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.

James Longley

You're asking about a wide range of data that is unlikely to be covered by a single source.
On the one hand you have production and post production costs, on the other you have projected revenue streams. Very different stuff.
About costs of filmmaking – these are roughly quantifiable. About revenues – these are much harder to know and depend very much on your film and all sorts of variables in the way it's made and released that you can't easily predict.
Suffice it to say that if you structure the project around the distinct possibility that your film will never be profitable, you are unlikely to be disappointed.

J. Christian Jensen

Thanks James,

Ha ha, yeah we're well prepared for that un-profitability possibility, but the donors/investors would like to at least see what's been achieved with other similar films.

Obviously there's BoxOfficeMojo for theatrical grosses. I know that Baseline Research ( sells other data:

- $20 a title (negative costs, P&A, rentals, & video units and gross)
- $50 a title (for expanded domestic and foreign TV)
- $70 for ROI reports

They have a pretty sparse selection of documentaries though. I just wondered if some company specialized in this kind of data for documentaries or smaller indie pics, but I guess not.

Fortunately, my particular film has some elements of marketability as well as some social objectives that might make it more interesting to donors interested in mideast peace and not in profit.

On that note, have any of you social issues filmmakers heard of L3C legal status?

Laura Moire Paglin

Unless you're proposing a reality TV like scenario (eg Supersize Me), I don't suggest going the investor route. You'll have to pay an attorney just to draw up the LLC and PPM – unless you already have an investor ready to throw in $100,000. Even if your film has some marketable elements, that by no means, indicates that it will be commercially profitable.

J. Christian Jensen


What are the best MFA programs specializing in documentary film out there (both in and out of the U.S.)?

I'm considering applying to some MFA programs specializing in documentary film either this fall or next fall. I have a pretty good academic record, strong writing abilities and a respectable resumé of non-fiction film experience.

I'm very serious about increasing my diversity as a documentary filmmaker but most of the programs that I have heard about structure their curriculum around narrative/fiction films.

Any suggestions on schools I should look into?

Michael Wolcott

In reply to J. Christian Jensen's post on Tue 4 Aug 2009 :

I did a Master's (not MFA) in Australia and had a great experience and hopefully came back a much better filmmaker, my problems were I came back to the US with no contacts and no real idea of how to get funding in the US. Still though, my degree is what landed me my current job.

J. Christian Jensen

In reply to Michael Wolcott's post on Tue 4 Aug 2009 :

Thanks Michael,

What school did you attend? In my particular case, I'm not pursuing the degree necessarily to try and land a job. I already have several options for jobs but I want to attend a school that has the alumni network and the curriculum that is on the cutting edge of what's happening in the documentary world.

I'm particularly interested in building strong networks with filmmakers who are really pushing the limits of the genre. I would also like to give myself the option to teach on a University level at some point later in the future, which requires at least a Masters.

Michael Wolcott

I went to the University of Technology, Sydney. I had a lot of great teachers who were a part of the '70s/'80s Australian film & documentary movement, like Tom Zubrycki & Jeni Thornley (who just released a really interesting looking film Island Home Country). The film dept. is small though so you probably wouldn't get the kind of network that you'd be looking for there.

One of the reasons I went on for a Masters was also for the ability to teach in the future, without an MFA though I think my options are somewhat limited. Until of course my first blockbuster documentary is released.

Yocheved Sidof

Hello fellow filmmakers

Wanted to get some advice here. At a tough spot with my film. Its a character/story driven doc that also has elements of issue- themed doc as well...

Protagnist on quest to find love- adheres to strict Jewish law forbidding touch between opposite genders. Can she find love without touch?

Have tons of compelling footage, lots of opposition from her family, keepng law gets harder as their relationship progressess. They end up getting maried without touching eachother once.

Cut into the story, we also want to tackle the broader isse- what is the law? benefits? why is its observance 'dying out' within observant Jewish circles? is it healthy? what is the best way to learn about sex? How do other cultures view premarital sex? sex ed system, etc..

