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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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John Burgan
Mon 9 Jun 2008Link

Don't listen to the elderly patients in this institution, Claire. Have you any practical experience in making docs? It's pretty easy these days to get hold of a DV camera. What's the mental health idea? Do you have a concrete subject or is it more a general idea at this stage?


Tony Comstock
Mon 9 Jun 2008Link

John's right. Any idiot can make a doc. I am exhibit "A". I had no practical experience when I started (probably obvious if you watch one of my movies.) I still don't have any.

Some practical advise. Get a DV camera. You can get one for about $250.

Get a Macintosh computer. It will cost you about $1000. It will come with iMovie. I use FinalCut Pro, but any of the films I've made I could have made on iMovie.

Two best pieces of advise I ever got about making movies:

1) Watch old movies and study how they get people in and out of rooms.

2) Anything that's worth doing is worth doing poorly.

Lastly

RUN AWAY!


Peter Brauer
Tue 10 Jun 2008Link

You could also get an internship at a small doc house. You could see how they do things, and then decide if its worth going broke to make a movie. I worked in reality TV a while and learned about cameras and sound. get your hands on a camera and practice. Realize this career generally leads to poverty. what can an internship hurt, and you would be helping some one who needs your help.


Evan Thomas
Tue 10 Jun 2008Link

I graduated with a similar degree a couple of years ago and took out a graduate loan to pay for an introductory film making course in London. Cost about 800 quid at the time and if i'd lived in London it would have been ideal (although it did give me some practical experience for my cv and showed i'd got involved) I didn't live in London (still don't) so i signed up with shootingpeople and was contacted to help out as runner on a short over one weekend.

I should add that this was over a couple of years and also involved lots of dull temping and talking about working in film & television instead of doing it. If you're in London (Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol etc) clearly there are more opportunities – If you like London as a place to live – it's personal preference.

I would say just jump in and get involved. Every project you work on you gain more experience meet more people and gather momentum.

Ultimately my wife worked with someone whos ex worked as a producer and i got their email address and got in touch. Attached my CV had an interview, got a few weeks work experience, then a few more and now i'm full-time. I work as a production coordinator by day and try to work on my own project after work and at the weekend to satisfy my creative aspirations.

Just show them that you are enthusiastic and capable and willing to start early and stay late.

Good luck!


Steve Yu
Mon 16 Jun 2008Link

Hi – I'm not sure if this this is the right place to ask...I did do a search and didn't find any info on finding television commercial archives for use in a doc – we're stumbling a bit through the process of making our film, www.inspiredthemovie.com – and need some good footage of diet ads... any tips? We've gone the route of getting a dvr, but that is so random...would love to find a place that can get us what we need! Thanks in advance...


Mark Barroso
Mon 16 Jun 2008Link

Hi Steve! We met at the Doc Dr's workshop a few months ago. This guy has a great film.

Can you legally use ads in an independent film without their consent? I suppose you've answered that question. If you need their consent anyway, maybe the diet companies will send you their ad. Doesn't hurt to ask. You just need one, right? Have you tried taping during soaps and The View, etc.?

Good to see you on this forum.

Edited Mon 16 Jun 2008 by Mark Barroso

Steve Yu
Mon 16 Jun 2008Link

Hey Mark! We are planning to "fair use" some of these assets. Not yet sure if there will be a cost involved or not – you should check out Bigger, Stronger, Faster at Midtown Art and see how much archival stuff they used! I was surprised at all they used, but I'm guessing they spent some pretty good money on it, because of their producers.

I'm probably going to get an HD DVR to capture more on my own in the meantime! Thanks for your suggestions...


Mari Heavey
Wed 18 Jun 2008Link

Hi, I am new to the D-Word and relatively new to film making. I do have a multi-media background in experiential marketing – business theater mostly. I am looking for a relatively inexpensive video camera to take onsite to Peru to do some B-roll filming. Any suggestions?


Tara Hurley
Wed 18 Jun 2008Link

Hi everyone, sorry I have been out of the loop for a while. In response to Darla, I had to deal with the time code issues too. I am not sure the semantics of all languages as I had to deal with Korean, but let me just suggest again that the fastest, cheapest way I found to do subtitling is buy getting a foreign exchange student in that language and teach them how to subtitle. Use them as an intern (sometimes you can get them for free if they are interested in your project) or pay 10-$20 and hour. That is way less than paying someone to translate, then pick what you want to use as clips. I felt I got to know my "Characters" better this way because I would watch the whole interviews on dvd. It is just a suggestion, but after I spent six months doing it the way you are doing it(on paper), I spent the rest of the time right to dvd and the project ran better.


