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
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!

Robert Murdock
Hi all,

I have a question, well a few I guess. I recently started an
attempt at making a short documentry. Topic: online gamers. Next I
hope to do a wildlife short.

Here is my issue. I have some notes scribbled down, for example:

1. Opening intro
2. interview with.. XXX
3. comentary on convention
4. footage from convention


Is there a better way to lay out what I want to accomplish? I know
that most people do not like software that helps with these things,
but, what do you all think?

What type of software package would help me most with getting the
layout of my documentry down? Do I need a screenwriter software?
Movie outline? Final Draft.. or?

Any help would be appreciated! Thanks.

Doug Block
ana, you could try any number of things. you could take classes.
you could intern for established doc makers. you could simply pick up
a camera and start shooting. there's no set path.
Erica Ginsberg
I'd go with word processing and skip the specialty software. For a
treatment, you don't need to go shot-by-shot. I assume you are
asking about a script or at least a paper edit guideline.

Some folks live by using the same format as for a fiction script.
Personally I prefer the side-by-side version where I put my visuals
in the left column and the audio (interview bites, sound on tape,
music, etc.) in the right column. You may find you like doing it in
word processing or you may find that color-coded index cards on a
wall work better for you.

I'd recommend investing in the book, "Directing the Documentary" by
Michael Rabiger for further ideas on how to do a paper edit. Some
folks find it very old-fashioned since you can now do all the layout
directly in to a nonlinear editing program, but doing a paper edit
can be really helpful as you are starting out to help you get your
head around the story you are trying to tell.
Christopher Gallant
I'm half way through my first documentary rough cut and I'm in need of
some music. I'm a graduate student so I definitely need royalty free
music. The types of music range from woody allenesque jazz to 1960s
lounge music to classical piano interludes to kitschy italian
concertina music. Have any ideas? I also was wondering if there was an
easy place to access music which has had its copyright expire? Any
advice welcome.
Christopher Gallant
I appreciate the advice. I have actually already tried that. The point
of my question was to weed through the 6,220,000 hits that Google
throws your way for a "royalty free music" search and see if there was
a prefered royalty free music clearing house. Is this site,, your best pick and if so have you ever used
it? If it is then I guess you're not in bad company as Google also
picks it as its number one site. Any further helpful advice would be
Doug Block
hopefully someone else will pipe in, christopher. i've only used
original music in my docs.
Joe Scherrman

I have a friend that might be able to give us some advice on suggested
music but he wouldn't know about royalty free stuff. It might help
limiting the search by having a title. Let me know if you would like me
to contact him.
Andrew Corica
For my next doc I need footage of Katrina, and other similar events.
Where can I get this? No networks will answer my emails. All help is
appreciated, (maybe a spot on my credits)
Robert Goodman
try your local news station. They may have footage and be more open to
you. Perhaps even do a story on you making a doc. All of the networks
have stock footage companies that sell footage. I'm sure you could buy
something if you want.
Alexandra Stubbs
Hey, guys. I've been very interested in docs and doc making for
awhile now. I intend to go over seas within the next two years for
an early "OE" and have decided to invest in some equipment before I
go as I will be going to some very interesting places. I've been
looking at 'Camcorders' and "pro camcorders" for awhile now... But
to be honest I just want something efficient and well, cheap (as
cheap as possible). Can anyone make some suggestions as to what
would be good to look at? I have a budget as I'm a student… who's
currently jobless =P 2.5Grand (US dollars) would be my limit (not
including accesories). I would prefer to spend less of course but I
do want something decent! Any tips / suggestions would be greatly
Scott Westphal-solary
Are there any set guidelines for music credits? I have about 4 songs
and I'd like to know what I need to include in the credits for legal.
They are all christian hymns from the public domain performed by
people in the film.
Erica Ginsberg
This may be of interest to emerging documentary filmmakers for a
mentoring and major networking opportunity...

