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.

Joe Scherrman

Sarah Goldsmith

In order to get grants for my project I partnered with our local community foundation that is 501C3. At first they didn’t think they could accept money and give it to me, a for-profit. It took the help from Robert Richter D-worder
and Karen Shatzkin (Shatzkin & Mayer, P.C.) to convince our local foundation.

I could of used Robert’s generous offer to provide the 501C3 but I wanted to educate our local community that this can and should be done. (I am on a mission to get our area hip to the production of films.) It also took the help and legal opinion from Karen Shatzkin.
The information from Karen and the offer from Robert helped convince the foundation to look into it. The foundation got their legal people and they then agreed that my project was with-in the foundations mission statement and have now partnered with me. Since I have received over 40,000 in grants.
The hidden section is the opinion I gave the foundation.

re: Fiscal sponsorship

Dear Joe:
You have asked my firm to comment on your proposal to arrange a fiscal sponsorship for your proposed documentary film entitled "Ghost Players" by a local community organizations having tax-exempt status under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, such as the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque and the Dubuque County Historical Society.
I understand that you may forward this letter to the community organizations and/or others, so let me clarify expressly that your doing so will not entail an assumption by us of, and we expressly disclaim, any duty of care toward anyone with whom you may share this letter. Such parties should rely on the independent advice of their own legal advisors regarding the matters discussed in this letter.
As you may be aware, there are numerous 501(c)(3) organizations that exist for the express purpose of acting as fiscal sponsors for documentary filmmakers. However, the principles and procedures relating to fiscal sponsorship can equally apply when a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that is formed with other, more general tax-exempt purposes – such as the preservation and celebration of a community's local history – undertakes to assist the production of a particular documentary film that furthers those purposes.
A review of these general principles and procedures should be helpful. The sponsoring organization commits to make a grant to the filmmaker that is contingent upon the sponsor's receipt of outside funds for the film project. The filmmaker-grantee, in turn, commits to solicit gifts, contributions and grants to be paid to the sponsor, designated for a restricted fund created by the sponsor for the filmmaker's project. The contributions are tax-deductible to the contributors.
Any contributions received in the sponsor's designated fund, less any administrative charges (quite modest, as a rule) that the sponsor may deduct, will then be paid to the filmmaker, pursuant to procedures and a schedule agreed upon by the sponsor and the filmmaker. (Generally, the filmmaker will be asked to submit written requests, and disbursements may be made pursuant to a schedule, such as monthly – contingent, of course, on the availability of sufficient money in the restricted fund.)
It is entirely appropriate for the sponsor to require advance notice of any funding solicitations the filmmaker makes and to reserve the right to approve the choice of funding sources and the content of the fundraising materials. The filmmaker normally agrees not to make any material change in his fundraising strategy or the film proposal itself without the sponsor's approval, so that the sponsor can ensure that the project remains at all times consistent with its purposes.
The filmmaker commits to use best efforts to produce the film consistent with the grant proposal; to use the grant funds solely for the project and as specified in the requests for disbursements from the restricted fund; and to repay to the sponsor any money that is not used for the project. The filmmaker needs to keep accurate records of how all grant money is spent and will generally be required to submit periodic accounting and progress reports to the sponsor.
The sponsor and filmmaker are not in an agency, partnership or similar relationship. Under this fiscal sponsorship model, the filmmaker has the freedom to make the film (within the limits of the project description and purposes) without the sponsor's involvement. All rights (including copyright) in the film belong to the filmmaker, and all income that may be realized from the film is the property of the filmmaker. The filmmaker is responsible for all tax returns, insurance, debts and legal obligations relating to the film.
However, if the filmmaker fails to live up to his undertakings (not submitting timely and accurate progress reports, noncompliance with any fundraising limitations set by the sponsor, failure to spend the grant on the approved production, etc.) or otherwise acts in a manner that would jeopardize the sponsor's tax status, the sponsor has the right to withhold, withdraw or demand the return of the grant funds and spend them so as to accomplish the purposes of the project or in such other way as will accomplish the donors' intention as nearly as possible.
It certainly seems that this model is appropriate for your proposed film relating to the project you described to me.

Hope this helps

Nicholas Taylor

I'm producing a documentary about this particular family, and they have a lot of home movies and pictures that I'm going to use as B-roll. I have consent forms for the interviews and images, but I need a form specifically to handle the rights for the B-roll. Does anybody have a form like that, or know where I could get one?

