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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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Sahand Sahebdivani
Wed 5 Mar 2008Link

Hi Maria,

IMHO there's a few things you have to consider. First there's the issue that documentaries are a form of art. One way that art, at least for me, defines itself is that it's unique because of the artist. If 2 very good crafts(wo)men paint a wall the result will be (more or less) the same, if two artists paint on the same canvas the result will be significantly different even if they try to paint the same picture.

Now compare documentaries to journalism. Even when journalists do their best to be impartial the results aren't always, there's always personal, religious, cultural biases, there's the stress of deadlines, there's the wishes of the editors or sponsors, there's the conscious or subconsious choices you make to cut things out of the story, highlight other things, for the sake of clarity but which end up "coloring" a story.

Now, even though it's a gross oversimplification to say journalism is purely a "craft" and documentary making purely an "art", one can assume that the personal "coloring" is even a bigger issue in documentary.

So I personaly think that, no, documentaries or journalistic pieces are never fully (or at all) unbiased. This is not an issue for me. I very much like to hear the personal in the story. For instance, when I read a piece of N. Chomsky, I don't think, now I will know the truth and the whole truth about this subject, I will rather think, now I know N. Chomsky's take on this subject. (Though sometimes I forget and have to remind myself, and so does the general audience, but this is another topic altogether)

Now, another issue to consider is the following, documentary makers are not always trying to cover a story, sometimes they are trying to change the world, the society, people's believes. I have not seen OutFoxced, but Micheal Moore, for me, is very much an activist filmmaker. I might agree with his messages, but I don't assume he will give me a biased account of what even he perceives as the truth. To make the power of his story stronger will he use material that supports his story and leave out material that gives a different opinion.

Again, I don't think this is bad. A film like SuperSize Me, in which the filmmaker eats at McDonalds for a month and becomes a repulsive monster might be infantile to some, but can be quite entertaining and potentially life-changing for others.

"Can the editing in a film or television programme change reality? If so in what way?

Can the way something is shot change the reality of a situation? If so how?"

Both editing and shooting can change the reality in 1.000.000 ways. In my native Iran there's regular anti US protests, but always shot in a way to hide the fact that these are actualy small groups protesting. A huge anti US protest is good for both Iranian media as well as foreign media.

Now imagine you are filming a neighbourhood, everything decision, from material you shoot on, framing, music, editing, etc. etc. changes the story. Imagine a grainy home video type of image going over the graffiti, while the soundtrack is gangsterrap. Now imagine filming on oldfashioned 16 mm, made even warmer in post production, with beautiful music (think wonder years). Same neighbourhood, but two totally different emotional reactions to the footage.

Anyway, one could go on, but I hope this helps.


Asar Imhotep
Thu 6 Mar 2008Link

In reply to Asar Imhotep's post on Tue 4 Mar 2008 :

Can anyone help me out with the Insurance question?


Alison Clifford
Thu 6 Mar 2008Link

Hi, I´m looking at how to put together a marketing package for a documentary about film piracy in Mexico. I´ve never done any marketing and I´m not sure where to start. I know I want to send it out to TV stations both in the States and in Mexico, as well as PR´s for magazines and Newspapers as well as radio stations. I could really use some help in getting myself pointed in the right direction.


Erica Ginsberg
Thu 6 Mar 2008Link

In reply to Asar Imhotep's post on Thu 6 Mar 2008 :

Asar, others may be able to recommend European-based insurance companies that might be competitive. In the U.S., DeWitt Stern is one of the best known for production insurance.


Asar Imhotep
Fri 7 Mar 2008Link

In reply to Erica Ginsberg's post on Fri 7 Mar 2008 :

Thank you so much. I will check them out. They seem to have a simple process. Thanks again.


Evan Thomas
Sun 9 Mar 2008Link

Has anyone used public domain footage from www.archive.org in their productions? There's some useful archive for my film on there but should i get its public domain status verified before i go ahead and use it?


Boyd McCollum
Sun 9 Mar 2008Link

It's good practice to verify any footage you use, regardless of source. Lots of people think they own copyright to certain things when they actually don't.

With Archive.org you need to really read the different licensing they use – not all of it is public domain. Some requires attribution, some can be used in a noncommercial way, etc. I've seen media that had no copyright/licensing information provided. So just residing on the site doesn't mean public domain.

Get whatever information provided and if there isn't any, do some more research on it. This can be useful when getting E&O insurance. Also, it's good practice to have an entertainment/copyright attorney look over you stuff. (and do find a lawyer that specializes in this, as not all lawyers have equal knowledge. A good friend of mine is a top notch real estate attorney, and he won't touch copyright – "it's not what I do, so I can't provide solid legal opinions". )


Grady Matthews
Sun 9 Mar 2008Link

I would like to ask a question about Sundance. Do they only select the 16 documentaries for competition or do they also select many others that do not make the competition (but are still part of the festival)? I believe this is the case from my research online. If so, do the non competing docs get decent recognition from press, industry people, make sales, etc, etc? Thanks for the great site.

Thank you,
Grady Matthews


Doug Block
Sun 9 Mar 2008Link

Grady, they select the 16 main competition docs, the world docs, and a few docs find their way into the American Spectrum section. The world docs have their own awards and American Spectrum docs are eligible for the doc audience award.


