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.

Erica Ginsberg

Without knowing more about your circumstances (when is the project
due, whether you are working with a crew of fellow students, whether
the school is funding it entirely or you have to fund part of it,
etc.), it is hard to give really good advice, but here are a few

I'm assuming by your saying this is your first school documentary
that this means you will probably go on to make a second school
documentary. So, in a sense, you could think about both of your
choices as possibilities -- one for now, one for later. Your real
choice is which one are you more passionate about right now and which
one seems achievable given the likely limitations of time, money,
crew, etc. Do you have an advisor at your school who has given any
feedback on which one looks more realistic as a first project?

It'obvious what led you to choice #1, but how did you get interested
in choice #2? Are you Hare Krishna or do you have connections to
Hare Krishnas? Are there many Hare Krishnas near where you are in
New Zealand? It is certainly not a requirement to have a pre-
existing connection -- sometimes being somewhat removed from a topic
but curious about it can make you look at it more objectively. But
you do have to be interested enough in it to carry your passion
through the ups and downs of following the subject (starting with
research and getting the access and the trust level of people who may
feel they have been misrepresented in the past)

In terms of the first topic on children of immigrants, it is one
which has been done a lot, which is not to say don't do it. Issues
of cross-cultural identity are always ripe for documentation. I am
not sure how many other documentaries have been done specifically
about immigrants in New Zealand compared to issues in U.S., European
countries, Australia, etc., so I am not sure if the stories would be
similar or different. I assume you may have noticed some
similarities and differences between immigrant experiences since you
have been in the U.S. You may also want to look at other films which
have dealt with this topic.

The advantage of having a personal connection to a story is that you
could either introduce yourself as a character or have a means to
make your subjects more comfortable since you share something in
common with them. The disadvantage is that you may make assumptions
that those who don't share that identity might miss. So it's also a
question of who is your audience? Would you want this film to reach
others who are immigrants to make them feel they are not alone? Do
you want it to make people who don't share that identity and either
know nothing or think they know something to know more about the
experience of immigrants? These are two very different audiences and
it is hard, but not impossible, to make a documentary which would
appeal to both.

Good luck, what ever you decide!
Shazia Malik
Thanks so much for responding Erica.

Well to tell you the truth, a lot of this apprehension stems from the
fact that Im in America and have to make a documentary in New

I was on a summer break all this time and will start my third year
the day I return. I have to pitch three topics to my school on paper
the day I land and that is creating a lot of frustration because I
havent got a chance to directly meet the people/ institutions I want
to film. And there is only so much preliminary research you can do on
the internet. So the deal is, my tutors will pick a topic from the
three I shortlisted.

This will be the only documentary I make this year. It is a
collaborated effort... I will have a student crew and the doc will be
under ten minutes. I have done a bit of reading... I read the Rabiger
book on making docs and I completely agree with you... right from day
one I really want to make something that I strongly feel about. I
definitely want to avoid at all costs a shallow "dabbling" in
something that is apparently different.

The Krishna Consciousness subject is definitely something that I'm
more than curious about. On the contrary its something that I
strongly question. Not to give you an offhanded summation of their
spiritual philosophy, their spirituality which believes in
renunciating materialism strongly triggers off questions like
escapism (from the real world) etc... which brings to mind a

You mentioned something about your subject being able to develop a
trust in the film maker... how does one then approach a subject who's
practice you question from the start...

Thanks again for your time...

Doug Block
Shazia, you just need to show the subject that you're genuinely
curious and that you've done your homework and you'll gain their
trust. It's not about whether or not you agree with them or question
their beliefs (though I certainly wouldn't flaunt that). As long as
your not out to get them from the start you'll be just fine.

Good luck.
Lorenzo Meccoli
Hello everybody, my name is Lorenzo Meccoli and I am a documentary
filmmaker and producer. I recently finished with Gabriele Zamparini a
long documentary, "XXI Century" ( which was
recently showed at IDFA and had a very good response from the public.
The question is: anybody knows were can I find prices of how much
buyers pay, on an average, for documentaries (small and big
broadcasters, DVDs and Tapes distributions, Theaters ecc.)? I know it
is a very general question but maybe, gaining some information here
and there I can try to have an idea. I read the whole forum "SELLING
IN THE INTERNATIONAL MARKETPLACE" but there were really not the
information I was looking for. Also: has anybody had experience in
selling in Italy to the printed media market? It is very common there
to buy film at the newsstand/bookstores where tapes and dvds are sold
with magazines, newspapers and books. Thank you for any help you can
give me.
Doug Block
Lorenzo, please join The D-Word Community where the doc professionals
hang out. You're much more likely to get answers to these kinds of
questions there. Go to:

As for what buyers pay, it varies, of course, and fluctuates all the
time. What ZDF/Arte paid me seven years ago for Home Page (90 minutes
in length, contractually) is almost irrelevant to what they'd pay now.
Also, you're talking about separate distributors for the various
ancillaries -- broadcast, theatrical, dvd/home video. Each with their
own price ranges.
Ben Kempas
Doug, Lorenzo is already a member of the Community.

Lorenzo, you'll find a Marketing and Distribution topic in
Doug Block
Well, shut my mouth. A perfect illustration of how the community is
growing faster than my poor beleaguered mind can follow.
Diane Bernard
Hi to all:
It's been a while since I checked in here, glad to see engaging
questions since my last visit. Of course, my question is fairly
mundane in comparison.

I've shot a good amount of footage for my doc and am about to edit a
demo reel. I've installed Final Cut Pro 4 and am in the market for a
new external hard drive. Does anyone have any good recommendations? I
know it needs to be 7200 rpm but beyond that, I have no experience
with what would be good.

Any info is greatly appreciated.
Lorenzo Meccoli
Dear Diane, I had a very good experience with the La Cie hard drives.
But you should not look at the new ones (Porsche design) which they
told me are not strong as the traditional ones. You can check on LaCie
website PS: they
are not paying me! Actually I paid them more then one time!!!