Monica Williams
Wed 18 Jun 2008Link

Hello everyone,

I haven't posted for a while. I'm currently working on my trailer for www.knowingevil.com. Is there any way to gather high quality images for free? I'm looking for art from the Enlightenment era in Western history, also footage from WWI & II and the Holocaust. Thanks again to Len, for helping with September 11th a while back :) Any help will be most appreciated.


John Burgan
Wed 18 Jun 2008Link

Rights are a huge minefield, as I'm sure you've gathered. The slight advantage here is that you're putting together a trailer which will not be broadcast – or is it for your website?

There was a similar request here a while back – see hidden section for suggestions on WWII material

Show hidden content

Katinka Kraft
Wed 18 Jun 2008Link

I am wondering if anyone might have any recommendations for a tech problem that I am having. It has come to pass that the audio jack in my Canon GL1 camera is not working anymore. I tried to get it fixed once, to know avail. The camera has a little life in it left for fun projects, and we have decent mics.... thus, I am considering venturing into the secondary audio recording unit audio as a match up for the camera. I don't know much about field audio. Does anyone have any recommendations for a hard disk recorder in the reasonably affordable range?


Steve Yu
Wed 18 Jun 2008Link

In reply to Mari Heavey's post on Wed 18 Jun 2008 :

Mari – Take a look at the Canon HV20 with a Beachtek audio adapter...should be able to get one pretty reasonably these days. Not like the pro gear, but the picture quality is pretty amazing for an inexpensive camera. Look at BHPhoto.com Buydig.com, or even at Circuit City...

Good luck!

-Steve


Mark Barroso
Wed 18 Jun 2008Link

In reply to Katinka Kraft's post on Wed 18 Jun 2008 :

I recommend the Zoom for secondary recording. Don't forget the slate slap.


Mark Barroso
Wed 18 Jun 2008Link

In reply to Katinka Kraft's post on Wed 18 Jun 2008 :

The expanding mini-plug jack is an easy fix. Whoever tried to do it didn't know what they were doing. I would send it to an official repair shop.


Monica Williams
Thu 19 Jun 2008Link

In reply to John Burgan's post on Wed 18 Jun 2008 :

Thanks very much John. And it is not for the website, only for funding, so I am lucky to avoid the minefield for now :-)


Monica Williams
Fri 20 Jun 2008Link

I am making a trailer to privately raise money with. If I use this trailer to apply for grants, will I get in trouble if I don't have all of the rights to the material used? I'm not sure if I need to consult a lawyer for this one, but any help will be most appreciated.


Christopher Wong
Fri 20 Jun 2008Link

you won't get in any legal trouble, monica, and people do this ALL the time... the only "trouble" you might get into is if the clips you are using are well-known and absolutely indispensable to your film. The grant agency may question whether you can raise enough money to use such clips. for instance, if you wanted to use MLK's "Dream" speech... but if you use a photo of an old Model-T car, no one's going to blink an eye.


Mikal Jakubal
Sat 21 Jun 2008Link

Another thing to consider is how the owner of the rights to the clips would feel about you using their material to raise money for your film. If it were some corporate newscast or promo film of some mega-bucks rock band, I'd say don't worry about it. <puts on flame-retardant suit> On the other hand, friends of mine—starving documentary filmmakers who risked life and limb to get dramatic footage—have had people cherry-pick their films to make fundraising trailers for their own films, sort of conveniently forgetting to mention to funders that they haven't shot an inch of tape themselves. It really sucks to find out that others are using your work for their fundraising while you yourself are living below the poverty line.

The point is that even if you intend to license the footage at market rates later, if you're using footage owned by a real person who is not a multi-millionaire or faceless corporation, you should have some arrangement with them. Yes, you can probably get away with it, but it's not ethical.


John Burgan
Sat 21 Jun 2008Link

Yes, but hardly relevant here as Monica's looking for historical images – see her original post & project website.


Mikal Jakubal
Sat 21 Jun 2008Link

Oops, I did read the original post, but forgot since it was a couple days ago and never got around to taking a look at the site.


Katinka Kraft
Sat 21 Jun 2008Link

Thank you Mark! I really appreciate your input. Sadly it was Canon who we sent camera to for repair and it worked for 3 months and then malfunctioned again.


