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.

Monica Williams

I will be starting the dig for archival materials for my historical documentary. I'm noting which archives the historical docs that I love use, but does anyone have any other advice on where to start and how to avoid archives that require a Ken Burns budget? My film looks at four events in modern history - The Lisbon Earthquake of 1755, Auschwitz, Hiroshima and Nagasaki and September 11th.

Thanks Katya for your advice on advisors!

Monica Williams

One more - There are about three songs that I really want for my film. I've seen many documentaries with popular songs and I know that we don't usually have the budgets of hollywood. Are there any tricks to gaining the rights to use these songs without breaking the budget?

John Burgan

Brian - what's your film actually about? Also, what stage are you in now - it sounds as if you have shot already.

Monica - archive and music rights can be very, very expensive - that's exactly why Ken Burns has those $$$$ budgets.

Danielle Fab

Monica - Re archive footage, you'll pay an awful lot if you go the traditional route of archive libraries/banks. Your best bet is to either find private collectors who own the rights to the footage and would be happy to let you use them for free or a small discreet donation. Other than that, you can also try to approach small local museums/trusts/organisations/TV stations that would not be as greedy as big commercial cos.

Music - check this D.I.Y guide:

Alternatively, you could get someone (friend/student in need of portfolio) to create something for you that sounds "similar" for your film, and sign the rights off to you.

In any way, budget constraints always send you on long and tortuous roads.

Erica Ginsberg

Brian, since you are in Austin, recommend you join the Austin Film Society if you are not already a member. There have a healthy doc membership and it would be a great way to network and potentially find a more experienced producer who's interested in your project. As far as the Writer's Strike, not sure I see how you would be crossing the picket line to pitch. Unless you already have a lead, there's relatively little development money from networks or cable entities for first-time filmmakers. You'd probably be better to go the grant route. Like John, we'd want to know more about your film to advise further.

Erica Ginsberg

Monica, D-Worder Robert Richter's last film was about the A-bomb in Japan. If he doesn't answer here first, suggest you look him up in the People link above and e-mail him about his experiences finding archival from Nagasaki and Hiroshima. For Auschwitz, recommend trying the National Archives and the U.S. Holocaust Museum.

Brian Boyko

John and Erica - The documentary is called "Makers."

If you'll recall, I'm doing the feature-length documentary interviewing Prime Ministers and such in New Zealand. I know I'm in over my head so I thought I'd get some experience by filming events at an event in Austin - the Maker Faire, and turn it into a 28 minute piece. I mean, I thought, it's a bunch of cool looking stuff that is strange and the people who build it, right?

But there's also an additional issue that came up - the entire thing looked like it was a countercultural movement - like Burning Man. And I wanted to examine that more, so after I got all my footage (shot in a weekend - the event was only two days long) I started working with the idea that trends in our current society are forcing what was once considered "American Ingenuity" into a counter-culture.

I got the participation of Mark Frauenfelder (editor of Make Magazine - I interview him this Friday), Bruce Schneier (Security consultant), and Adam Savage (Mythbuster) to talk about the DIY Counterculture.

(Savage takes the point of view that eventually the DIY counterculture will, like rock and roll enthusiasts, become the culture, while Schneier takes the point of view that since 9/11, underqualified security personel are treating "different as a stand-in for dangerous because no one knows what dangerous actually looks like."

They're all willing to let me film them, but without development funds I can't afford to fly out to them, so the rough cut I want to shop around to grant-making solutions will simply have their voices recorded on the phone. Additionally, I've got some pretty unique stuff - for example, the Star Wheel, a pedal-powered moving ferris wheel. Sure, other cameramen were there filming it, but I don't think they got the moment that the thing ran into a powerline. (No one was hurt.)

I've put up a couple of promotional preview clips - one of them has already gotten 5000 views due mainly to a link from You can view them all here in 720p H.264 streaming.

Brian Boyko

Oh, and as for progress - the event's over so I can't go back and film more footage. I think I have enough for 57 minutes, but I can always scale back to 28 if I don't. (Truth be told, I think this would probably fit best in 45...)

So: Structure:


"The Counterculture Becomes the Culture" - 8 minutes (Adam Savage talks about curiosity and the DIY culture, robot builders show off computer technology) ROUGH CUT COMPLETE

"A Bigger, Better Mousetrap" - 4 minutes (Footage of a Life Sized Mousetrap Game) ROUGH CUT COMPLETE

"Who but a Subversive would Make something?" - 8 minutes (Bruce Schneier talks about fear, security, and the danger of being different - some of the more dangerous exhibits are shown)ROUGH CUT COMPLETE

"The Ferris Wheel that Got Away" - 4 minutes The Star Wheel is a fun-looking contraption that accidentally runs into a powerline when the cameras are rolling. ROUGH CUT COMPLETE

"Ain't Those Freaks Just Grand?" - 8 minutes - Talking about the relationship between performance art and invention. ROUGH CUT COMPLETE

"These are our people" - 4 minutes - EepyBird talks about the science of the "Diet Coke and Mentos Experiments," followed by a live recreation. ROUGH CUT COMPLETE

"[Quote to be determined]" - 8 minutes - Mark Frauenfelder on running Make Magazine and devoting his life to the subculture. NEEDS MORE FILMING

"[Quote to be determined]" - 4 minutes on hybrid car conversion. FILMING COMPLETE

"Everything is Miscellaneous" - 7 minutes - an unapologetic break from the narrative to look at all the strange things that didn't really fit in with the narrative but which are interesting enough in their own right to be included. (for example, case modders, craft makers, model rockets, musical tesla coils, self-replicating robots...) FILMING COMPLETE

Conclusion - 2 minutes recapping the lessons learned and what I took away from it. FILMING COMPLETE