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.

John Burgan

Monica - check out D-Worder Denise Ohio's advice on music clearance

Brian - it's very unclear (to me at least) what the above description has to do with "interviewing Prime Ministers and such in New Zealand".

Do you have a 100 word description of your project? A sentence?

Brian Boyko

Oh, no, it doesn't have anything to do with that. That's a separate project.

"Following Alexis West" is the "real deal." It's the movie I really want to make and it's the movie I'm spending my life savings on.

"Makers" is the project I'm cutting my teeth and making my mistakes on - a project that I took on mainly to familiarize myself with the equipment I'd be using on FAW, and figure out what I need to do. It was chosen as a subject because it was only 3 days of filming at most.

As for the 100 word summary:

Makers is a 2007 short-subject documentary directed by Brian Boyko about the "do-it-yourself counterculture." With interviews from Mark Frauenfelder (editor of "Make:" magazine,) Bruce Schneier (Security consultant,) and Adam Savage (Co-Host of "Mythbusters,") Boyko asks what the emergence of this counterculture of "making" says about our mainstream culture of "consuming." Are the “makers” on the bleeding edge of the future? Or are they being pushed to the fringes of society because of post-9/11 fear of the unusual? The interviews range from people who build musical Tesla coils, two-story-tall robots, pedal-powered amusement park rides, a giant game of Mousetrap, and more.

John Burgan

Aha. Do you have a short description of either project?

Brian Boyko

In the spirit of Alexis de Tocqueville, the Frenchman who examined American democracy in the 19th century, American director Brian Boyko travels to New Zealand to examine its democratic system. “Following Alexis West” examines the unprecedented peaceful change of New Zealand's American-style two-party system to a European-style proportional representation system in 1993 - and the effects of that change 15 years later. Through interviews with former Prime Ministers and current party leaders, it will show how New Zealand’s “MMP” system prevents problems that we have in the United States, including gerrymandering, negative campaigning, civic disengagement, and undue influence of powerful lobbies.

Leah Cameron

In reply to Doug Block's post on Tue 13 Nov 2007 :

Ya, point well taken. I was kind of kidding about the how-hard-it-is-to-make-a-doc-about-your-family angle. I've decided that the best thing for right now is just to follow the story and see where it leads. I'm curious what the NYU student response was to your talk on Personal Docs. It's a genre that really seems to divide audiences.


Doug Block

The response was really enthusiastic, Leah. There was clearly a lot of interest. I've actually talked at a few other schools recently and it was similarly great. Doing another NYU class on personal docs tonight (subbing for Thom Powers) and one at the New School on Monday.

John Burgan

Sounds like a really complex subject, Brian. How is the project being funded? And why the title?

Brian Boyko

John: The project is /not/ funded in it's production stages. I'm paying for everything out of pocket so far. Everything.

I actually brought this up with one of the Prime Ministers I'm interviewing - he taught law in the U.S. at one point and, before I told him it was self-funded, expressed complete surprise that there was any interest in the United States in funding the project, because there's absolutely no interest here in changing the electoral systems here. Everyone here thinks we're the best damn democracy on earth and that there can be no better system, even though they haven't looked at any of the others.

So it's a bit complex - there's absolutely no way this movie would get funded in it's production stages - especially with an untested director. Yet, I don't think a "tested" director would handle the topic, nor do I believe that anyone would believe that a movie about electoral reform would be interesting enough to sit through.

So paradoxically, the fact that no one would possibly fund it and no one would possibly make it is one of the reasons that I feel so strongly that I have to do it. It may be Don Quixote (and my production manager, Pancho) tilting at windmills.

There's other reasons that I feel risking $10000 of my own money on this is a good idea even if it's an abject failure. First of all, I'm considering a major life change by moving to New Zealand permanently. This project will give me contacts and experience in the country so it will be easier to find journalism work. And hey - it's a tough market for reporters - how many of them have interviewed heads of government before they were 30?

But as I said, I can handle the production costs, and I can smush out a rough-cut that looks sloppy but serviceable. It's post-production that gets me - I'd like the thing to look better than an amateur production.

One of the big problems is that, if it wasn't for Makers coming along and providing me with the opportunity for a short-subject, I'd be having the same problem with Following Alexis West as I would for Makers - that is, you need funding to produce a documentary, you need a produced documentary in order to get funding.

Now, I think Makers is a good subject in it's own right and deserves a more professional treatment. But if I don't get it - and that's a possibility - I can still do the best I can with it, shop it around, and use THAT as my previously-produced material when applying for funding for Following Alexis West.

The title, "Following Alexis West" is a reference to Alexis de Tocqueville's "Democracy in America" and is a title less dry than "Democracy in New Zealand" and more serious than "Boyko: Cultural Learnings of New Zealand For Make Benefit Glorious Nation Of Bushistan."

Christopher Wong

definitely feel your pain, brian, about the whole catch-22 situation of not being able to get funding b/c you haven't finished a doc yet yourself. but as someone who is only perhaps half a step ahead of you in the process, i think it's best if you approach "Makers" mainly as a place to hone your skills and even make your mistakes, and not so much as a way to have a finished piece that you can then use to get funding for other films.

because if "Makers" is not a standout film, it may not get you much further down the funding line. it will allow you to apply for funds, but you won't get them b/c of the stiff competition. what will really help is to get yourself a producer or Exec Producer on board who will give you (and your future project) the legitimacy it deserves.

i'm not saying that you 100% can't get funding yourself; it's just that it is extremely unlikely, given your subject. so go find some films that you like with similar themes and see who produced those -- then contact them with some good footage and a one-page treatment. best of luck!

Katya Myer

In reply to Monica Williams's post on Wed 14 Nov 2007 :


You are very welcome. One more thing that I thought might be useful to you, given your subject matter, even though the connection is not perfectly direct - I have recently seen this documentary called "The Century of Self." It spoke to me very powerfully about the turning wheels of evil in our time, and the documentary itself was fairly well-made.