Mark Barroso
Sat 21 Jun 2008Link

In reply to Katinka Kraft's post on Sat 21 Jun 2008 :

I sent my DVX out for repair once – for a similar problem, actually – and the shop did a lousy job (Repair Specialists in Tennessee). I found the Panasonic service rep for the entire southeast and he agreed with me, told me which shop I should REALLY send it to (on his dime) and chewed out the shop that failed to fix it properly. "Squeak! Squeak!" said the wheel.


grinner hester
Mon 23 Jun 2008Link

make a reel and get busy.
Take the first job offered and never stop looking for better paying gigs.
My first tv job paid a whopping 3.35 per hour. My next one paid 18k a year at 70 hour work weeks. I did not look at it as being exploited. The year before I was paying good money to learn this craft and now I was getting paid to learn much much more.
sweet.
With every addition to the family, I simply had to quit and get rehired at a different level elsewhere. At one point in my career, I moved my family to five states in as many years, salary climbing and dream-chasing. I worked my way into a six figure salary, a bald head and an ulcer or two.
I'm self employed now. Still love what I do. I pay bills by editing and shooting for clients and I still dream chase by making labor of love productions on a constant basis.
Don't stay in one place too long. It'll make ya feel secure.
I think my record for a staff gig was 2.5 years.


Monica Williams
Mon 23 Jun 2008Link

Thanks for the valuable advice Christopher, Mikal and John :) This takes some of the pressure off.


Eric Klein
Mon 23 Jun 2008Link

Alright: I'm a radio reporter, and I want to buy enough video gear to start making movies next week. These would be short docs for the internet. I want to spend less than $10,000 total on a camera, computer, and software.

I am forming a plan that includes the Canon HV20, an iBook (my apt is too small for a new desktop), and Final Cut. Then I figure I want a wireless lavaliere to supplement my existing "radio" gear. I have a zoom h4.

Keeping in mind that I'd love to upgrade my gear once I pay off this round of credit card debt, where's the best place to cut corners now?

If I'm very proud of a movie that has started life on youtube and then I want to submit it to festivals, what should I know?


Mark Barroso
Tue 24 Jun 2008Link

Eric:
Before you start making any more movies, there's a secret to filmmaking that we all had to learn the hard way, or in my case, pay thousands of dollars. But since you asked, I will tell you. You always should rghopdjjjjjjjjjjjjjj (chokes on pork rind, keels over dead).

Edited Tue 24 Jun 2008 by Mark Barroso

Joe Moulins
Tue 24 Jun 2008Link

Eric...Speaking as a radio reporter who started making movies a few years ago, I'd say you're on the right track. You can make the move for a lot less than $10,000. More like three thousand.

You could make do with Final Cut Express, rather than Pro. It's still an amazingly powerful app, and you'll get a discount when you upgrade to Pro.

Get a Macbook rather than a Macbook Pro, with the smallest drive and the bare minimum of RAM. Upgrade the RAM and hard drive yourself. You can Get 2gb of RAM and 300 GB internal storage for less than $300. Buy a 30 dollar external case for the extra hard drive, which is now your "traveling" media drive. The Macbook will run a 20 inch monitor. Get a couple of massive firewire drives, one for media and one for backup.

With all the money you save, splurge and buy a great microphone.

You'll still be using it long after the Macbook and the Canon camcorder are a memory.

Equipment-wise, this is a great time to be starting out.


Le Sheng Liu
Wed 25 Jun 2008Link

I recently started a blog for a feature documentary I want to develop on trends in American crime reporting as they relate to gender, racial, and economic discrimination. I would like to share my findings and insight with anyone who is doing research for a similar project or is just interested in the topic. Here is the main link.
http://covergirlsthedocumentary.blogspot.com/

You can either set up an RSS feed to your page/Google or have my postings sent to your email. And if you are a member of any of the following sites, the blog also appears there...
LiveJournal – http://syndicated.livejournal.com/covergirlsdoc/
Wordpress – http://leshengliu.wordpress.com/
Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/home.php#/notes.php?id=614752582&ref=wpb

Thank you and let me know if you have any questions!

lesliu@gmail.com


Tony Comstock
Wed 25 Jun 2008Link

In reply to Eric Klein's post on Mon 23 Jun 2008 :

Joe's pretty much nailed it, especailly about the sound gear. Still using the same mics I bought 12 years ago.

The only thing I'd add is that if you really have $10K, pick up some lights/stands/grip gadgets. A medium sized softbox, a flood fixture and focusable fixer will go a long way to doing good looking talking head interviews. And like sound gear, light gear lasts forever. I've got lights and stands going on 20 years old, still as good as the day I bought them.


Monica Williams
Wed 25 Jun 2008Link

Is anyone familiar with the use of European and American art (17th-20th century) in documentary film? If so, I am looking for any information that will be useful as I make preparations for a trip to Europe to gather images. I have talked with The Bridgeman Art Library (a provider of high-res images for a price) but I'm wondering if there are cheaper ways to get rights to use images from museums. Is something older than 200 years, passed its copyright? Do I still need permission to use these older images? Is it fairly easy to obtain permission or a minefield? Any information regarding this area of documentary will be highly valued.


