it happened. In some footage
there is music on the radio or a tv playing in background. I need to
know what I can or cannot legally use.

thanks in advance for your help