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The Mentoring Room - Ask the Working Pros

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.

Noam Osband
Wed 28 May 2014Link

I have an audio question I'm wondering if someone might be able to help me with: I'm using a Rode NTG-3 with a Canon XA-10. When I listen to the audio I record, it definitely sounds a bit muddy, as if it's clipping. But the levels when I import into FCP 7 aren't showing clipping. Moreover, the levels on the camera aren't showing clipping either when I'm recording. Thoughts on how I might solve this?

John Burgan
Wed 28 May 2014Link

As you've just been admitted as a Full member, you might wish to repost this in the Member's Topic Sound and Music

Adjul Gardner
Tue 8 Jul 2014Link

I'm in the outlining phase of a documentary that will follow three different groups that work on communication in different ways, but with a core similarity. I'm also working on a separate documentary that tracks one of those groups through a 2-month training intensive in the wilderness. I have a few questions, I'd appreciate any help, or if you can redirect me to part of the site that is more suited to my question.

1. One of these films already has 1Tb worth of footage, and I'm only 1/4 of the way into the filming phase. I've been taking a few words of notes on each day, and thinking to put that into a searchable word document to cull through when I'm done. I've also put each day's clips in a separate labelled folder. What are people's methods of organizing such a mass of footage and/or taking notes on it during the shooting phase?

2. With the piece that I'm just starting to outline, I'm wanting to start arranging interviews but I'm nervous because I don't know what the narrative thread will be. It could be more of a "let the speakers and clips speak for themselves," or I could do voice-overs as the POV narrator throughout the film. How much of the arc/narrative style of the film really needs to be decided this early on, if any? I'm worried about not feeling confident during the interviews (they require travel) and regretting not taking more time to prepare.

Jaeyoon Lee
Wed 9 Jul 2014Link

Hi all,
Is there anyone who knows where I can get some help with fixing Beta deck Sony UVW 180 in New York city?
We have a beta deck Sony UVW 180 and we are trying to put it back in use after a few years on the shelf. We are going out from the deck into a Sony converter box DVMC-DA2. But Log and capture in FCP 7 doesn't work...The Log and Capture window shows “no communication'...

Thank you!

Doug Block
Wed 9 Jul 2014Link

You might try Technisphere, Jessie.

No need to sign your name after a post, btw, as it appears above it automatically.

Jaeyoon Lee
Wed 9 Jul 2014Link

In reply to Doug Block's post on Wed 9 Jul 2014 :

Is Technisphere still in business? Because I went there and it was closed even though it was monday. And when I call the store number, it says 'this number is temporally unavailable.'
So do you guys happen to know other store similar to Technisphere?


Eli Brown
Wed 9 Jul 2014Link

Sony Professional Service is in Teaneck, NJ, also as an option. Usually pretty reliable, but they'll probably be at least $300 just to look at it. "No communication" on the capture window would make sense, since the converter box doesn't offer any deck control. Choose "non-controllable device" and make sure you're getting video in via the firewire port. Apple has some info about this whole process here , if that helps troubleshoot it at all.

Jaeyoon Lee
Wed 9 Jul 2014Link

In reply to Eli Brown's post on Wed 9 Jul 2014 :

Thank you so much for store info and link, Eli!!
I tried to log and capture numerous times with non-controllable device setting but video doesn't show up.....I don't know if deck is wrong or converter box is wrong or rca cable is wrong or Final Cut setting is wrong.....

I don't think we have that much budget for fixing this.....T.T And with that money, I think it's better to just ask a store to digitize beta tapes rather than fixing beta cam deck..

Is there anyone who knows cheaper and closer store? Or could you guys recommend good and cheap place which can digitize beta tapes?