Shauna Kartt Jaeger
Mon 10 Mar 2008Link

Hello D-Word Visitors and Members,

I'm a producer/production manager new to the NYC area and am looking to find a dependable crew with documentary or lifestyle TV experience for my roster. I do have a few contacts, but it would be nice to have more incase people are unavailable.

Can anyone make recommendations for any of the following?

-DOP – HD/DV CAM w/ light kit ideally. Some studio experience is a plus.
-Sound – doc experience. Studio is a plus.
-Production Coordinator
-Editor (Avid and Final Cut)
-Location manager
-Stylists

It would also be helpful if anyone can recommend vendors for post production, post audio, an insurance broker, props and gear rental shops.

I've been working in documentary production for 9 years and am leaving my contacts behind to be with my love in NYC, so any recommendations will be greatly appreciated.

Thanks soooooo much!


Ben Kempas
Mon 10 Mar 2008Link

I feel like I've read this three times now... :-)


Brian Boyko
Mon 10 Mar 2008Link

I've made my first short documentary. It clocks in at 26:40, cutting everything down to the bare essentials. I've got a big stack of DVDs next to me, and I've got the entire thing up online at Vimeo for those who want to watch it: http://www.vimeo.com/766987

So, um... now what? Promotion? Film festivals? Anyone got any ideas?


Shauna Kartt Jaeger
Mon 10 Mar 2008Link

In reply to Ben Kempas's post on Mon 10 Mar 2008 :

Hey thanks! At least now I know someone, somewhere read it:)


Doug Block
Tue 11 Mar 2008Link

Shauna, no need to double post at The D-Word. Just find the most pertinent topic. In this case, the Classifieds would have been best.


Shauna Kartt Jaeger
Tue 11 Mar 2008Link

In reply to Doug Block's post on Tue 11 Mar 2008 :

Yes, Ben mentioned he read my post 3 times. I'm a bad, bad newbie;)


Ben Kempas
Tue 11 Mar 2008Link

Yeah, I tend to be a little more subtle than Doug... :-)


Doug Block
Tue 11 Mar 2008Link

Also, Shauna, since we're mentoring (and you take mentoring so well), no need to use the "in reply" button when you're replying to the post right above you.


Ana Da Silva
Thu 13 Mar 2008Link

Hi!

Question on submitting an idea. I got in touch with a production company and they're willing to read my informal project idea/proposal. I feel strongly about the project and 1. would like it to come to life and 2. would like to be involved with it. I'd like to express this to the producers but can see how from their point of view that might be asking too much (especially for a newbie).

The producers are merely willing to look at the informal proposal, which to me is really great news anyway, but as with any idea there's a chance they might like it and might want to work with it. I read that there's no such thing as a copyrighted idea so should the producers like what they read, can they just use it anyway?

What's you advice on submitting ideas when you don't have the means to produce the project yourself?

Thank you!


Ryan Ferguson
Fri 14 Mar 2008Link

get them to sign a non-disclosure agreement before you share your idea with them. Definitely not iron clad, but my guess is it would be enough for them to not steal your idea outright.


Christopher Wong
Fri 14 Mar 2008Link

ana, it's not a problem that you don't have the means to produce the project yourself. just make sure that you have an angle into the project that clearly shows why YOU should be involved with it. whether that means you have exclusive access to the main character of the film (e.g. your father is the ringleader of a terrorist group) or whether you have certain skills they need (e.g. you know the hidden tribe's language), you somehow need to prove that you are indispensable to the project. but simply having an idea is not enough. (unless, of course, this is a pitch for another reality show, in which case, you can disregard all my comments...)


Ana Da Silva
Fri 14 Mar 2008Link

Thanks all! I really appreciate your suggestions. It's definitely not a reality show and I think a lot of people would benefit from it.

Cheers!


Ana Da Silva
Mon 17 Mar 2008Link

Film school question.

I'm considering starting over and take film more seriously (currently I'm a communications professional in New York). It's a bit scary, especially after having attended grad school to find out it hasn't made much difference career-wise. I'm mainly interested in schools in Europe.

If you went back, why did you do it (for yourself or as a job requirement)? Any input?

Thanks!

:)


Robert Goodman
Tue 18 Mar 2008Link

Film School is pointless (especially if you already have a terminal degree) unless you want to pursue a specific craft or don't have a terminal degree and plan on teaching Film. If you want to pursue a specific craft you'd be better off working with someone whose work you admire. Really the only fast track in this business.


Christopher Wong
Tue 18 Mar 2008Link

Agreed. Like many others, I was brought up to believe that if you want to accomplish anything in life, you first have to go to a school and get a degree in that subject. True for medicine; false for film.

This goes double for documentary filmmaking. If you're persistent enough, you can get experienced doc filmmakers to be mentors and advisors for you, without paying the exorbitant film school tuition. Start watching doc films (one every day if you can), read some books (Rabiger's book on documentary), and begin shooting a subject easily accessible to you (e.g. your family).


David Malver
Tue 18 Mar 2008Link

Film school undergrad work was a worthwhile experience for me, Ana. However, a good film tech school is often an affordable alternative if your main goal is to be trained in on equipment.


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