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

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?

Jacob Brady

In reply to Jill Woodward's post on Fri 20 Jan 2012 :

Hi Jill. There is definitely a profit being made. My family, for example, which is a working-class family, spent around $70,000 in the five years that I was involved. The money is from treatment programs (in-patient and out-patient). They convince parents that without the treatment their child will literally die.

We were very limited in what we could go into with the teaser trailer, but we plan to explore the whole history of the organization in the final film.

The entire operation was founded by one man who is a convicted-felony, former heroin addict and self-professed murderer. There has been a lot written about the organization going back to the 1970s. Here's a link to a little background information, if you're curious.

Thanks for checking it out. If you have any advice, I sure could use it.

Jill Woodward

sounds very similar to Kids of Bergen County, where my friend was incarcerated, it changed names and moved around a lot to avoid regulation. From your trailer I almost thought it was the kids organizing themselves, but it sounds very much like there is an adult orchestrating and profiting. Good luck!

Reid B. Kimball

Jacob, nice job on your first film so far, but I do see a couple areas to work on.

Sound quality is inconsistent, some sounded echo-y while others sounded high quality but too soft and quiet, I'm hard of hearing. I like to make sure the sound is loud but not too loud. People can always turn their sound down, but I had maxed the sound on my sys and headphone and still had a hard time hearing a lot of what was said.

Also, be more conscious of where your key lights are falling on the interview subject's face and which direction they are looking in. In one scene, in the bedroom, the key light was behind the person, not in front. So, we see most of their face being dark with the back side of the face lit. Other scenes the subject is to one side of the frame (rule of thirds) but is looking towards the short side, not the long side.

I've made all these mistakes myself. It's a challenge to keep all this conscious when you are trying to setup equipment and think about the interview questions, etc.