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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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Doug Block
Sun 4 Mar 2007Link
only open 24/7, 365 days/year...

Maria Yatskova-Ibrahimova
Mon 5 Mar 2007Link
good, i wanted to ask for some kind of sensitive advice: I feel like
even though my film has already shown in Berlin, it could use more
editing work, however, there aren't really time and resources, and i
don't think i could do it alone. perhaps if i had a really clear
picture of what i needed to do, i could find the time/resources, but
otherwise it seems like a waste. so i guess the question is, since
it seems to be "good enough" should i leave it alone, or should i
find a way to make it better, although, how, i don't know... a new
editor, which will be hard, no one wants to fix other peoples stuff,
or a consultant, which is expensive and not really a sure thing,
it's just one persons opinion, and then what if i start chopping and
i make it worse...does that make any sense?

Doug Block
Mon 5 Mar 2007Link
maria, happy to answer that here, but, being an active d-word member,
odd that you didn't post it in the professional community - this is
the public forum geared for non- filmmakers or those just starting out
in the field.

i would never tell anyone to settle for good enough. the best money
i ever spent on my first film (and second and third) was to pay the
best editor i could find to be a consultant. a really good one will
give you very specific suggestions about how to "fix" your film after
one screening. you'll likely find you're much closer than you thought
and it might only take one or two days of consulting to make the
changes you need.

you might also hold a screening for a few trusted people (not
necessarily filmmakers) and get feedback. again, you'll probably find
you're not far away. it's highly unlikely you'll make it worse. and
if you do for any reason, though, simply go back to what you have now.

but whatever you do, DON'T SETTLE!

Maria Yatskova-Ibrahimova
Mon 5 Mar 2007Link
thanks doug, i couldn't figure out the appropriate place to post -
plus, sometimes i post and i don't get a response, and this was
sensitive so i wanted to be sure i'd get one. and i was here reading
old topics and this place called out to me. :)several trusted people
have seen it, both filmmakers and non-filmmakers, and say the
beginning is a little slow. and i know this. but i'm spent,
creatively speaking, i don't know what else to do with it. and i'm
getting suggestions of things that i've done before and they didn't
work. so, who, doug, who, can i go to? please please recommend. i'm
at my wits end. it really tortures me. especially since i'm not
technically working right now, just doing research and being mommy,
so its constantly buzzing in my brain.

Doug Block
Tue 6 Mar 2007Link
hmmm, where are you based, maria?

Maria Yatskova-Ibrahimova
Tue 6 Mar 2007Link
normally new york, but right now i'm in baku azerbaijan, and i have
two producers in NYC come? if need be, i'll go

Doug Block
Tue 6 Mar 2007Link
well, if you come back to nyc, i highly recommend mona davis, who was
consulting editor on my last two films (and edited "love and diane",
among many other credits). she was amazing, particularly on "home
page", where she gave very specific last minute notes that were
critical. i'll email you her phone number.

added bonus, when you're back you can get a free cup of hot java and
consult (like, alternative career advice) with yours truly ;-)

Maria Yatskova-Ibrahimova
Tue 6 Mar 2007Link
awwwww shucks! that's really sweet. i would love that! thanks for
contact info on mona davis. i can get the wheels rolling there. what
do people like that charge normally? like a ballpark figure...

Doug Block
Tue 6 Mar 2007Link
top editors start at $2500/wk, so you can figure out the day rate.
and you'll probably need no more than a half-day consult, which is

Alisa Katz
Sun 11 Mar 2007Link
I'm new to this forum so I'm not sure if this is the right place to ask,
but i am about to embark on my first doc. Heading to europe for 1 week
to research for subjects and to get footage for a marketing trailer so I
can go raise funds. 2 questions: 1) HD or DV? my doc colleagues say HD,
while my pocketbook says DV. 2)I have a dp i like and has tons of doc
experience both directing and shooting and who has an HD package, but he
is asking $2000 for a weeks kit rental (deferring his time costs), plus
I will need to fly and put him up for the week. For that kind of money
should I invest in my own camera, and either shoot myself or hire a
local? Need to decide asap and head is spinning. Thank you.

Steve Holmes
Sun 11 Mar 2007Link
Initial gut feeling: It depends on your finances. Yes, the world is
moving in an HD direction and I sometimes regret not starting my
latest project on HD. But I've come to realize, through hard-won
experience, that it's damn difficult to make any money, to even make
back expenses, doing a doc and that the best way to lose the
smallest amount of money is to keep expenses as low as possible.
Business 101, but I had to learn the hard way. When I'm weighing an
expense, I ask myself how many DVDs I'm going to have to sell to pay
for that budget item. Helps keep me focused.

I just did what you're doing: go overseas to research a doc and
shoot material for a trailer. I hired someone local, based on a D-
Worder's recommendation, and it went well. I've taken my own DP on
long-distance shoots before, but that was when I had a much rosier
and naive view of doc finances. If you have footage already in the
can that matches the style you want to use, bring it and show it to
the local DP so he or she knows what you want. Others may advocate
bringing your own DP, and if you are Bill Gates's heir, I'd agree.
But if you're not, how many DVDs will you have to sell to pay for
the DP's package, airfare, lodging and per diem? Lots.

Robert Goodman
Sun 11 Mar 2007Link
do you have shooting experience? Have you made other films? If not,
you are better off hiring someone to shoot for you. As for HD - what HD?
HDV - if so, don't bother. DVCPROHD? - perhaps you should buy a HVX200
for $10,0000 and pay someone on a deferred basis to shoot for you.
HDCAM/HDCAM SR? - This might be a great deal to gather very high
quality footage for a reel to raise money.

