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.

Le Sheng Liu

So I might be helping someone produce a series of art/music videos and he wants to know what are some features on FinalCutPro 4, 5, 6, etc. that aren't in FCP 3 which is what I have. At the present moment, he is curious about what can be done with titles (these will be karaoke videos with lyrics) and after-effects. So are there any major differences between FCP 3 and beyond that he and I should be aware of? Thank you!!!

Le Sheng Liu

And while we're on this subject, someone remind me of the difference between PAL and NTSC. What do they mean and stand for?

Marianne Shaneen

Hi and thanks in advance for your help!
I'm in post production on a documentary and most interviewees have signed release forms but a few gave on-camera permission. Is on-camera permission sufficient, in terms of getting E&O insurance, broadcast, distribution, etc.? Are there cases where that is not enough? Many thanks!!

Riley Morton

not sure why you didn't get more response. maybe because no one knows the best way to approach it. if it was me, and i was SURE that there weren't copyright problems using those photos, then i would shoot the stills myself. i'd use a DSLR with 8+ megapixels, but in truth you don't need that kind of resolution for even HD video unless you are doing a lot of zooming.

the museums would probably prefer that you went through them, and maybe their photos are a little better, but i'm sure that there is a hassle factor that is worth considering....

Matthew Hickney

Hey all! I have been shooting a project for over a year and a half. Currently it is at it's first watch able cut, I had a test screening, and word has been very positive, and I am excited about taking this project as far as it can go.

please check out the trailer on my myspace page:

once concern that I have however, is that this whole time, I have not collected release forms, but merely on camera verbal releases which, I was told, would do just as well as a consent form. Recently I have come to find otherwise. My question is, will verbal releases work? and also, if I must collect written releases, do they need to be for each and every person in the film?

for example: I am shooting a fight, the entire time the focus is one the two men fighting in the ring, but there are various faces around the ring and in the audience that can be made out...

I am perfectly capable to get the release forms from any individuals who speak, or play any kind of role. But for these others, do I really need to hunt down EVERY SINGLE ONE of these people, and get them to sign a release form?

or is there a line that is drawn about who I have to get releases from, and who I do not?

even if they are in the film for a few seconds watching a fight, and say nothing, and play no kind of role in the narrative of the film?

also, in the first cut, I use alot of 3rd party footage i.e; PRIDE, UFC, IFL, fights, as well as clips from Enter the Dragon, and Bloodsport...

is there any easy way to maintain the presence of these clips in the film?

I assume not, and I will need to take them out.

This film was shot for next to nothing, and I certainly do not have the money to do a legal battle over the use of clips...

any advice is welcome.



Le Sheng Liu

MAtthew, how far do you want to take this project? Basically anywhere you show this, you will need to get clearances for most of what you mentioned. But especially if you want this to appear on television or at a film festival or even any legitimate distribution website, you should get written releases for your subjects. As for the folks who don't speak but whose faces appear, that is kinda tricky cuz I've seen documentaries (such as Super Size Me) where such individuals' faces were blurred out, so I'm guessing they did not ask for permission for those people and didn't want to bother. And the non-original footage, you HAVE to get permission to include those clips, and (assuming you even get permission) you will often get charged to use it, which can get really expensive depending on the source of the footage. If you've got clips from major studio flicks, then it won't be cheap. If you can't afford to keep these clips in there, then I would suggest using your creativity to tell your story in alternative ways. This is certainly a challenge I will have to deal with, since I am a sucker for using news and stock footage in my documentaries, but that is so costly.

Wolfgang Achtner

Hey Darla,

logging on for a few secs in the US.

In your next-to-last postyouwrote:

"So, I have the choice of coming back to the States with PAL footage and finding an editor and cutting a trailer (my DP and I may log , but not sure yet)."

regardless whether it's for the trailer or later (to do your documentary) it makes NO sense at all to log with someone unless you are going to edit the trailer – and more so – the documentary with that same person.

You CAN'T log your footage with person A and edit with person B.

You and your editor (whomever this may be) need to log the video TOGETHER.

Also, as I've tried to explain to you previously, the editing phase is NOT a phase where you can attempt to save money. You need the best and most competent editor you can find.

If you don't have enough money now, wait and save until you do and then edit it with a good editor.

Le Sheng Liu

Does anyone else feel that the editing stage is in some ways more crucial than the shooting stage? That's the way I feel about documentaries.

