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.

Darla Bruno

Thanks, y'all. In fact, the dp is a he (I think I mentioned that a few times). And I just wrote to him today to ask . . . I said he can take his time, and I'd pay him slowly . . . (so thanks for the mortgage metaphor, Mikal). And I'm just keeping my fingers crossed – though, he lives in Milan, and accepts only euros; in this case, if it doesn't work out, I won't be too upset, b/c the exchange rate right now is why I can't go back and shoot in the first place (until I have more funding).

So, I'm not actually planning to go back until August 2009 (Rob thought it was this summer). . . and I do have time on my side here. If the dp accepts, I'll be good to go. If he doesn't, I'll ask the photographer (who was also with us and had a good grasp on the regionality in the language). Short of those two, I love the idea of Craigslist.

So that's what I'll do.

The teaser idea was cute, Rob.

Thanks, everyone!

Darla Bruno

Hey Corey,

I tried to find your e-mail address. . . would you mind contacting me off list at I need some advice on the CL post.


Tara Hurley

Just to let you know, I loved working with the students. I have to admit that before this project I was not at all familiar with Korean culture. You might be more familiar with Italian culture, and probably are, but there was much more to know than just the language. My students did more than just translations for me. One student even did footnotes for me on the translations that were worth probably more that what I would pay an actual translator. I would learn things in the footnotes that I could bring up in future interviews. Even if you do not get a student, you should ask if it is possible to get some kind of footnotes on the translations. My footnotes had historical and cultural information.

Evan Thomas

Hi all,

Anyone know where i can find some info on the perils and pitfalls of selling my own DVD over the internet? Website or a book perhaps?


Tony Comstock

In reply to Evan Thomas's post on Fri 16 May 2008 :

There are no "perils and pitfalls". Make a run of a 1000 units (shouldn't cost you much more than 1000 pounds, probably less). Put up a Zencart-based website. (Zencart has a huge, enthusiastic and free support community.)

Oh wait, there is one "peril and pitfall". Even if you happen to sell five or ten thousand copies, a lot of people will not take what you've accomplished seriously. They'll always have a reason why the movie you made/sold is different from the movie they want to make/can't sell; why it was easier for you than it is for them. You may find this annoying. It may even hurt your feelings. ;=)

Good luck!

Peter Brauer

Tony, you are such a maverick. What ever you do, don't let the nay sayers wear you done. I can't imagine sex sells, cause I have never paid for a sexy video in my life. What you are doing is an inspiration to us all. Or me at least.

Sam Rabeeh

Hello everyone, I've been in Egypt now for several weeks and been filming, recording and photographing Egyptians in their daily lives in my home village. I'm discovering I have to work hard at listening and not jumping the gun in my interviews, everyone is afraid of my still camera not to mention my video camera. I've interviewed Muslim and christian farmers, professionals working together for generations and feel inspired that i've discovered more about Egyptian Identity. Yet I can't help but feel lost in the process. As though I don't know what I'm looking for or what it is I'm trying to achieve.

I started by wanting to discover more about our Identity and break several myths about Egypt and Egyptians in general. But with only 7 hours of tape, and several hours of recorded audio I feel as though it's not enough, or as though I haven't accomplished anything yet. To put it simply it's frustrating as I think it will take much more time to really discover more of the issues, not to mention more deeply. I know I need to be patient but does anyone have any advice or contacts in Egypt (documentary) that I might talk or hash out my fears? wishes? I guess a large question in my mind right now is, how long of a story do I want to tell? I don't want to glance over the issues. I'll be heading to the Banff T.V. festival in June and have meetings with documentary producers there and plan on listening to hear what their demands, wishes are. But if anyone can help me out with the "position" i'm in it would be greatly appreciated.

Rob Appleby

God, am I really the right person to offer advice? Probably not, but here goes.

I would recommend writing a "white paper" laying out as briefly as possible the issues you're interested in. Then try to imagine what characters you need to explore those issues. Like, an issue might be that farmers are out of touch with international commodity price fluctuations (!), if you're dealing with cash crops. Well, then you might have a farmer who is actively trying to get information about that on-line and is adjusting his crop accordingly, or one who has a bumper crop of something that has suffered a severe price drop – or is about to have a great year because of a rise in prices. If you have a character or two around each issue – and better yet if they overlap – then you can illustrate the issues by following their fortunes.

That sounds very mechanical; but the more you get interested in the individuals you have identified in this way, the more you will find them, and be able to make them, engaging even independently of your issues. And then your audience will care more about how the issues affect them.

That's how I would go about it, anyway. But issue based films are not really what gets my juices flowing, which is why I suggest getting deep into your characters.

Erica Ginsberg

Sam, I don't think your position in which you find yourself is specific to Egypt. We've all at times felt lost like we are not sure what we are looking for or seeking to achieve.

I would say there are four elements you need to succeed: purpose, identity, patience, and community.

Maybe it would help to tell us a bit more what is the story you are hoping to tell. You mention something about breaking myths about Egyptians. What are these myths you hope to break? Who do you see as your audience? Cairo-based Egyptians? Others in the Middle East? Europeans? Americans? What preconceptions is your target audience coming to the film with that you hope to dispel?

Are you yourself living in Egypt and simply returning to a village from the big city? Or are you an emigree coming back to the home country? Whether you are a character in the story or not, your own identity – real or imagined by your subjects – can color the production process in terms of the level of trust and access you can get with your subjects.

You say you have been there for several weeks and shot seven hours of footage. But if you are really trying to get to the heart of the place and the trust of your characters, you may need more time. Do your best not to be overly constrained by production schedules, money, or time. Continue to work hard at listening – and not just when the camera is rolling. Perhaps what you have already shot is simply research or practice. Maybe the real story will emerge as you spend more time. And this does not necessarily mean you have to live in this village for a year. It may be a process where you make repeat visits over a period of time to see how things develop with your characters or the life of the village.

Yes, it is tremendously helpful to have others with whom to share your experiences, gain new knowledge, and simply have a place to vent the joys and frustrations which accompany any creative endeavor. D-Word can certainly help you in terms of some virtual community. And I have no doubts that there is a community in Egypt which can help fill that need in a more face to face manner. You can search the D-Word database for other filmmakers by country to see if there are some fellow Egyptians to e-mail directly (since not everyone checks into this forum frequently). And others here may have some more specific advice.

In any case, best of luck. It sounds like an amazing project.