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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.

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William Gazecki
Sat 7 Mar 2009Link Tag

In reply to tina flemmerer's post on Wed 4 Mar 2009 : I've heard the ATA Carnets can be expensive, and an easier route is to have a U.S. Customs Declaration of all your gear as you leave the U.S. Apparently for personal gear it's just as good as a Carnet in establishing proof of ownership and origin of goods.

Ben Kempas
Sun 8 Mar 2009Link

That's good enough for an easy return to the U.S., but it doesn't guarantee you hassle-free entry into the country you're visiting.

Casey Crowdis
Tue 10 Mar 2009Link

I am working on a documentary in Canada, though I am US based. Are there any considerations for working with a fiscal sponsor in another country? Most of the donors for the film will likely be Canadian.

Related to that issue, if I don't use a fiscal sponsor, is there any benefit to a person donating to my film? Thanks! –c

Marj Safinia
Tue 10 Mar 2009Link

A US fiscal sponsor will only be able to offer the tax incentive to US taxpayers, so you'd have to seek out a similar thing in Canada if you want to appeal primarily to Canadian taxpayers. However, if you're seeking US foundation $$, you won't be able to get them (usually) unless you have a US fiscal sponsor. Sounds like you might want to have both?

Generally speaking, a donor will give money to your film because they care about the subject matter, because they care about you or because they care about documentary. Ideally all three. It's very rare that someone will give you money just for the tax incentive. That's a sweetener, for sure, but the real reason anyone will give you money is because you're passionate, dedicated and trying to tell a story for important reasons.

Casey Crowdis
Tue 10 Mar 2009Link

Very helpful answer, Marj! I'm considering partnering with a local museum in Canada since it is relevant to the documentary and is a beloved attraction in the town. I will keep my antenna up in case there is interest on the US side to consider getting a sponsor here. Thanks for the advice. –c

Michael Fagans
Tue 10 Mar 2009Link

Wondering if there are good or recommended choices for choosing mini-DV tape brands and quality for shooting an HDV doc? Thanks.

Dustan Lewis McBain
Wed 11 Mar 2009Link

any opinions on the Canon XH-A1 HDV?
or JVC GY-HM100U?

Dustan Lewis McBain
Thu 12 Mar 2009Link

In reply to tina flemmerer's post on Tue 3 Mar 2009 :

Btw thx tina for the advice i've been practicing in public places, works great

Mike Flounlacker
Mon 16 Mar 2009Link

I have recently been asked to secure a distribution agreement by a client for a completed documentary. How/where can I submit content for consideration?

Is there a place to go where a person with no history in this industry will be taken seriously?

Joe Moulins
Mon 16 Mar 2009Link

In reply to Michael Fagans's post on Mon 9 Mar 2009 :

Don't waste your money on "HDV quality" tapes. I use Sony DVC Premium tapes in a Z1U and an A1U. I rarely see dropouts...maybe one in every 20 tapes.

Jordan Older
Tue 17 Mar 2009Link

Ventura Film Festival

The Ventura Film Festival, which was started in 2004 by Jordan Older and his father, has recently concluded its

first event of 2009 at the Majestic Ventura Theater in Ventura, California with the Ventura Film Festival "Fun Day"

on February 16, 2009 at 2pm.

The Ventura Film Festival is a combination online and traditional film festival requiring all submissions to be

uploaded online and submitted via traditional means. The Ventura Film Festival has maintained that one of it's main

goals is to give a large part of any proceeds to forest and ocean preservation efforts. The Ventura Film Festival

features independent films from around the world and from local film makers focusing on environmental issues such as

forest and ocean preservation, humanitarian issues, surf, skate, extreme/action sports, sports, martial arts, and

music films.