Edited Wed 9 Jul 2014 by Jaeyoon Lee

Khadijah White
Fri 11 Jul 2014Link

Hi – I'm a former AP at PBS whose been out of the newsroom for several years finishing up grad school. Now that I'm a professor (with an actual equipment budget!) I'm looking to invest in my own professional-grade video camera equipment for a one-man band within my means (around 5k). This would be for possibly airing on TV or in film festivals. I would really appreciate suggestions on what to get. Based on some lists I've seen online, I've narrowed down the choices to these few, but I'm sure there are lots of stuff I'm missing. Thanks for any help or feedback:

ALSO – Here was my top list based on prices of HD:

Panasonic AG-HPX250 AGHPX250 P2 HD Hand-Held Camcorder + 32GB DSHC Card (10) + Tripod + Deluxe Accessory Pack

Sony HXR-NX5U NXCAM Professional Camcorder

Sony PMW100 One 1/2.9" Exmor CMOS XDCAM HD422 Handy Ca

Canon XA20 Professional Camcorder

Canon XH-A1S 3CCD HDV High Definition Professional Camcorder wit

Panasonic HMC40KIT Camcorder and Mic Adapter/Holder with 12x

And in terms of 4K cameras:

Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GH4KBODY 16.05MP Digital Single Lens Mirrorless Camera with 4K Cinematic Video (Body Only)

Edited Fri 11 Jul 2014 by Khadijah White

John Burgan
Fri 11 Jul 2014Link

This is an interesting selection, Khadijah – but this Topic is mainly for beginners, which you clearly are not! If in any doubt as to the purpose of a Topic, virtually all have a brief description at the top of the page underneath the title.

You should use the Search Function (top right of every page) to look through the Cinematography Topic in particular as there have been many detailed discussions on specific cameras which you might find useful.

Edited Fri 11 Jul 2014 by John Burgan

Khadijah White
Wed 16 Jul 2014Link

Thanks John, I'll do that!!! Plus, I still think of myself as a novice when it comes to buying equipment, but thanks for vouching for me :-)

Neil Gaerhard
Wed 23 Jul 2014Link

Hi all,

I've signed up to the D-Word as an unusual situation has presented itself, and hopefully some of you guys can offer some advice.

I work mainly making short online promos, commercials and corporates, but over the years have produced and directed three full length web-docs, (30-60mins).

I've been approached by an agency who have a multi-national client in a fairly controversial industry – palm oil – who are looking to produce a documentary about what they do in a developing part of the world. However, they don't want to produce an 'expensive' corporate film that no one will watch – they want to get it broadcast on TV, preferably globally.

Normally, it wouldn't be my job to tell them how to do this, but this time it is. And unfortunately, I don't really have any experience on that side of it. I just make em!

Obviously there are a few ethics and transparency issues here. There probably aren't too many mainstream broadcasters who'd be eager to snap up what is effectively corporate propaganda and put it on their channel. I've had conversations with the agency about this, and have told them of the need for honesty and transparency and independent voices within the field to fend off allegations of corporate shilling or astroturfing.

So I guess the questions I have are:

Are corporate sponsored films a complete non-starter for broadcast? Let's assume I make an honest, transparent doc, that although in 'association with GloboCorp', doesn't shy away from asking and answering the tough questions to paint an honest picture of their operations, would broadcasters be open to acquiring it?

Would a broadcaster pay for it, or would 'GloboCorp' have to pay? (Presumably this ratchets up the whole ethics issue if the company were to pay to have it shown!)

What would be the best way to approach broadcasters, pre-production with a treatment or post-production with the completed film?

I apologise if this gets anyone's back up. I'm sure some people might not be too comfortable with the idea of the D-Word discussing corporate propaganda. That said, I wouldn't touch this project if I was being asked to produce a film about how they don't go tearing down the rainforest if they're tearing down acres of rainforest.

As I've had it pitched to me, there are a lot of misconceptions on the subject and a lot of untold stories, and the company is (I'm told) looking to present their work in a way that let's people make up their own minds.

Ok, so I've probably gone on long enough. Over to you guys and thanks in advance for any advice!

