The Mentoring Room - Ask the Working Pros

Mentoring Room

  • Public

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

Hey I have a lot of respect for Cannes EXCEPT for the fact that they practically disregard the entire genre of documentaries. I take it Michael Moore has some direct connections.

Le Sheng Liu

Hahahaha yeah, plus it's the French. Oh well c'est la vie!!!

Chris Hinrichs

Dear D-Worders,
I've really been enjoying digging through this site since I joined a few weeks ago. Thanks to these forums and your profiles, I've gotten to know lots of documentarians and films though your posts and links to your respective websites. I've also been scouring the public areas of the site to gain more insight into the world of documentary filmmaking. Unlike most of you, I am a fan of the genre rather than an aspiring filmmaker. I admire the fact that so many of you are willing to share your experience and knowledge with others in such a supportive, non-condescending way. I'd like to ask a "What would you do if you were me?"-type question that pertains to documentaries. Since it requires some explanation and may be long, I'll leave most of it hidden. Thanks!

Like I said, I am a huge fan of documentaries. There are very few I've seen that I haven't liked. If you check out my profile, you'll find a link to a list of the films I've seen via Netflix. I think my affinity comes largely from being the type of person who's a natural observer. I love the access to information that docs provide. I also like how they allow cinematic access to those who would otherwise be shut out.

In conjunction with my growing love of documentaries (especially cinema verite and direct cinema), I have grown increasingly soured by what "mainstream" cinema has to offer these days. Rather than just bitch about it, I asked myself, "OK, smart guy, if you can do better, prove it." So, I decided to watch as many documentaries as I could get my hands on and do what I do best – observe. From there, I set out to develop a documentary concept of my own, one that I thought might appeal to the masses as well as documentary "geeks" like me. I feel that what I've come up with is worthy of consideration.

Here's the problem: I can't make this film. I know, I know. I'm sure a lot of you thought the same thing before you made your first film. In my case, however, the idea itself precludes any realistic chance of me doing this myself. The whole thing is predicated on the fact that it comes from the mind of someone who's not, nor never wants to be a filmmaker. I just happen to have this one exceptional idea that would necessitate the involvement of a talented documentary filmmaker. It is a radical idea, one that requires an extremely open mind. The only way someone would understand this is by reading my proposal. Until then, you'll just have to take my word for it.

In order to market my idea to interested parties, I have decided to post my entire presentation on a website, unrestricted, in the public realm. I've done this after being frustrated by the "unsolicited material" barrier I've run into many times. I realize this means that some unscrupulous person could steal the idea, but at this point I have no other recourse if I want it to be read. Seeing as this is a place frequented by exactly the kind of people I want to share my work with, I am making it available to you all. It's at:

My presentation is very detailed and thorough, but can be digested in bite-sized chunks for those who don't have tons of free time. So, again, I ask what you all would do if you were me? What are my options? If your answer is "Give up", I'm afraid that's something I'm not yet prepared to do. I have to believe there is someone out there willing to take a chance on an idea like mine, or at least some mechanism by which I can increase my chances of having talented people read it. I just need to find the right person. I'll post this message at the Doculink site as well. Thanks for your time.

Matt Dubuque

Hi Doug, I just saw 51 Birch Street and congratulations!

What a courageous film. For me, courage is such an admirable and rare quality in film nowadays and I'm delighted I saw it.

I had one of those rare life experiences laughing and crying at the exact same time when you clasped hands with your dad at the end.

That's quite a combo, to laugh and cry at the exact same instant; thanks so much for that!!

I have kind of a dumb technical question. When you were behind the camera participating in interviews, did you have a lavalier mike for yourself and a shotgun mike for the talent?

Matt Dubuque

Robert Goodman, I just saw Stone Reader and loved it! I know you didn't direct this (you were the producer) but one of my favorite parts of the movie was the recurrence of various footage of butterflies throughout the film. Was this done to mark out different "chapters" of the movie?

This continual insertion of butterflies into the film reminded me of the recurring scene in Bunuel's Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie where the protagonists are repeatedly seen talking and walking in the French countryside....

Again Stone Reader is great film, with lots of unexpected twists and turns. Some great political points too (about ITT and the purchase of the publishing house) very subtly and ably presented.

Thanks so much for helping to bring that to the public. Because I'm a huge fan of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, I think I'm really going to enjoy the book The Stones of Summer, the subject of the movie.

Mossman's quite the scholar.... evidently 1605 was THE year for Shakespeare!!!


Dale Archibald

I plan to attend a local sports-related consumer show next month, with
an eye toward getting interviews and other shots. I'll use footage shot
in a public-access TV show, and for other things. Any tips or hints?
The eqpt will be loaned to me by the public access station. I will have
interviewees sign releases.

What sort of open-ended questions should I ask? What sort of shots? I'm
brand-new at this, so any help is appreciated.

Wolfgang Achtner


In order to help you, you need to provide us with more information.

What do you mean by "sports-related" consumer show? Is this a fair, a sort of market with equipment on sale/ What sport(s)? Who do you want to ask questions? People selling equipment, members of the public, buyers?

What is your motivation for filming this event? Why is it important? Is there anything special about the event or the equipment being sold/exhibited here? Is this the first time or is this a yearly event? Is there any special significance for the locals? Will any (sports) celebrity be attending?If so, you need to obatin info about this person(s).

Will someone be demonstrating a sport using some kind of equipment? How big is the arena/sports ground, etc? Why are the organizers putting on this event?

These are things I would try to find out if I had to film this event and in order to figure out what to film and what questions to ask.

Wolfgang Achtner


The following guidelines are the A, B, Cs of news coverage and they apply to documentary storytelling as well.

Whenever you decide to shoot something, you must ask yourself; "What am I shooting?" and "why am I shooting it?

Then your story must always answer the 5 Ws and 1 H: "Who, what, why, when, where and how."

Everything you need to do (what to shoot, who to ask questions, what to ask) depends on the answers to these questions.