The Ventura Film Festival opened it’s 2009 events on Monday February 16, 2009 at the Majestic Ventura Theater in

Ventura, California with a “fun day”. The event marked the 6th anniversary of the Ventura Film Festival which was

started by Jordan Older and his father in 2004. The Ventura Film Festival board of directors were present to show

their selection of currently received entries for the 2009 Ventura Film Festival. The festival board includes

Hollywood film makers Dustin Dean and U.S. Olympian John Godina who is the most decorated shot putter in U.S.

athletics history. Ventura Film Festival is a green organization and accepts entries and submissions online at the

festival’s official web site, Part of the profits from the Ventura Film Festival

will go directly towards environmental issues such as forest and ocean preservation. The “fun day” served as a warm

up for the main event of the 2009 Ventura Film Festival which takes place on July 5th.

The Ventura Film Festival gives out no awards. We prefer not to have competition and to simply celibrate great

films as works of art and enjoy a fun event that provides support for environmental issues such as forest and ocean

preservation. From time to time we may give notice of special recognition to certain films.

The Ventura Film Festival has become a partner with the world's biggest film festival marketing organization

Withoutabox. The partnership was on request of Withoutabox executive Sara Nixon-Kershner on Feburary 18, 2008.

Withoutabox provides submission and marketing service to over 200,000 filmmakers in 200 countries as well as manage

submission receiving, judging, and notification, schedule publishing, and the ability to sell tickets using targeted

ads on well known film site IMDB.

Submitting to the Ventura Film Festival is a two step process. BOTH STEPS ARE REQUIRED!!!

1) upload your submission to (REQUIRED)

2) Submit via Withoutabox using this link: (REQUIRED)

Submissions that are not uploaded to will not be considered.

Mark Barroso
Tue 17 Mar 2009Link

In reply to Mike Flounlacker's post on Mon 16 Mar 2009 :

I'm guessing the military is asking for this so you can shoot on base. No?

Rick Minnich
Tue 17 Mar 2009Link

Hi, this is Rick Minnich in Berlin, Germany. I'm a US-born doc filmmaker who's been based in Berlin since 1990. I've made a number of shorts and feature-length docs, most recently FORGETTING DAD about my father's bizarre and inexplicable case of amnesia, which has haunted my family for the past nineteen years. Some of you might have caught the film at its premiere at IDFA last November. This spring it will also be playing at It's All True, Belfast, Full Frame, HotDocs, and Planete Doc Review in Warsaw, and I would love to meet other D-Worders at one of these festivals, here in Berlin or elsewhere. I can be reached at Cheers!

John Burgan
Tue 17 Mar 2009Link

Hi Rick – welcome aboard (it's been a long while, but you're here at last).

Not sure you need any mentoring with your track record (hint – this post would have been more appropriate in Introduce Yourself but hey, what the heck). Your email and contact details are available to other members on your profile.

To everyone else: do yourself a favour and check out Forgetting Dad – you'll be glad you did.

Rick Minnich
Tue 17 Mar 2009Link

Hey, give me a break! I'm still learning the ropes. Thanks for plugging FORGETTING DAD though.

Doug Block
Wed 18 Mar 2009Link

Welcome, Rick, great to have you here. And best of luck with Forgetting Dad.

Rick Minnich
Wed 18 Mar 2009Link

Hi Doug, Thanks for the welcome. Jan Rofekamp is repping Forgetting Dad. 51 Birch Street came up in one of our first conversations. FD has been drawing lots of comparisons to your film. I hope you can see FD at Full Frame or HotDocs. It would be nice to meet you in person as well!

Doug Block
Wed 18 Mar 2009Link

No plans to attend either, alas, as I'm in the middle of editing the new film. Will you be passing through NYC? And send my regards to Jan next time you speak, he's the best.

Jo-Anne Velin
Wed 18 Mar 2009Link

Rick, show it in berlin please – we met for a nanosecond in IDFA, but I was there only about 36 hrs, and didn't see FD.

