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.

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

William Gazecki

In reply to tina flemmerer's post on Wed 4 Mar 2009 : I've heard the ATA Carnets can be expensive, and an easier route is to have a U.S. Customs Declaration of all your gear as you leave the U.S. Apparently for personal gear it's just as good as a Carnet in establishing proof of ownership and origin of goods.

Ben Kempas

That's good enough for an easy return to the U.S., but it doesn't guarantee you hassle-free entry into the country you're visiting.

Casey Crowdis

I am working on a documentary in Canada, though I am US based. Are there any considerations for working with a fiscal sponsor in another country? Most of the donors for the film will likely be Canadian.

Related to that issue, if I don't use a fiscal sponsor, is there any benefit to a person donating to my film? Thanks! –c

Marj Safinia

A US fiscal sponsor will only be able to offer the tax incentive to US taxpayers, so you'd have to seek out a similar thing in Canada if you want to appeal primarily to Canadian taxpayers. However, if you're seeking US foundation $$, you won't be able to get them (usually) unless you have a US fiscal sponsor. Sounds like you might want to have both?

Generally speaking, a donor will give money to your film because they care about the subject matter, because they care about you or because they care about documentary. Ideally all three. It's very rare that someone will give you money just for the tax incentive. That's a sweetener, for sure, but the real reason anyone will give you money is because you're passionate, dedicated and trying to tell a story for important reasons.

Casey Crowdis

Very helpful answer, Marj! I'm considering partnering with a local museum in Canada since it is relevant to the documentary and is a beloved attraction in the town. I will keep my antenna up in case there is interest on the US side to consider getting a sponsor here. Thanks for the advice. –c