Julia Guest
Wed 23 Jul 2014Link

Interesting situation Neil.

I heard someone complaining recently that Liberia's new Government had agreed to oil palm plantations.. Not just any government, but one that now has a very high ethical bar, compared to the past. Already there are stories of corruption related to the contract and people losing their land. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

It made me wonder what is the other side of the story.. undoubtedly jobs for Liberia.. but how many and at what cost, what protection of the environment will there really be.. and so on.

I doubt a broadcaster would fund something that was effectively directed by the company or accept something they had funded.

You have access.. that counts for something. It should be about how effectively you manage that access to create a transparent film. Involving a broadcaster during production would allow them to push all the really awkward questions forward.

Vivian Kleiman
Wed 23 Jul 2014Link

In reply to Neil Gaerhard's post on Wed 23 Jul 2014 :


First of all, congrats on all of your thoughtful questions. It's clear that your approach to filmmaking must be equally methodical and inquiring into the nuance of choices made.

As a veteran Producer/Exec Producer of many docs broadcast on national PBS, I can say that there's the rule, and then there's the implementation of the rule. They aren't always the same.

It's clear that you understand the principle of self-aggrandizement. And it seems that the company is proposing a film that has broader significance than that. But it can be a grey zone. I recall once when my local PBS station launched production of a documentary profiling the patriarch of the Gallo family. IIRC, it was paid for by a donation from Gallo Wines to the wine industry's professional association here in the Bay Area, and then re-granted to KQED. A huge uproar ensued and ultimately, KQED aborted the project and funds returned.

Other broadcasters might be more flexible in their interpretation.

I might suggest that you contact the legal depts of the potential broadcasters and see how they respond to the query. My experience with PBS is that the legal dept is available for such conversations.

Neil Gaerhard
Thu 24 Jul 2014Link

Hi Julia and Vivian,

Thanks so much for your thoughts and advice.

I'm thinking that an approach that may make it more attractive to broadcasters while also helping with the transparency issue could be to have the doc fronted by a high profile presenter from an environmental background. Someone deeply skeptical of palm oil and not afraid to scrutinise the company's claims. If the company genuinely feels it has the evidence to back its position up, they should have the cojones to welcome that... right? ;-)

Thanks again, I'll let you know how it goes!

Julia Guest
Thu 24 Jul 2014Link

Thanks Neil, it does sound very interesting and worthwhile if you can get it right. Love to hear more and email if you'd like more direct input.

Katrina Sarson
Fri 1 Aug 2014Link

Hi all
I'm in pre-production on a documentary that will involve videotaping people performing material that is copyright protected – specifically, excerpts from plays. I'm trying to figure out if I need to get licenses for the use of the plays from the copyright holder, or if that's the responsibility of the people who are creating the performances (because I'm just documenting an existing performance). Any thoughts/ideas/places to look would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

Summers Henderson
Tue 12 Aug 2014Link

My thought is that you are responsible for licensing this copyrighted material, even if you're not the one saying the words aloud. Because you're using the playwright's work as part of your documentary. If anything, the copyright holders are more likely to go after you than after the performers. Because let's say they're in a basement theater, performing for a few dozen people. But you're making a film that can be reproduced and distributed and seen by millions (ideally!) so you're even more of a threat to the copyright holders.

The only way you could legitimately get away with using others' copyrighted material is under the doctrine of "fair use," which you can read more about here:

But in my opinion, based on the limited information in your post, you don't have a fair use case. Fair use is for situations (to give one example of one use; there are others) like you're following somebody throughout their day and they walk past a TV showing a TV show. It's fair use to show that in your doc without licensing the TV show. But if they sit down to watch TV and you focus on the TV and let the camera roll for 5 minutes... then you're not gonna be able to make a compelling case for fair use. Because at that point you're just using somebody else's work. Same thing for if someone gets up in front of your camera and performs a long monologue from a Broadway show. It doesn't matter that they were gonna do it even if you weren't there. The point is that you ARE there and you are capturing that work and when you show it on the Internet somebody may say, "Wow, that was great, glad I saw it, now I don't have to pay to go see the show on Broadway." That's gonna piss off Broadway.