Rick Minnich
Wed 18 Mar 2009Link

In reply to Jo-Anne Velin's post on Wed 18 Mar 2009 :
Hi Jo-Anne, We'll be showing FD at Babylon Mitte as part of the Achtung Berlin-New Berlin Film Award festival in mid-April. Please come and introduce yourself!

Rick Minnich
Wed 18 Mar 2009Link

In reply to Doug Block's post on Wed 18 Mar 2009 :
I suppose we'll have a screening in NYC at some point, but no concrete plans yet. The good folks at Tribeca didn't want the film, breaking my heart forever ...
Yes, Jan is the best. I'm very happy he took on the film. He's been making a lot of TV sales around the world, much to my delight!

Doug Block
Wed 18 Mar 2009Link

Rick, now that you're a member, and since you hardly need mentoring, let's continue these various conversations in their proper topics (Festivals, Shameless Self-Promotion, etc.).

Graeme Orr
Wed 1 Apr 2009Link

Hi, I am a first time filmmaker who has been shooting a doc for the past 2 years all over the world but I didn't got clearance from any of the countries I was shooting in. The film is about a humanitarian building schools and bringing aid to children in impoverished regions. We shot in Kenya, Egypt, India, Nepal and Sudan. I didn't get any clearance because he has always taken people along to document the work he does and I was taking over that roll. Now however I want to use the footage in a feature length documentary about him, with ambitions of getting it broadcast and in festivals. Is this possible. Do all filmmakers get clearance from the countries they shoot in if they are hoping to get them broadcast or shown at festivals. Also the organization is a non-profit and all profits from the film are going back to the charity – if that makes any difference. Any help or even a point in the right direction of where to get advice would be great. Thank you.

Regan Brashear
Thu 2 Apr 2009Link

Hi all,
I am looking for input on acquiring archival rights, specifically when do you need to do so. I have about twenty different clips of archival footage (from old science reels I found at the Nat'l Archives to clips from news reports to bytes from two popular films) in my film that I don't currently have rights to. I have been assuming that I need to track down and try to get rights for all of this before I can take my film to festivals or think about any other forms of distribution. A friend recently said that might not be the case since they are all under 30 seconds and I am using them all as part of my critique/argument that they might fall under the Fair Use parameters.

I would love any advice on this.

Also would love to hear how folks actually go about securing rights,i.e. do you need it in writing from wherever it came from? Is there a specific legal document that you need to have them sign?
What would you expect to pay for say 30 seconds from FOX news?
How do the Fair Use guidelines work in reality? Does POV allow for them, for instance?

Doug Block
Thu 2 Apr 2009Link

Regan, your questions really belong in the Research and Archives topic. Graeme, yours go in the Legal Corner. We like to keep discussions in their proper topics so that we can find the info later more easily. This topic is really for Enthusiasts who don't have access to the other topics.

Regan Brashear
Thu 2 Apr 2009Link

ah, got it. i'll repost there. thx!

Doug Block
Thu 2 Apr 2009Link

and never ever double-post again ;-)

Graeme Orr
Fri 3 Apr 2009Link

Sorry Doug. I was only an enthusiast at the time I posted. I was unsure if I would qualify as a member. I did re-post in Legal after becoming a Member. I won't do it again.

Doug Block
Fri 3 Apr 2009Link

No worries, Graeme. That definitely happens. Regan, on the other hand, needed a good thrashing ;-)

Regan Brashear
Fri 3 Apr 2009Link

hah! i got it, i got it...i've been "schooled" properly now, i do believe. no double (god forbid triple!) posts. be sure to read back in the threads. don't show excessive enthusiasm. don't praise Doug for fear of losing your mouth literally. if you feel the urge to curse, head to the PISS room or the Parking lot. Anything else I/we newbies should know? ;-)

Edited Fri 3 Apr 2009 by Regan Brashear

Yixi Villar
Sat 4 Apr 2009Link

how are you? I'm in the process of trying to find funding for my documentary. Since my company is an LLC I was told i needed a fiscal sponsor if i wanted to receive nonprofit grants. I live in NYC and was wondering which fiscal sponsor was best with the least hidden fees. And also if anyone knew how i could find grants.. there are so many shady companies out there... Thanks!!