The Garrett Scott Documentary Development Grant will fund two first
time documentary makers for travel and accommodations at the Full
Frame Documentary Film Festival, April 12-15, 2007. For four days,
grant recipients will be given access to films, participate in master
classes and be mentored by experienced filmmakers.

About the Grant: Garrett Scott made a distinctive mark in documentary
films during his short career. Without any formal training in film, he
directed CUL DE SAC: A SUBURBAN WAR STORY, examining the case of a
methamphetamine addict who stole a tank from an armory and went on a
rampage through the San Diego suburbs. The film prompted Filmmaker
Magazine to cite Scott as one of 25 New Faces of Independent Film. He
went on to make OCCUPATION: DREAMLAND, co-directed with Ian Olds,
about U.S. soldiers in Falluja, Iraq. It won prizes at Full Frame and
the Independent Spirit Awards. Both films were broadcast by the
Sundance Channel. In 2005, Scott died of a heart attack at age 37. His
friends, family and colleagues established this development grant to
help other emerging filmmakers reach their potential. The grant's
selection committee looks especially for filmmakers who somehow
fulfill Scott's example, by bringing a unique vision to the content
and style of contemporary documentary making.

Criteria: Applicants must be a U.S. citizen or green card holder,
living in the continental United States; any age 18 or older. By
"first time filmmaker," we mean someone who is in the early stage of
their documentary career and not yet received significant recognition
(such as major festival play or broadcast). All applicants should
anticipate finishing their first project by March 2008. You can still
qualify as a "first time filmmaker," even if you've made shorts or
student projects or worked professionally as a crew member on other
people's films. Or if you've recently completed a documentary that
hasn't been released yet. The grant is open to students and
non-students alike.

How: Applicants should send a 2 page letter addressing these areas:

1) Project summary: Describe the documentary you're working on. It
doesn't matter whether the film is a short or a feature. Describe the
characters, structure, visual approach and what stage you're at.

2) Director's statement: Describe how you came to filmmaking and how
you've trained as a filmmaker. It doesn't matter whether you went to
film school or are self-taught. Describe what you want audiences to
take from your film.

In addition, if applicants have a 5-10 minute sample of their work or
work-in-progress, please send that as well on DVD or VHS (NTSC
format). A sample work isn't required to apply. But if the selection
committee has to choose between several strong applicants, the sample
work will become a factor in making the decision.

Submit two copies of both the letter and work sample along with


Send to:
Full Frame Documentary Film Festival
324 Blackwell Street. Suite 500
Washington Building, Bay 5
Durham, NC 27701
attn: Garrett Scott Documentary Grant

Deadline: Applications must be postmarked by February 5. Applicants
will be notified by email in mid-March.

More information:
Don Dobrez Jr.

I am working on my first feature length documentary about the
destruction of the oldest Drive-In movie theater here in Illinois.
There was a very heated battle in the local city council to save the
theater, but it fell on deaf ears and the theater was torn down. I
then made it known that I was making a film about the poitics that
killed the theater, and have been interviewed a number of times in
the local press about the film. The problem I have is that I
honestly would like to get the people responsible for the theaters
destruction to appear on camera to explain their views to the
audience. How should I approach them and extend an invitation to
them even if they all ready know that the final film will not
necessarily show them in a favorable light? And I how do I assure
them that I won't "Michael Moore" them if they agree to an
interview, i.e. attack them as soon as tape starts rolling? I am
trying to draft a letter and am curious as to how others might have
handled a similar situation.

Thank You!