John Burgan
Wed 25 Jun 2008Link Tag

I think you should be OK for old paintings, but you probably would need a license from the photographer/museum to use the photograph although the work of art itself is in the public domain.

If you have a few hours free, you might wish to browse through this link: http://www.law.harvard.edu/faculty/martin/art_law/image_rights.htm
Edited Wed 25 Jun 2008 by John Burgan

Jo-Anne Velin
Fri 27 Jun 2008Link

Monica, if you are shooting a painting hanging in a European museum, just contact their press person and explain the not for profit nature of, etc., if this is the case. Over here they might treat you like a regular journalist and allow you free or almost free use within your film, if the images are presented a certain way (I am guessing criteria will change from place to place). As you know, you'll need to get releases and whatnot, no matter what.

Stills: some museums have been digitising some of their collections, but not all.

If you want to share where you are going in Europe, great.

If to Berlin, and if to shoot specific pictures or objects, you're welcome to email me and I can phone around for you here to get a starter answer and contacts' names for you. (You'll also need to send me your film's story and provide any other amunition to help open doors).


Terri Hartley
Sun 29 Jun 2008Link

I've read through lots of the posts before making my own and I am curious. There have been a few people who shoot loads of footage and then seem to review it to find their story later. Stupid question, and I dont mean to sound like an ass, but dont you go in with a (if not the) story already in mind? I was half (and not the creative half) of a karaoke doc some years ago. I was the person getting releases signed, lining up the next interview, working the crowd, manning the equipment, and operating the camera. The vision of what that story would be was not mine, not my project. I shot what I was told to shoot.

Now I am shooting in Thailand where the story is whatever I find and want to tell. How common is it that the doc is shot in such a way that you just get as much footage in general as you can and decipher the story later? I like to have a plan but I would say that is working against me here.


Wolfgang Achtner
Sun 29 Jun 2008Link

Terri,

It can happen that you may start to shoot a story without a precise idea of where it's going. You haven't really explained what you're doing so it's hard to know how to help.

First of all, it may sound obvious but, as a general rule, it's not a good idea to try to tell more than one story at a time.

Secondly, don't expect that if you shoot a lot when you return home you'll automatically have a story. You might end up with a lot of (pretty) wallpaper and nothing else.

This much I can say: since the best stories are usually character driven, I would suggest that – while you are on location – you ought to try to find one or two subjects who will be the protagonists of your story.

Try to tell the the small story as a way of telling the bigger story; what I mean here is that by telling the in-depth the story of your subjects, you should be able to tell the bigger story or how whatever it is relates to them, influences their lives, etc.

If you want more – and more helpful – suggestions, you need to go into greater detail as to what you're doing, why you're doing it and what you expect to say. The answers to these questions might help you restrict your field of action and help you come up with a specific story idea. In any case, if you find one or two strong (and interesting) characters, you'll most likely be able to find out whatever story it is that you ought to be concentrating on.


Terri Hartley
Sun 29 Jun 2008Link

Thank you very much for your reply. Your comments are very helpful.

To give you more detail, there is a guy from the states who basically chucked everything he had stateside (penthouse apt, Lexus, very cushiony job in advertising) and now lives very much hand to mouth, operating a legit charity overseas. I am trying to get the story of what drives a person to make a decision like that. Turns out he is a super SUPER quirky individual, not in a nutcase way, but in a very funny way. I've interviewed his family stateside already and they also are very personable on camera. The other volunteers, also very camera friendly. My problem has been this guy. The MAIN GUY! HE goes all deer-in-the-headlights as soon as the camera comes out of the bag.

So far, I have shot around him but its do or die time for me. It is like he is pure gold...as long as the camera is not rolling. But he clams up and is like a sack of potatoes if he thinks I am recording. I am wondering how much of a story I might salvage if things continue this way. Would it be possible to build a story around an "absent" character if enough input is given by those in his immediate orbit? The main struggle this guy faces is how he can get more traffic to his website, which is his only source of funding for charity projects, and all the stuff he goes through in that struggle (such as a live webcast of a record breaking karaoke event coming up). Thank goodness I am not having to pitch this idea because my words dont do it justice really. But he is everything you would dream of in a central figure for character....all except for that teensy issue about being a garden stone when I'm rolling.

I do have a secondary storyline of sorts...not storyline so much as a profile of two young students he found in the streets and was able to get in to a school again after not being able to go for two years. That was supposed to be my "touching" serious segment against the main comedic line the rest of the doc dances with. I've been following their progress from the streets to the classroom and how they are adjusting.