Tina Flemmerer
Sat 4 Apr 2009Link

In reply to Yixi Villar's post on Sat 4 Apr 2009 :

Yixi, try Arts Engine, they are the fiscal sponsor of the production company that I work for at the moment and we are really happy with them. (

Erica Ginsberg
Sat 4 Apr 2009Link Tag

In addition to Arts Engine, other reputable fiscal sponsors for film include:
International Documentary Association
Filmmakers Collaborative
San Francisco Film Foundation (formerly Film Arts)
Documentary Educational Resources
and probably two or three others whose names I have inadvertently omitted

All fiscal sponsors will charge you fees, but they are not hidden. For some, you may need to be a member of the organization. Some may also have an application fee (and possibly a maintenance fee for year to year). And most will charge between 5-10% as an administrative fee for funds which come in to the organization. You do not generally need to live in the same state as your fiscal sponsor, but, if you are planning on applying for state grants, you very well may need a fiscal sponsor based in that state.

Yixi Villar
Sun 5 Apr 2009Link

Thank you Thank you thank you...I was looking at IFP and NYFA. NYFA charges a higher percentage but seems to provide more services ...and their in NYC where I am.

Doug Block
Sun 5 Apr 2009Link

The IFP is close enough, Yixi. They're in Dumbo (right down the block from my office), and it's just a short subway ride from midtown Manhattan. It was a while back, but I wasn't impressed with NYFA when they sponsored my first film. Wheras I'm very impressed by the IFP as an organization. But you should speak to some producers who've worked with both firsthand.

Edited Sun 5 Apr 2009 by Doug Block

James McNally
Wed 8 Apr 2009Link

I just found out about a programme being offered by Seneca College here in Toronto called the Documentary and Filmmaking Summer Institute. It's an intensive 14 week course in doc filmmaking and the faculty list looks impressive (guest lectures by Alan King, Sturla Gunarsson, Jennifer Baichwal, etc.)

But, does anyone feel that these kinds of short intensive courses can really teach you filmmaking? As someone with a day job, this would require at best an unpaid leave of absence (and at worst, my resignation), so I'm looking for some guidance as to whether the filmmakers here think this would be worthwhile.

More info:


Edited Wed 8 Apr 2009 by James McNally

Robert Goodman
Wed 8 Apr 2009Link

Probably a better solution than a 4-year college program. My feeling in general is that no one can teach you to be a filmmmaker. You can learn techniques and a sense of the job but experience makes a huge difference. Filmmaking is an art form and as such requires process.

Erica Ginsberg
Wed 8 Apr 2009Link

I think a lot depends on you, James. Some people learn best by hearing from experts and having the time and space of a classroom setting to experiment, work on teams with other students, and make mistakes without consequence. Others learn by going out and just start making films, either on their own with the help of a few mentors or by working on others' projects before tackling their own.

The faculty certainly looks impressive and 14 weeks seems more than feasible to work on a student documentary piece. But that said, I don't know if I would recommend quitting your day job to do this. Surely there are other educational programs which you could take at night or on weekends. And especially if your end goal is to become a writer or a publicist, you might be better off just working on somebody's film to get a sense of what's involved. I'm sure you can hear what a lot of these experts have to say on a panel at Hot Docs or elsewhere.

James McNally
Wed 8 Apr 2009Link

Thanks, Robert and Erica, for your wisdom. I think if I wanted to, I could make contact with some filmmakers here and get some work on a film doing something, so maybe it's not so important for someone like me.

I guess the thought of "running off to join the circus" for 14 weeks sounded pretty good.