Doug Block
I would write a letter that states pretty much what you described in
your post, Don. And I'd let them know that if they don't appear on
camera to defend their position, you'll be left only having the other
side represented. I see nothing wrong with telling them where your
sympathies lie, but emphasize that you want to be fair, not have the
film be a Michael Moore-like screed.
Gary Parker
Hello Doug and Erica,
First of all, thanks for all the advice you so freely give. Thanks
to Erica for the info on the Garrett Scott Documentary Grant. I will
be applying for the grant.
I have been away, in Ohio, for a few months. I am working on the
aviation documentary about Charlie Taylor. He was the man who built
the engine that made it possible for the Wright brothers to fly. I
am also planning a video shoot with Wright State University sometime
in February or April. This video is separate from the documentary.
We will be taping in HDV. It will be an period piece interview
taking place in 1948. The author/historian of the Taylor book will
portray Charlie Taylor and I will be the reporter. I discussed the
editing process with a university media producer and he stated that
they have Final Cut and Adobe Illustrator. Which do you prefer or
what other editing program do you use.
Doug Block
I use FCP, and a lot of filmmakers still use Avids. It's usually one
or the other.
Gary Parker
Thanks Doug, I'll take a look at both products. I believe that
Wright State uses FCP for most of their work.

How have the screenings for 51 Birch Street been going?
Successfully, I hope. I sent an e-mail to Copacetic about getting
information for showing 51 Birch Street here in Sacramento, but
never received a response. What kind of information do I need from
you to have 51 Birch Street shown in Sacramento, Ca. They have two
theaters here that show documentaries, The Crest and Tower theaters.
If you can send me some information, I can contact both theaters to
see if they will be interested in showing it. I have also been in
contact with another producer here who will be showing his first
documentary film in Davis, which is just up the Interstate from
Sacramento. His film is about recovering MIA flyers from WWII. Check
out the trailer at
Doug Block
Gary, sorry about not responding - I travelled a lot in Decmember and
have gotten ridiculously behind in answering email.

It would be great if you could contact those theaters. Would be
easiest to direct the programmers there to our website, which has a
trailer, reviews and all sorts of info about the film:

Screenings for 51 Birch Street have gone great. We're still showing
in New York City, 11 weeks after opening there, and the NY Times lead
critic, A.O. Scott, named it one of his top ten films of the year.
We've already shown in about a dozen cities and have at least another
dozen lined up and counting.
Gary Parker
That is fantastic news. I'm really happy for you. 11 weeks!! Even
the big money pictures don't last that long. I'll contact the
theaters and get the information to them. I've told everyone that I
come in contact with about 51 Birch Street. Hopefully, we can get a
buzz going here and have a showing in Sacramento or Davis. If you
are not familiar with the area, Davis is a college town (University
of Davis). I'll see what I can do to stir something up.
Steve Holmes

I agree with Doug's suggested approach to the people responsible for
the theater's destruction. There is no statement more damning to
them than "no comment."

As a fan of drive-in theaters, I share your pain. Your town's
experience is far from unique.
Gary Parker
Hi Don,
I'd do what Doug suggests. Give them the opportunity to tell their
side. If they give the "no comment", you can mention that in the
documentary. Steve is right. Check out It
is a site for a documentary about the closing of small airports
around the country. This one in particular is about Van Nuys airport
in California. Click on "One Six Right the Movie", and then click
on "Video". You can see the "opening sequence", "flight", and "Look
Ma - No Hands!". This might give you some ideas on what you want to
show in your doc. We are about to lose our last drive-in complex
here in Sacramento. They plan to put an indoor multi-screen building
in its place. Good luck with your project.
Don Dobrez Jr.
Hello All,

Thanks for your wonderful comments! I typed up my letters and sent
them all off last week. Needless to say, I haven't heard any
responses yet, but that was to be expected. I am still hopeful that
at least one of them decides to do it.

I do have another question if that's OK. The local (Chicago) news
stations all did extensive coverage of the drive-in fight and I am
dying to get permission from them to include some of their footage
in the documentary (especially since I didn't start work on my film
until AFTER the final vote was taken to kill it). How is it best to
approach them? The only station I tried to email was the local ABC
affilate and I got a curt response "We don't do that" (that is their
direct quote, I swear). Don't most local stations have rights that
can be purchased to use their footage if properly credited? And how
do I go about asking?

Thanks again for the help. For anyone interested you can check out
my website at for more information and updates about
this documentary.

Steve Braker
Don, I would say that if you feel you need their permission you
should make direct contact with somebody in production. You may do
well with their ad or outside production departments, who would have
access to the footage and understand the concept of dealing with the
outside world.

