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.

Michelle Ferrari

It's been a long time since I worked with an actor I didn't already know, so I apologize in advance if this method proves outdated. That said, it used to be that talent agencies had CD compilations of their voice-over talent, which can help a lot in narrowing down the field. (SAG can provide a list of agencies. The commercial or voice-over division of a given agency is the one you'll want to contact.) Depending on the talent, their level of interest in the project, and your ability to negotiate with their representation, you can sometimes get voice-over talent for well below scale. The trick is to get around the agent. You might try writing a letter (sent to the agent, but addressed to the actor) that really talks up your project and states in no uncertain terms how vital the actor's participation is to its success, but does not mention pay. Try to get him/her interested first. In my experience, if an actor wants to do something, he does it, regardless of whether or not his agent thinks it's a good idea. Say in the letter (in a p.s., so it's the last thing he reads) that you'll be following up with his agent, and then do that. With any luck, the actor will have told his agent he wants in on the project and the money will be less of an issue.

All that said, if you're only planning to use the actor for scratch, you may be facing an uphill battle – when an actor forgoes money, it's usually in exchange for exposure. If you're not offering exposure, you'll definitely want to focus your energies on smaller agencies and lesser-known talent.

J. Christian Jensen


I'm in the process of selecting post-graduate documentary film schools. Is there anyone who has graduated from Stanford's MFA program that could make yourself known? Or is anyone in contact with other filmmakers who are significantly familiar with the program. I'd love to ask some questions.

Is this the best place to post such a question?

Julian Samboma

Thanks for the warm welcome, Doug. Nothing less than I expected!;)

Right. My first question. My next project is a 30-45 minute doc on an aspect of the UK economy. This is going to be my first major production, not like the previous two, which were essentially "teeth-cutting" exercises.

They were self-financed and I did everything myself. This time around, I am exploring the possibility of seeking funding from various sources – if for nothing else but for employing a top editor.

My question is how much do i factor into the budget for said editor,and how to find one?
Also, my camera is the pana gs400, an sd camera. Is it a good idea to include the cost of a decent hd cam in the budget?

I hope this is the best place to post this question. Thanks.


Alexandra Branyon

I am about to complete my first documentary. I can't find the original source of some of the photographs, which may have belonged to a person or may have been published in a newspaper, magazine or book. What can I do to protect myself? Any thoughts will be greatly appreciated.

Doug Block

Julian, it's not the best place because you're now a member. Ask fundraising questions in the Fundraising (Europe) topic, camera questions in the Camera topic, etc.