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.

Laurence Peters

I am in the business of filming people's lifestories but no one takes their lifestory that seriously it seems--and certainly not seriously enough to pay me to make their films (again it would appear from a bit of market research). What great ways do you think I could use to kick start the idea that everyone should consider putting their lifestory on video?
I imagine a bunch of talking heads telling them that it is a good idea and putting that on the web won't work too well. Any creative thoughts?

Mark Barroso

I know a couple of people who tried to do this and never found the right formula to make it cost effective. The clients want a lot and pay very little.

My suggestion to make it worth your while is to be the guy who shows up at family reunions and tapes people talking to each other. Good audio is the key, because it will be a noisy situation – camera mics won't work. But the oft-told stories will be great and everyone will feel comfortable doing it. Plus, you get everything in a day.

Memorial videos are another idea if you can work fast. Still photos to music. I was hired once to set up in a room away from the memorial service and folks came in and talked about their memories.

The common denominator is to be where families naturally gather.

Tony Comstock

I did some memorial videos. What a great feeling when you get it right!

Laurence Peters

Thanks Mark for that suggestion. I agree with Tony--it can be satisfying when you get it right! That is what keeps me going.

Melissa Dopp

Laurence-have you checked out the Association of Personal Historians ? If you search their membership directory, you'll find companies that also create video biographies. The APH also holds an annual conference that members rave about on their listserv.

Claire Gellard

Hi Everyone :)

I was wondering if anyone would be able to give me some advice please? I have just graduated from University with a BA Hons English. Very keen to get involved in doc filmmaking and am currently writing on mental health. Any ideas as next step into the industry?

Thank you very much,

John Burgan

Don't listen to the elderly patients in this institution, Claire. Have you any practical experience in making docs? It's pretty easy these days to get hold of a DV camera. What's the mental health idea? Do you have a concrete subject or is it more a general idea at this stage?

Tony Comstock

John's right. Any idiot can make a doc. I am exhibit "A". I had no practical experience when I started (probably obvious if you watch one of my movies.) I still don't have any.

Some practical advise. Get a DV camera. You can get one for about $250.

Get a Macintosh computer. It will cost you about $1000. It will come with iMovie. I use FinalCut Pro, but any of the films I've made I could have made on iMovie.

Two best pieces of advise I ever got about making movies:

1) Watch old movies and study how they get people in and out of rooms.

2) Anything that's worth doing is worth doing poorly.



Peter Brauer

You could also get an internship at a small doc house. You could see how they do things, and then decide if its worth going broke to make a movie. I worked in reality TV a while and learned about cameras and sound. get your hands on a camera and practice. Realize this career generally leads to poverty. what can an internship hurt, and you would be helping some one who needs your help.