Robert Goodman

It depends on the film. Cinema verite style films – certainly. Others not so.

Christopher Wong

for me, it's hard to say which stage is more crucial. sure, you can always save something in the edit, but if you've shot it well, it makes the whole edit much easier. for instance, there are a few scenes in my documentary where the shooter got VERY little coverage and so we are left with absolutely zero choices in the edit room for those scenes.

good shooters AND good editors are worth their weight in gold. having said that, just because you pay someone their weight in gold, doesn't mean that they are the right fit for your project.

Jo-Anne Velin

Monica – usually you can have some luck if you contact the press person in-house and tell them this is editorial, not commercial, if this is the case: Europe generally views access to old pictures differently than in the US (sweeping but I'll get shot down by other d-worders here if I am really off the mark), so you may find access has to be controlled but will not be costly. They have credible security concerns, but some of the best collections are in small institutions that are not hard to deal with (Brugges is cool). The Louvre gets bombarded and I was told by someone there that many professional news crews, for example, behave very badly – bulls in china shops. Our cameraman's behaviour was complimented, though to my eye he was conducting himself with normal courtesy and respect for the other people visiting. apparently not the norm...

Explore also the images that they can make available to you without you having to go and shoot yourself. Several collections are slowly being digitised, though this may be limited to stills...

Dale Archibald

H'm. It only took me two days to start complaining.
The reading restriction (i.e., not being able to read certain professional sections unless you're a member) strikes me as the same sort of glass ceiling I ran into when I wanted to start technical writing. That is, I couldn't become a tech writer unless I was already a "tech writer". Even though I had written about technology for periodicals for 20 years. Luckily, the head of the department looked at my resume and allowed me to try out eight years ago, and I've done it since (increasing my annual income by several times).
Now I want to learn how to become a documentarian (documentiste?), but it appears most of the information categories are only available to those who are already professionals. Same sort of glass ceiling.
Isn't it possible to allow enthusiasts to at least read through the posts, just to gain insight? Just don't allow them to make comments until they've won their spurs? Yes, I have been using tags, but those don't appear complete.
Sorry if I'm missing something, and the info is really available to all. I really do like the site, btw.

Chris Hinrichs

I think Dale makes an interesting point. While I completely understand the rationale behind the professional forum being "by professionals, for professionals", is what's being discussed so esoteric that the rest of us, who are either aspiring or just fascinated by the documentary film process, can't at least eavesdrop? The last thing I want is to seem ungrateful because I think this site is great and the advice I've read to others is thoughtful and constructive. I just think the secrecy of the members forums is unnecessary. Is there a way to do what Dale suggests, where somehow we could read posts, but not comment? I have no sense of the technical side of this, so maybe it's too complicated to institute. Any explanation would be appreciated.

Vicki Vasilopoulos

I'm working on clearing all the photos for my first film, most of which are old family snapshots taken in Italy. Apart from getting a materials release from the owners of the photos,I understand that the conservative approach is to clear every individual pictured in those photos – a monumental task given that everyone is abroad and scattered about. But what if you can't locate everyone? From a practical standpoint, I was wondering how others have approached this for their films.

Matthew Hickney

thanks, sheng liu. Ideally I'd like a theatrical run, with a DVD distribution plan. But I am not done shooting yet, I figured I would just go for broke initially with my first cut, and then poke around and see what any advice I can get in terms of what I can and cannot do.

getting the release forms will not be a problem (I have access to, and see the subjects on a semi-regular basis) the clips I use however, will most likely be removed. But it's worth it to try right?

what would be my first step in clearing these third party clips?

Evan Thomas

I sympathise (never with a Z!) with Dale Archibald and his thoughts about access to the forums for non-professionals. Although i would say that it seems like the pros regularly post advice and responses in the mentoring room and also access at least at some level is free. Somebody put in the hours to spruce up this site and they did a good job and didn't bill me for it so i am grateful for that. I have been a member on other forums that charge annually.

I haven't applied for professional status myself but i might. Can't believe there isn't a box to check for Production Manager or Coordinator when applying for pro status. We do a lot of work
even if it isn't necessarily editorial. Although i guess everyone doesn't have the luxury of larger factual production teams??? Do i have to be an "other"?

