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.

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.