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.

Robert Goodman

Pinnacle Studio 12 is a good program. A lot of features for $79. Remember you don't need much. For 90 years every Hollywood feature film was edited with a viewer and scotch tape. It used to be that you'd find less than 10 dissolves and all the other edits would be cuts.

If you want to go up the scale – Sony's Vegas Video is a good program and then head to Adobe Premiere CS3. All available for far less than Avid and other professional programs.

Paul Kloeden

A quick google search will lead you to a lot of release forms. A quick cut and paste will get you what you need. As for interviews, especially set up ones, I would be tempted to buy a cheap lapel mic – simple one with cable to your camcorder.

Jason Caminiti


There are a number of PC editing programs. Last year when I dove back into Non-Linear Editing, I started using Adobe Premiere Elements. It is surprisingly good for a program that costs about $99. Elements is a pro-ish program dumbed down quite a bit for newbies. Though, it has some features that Premiere Pro doesn't have, like the ability to make a DVD with titles and all. Also, if you find yourself getting serious, the learning curve to Premiere Pro will be almost nothing. In fact, you will start to see many of the quirkyness that is somehow built into Elements dissapear, and it is a slick program.

I'm not a fan of the Pinnacle software at all. I have it just to import VHS and it seems amateurish.

(Ducks flames from Mac users)

Skyler Buffmeyer

Hi again!
Thank you so much for the great feedback! It is so appreciated!!!! I just love this website :)
I have another question:
What recommendations would you make for finding subjects to be in your doc? I was thinking maybe flyers around town or an article in the newspaper...anymore tips?
Thank you again.

Mark Barroso

Depends on how random you want to be. If you want just anyone to comment on, say, how they feel about the latest fashions or the Iraq Occupation then just walk up to people on the street.

If you're looking for specific kinds of people, like folks with rare diseases or ex-cops who killed people in the line of duty then you can either advertise or talk to people who work with that population.

Jason Caminiti

Robert, True, I guess I expected more from it. Adobe Premiere Elements seems really good considering. There are some really annoying quirks that I can't get past but otherwise it is great.

Skyler, You really didn't tell us what kind of documentary you were looking to make. If you are looking to just get experience, I'd recommend going to the local public access studio and volunteering. I take my camera when I go to an event in the city and make a 'show' out of it. You could throw in some interviews to get some experience there. Learning on the access facilities equipment is not only free, but it lets you see what you don't like. Which helps you zone in on what kind of equipment you need.

Evan Thomas

So i want to film for a few hours at a Military Cemetary with a PD-170 + tripod. My project is lo / no budget and i'm self funded etc working on the film in my spare time.

In order to get permission to film i need to provide:

"Proof of adequate insurance coverage for any person participating in the film production or photography, as well as any spectator who may be at the site and might be injured as a result, directly or indirectly, of the filming or photography. Adequacy of coverage will by as determined by the organisation"

Clearly i don't have public liability insurance. Any way around this?

Jason Caminiti

It's not like you are filming a movie there. If you weren't using a tripod, I'd say just go for it.

I'm in the US, and we have public access television here. People tell me all the time I am supposed to have filming permits and the like, but I just tell them it is for Public access and they seem to go away. I've never been thrown out of anywhere for filming with a lower end looking camera. Even with a tripod. I have had people ask me questions.

I think the liability stuff is more if you are going to be bring in crew and heavy equipment.

Call the groundskeeper and tell him what you are doing, and tell him you are just going to be filming with a small camera and tripod. I bet they'd be fine with that?

If not, bring a consumer grade camera and get the footage that way. A La Michael Moore.

BTW: I'm no lawyer, so you should check with a lawyer before taking any of my advice...

Skyler Buffmeyer

Hey Everybody!
You are all such a huuuge help! Thanks!
I was wondering if anyone could give advice on getting archives (especially news-media related). Any good websites or procedures I need to go through to get good archives?
Thanks again,

John Burgan

Archives – it depends a lot on what you plan to do with the material. More and more are online these days and you can search for footage which you can then license for use, whether for a web presentation or a film to be broadcast, whatever. It's not cheap though!

For instance check out the ITN Archive

BTW Skyler – please note that we ask all D-Worders to register with their full, real-world names, so please log in when you have a moment and update your profile. Thanks.

Skyler Buffmeyer

Hey John!
Thanks so much for the advice.
I'm very sorry that I didn't put my full last name up.
I felt a little uncomftorable doing so considering, I just found this website a few days ago and I am underage.
I am so sorry if I have broken any rules.
If there are certain reasons that you need people to put up their last names please tell me and I will change it.
Again, I am very sorry if I have broken any rules and also, thanks so much for the advice about the archives.

Joe Moulins

I wouldn't want my daughter sharing her full name on this board. No offense.

Let Skyler B be Skyler B.

Andrew David Watson

Skyler – check out

Evan – The public access or "student film" lie can go a long way. Also, you could try to track down a local professional that might be willing to help you out and have them as a "co-producer." I would say go take a walk around there and see what the vibe is like and try to get a sense if you would even be bothered.

Doug Block

Skyler, no worries, we'll let you remain a B given that you're bringing the mean age of The D-Word's membership down considerably. Just don't be ordering any drinks in the virtual bar.