Dale Archibald

Evan, it is a fascinating site, and I do appreciate the work put into it. And, as I said, I suppose I could use the tags to work my way through everything.
I could probably fudge and say I'm a writer (which I have been since 1970), but I have had little documentary or video experience (if you don't count a stint doing puppets for a local cable TV show).
Last night I took the Introductory course to the Minneapolis Telecomm Network, so I'm on the path to enlightenment.
I simply think it would be helpful to look through the seminars in a more organized manner, and you can't do that if you're an enthusiast.
On another note, I noticed the lists on one of the bookseller sites for video and filmmaking. Interesting, what with the books on various aspects of the craft, lighting kits and all.

Jo-Anne Velin

Evan and Dale, I am just a 5-year member of D-Word, not one of the three hosts/monitors, but recall that one of the concerns when putting the revamped D-Word together this past year was how to offer anyone at all who is interested in documentary some sort of platform so people with some experience in documentary can share their support, solutions, and other help with those who are new to it. Or who want to discuss whatever they like. The public/private division has nothing to do with fees; it's more about protecting privacy and some of the personal information that members exchange. While it might never be perfect, it's a fix.

D-Word doesn't charge fees and nor does it raise money with advertising, but the hosts did initiate a voluntary fundraising exercise a while ago to help pay for the intense programming needed to make all the bits flow together better. This included a much easier to use public zone. Enjoy the freebie!

Dale, I have often consulted titles published by CMP Books. Their publications on digital video sound and lighting were recommended to me – probably all updated since I read them.

Dale Archibald

Thanks, Jo-Anne. I'll take a look at them.

I do enjoy the site, and appreciate the work and care that goes into it. I shall continue to graze around the edges.

Erica Ginsberg

To all who have expressed comments about access to the member-only areas of this forum, the hosts will hopefully chime in soon. But I can say that I don't think those sections are made private simply to keep the discussion only to professionals or to create a clique. They were separated more to provide a safe space for professionals to share their experiences and challenges with few worries of their comments being seen by anyone (ANYONE, not just enthusiasts). The public forums come up in Google searches while the private forums do not.

That said, I think a great solution would be for the hosts to send out a monthly or even quarterly e-mail message to all D-Word members with some highlights of discussions held in the private forums which could be beneficial to all without compromising privacy. For example, right now there is an interesting discussion going on in one of the member-only topics about house parties as a fundraising tool and it would be great for some of the highlighted recommendations to be shared with the enthusiasts who could benefit by this information for their first project.

P.S. Not trying to be too self-promotional here, but can't help myself. I am the co-founder of a doc organization called Docs In Progress. While some people know us for putting on work-in-progress screening programs in the Washington DC area, we also have two initiatives which may benefit doc filmmakers based anywhere and with ANY degree of experience. One is a quarterly e-newsletter we publish. It's free and you can sign up for it on our website at (next issue to come out before the end of January will feature articles on rights and clearance issues and a story about a unique approach to online fundraising). The other is a work in progress screening we are coordinating in collaboration with NomadsLand on February 17 where the filmmaker will participate via Skype. More info on how to submit is here:

Ryan Ferguson

Erica – I think that's a great idea, but it also sounds pretty time consuming for whoever has to compile that newsletter. Maybe another, more user based, solution might be to add another button by the tag,edit,help, etc. that basically makes your post available to enthusiasts. There could just be one public thread that is a 'members selects' compilation thread. That way it would be up to the actual author of the comment (or a moderator, I guess) to decide whether the post should be available to the world (of course the default would still be that every post is private). While I realize most members would still hesitate to ever do this, a good way of alleviating that would be to automatically make those posts anonymous in the public forum. Yeah, it's out of context for enthusiasts, but they would just have to take the info or leave it and know it's coming from pros. This may be enough to appease everyone (except the poor web designer who would have to implement these changes). Just a thought. I think it's definitely valuable to take measures to keep the public D-Word vibrant.

Chris Hinrichs

Thanks Jo-Anne, Erica, and Ryan for your clarifications and comments. I'm a curious guy in general (probably why I enjoy docs so much), so I'm interested in what you all are discussing. However, if there is sensitive stuff in there, I will be content with the areas of the site that are available to me. I'm sure that a ton of work goes into maintaining this site while at the same time keeping it free, and for that I thank the hosts.

Monica Williams

Thanks so much to Riley and Jo-Anne for the wonderful advice! Both of you are always very helpful to me.