Failing that, there is probably a wayt you can work this in as fair
use. The presentation may not be the way you envisioned it, but there
may be a media-covering angle that will at least get the footage in.
Doug Block
i would speak to an entertainment lawyer about a fair use argument,
and about rights clearances in general. but in persuing permission
from the station i wouldn't talk to people in production but the
general manager or someone who actually has the authority to license
Maria Yatskova-Ibrahimova
good, i wanted to ask for some kind of sensitive advice: I feel like
even though my film has already shown in Berlin, it could use more
editing work, however, there aren't really time and resources, and i
don't think i could do it alone. perhaps if i had a really clear
picture of what i needed to do, i could find the time/resources, but
otherwise it seems like a waste. so i guess the question is, since
it seems to be "good enough" should i leave it alone, or should i
find a way to make it better, although, how, i don't know... a new
editor, which will be hard, no one wants to fix other peoples stuff,
or a consultant, which is expensive and not really a sure thing,
it's just one persons opinion, and then what if i start chopping and
i make it worse...does that make any sense?
Doug Block
maria, happy to answer that here, but, being an active d-word member,
odd that you didn't post it in the professional community - this is
the public forum geared for non- filmmakers or those just starting out
in the field.

i would never tell anyone to settle for good enough. the best money
i ever spent on my first film (and second and third) was to pay the
best editor i could find to be a consultant. a really good one will
give you very specific suggestions about how to "fix" your film after
one screening. you'll likely find you're much closer than you thought
and it might only take one or two days of consulting to make the
changes you need.

you might also hold a screening for a few trusted people (not
necessarily filmmakers) and get feedback. again, you'll probably find
you're not far away. it's highly unlikely you'll make it worse. and
if you do for any reason, though, simply go back to what you have now.

but whatever you do, DON'T SETTLE!
Maria Yatskova-Ibrahimova
thanks doug, i couldn't figure out the appropriate place to post -
plus, sometimes i post and i don't get a response, and this was
sensitive so i wanted to be sure i'd get one. and i was here reading
old topics and this place called out to me. :)several trusted people
have seen it, both filmmakers and non-filmmakers, and say the
beginning is a little slow. and i know this. but i'm spent,
creatively speaking, i don't know what else to do with it. and i'm
getting suggestions of things that i've done before and they didn't
work. so, who, doug, who, can i go to? please please recommend. i'm
at my wits end. it really tortures me. especially since i'm not
technically working right now, just doing research and being mommy,
so its constantly buzzing in my brain.
Maria Yatskova-Ibrahimova
normally new york, but right now i'm in baku azerbaijan, and i have
two producers in NYC come? if need be, i'll go
Doug Block
well, if you come back to nyc, i highly recommend mona davis, who was
consulting editor on my last two films (and edited "love and diane",
among many other credits). she was amazing, particularly on "home
page", where she gave very specific last minute notes that were
critical. i'll email you her phone number.

added bonus, when you're back you can get a free cup of hot java and
consult (like, alternative career advice) with yours truly ;-)
Maria Yatskova-Ibrahimova
awwwww shucks! that's really sweet. i would love that! thanks for
contact info on mona davis. i can get the wheels rolling there. what
do people like that charge normally? like a ballpark figure...
Doug Block
top editors start at $2500/wk, so you can figure out the day rate.
and you'll probably need no more than a half-day consult, which is
Alisa Katz
I'm new to this forum so I'm not sure if this is the right place to ask,
but i am about to embark on my first doc. Heading to europe for 1 week
to research for subjects and to get footage for a marketing trailer so I
can go raise funds. 2 questions: 1) HD or DV? my doc colleagues say HD,
while my pocketbook says DV. 2)I have a dp i like and has tons of doc
experience both directing and shooting and who has an HD package, but he
is asking $2000 for a weeks kit rental (deferring his time costs), plus
I will need to fly and put him up for the week. For that kind of money
should I invest in my own camera, and either shoot myself or hire a
local? Need to decide asap and head is spinning. Thank you.
Steve Holmes
Initial gut feeling: It depends on your finances. Yes, the world is
moving in an HD direction and I sometimes regret not starting my
latest project on HD. But I've come to realize, through hard-won
experience, that it's damn difficult to make any money, to even make
back expenses, doing a doc and that the best way to lose the
smallest amount of money is to keep expenses as low as possible.
Business 101, but I had to learn the hard way. When I'm weighing an
expense, I ask myself how many DVDs I'm going to have to sell to pay
for that budget item. Helps keep me focused.

