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.

Stephen Cooper

Hi, everybody—

I’m new to the D-Word, new to the world of documentary filmmaking, and I have a ton of questions. I’ll confine this post to question number 1 but first a few words of introduction.

I’m a writer in Los Angeles, working in collaboration with a veteran European filmmaker on the development of a doc film project that’s been accepted into IDA’s Fiscal Sponsorship Program. On page one of the FSP Agreement it says that as Project Manager I’m required “to obtain appropriate liability insurance for all aspects of the project in an amount of not less than $1,000,000, which shall name IDA as an additional insured.”

I’d like to ask folks with experience in this area where I should (and maybe also should not) go to inquire about such insurance, how much I should expect to pay, if there are some plans better than others, etc. Any and all information will be appreciated.

Many thanks, and it's great to be part of this group--

Steve Cooper

P.S. Thanks to Lisa Hasko of IDA for telling me about the D-Word!

Stephen Cooper

Here's my second question for the Mentoring Room and it's also about insurance. At what point in the long process of development should Errors & Omissions coverage be purchased? Compared to liability insurance, the quotes for E&O are way more expensive. Early on, we're trying to figure out the best way to spend what money we have. Any thoughts or anecdotes will be appreciated--


Doug Block

Stephen, wait until you're finished (or close to finished) and have a sense of what your distribution will be. You'd need it mainly for theatrical and broadcast, so why pay for it when you may not ultimately need it?

James Longley

Basically, if a broadcaster (like HBO or the BBC or Discovery or whoever, for example) wants to buy your film, they will tell you if they have an E&O requirement and what company they prefer you to get the insurance from – because the insurance is really to protect the broadcaster, not the filmmaker (but you should still make sure that the insurance policy also covers you.)

This is because broadcasters have a lot of money, and filmmakers generally have none. So any potential lawsuit resulting from your film will likely target the broadcaster, not you, the filmmaker.

However, in most cases such lawsuits are few and far between – this E&O business is mostly just a formality required by the legal departments of large media companies.

What you can do to prepare for this process is to get signed waivers from the principal participants in your film, if possible.

Stephen Cooper

Thanks, Doug and James, for your 12/16 and 12/17 responses to my question above about E&O insurance. You're both helpful and encouraging.

Maureen Ridley

In reply to Ray Metoyer's post on Fri 13 May 2011 :

Can anyone tell me what are the typical rates for selling a documentary to a US TV channel or where I might find such information? I have a client here in the UK who has made a documentary which should be of interest to the US audience.

Doug Block

The rates are all over the place, Maureen. Could be as little as next to nothing (small cable channel) or as high as a million or more (HBO, if they really really want it). Would help to know what kind of doc it is and the length.

Doug Block

Sounds like The History Channel is your likely target. Don't know their license fees (does anyone here have any experience with them?) but my guess is it's not high for an hour-long "one-off" acquisition. 10 to 20K, perhaps? Don't hold me to it, though.

Doug Block

Welcome to the glamorous world of documentaries, Maureen :-)

Ajay Brar

Hi, I'm working on a documentary feature for which I'm finding it really difficult to raise any funding at all.
The documentary is on the Maoist rebel movement in India and looks at the rebels, the conflict and its human cost, and the underlying issues of mining and indigenous tribal rights.
I have filmed one round and will be going back to film more (me being the director, cinematographer, producer, editor and all).

Based in Australia, I have had no luck getting a broadcaster. The commercial ones don't care and the public broadcasters require Australian content / connection so a suggestion was for me to film myself which I think detracts from the story – its not about me but about the people there.

So I was wondering if anyone has any suggestions / ideas on how to go about raising funding for documentaries on issues that aren't exactly mainstream? How do I finance this (so far its been self financed but that won't cover a lot of the post work)? And what are the possibilities for distribution, theatrical release etc?


Oggi Tomic

Hi Ajay,

Your film sounds like a good idea. I have been to India doing a short promo/doc for a charity on Yanadi tribe and luckily they supported financially filming of it all.

Anyway, in regards to your financing, have you tried

Hope it all goes OK for you and if I can do anything to help or advise you please let me know.


J. Christian Jensen


Hello Mentors,

I've just completed my first of several short film as part of Stanford University's MFA in Documentary Film program. The film is solid, about 5 min, and focuses on disability but in an unexpected way.

I had a bad (and expensive) experience applying to festivals with a short I directed as an undergrad. Can someone suggest (or direct me to some posts about) some of the better film festivals or competitions for student films and films about disability? I have a fear of blowing a lot of money applying to festivals out of my league or that don't really have much value as a networking event.

Jacob Brady

Hi all, I'm currently trying to raise funding for a documentary about a network of controversial adolescent drug abuse programs that I was a member of for five years. We just released a pitch trailer and launched an IndieGoGo campaign.

I would love to get some feedback from professionals on what we are doing right and what we could be doing better. This is my first time trying to do something like this and I could use all the help you can offer.

The trailer and IndieGoGo page are here.

Not asking for donations here, just looking for feedback. Thanks in advance.

Jill Morley

Hi Jacob,

This looks like a really interesting story, especially since you have the inside scoop.

I am wondering if you have any other footage besides the talking heads and pictures. Are there scenes you can shoot? Or can you come up with some creative B-Roll that relates to the feelings that everyone is talking about? I know you are just beginning with telling your story, but I think it is always good to think in these terms. Best of luck!

Jacob Brady

Hi Jill,

Thanks for checking it out.

Right now, we have about 13 hours worth of video footage that was shot by members of The Group and more coming. We didn't use any in the trailer because we are still working out the legalities of using it, but we intend to use some of it in the film.

As for B-roll, we plan to get footage of our interview subjects in their daily lives, plus just shooting anything interesting that comes up when we are on location.

Jill Woodward

Subject looks compelling so far. I have heard of extreme drug programs (like the right wing christian ones that periodically get shut down by a state gov and then pop up elsewhere under a different name) but this is the first I heard about one totally run by kids. Lots of parallels though in terms of the brainwashing, peer pressure and torture lite techniques. Was there money involved? Anyone profiting?