Thomas Haffey
Wed 20 Aug 2014Link

Please forgive me if this is not the correct forum for this issue.

I just finished filming a documentary about a motorcycle rally, including concerts. One band was three teenage sisters (who were awesome BTW). I got performance footage, autograph signing, and on-camera interview with them. Mom signed a release for them. I wish I'd stopped there. I then interviewed dad about the band, but when it came to the release he wanted to further review. Got an email saying he couldn't sign because they need to be "unencumbered" for potential TV deal in the works.

Where do I go from here legally? Mom as parent and legal guardian gave the ok, so can I use the girls' footage? I obviously can't use dad's footage, but does his refusal force me to cut all the girls? Am I asking for trouble for my project, or potentially harming their deal if I move forward? Can I use the performance footage as "public fair use" but not their personal interview?

I am in Mississippi, United States, by the way. Thanks for any help. I hate legal gray areas. lol.


Doug Block
Thu 21 Aug 2014Link

The Legal Topic is actually the right one for this, Thomas. Mentoring Room is for "enthusiasts" who don't qualify for pro status.

Gail Mallimson
Wed 8 Oct 2014Link

I am in the finishing stages of my documentary, The Edge of the Wild ( The film tells the story of a 30-year land-use battle over endangered butterflies living on private land in the small town of Brisbane, CA. This local battle resulted in the weakening of the Endangered Species Act 30 years ago that has had detrimental effects on wildlife management across the country. The film follows the fate of the butterflies and is told through the eyes of a resident of the small town who becomes determined to save the butterflies before they die out.

I am starting to plan an outreach program for the film that centers on current attacks on the Endangered Species Act in congress and highlights the species die-off crisis. I have identified potential non-profits that are likely partners in this, but I've never created an outreach program and I don't really know where to start. For instance, when I talk to these people what do I ask?

I do need to do a crowd-funding push to raise the last $10,000 to $20,000 to complete the film, and would like to establish these partnerships before I do this, so that I can access their membership to hit up for the crowd-funding. I am wondering if anyone on the list has created partnerships/sponsorships with enviro groups for their films and what their experiences have been.
Gail Mallimson

John Burgan
Wed 8 Oct 2014Link

Gail, the Mentoring Room is for first-time filmmakers – you should repost this in the Professional Topic Crowdfunding

Natasha Mottola
2 days agoLink

Can a professional on the D-word need mentoring?

I have been an assistant editor in feature length documentary for the past six years.
The last two films I worked on, I was encouraged by the editor to cut scenes and currently, I am employed as an associate editor on another feature length verité documentary. I am editing a lot and involved in creative discussions, but ultimately, all of my creative work can be overwritten by the editor.

All this is to say is that I still, six years into this all, wonder if I will ever be an editor.
As my d-word profile states: "I am at a point in my career where I have been waiting for a project to call my own, one in which I can devote myself to completely, especially one with meaningful subject matter. I can say with out doubt that I am an excellent editor ready to challenge myself."

I know that there are lots of folks out there who have never assisted, but to those who have, how did you make it out?
One editor friend said to me, "if you want to stop being an assistant, stop taking assistant editor jobs." Easier said than done.

Does anyone have any advice or helpful suggestions?
I'd love to buy you a coffee and chat.

Doug Block
2 days agoLink

Natasha, you may need mentoring but being as this topic is in the public area not that many professional members will wind up reading it. It's a great question you ask, so though we don't encourage double posting I suggest you cut and past it to the Editing and Post-Production topic in the Professional area.

Natasha Mottola
2 days agoLink

Thanks Doug. I'll take advantage of the double post pass.

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