Claire Forgie
Sun 12 Apr 2009Link

I have just put up a documentary on funeral directing i made a couple of years ago.
I am looking for some feedback or ideas on where to go from here, possibly make an extended version.
Ideas and feedback all appreciated!
Thanks, claire


Evan Thomas
Wed 15 Apr 2009Link

Apologies as i know this isn't the place for this post but i haven't applied for full membership yet! I'll do it, i promise i will!

And this is a loooong shot I expect but i am scouring LA for Office space, nothing huge just somewhere downtown that is secure and has a few desks, power points etc.

Oh and cheap as possible!

Evan Thomas
Fri 17 Apr 2009Link

In reply to Claire Forgie's post on Sun 12 Apr 2009 :

Hi Claire – Just watched it, it's pretty good so far, i enjoyed it. In the opening scene with the guy taking the call in bed, that deep, donnie darko-esque ambient sound, did you create that? Or did i imagine it?

If you were thinking of making an extended version here are a few thoughts..

If you can do more filming It would be interesting to see some of the different funerals that people have whether religious or especially not so. What kind of unusual requests do people make? Items in coffins for example, the red wine bottle and the football scarf that are mentioned. If you could get permission it would be nice to see some of these things to get a visual. I guess access to actual funerals could be key, to see real people grieving death and celebrating life is usually powerful.

There is a mention of "the history of funerals" maybe that's an avenue to explore a little? Along with the change in law regards cremations? What about the guys that work there? What are they like when they're not at work? What kind of houses do they live in? Do they go for drinks after work? Christmas parties etc?

Oh also you show a framed portrait of an ancestor? Can you scan this and use in the film that way? If it's a family business are there photos of fathers or grandfathers that could be shown and talked about?

I found it pretty engrossing generally. I mean to see deceased human beings – i find it quite affecting, most of us have no experience of such things. I notice there's no music but maybe it doesn't need any...

Shakai Shepard
Sat 18 Apr 2009Link

Hi all, I am new here and have not yet gotten to introduce myself. I am an anthro/film student at Columbia University in NYC and currently tossing ideas, scribbling in my journal and generally obsessing in thought around ideas for my first film. I was wondering if any one would suggest a good small handheld and would also not mind telling me what their choices pro's are, why they like their suggestion.

I have a PD 150 and still love it, but I was thinking of something much smaller...

Thank you!

Carlos Gomez
Sat 18 Apr 2009Link

panasonic's hmc-150 may be too big, the vixia might work for you.

Katinka Kraft
Wed 22 Apr 2009Link

I am feeling tongue tied. Every distribution workshop I have taken thus far has suggested that you call the programmer of the film festival that you have submitted to and strike up a conversation/introduce yourself. I keep picking up the phone and drawing a blank on what will be important for me to say, what will not seem redundant and irritating to someone who might get these calls all day long. Any suggestions?

Doug Block
Wed 22 Apr 2009Link

I think that advice may be overrated, Katinka. Personally, I've never done it without a specific question. You might, for instance, call to say you have an updated sample and is it too late to swap it for the one you submitted. Or even a new synopsis. And it is a way for to get your film on their radar. But I'd only do that if you actually have an updated sample or synopsis that's significantly better.

Matthieu Lietaert
Thu 23 Apr 2009Link Tag

Hi all,
any one knows where are the pitching forum for CROSS MEDIA or 360 degree projects in Europe? any help appreciated!
good work,

Andrew Dupont
Thu 23 Apr 2009Link

Can someone link me to a good legal refresher on filming in the US and, if possible, Massachusetts? I'm about to embark on a large scale project here and I don't want to get unreasonably hassled by the man. Thanks!

James Longley
Thu 23 Apr 2009Link

What do you need to know? An hour with a good entertainment lawyer – one specializing in documentaries – would probably be as good as any course.

Basically, you want releases for everything – if you're filming in the US. Individuals, locations, etc.

If you're signing a contract of any kind, you want a lawyer.

Andrew Dupont
Fri 24 Apr 2009Link

Where would I get a good draft of a legal release to use people/places in my films?

Thanks already for your help!

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