So there is a tiny bit of it. Any other comments to help me deal with this obstacle would be greatly appreciated. I very much like the comment about telling the smaller story as a way of telling the bigger story. Gives me something to consider there.


Robert Goodman
Sun 29 Jun 2008Link

My suggestion is to follow the guy around long enough that you and the camera disappear. Don't interview him shoot him going through the course of his day. At first he will freak out but after a week or two you'll become background wallpaper. Get his cooperation and promise him that you'll protect him despite his fear of the camera.


Doug Block
Sun 29 Jun 2008Link

Terri, Wolfgang has great advice and I agree with Robert's suggestion, too. I would add that instead of thinking of an interview as something sit-down and formal, that you pop the occasional question to your subject as you're filmming the b-roll. Often doing something physical relaxes a subject, and it often makes for more interesting and intimate interviews.


Paul Kloeden
Mon 30 Jun 2008Link

Just remember the sound. Mike him up in the morning with a lapel mic and then just film around him. You'll be surprised at what he says when the camera (but not the mic) is pointing in a different direction. Think of sound and vision as potentially separate elements.

And don't forget to make sure that any red recording light on the camera is turned off.


Terri Hartley
Mon 30 Jun 2008Link

All comments are appreciated. I have tried following him, even sneaking the camera out while on the back of his motorbike as he was pulled over and talking to me over his shoulder. He turned his head and mid-sentence said "OH! That's on?!" and shut up. If I wasnt so aggravated, I would find that funny.

I will give all suggestions a shot (no pun intended). Thanks!


Tony Comstock
Mon 30 Jun 2008Link

Try sleeping with him. I hear it sometimes works.


Terri Hartley
Mon 30 Jun 2008Link

Edit: I will try all but Tony's suggestions. There is, fortunately or unfortunately, a limit to what I will do for my craft. ;)


Mark Barroso
Mon 30 Jun 2008Link

He's worried your camera/doc will reveal something he's hiding or running away from. Whether a pimple on his nose or a past as an ax murderer, something's going on in there. If you don't want to dig around and find out, ask him straight out what's the frickin' problem here, dude?

Edited Mon 30 Jun 2008 by Mark Barroso

Doug Block
Mon 30 Jun 2008Link

On camera, of course ;-)


Mark Barroso
Mon 30 Jun 2008Link

Of course.


Terri Hartley
Tue 1 Jul 2008Link

HA! I'll keep working on it. I have his tentative agreement not to fight this thing and hopefully, his personality won't take a vacation in the interim.


Theresa Tall
Tue 1 Jul 2008Link

I was told you can't buy an ibook, you have to buy a macbook pro becasue the ibook doesnt support final cut pro. that's what apple told me...i'd double check that though. good luck!


Theresa Tall
Tue 1 Jul 2008Link

Hey there –- still haven't combed through many of these posts, confused about order. I'm hoping someone can help. The series I want to create is a three part series – one of the parts involves just shooting one subject talking for about 20 muinutes in a setting like a park or an office. I dont have a camera, lighting kit, lavalier or anything. Since this part of the production is fairly straightforward (hardly any subject movement, same location, only one subject being shot) I was going to put out an ad to get some grad film student with gear or access to gear to shoot it with me present to work with the subject. I can buya new computer so the person I hire can store the footage (I will be working with multipple subjects/different shoots, so the footage will add up), is it reasonable for them to get an assciate producer credit if i am not paying them? i am not paying them becasue i dont have money but of course I'd liek to make this worth their while as well.
also, I just took an intensive guerrilla fillmmaking class (taight me some basics) where they said in Febriary 2008 the new US standard for all TVS is HD, all the networks have to switch over (so he says). So if I plan to air this on internet with the thought in the back of my mind that one day this may be aired on network or cable television and also screened on a big screen, should I put in the ad that the people who aplpy for this job MUST have a HD camera, and also do all HD cameras do a good job of being able to have great picture quiality on the web AND on tv/big screen? I know, newbie questions. please help, thanks!


Monica Williams
Wed 2 Jul 2008Link

Thank you to John and Jo-Anne :-)

Jo-Anne, I would really appreciate your offer of help as I want to come to Berlin and I'm not sure exactly where to go. I can send my one page treatment to you. I'm not sure how to email you, but you can email me through my website, www.knowingevil.com. Thanks again and talk to you soon.


Mike West
Sat 5 Jul 2008Link

Hey guys,

I'm about to embark on my first documentary, and I'd like to know what gear you guys use.... I was thinking of using an HVX, lavs and just practical available lighting as its more of an urban themed documentary.

Am I missing anything?


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