DV - the story had better be so damn good the market won't care 3-8
years from now that you shot it on a dead 4:3 tape format in a world
gone 4K high def in 16:9.

Alisa Katz
Sun 11 Mar 2007Link
Thank you Steve and Robert, ideally I would shoot myself, but dont
trust my shooting skills just yet. I am waiting to hear back from a
production manager oversees to see what is available on the local
front. But I am just torn between comfortably knowing that my DP is
onboard with what I are trying to accomplish and that I know the
footage will be good, especially for a marketing piece, and spending
too much to the point where I set a high priced precedent before I
even get any funding. The DP has a full HVX package, but not sure how
HVX can handle a full day of shooting as I think the drive and cards
he has can only accommodate up to 3 1/2 hours of shooting. You really
think HDV isnt worth it? As an aside, I was offered a free DVX 100b
for the week, but again, there is that DV vs HD question. Steven, Out
of curiosity, how much did you end up spending for your recent trip/

Steve Holmes
Mon 12 Mar 2007Link
DP in Tokyo was $1900 for three half days, I believe. My records
aren't in front of me. The rest was airfare, lodging, meals, the
regular travel expenses. I agree with Robert that if you can do HD,
do HD. Have you priced out the difference?

Robert Goodman
Mon 12 Mar 2007Link
2000 for a week's rental of an HVX200 is way too high.
Any rental house in NY or LA would rent it to you for 900 for a week.

Steve Holmes
Tue 13 Mar 2007Link
Sorry if I made it sound as if it was just camera rental. It was not
just the camera, but a two-man crew with audio and lights package
and a vehicle. Still wish I could have done better, but I didn't
know the language or have any contacts besides the crew recommended
by a D-Worder.

Alisa Katz
Tue 13 Mar 2007Link
Thank you both again. I am rethinking my plan as this will be my first
trip of what I deem to be at least 1 or 2 more in depth ones. And
being my first time as a director, I will try to coordinate a local dp
with an HD package to be on standby out there, and save myself the
cash for when I know exactly what I need. Rather than having a pricey
dp the whole week that I will be anxious about getting my money's
worth from. In the meantime I was thinking about purchasing the new
Canon HV20 HDV (for about 1K) to bring with me as a 'back-up' for
research, which I hope will relieve that 'wish I had my camera'
feeling on the days that I am dp-less, realizing it wont be the best
for the major interviews as it is only 1 CMOS, but could be great for
some research and filler shots that I wont require matching. Does
that sound like a good plan in your professional opinions?

Steve Holmes
Tue 13 Mar 2007Link
Alisa: Robert is the camera expert. I'd listen seriously to anything
he says.

Jennifer Ryan
Sun 25 Mar 2007Link
Hi, I'm looking for any and all advice about getting practical advice
& experience making docs. I've got 9 years experience as a journalist
(am in London now) and while I'm a total beginner as far as docs go,
I'd rather just get thrown in at the deep end rather than take a
course (is a course going to tell me that I'd love or hate this kind
of work? I think not.) Any thoughts would be most welcome. Thanks!

Doug Block
Mon 26 Mar 2007Link
J, with your background in journalism, you have a big head start.
Might help to read a good book in the basics of documentary
storytelling, so you begin thinking about telling stories in images
and sounds instead of just words. Directing the Documentary by
Michael Rabinger is considered one of the best:


Would do you some good to read the conferences here, too.

Jennifer Ryan
Tue 27 Mar 2007Link
Genius, thank you very much! Jennifer

Doug Block
Tue 27 Mar 2007Link
Genius, yes. Glad someone finally noticed ;-)

Michaela Manson
Thu 3 May 2007Link
I'm making a documentary film about an accordian festival and i've
contacted the co-ordinator about permission to i need to
get permission from every individual who will be in attendance at
the festival or is there some sort of blanket permission form for
everything that i can get the organizer to sign?

it's basically just entirely DIY/Indie doc so what else should i be
aware of when making it? tips and tricks would help!

Thanks in advance!

John Burgan
Fri 4 May 2007Link
Assuming it's in a private location, post large signs at the entrance
(with the organiser's permission) stating that the festival is being
filmed for a documentary, not forgetting your company name & contact
details. Wording should include something like "Entrants consent to
being filmed and recorded by (****company name) for possible inclusion
in the documentary film (**** title)".

If in any doubt, consult a lawyer (especially if you're in the US)

Ross Williams
Fri 11 May 2007Link
Hi guys, I finished my documentary The Turning Point early this year and have since been trying get it into the festival circuit, but have been completely unsuccesful. I started by trying to get into the bigger festivals; Sundance, Slamdance, SXSW & Tribeca and wasn't too surprised by getting my extremely tiny film rejected by these, but now I'm also getting rejected by all the documentary and smaller festivals I've been entering as well. I've been rejected by about a dozen festivals now.

The film did play at my local festival, the Ashland Independent Film Festival, and was received very well. The reviewers that have seen the film have given it A to B grades. Other filmmakers that have seen the film all seem to like it. It's not a perfect film by any means, but I know that it is a good film.

I've seen so many terrible films, narrative and documentaries, at the same festivals that I'm entering, that I just can't believe that my film isn't considered at or above the same level. I think we're getting rejected because the film is so personal, while also not having anyone even slightly famous involved. (I feel like if Gus Van Sant stuck name on there, it'd be accepted into any festival in half a second.)

So I guess I'm asking for advice how to get into these festivals? Is there a trick I'm missing? Should I just give up and start trying to distribute it on DVD myself? (The entry fees are quickly adding up.)

Anything will help... I spent three years of my life putting this film together and the fact that nobody wants to show it is killing me.

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