Prabha Nag

I am using a HV 20 with DOF adaptor to make films. The quality of video is really good, but sound is very tinny. Is there anyway I can improve the quality of sound without spending a fortune? I'm still learning film-making, so want to get some experience before investing in higher-end equipment
Appreciate any suggestions please!

Craig Schneider

For those of you who have ever done pure editing jobs, what did you use to determine your hourly or daily rate? An old editor of mine from my journalism days hired me to edit some footage that I didn't shoot into a short doc for the web. While he didn't end up using the piece, which i actually never got to finish b/c of he killed the project, and we didn't agree to a set price upfront, I spent about 20 hours all told putting it together. NOTE: I took this work outside my day job (I'm a financial writer to pay the bills). How much do I work the cost of my Final Cut Studio 2 software and new iMac and storage into charging him for the HD edit if at all? Do I base my rate on my current salaried writing job? What's the going editing rate for New York City? It's tricky pricing because I don't want to price myself out of future jobs (shooting and editing) for him in 2009. He asked me to send him an invoice. Any help would be appreciated.


Doug Block

Craig, it varies widely. Top editors working on feature docs get $500-600/day. On the other hand, the guy who edited my last work-in-progress sample, who was an experienced ass't editor, and a talented but only somewhat experienced editor, charged $20/hr. Because you're tossing in your own equipment, I'd say a minimum of $25/hr is fair. Anything above that you feel like charging is up to your comfort level.

Andrew David Watson

And your in NYC where the rates are higher... so you can factor that in as well.

Aaron B. Smith

In reply to James Longley's post on Thu 18 Dec 2008 :

Yes, IDA has a "fiscal sponsorship" program. There is a detailed application process, but it can happen for you. Nots sure how hard it is to get approved for their program however. If your doc is of a massive budget – over $50,000 (last time i checked) – they start taking a percentage. I paid a lawyer to read over their legal documents regarding fiscal sponsorship and nothing seemed amiss to him.

Membership is required to apply for fiscal sponsorship.

Nigel Walker

Mudding is an art though, you have to make sure the room is at the right temperature between coats otherwise the seams will pop up right after the contractor cashes the check.

$25 is a good price, three coats if you own your house, two if you don't.

Lucia Duncan

I searched through the d-word archives for info on subtitles and found suggestions for Belle Nuit subtitler. For some strange reason I can't read the font on the company's website. Would appreciate any explanations of what this software does and why it's preferable to doing subtitles in FCP.

Ethan Steinman

In reply to Lucia Duncan's post on Fri 2 Jan 2009 :

In FCP you can hard code subtitles, that is, when rendered they become part of the image. There is no changing between one subtitle stream and another. Nor can you see the image without any subtitles.

Belle Nuit allows you to generate a separate subtitle file which can be added as a subtitle track when you burn a DVD, allowing the viewer to remove them or change languages.

If you're not concerned with seeing the image "clean", then you can subtitle in FCP without a problem.

Ben Kempas

Lucia, you'll find more info if you do a search for "belle nuit" on The D-Word.

Also, as a member, feel free to post these kind of questions in the Editing topic.

John Burgan

Lucia – Belle Nuit is the way to go if you're subtitling a feature-length film, you can get pretty fast and it has all the advantages that Ethan mentions. If budget is a problem, there's a cheap subtitling plug-in from Digital Heaven that might do the trick for you.

PS if the Belle Nuit website is not displaying properly, you might try a different browser.

Jeannie Belgrave

Hi everyone...:)New year!!! It's so cool being here and meeting you all. I'm in the legal stage, looking for samples of release forms, current budget samples in USD amounts, simple and documented ways to prepare myself before standing in front of a potential financial partner. How far can I go legally before joining a production studio? I'm my own everything right now. ~J~

James McNally

Hoping I can get some good advice here. I'm a film blogger, and I'm looking for a reputable film studies program that offers courses online. I'm looking for a general grounding in critical theory and film history more than a practical program in filmmaking, but am hopeful that this very wise and connected community can help me out.

James McNally

Exactly, Doug. To pull myself up from the ranks of the "hobbyist" and to get a little respect from the rest of the film world (including documentary filmmakers), I'm feeling the need to get a little edumacation. Your comment confirms exactly what I'm feeling.

By the way, Doug. No posts since September? Bad blogger! :)

Sarah Evershed

Hi I'm beginning work on a documentary that involves animals, birds specifically. Does anyone know if I need the owners to sign some kind of release form to use the birds images? Thanks!

James Longley

if the images are under copyright, then yes, assuming you plan to sell the film or show it in public.

Sahand Sahebdivani

What if it's clearly communicated to the animals that they're being filmed?