Monica Williams


A potential next project has presented itself to me and it is a completely different style than the film I have been learning how to make for the last couple of years. I'm wondering if anyone can recommend ideas regarding the actual film or films to watch that might be in the same genre.

Here's the situation. I live in Detroit and am very fascinated with the "post-industrial" remnants of what was once a thriving city. There are hidden stories everywhere here and people are experimenting with radically creative avenues for social change. While helping tear down an abandoned house with one of his groups, I had a very long conversation with a man who was one of the Logistics officers for "Hands Across America," who was asked to teach courses on grassroots organizing at the University of Michigan and who is currently "stuck" in Detroit with legal matters. He took me to a miraculous place he helped build called the "Artists Village" in one of the worst neighborhoods you can imagine. He is very well-loved! He wants me to film some burial ceremonies he has organized with churches for the homeless and stillborn infants who are not given these rituals. Also to film some of the seeds he is planting here along with the activities of the Artists Village. The Artists Village is a huge collection of abandoned warehouses that have been painted with murals by the children in the neighborhood, guided by the artist in residence, whose artwork hangs everywhere. There is theater space where spoken word and community theater take place and there are huge community gardens. Possibilities are endless!

I guess this wasn't such a short post, but – How do I begin thinking about this? I would need to shoot some of these events ASAP and before he leaves. I have someone that can help shoot it, but I'm in need of creative direction as I'm currently working on a historical and philosophical film with archives and talking heads. What am I looking for – do I have to be in the film (aaagh!) Any help would be most appreciated :-)

John Burgan

Don't want to dampen your enthusiasm, Monica, but isn't this simply a distraction from finishing "Knowing Evil"?

Christopher Wong

sometimes the project you were "born to make" comes along at inopportune moments. like before you've finished the film you had already started... but if a project absolutely rings true in your heart and mind, then you don't really have a choice but to go forward with the new thing. (that was certainly the case with me.)

from what we've read before, it sounds like KNOWING EVIL might be able to wait. but only you know best... if you do go forward with this new project, make sure that you have a current story to tell, rather than simply rehashing the history of how the Artist's Village was created. as you said, there are hidden stories everywhere. go find 'em!

and no, it certainly doesn't sound like you have to be "in" the film.

Monica Williams

In reply to John Burgan's post on Wed 20 Aug 2008 :

Well John, you may have me here – I'm falling for "another film." That said, I'm still committed to Knowing Evil and just finished my fundraising trailer. I know I'm a little googly eyed for this new project (it doesn't have all of the baggage of my current relationship:-) but I'm attempting to have some kind of either backup plan or footage in the works for when Knowing Evil is done. I've also thought of posting 5 minute stories like this on my website with a blog as a companion to Knowing Evil. This man's character represents a major them in the film and also symbolizes to me the combination of two of the philosophers in Knowing Evil.

Will I get in over my head if I were to just film some of the events this man is involved in for now, and to either use some of it for small 5 minute pieces and then try to make a film once Knowing Evil is finished? It also feels like a way to detach a little from Knowing Evil (in a healthy way) as I've been a bit monomaniacal with the whole process :-)

Skyler Buffmeyer

I am having trouble finding archives pertaining to the film I would like to make. I know this may seem very silly but, I am looking for videos/ video clips of things such as, hannah montana, high school musical, beauty pagents, make up commercials...... I was wondering if you could point me in the right direction and, if you could tell me more info on archives...can you get some free? if so, which ones can you use with no permission or money? and anything else I might need to know.

Jason Caminiti

Monica, not sure if I can help at all. I am finishing up a film that is about how a city is using the arts to bring life back to their downtown and their mills. A few resources that may, or may not help.

Also, a couple docs.
These are along that vein.

End of Suburbia
Escape from Suburbia

There is one Erica mentioned to me that I lost the link for about an artists community in Texas. Erica?

Chris, where were you when I was starting my project. I could have used a theme like an artists group moving into the city to explore the growth.. oh well too late now...

Carlos Gomez

Monica, Varda's "The Gleaners and I" comes to mind. Maybe post-industrial Detroit is a setting where the ideas you're examining in your current doc play out, and the artist village is one branch of a bigger story. You, like Agnes Varda, could be the unifying thread: a filmmaker making sense of the world she lives in, relating historical, social and psychological trends to the changing landscape of the city she inhabits.

Eli Brown

Unfortunately, Skyler, Disney is pretty legal and protective of its media properties. If you're planning on making something that you won't distribute, I wouldn't worry about it (like a class project, for instance), but if the rest of the world will see it, it's a safe bet that they'll be unamused at its use should they find it. However, the policy of "Fair Use" (small description here – does give you some latitude to use all of those things in the context of a work of "scholarship" which often includes documentary. If an interview you conduct with someone talks about one of those programs, you could probably get away with a very, very short clip of it (or stills). Depending on what your point of view is of these items, the companies behind the creation of the media may even be willing to give you limited use (if it serves their PR or goals). Fair Use is your best bet for using any of it, but as a rule you probably won't be able to use a lot. (Disclaimer: I'm not a lawyer, so for any fair use claims, it's always best to check with someone who knows legal matters a little bit better...)