Weve spent the past 1.5 yr capturing, cutting scenes, interviews some experts, interviewing other young people about sex, etc. Also tried to edit whole cut of hjust protaganist story without tackoling issue at all... Now we feel stuck. Should we back-track and write a script? Should we figure out the 'issue' stuff and shoot it? Should we hire an outside prof editor at tis point? A doc doctor? Should we be looking for other stories to intertwine with this one?

Need some advice here!

Thanks in advance!!

Marj Safinia

Yocheved, since you already asked this question on the member side, and have already started getting answers there, you should pursue this discussion in the other topic. No double-posting on D-Word. Most people read everything.

Sharon Hewitt

Hello, I just joined, so please let me know if my post does not adhere to the rules of the community. I'm producing my first documentary and plan to shoot in HD and would like to meet broadcast standards. I'm considering purchasing Panasonic's new AG-HMC-40 (H.264 MPEG-4 using 3-1/4.1" CMOS image sensors). Can anyone tell how to be sure the camera I'm considering meets broadcast standards?

Chris Clauson

I just joined too and am planning my first doc with a similar camera. I am not sure what broadcast standards will really be as the web blends with TV in the near future. The camera I plan to get is the Panasonic hdc-tm300, which is a stripped-down version of the one you want. It has very similar specs, though. I am interested to hear about your doc and how you plan to gather the material.

Sharon Hewitt

Thanks for the info. I wasn't aware of the camera you mentioned, but I checked it out and it is very similar to the one I'm considering. I plan to cover my topic by recording my subjects in their natural settings as well as through interviews. As of now, there are approximately 25 specific days over a 9 month span that I'd like to cover. I have some flexibility on the number of days I can devote, but not much. If needed, I'll trim some of these days to add other material as it develops. Tell me a little about your doc.

Chris Clauson

I'm just trying to figure out how to do a character-driven doc on a local woman who is on a personal mission to save unwanted pets. I hope to do it in episodes for a start-up web/cable TV station. Then,who knows, maybe there will be enough good stuff for a real doc. As I mentioned before, I plan to shoot most of it on the TM-300, which is really small and lightweight. The interviews can be shot on my JVC hd200. When I picture this story, it vaguely looks like Jon and Kate Plus Eight...that kind of reality. When the episodes run in this two county area, I hope it builds awareness of the plight of the animals and that people will donate and/or adopt. The documentary will have a bigger focus on an over-arching topic when I can get enough material. I am the shooter for this and my husband is the editor. He uses FCP. What is your doc about in general?

jane taylor

Hello D-word

I'm Jane Taylor and currently studying an MA at the University of Salford, Manchester, UK in Television Documentary Production.

I am at the stage now where I am conquering my dissertation. I got extremely inspired by the Documentary Campus event at the Manchester Town hall – Leaner Meaner and Keener, and have based my dissertation on the effect the internet has on documentary.

I would really appreciate some opinions, experiences and professional advice on this subject. How the internet plays a part in documentary distribution in a good way and bad way? advantages and disadvantages? What's the future? How it has helped you business or film? Everything and anything would be highly appreciated.

Many Thanks,

Doug Block

Jane, the short answer is that the internet has been a great boon for marketing and promoting your docs, and hasn't nearly reached its promise as a serious distribution platform, especially for long-form docs. Whether it ever will is the (multi) million dollar question.

Jaty MacMillan

Hello All,
I've just joined and was wondering if there were any posts about copyright violation on torrents sites. They're offering my film on free downloads and i need to find out how to have it removed

Susheel Kurien

Hi all
I am shooting a film that has extensive performance of jazz standards. The musicians have given us releases for their peformance but I need to understand a) how to get performance rights from the publisher b)what these rights would cost.. I am trying to budget this and appreciate any help ..FYI examples: Green Dolphin St, Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White, At Last, Moanin' etc