I just did what you're doing: go overseas to research a doc and
shoot material for a trailer. I hired someone local, based on a D-
Worder's recommendation, and it went well. I've taken my own DP on
long-distance shoots before, but that was when I had a much rosier
and naive view of doc finances. If you have footage already in the
can that matches the style you want to use, bring it and show it to
the local DP so he or she knows what you want. Others may advocate
bringing your own DP, and if you are Bill Gates's heir, I'd agree.
But if you're not, how many DVDs will you have to sell to pay for
the DP's package, airfare, lodging and per diem? Lots.
Robert Goodman
do you have shooting experience? Have you made other films? If not,
you are better off hiring someone to shoot for you. As for HD - what HD?
HDV - if so, don't bother. DVCPROHD? - perhaps you should buy a HVX200
for $10,0000 and pay someone on a deferred basis to shoot for you.
HDCAM/HDCAM SR? - This might be a great deal to gather very high
quality footage for a reel to raise money.

DV - the story had better be so damn good the market won't care 3-8
years from now that you shot it on a dead 4:3 tape format in a world
gone 4K high def in 16:9.
Alisa Katz
Thank you Steve and Robert, ideally I would shoot myself, but dont
trust my shooting skills just yet. I am waiting to hear back from a
production manager oversees to see what is available on the local
front. But I am just torn between comfortably knowing that my DP is
onboard with what I are trying to accomplish and that I know the
footage will be good, especially for a marketing piece, and spending
too much to the point where I set a high priced precedent before I
even get any funding. The DP has a full HVX package, but not sure how
HVX can handle a full day of shooting as I think the drive and cards
he has can only accommodate up to 3 1/2 hours of shooting. You really
think HDV isnt worth it? As an aside, I was offered a free DVX 100b
for the week, but again, there is that DV vs HD question. Steven, Out
of curiosity, how much did you end up spending for your recent trip/
Steve Holmes
DP in Tokyo was $1900 for three half days, I believe. My records
aren't in front of me. The rest was airfare, lodging, meals, the
regular travel expenses. I agree with Robert that if you can do HD,
do HD. Have you priced out the difference?
Robert Goodman
2000 for a week's rental of an HVX200 is way too high.
Any rental house in NY or LA would rent it to you for 900 for a week.
Steve Holmes
Sorry if I made it sound as if it was just camera rental. It was not
just the camera, but a two-man crew with audio and lights package
and a vehicle. Still wish I could have done better, but I didn't
know the language or have any contacts besides the crew recommended
by a D-Worder.
Alisa Katz
Thank you both again. I am rethinking my plan as this will be my first
trip of what I deem to be at least 1 or 2 more in depth ones. And
being my first time as a director, I will try to coordinate a local dp
with an HD package to be on standby out there, and save myself the
cash for when I know exactly what I need. Rather than having a pricey
dp the whole week that I will be anxious about getting my money's
worth from. In the meantime I was thinking about purchasing the new
Canon HV20 HDV (for about 1K) to bring with me as a 'back-up' for
research, which I hope will relieve that 'wish I had my camera'
feeling on the days that I am dp-less, realizing it wont be the best
for the major interviews as it is only 1 CMOS, but could be great for
some research and filler shots that I wont require matching. Does
that sound like a good plan in your professional opinions?
Steve Holmes
Alisa: Robert is the camera expert. I'd listen seriously to anything
he says.