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.

John Burgan

In reply to tina flemmerer's post on Wed 4 Mar 2009 :

Hmm, well you're right, the HVX200 is more on the pro end. Have you looked into getting a journalist visa? That's what we do when we work officially in the US. Then at least you'd have no worries.

Ben Kempas

Visas are about people and passport controls. This is about equipment and customs. If you travel with professional equipment, you'll need an A.T.A. Carnet issued by your chamber of commerce. Pretty much a standard procedure.

Start here:

Tina Flemmerer

John, Ben,
thank you for your responses, they were very helpful.

But I think I might end up staying in Germany for a while which makes things easier. I just read that you don't have to pay taxes for your personal and professional household goods if you intend to move to Germany. So we'll see. Thanks again.

Wang Fu

Before 3 years I shoot some important video from camera SONY DCR-HC26 . Now I want to use this 5 minutes video which I shoot from this simple camera.
All other video which I shoot is in good quality from good camera and I am using for my documentary.
Can I mix this five minutes video which I shoot from SONY DCR-HC26? Is this will affect bad in whole documentary? Actually what footage from (SONY DCR-HC26 ) I want to use it can not shoot again…
Thanks if anyone advice I should use or not.

John Burgan

It depends very much on the film you are making. Some combine material from a wide variety of sources – archive, home movies, news, high-medium-low quality – whereas with others the visual continuity is of prime importance.

The question is – what do you want to achieve with your project?

Christopher Wong

In reply to Wang Fu's post on Thu 5 Mar 2009 :

the simple answer is YES. you can always combine footage from many different sources. the result may or may not be visually pleasing, but if you can't reshoot something, you have to just use what you have.

Esther Pimentel

My name is Maria Esther Pimentel. I´m a high school student in Los Angeles, interested in documentary projects. Can you please help me with the following questions?

1. What is the average range Budget in Documentary Films? The estimated dollar budget amount for my first-possible/future documentary is $450,084. For a documentary, the mentioned budget amount would be law, normal, or high? Keeping in mind that it will be film in Latin America.

2. Can you guide me to a link/site where I can see a sample of a professional business proposal for a documentary package, before presenting it to a possible investor?

3. Can you guide me to a link/site where I can see a copy of a professional sample budget?

Thank you.


Esther Pimentel

Erica Ginsberg

Esther, it's great that you are thinking about such things as a professional proposal and budget this early in your career. While the budget you mention is not unheard of, especially for a project involving travel, it might be a bit high if this is going to be your first feature film. It would be hard to offer more specific advice without knowing more about the project (i.e., one country or several, how long the finished film will be, what you plan to shoot on, will you have to hire interpreters and do subtitles after shooting, etc.). My recommendation would be to join a free documentary filmmakers' listserv called Doculink which is headquarted right there in L.A. Its co-founder Robert Bahar also authored a very useful article on budgeting and an Excel Template Budget which you may find useful.

Although I am sure you've already thought of this (and maybe have already done it), if you haven't made a documentary before, you may want to try doing something short and local first to test the waters. You may also want to see if there are some youth media programs in LA or any kind of training at a public access TV station or community college which would be open to high school students.

Nicholas Wiesnet

Hi all! My name is Nicholas Wiesnet and I'm an undergraduate cinematographer at Chapman University in Southern California from Seattle, WA. I'm looking for a fixer in Cameroon – Anyone have any contacts? A friend recommended I check out this site when she heard that I was shooting a doc there. Any suggestions or contacts would be MUCH appreciated!

Cheers, Nicholas