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.
Our latest project is on violence in youth sports. I found a package that aired on Good Morning America last year while surfing Youtube. Does anyone know the best way to approach GMA about the use of their archival footage? My Producer spoke with our film commission and all they said was that we would not be able to afford it. I think she was talking about stock footage in general though. Any ideas?
I think ABC charges $65 a second. GMA's video is with ABC in NY. Call 212-456-4040 and ask for archives. It's pretty straight forward, no inside deals.
Thanks! I give them a call and see what we can work out.
I am so amazed by how helpful everyone is on this forum. I am just finishing up college and about to enter the world of documentaries and this feels like a friendly community to mull about in. Well, I'm posting because I'm working on my first 'real' docs. I have made a 5 minute doc in the past but that was more of an exercise. Now, I'm currently in post-production on a documentary (my final college endeavor) about one of the nation's top college magazines, Flux. I am the director and editor and was one of the camera crew. Anyway, we followed 40+ students, focusing on a handful of people, for apprx 3 months and shot apprx 150 hours of footage. I have only worked on short pieces with around 20 hours of footage. Now I've got 150 hours? Oh geez, this is a whole new ball game. I also have about 30 hours of interviews. I have done my research and read a lot on how people organize footage with scene boards and colored post-its and xml sheets. I even read Walter Murch's book on how he edited Cold Mountain using Final Cut Pro. I decided to log in Avid (which is unfamiliar to me but love how I can organize footage) and export the logs as PDFs for reference as I capture the footage in FCP. I've written a rough outline of all the footage and what I think are the main points so far. But I'm getting a bit overwhelmed with all the footage and the fact that I don't know how to use it to tell a story. I go to a journalism school where I've learned how to report the news. Now, I want to tell a more narrative story through video but don't know even how to begin developing characters and plot. I know story is the key. I know about the basic elements that make a story. But how do I apply those rules I learned in English class to video? Anyone with previous cinema verite documentaries or, well, anyone with any advice as I move into the process of a) logistically organizing the footage and b) using that footage to tell a story would be sooo very much appreciated.
I'm one of the least experienced people here Amira, but one thing that helps me when editing is to first think of what I want to say and then look for the footage I can say it with, instead of going the other way around, which would be something like asking yourself what can I say with all this footage?
Obviously you need to become very familiar with the footage first. Try to be open minded when you're watching it. Then forget about it, just "close your eyes" and "conjure up" your story. Then just try to tell it clearly with the footage you have. This can keep you from being overwhelmed and falling in love with footage you don't need.
As to narrative vs journalistic styles I'd say don't worry about that. Just make sure you know what you're trying to say and that you're saying it. You'll develop your own style over time.
Back in 1984 or so I went to Guatemala with 3 other people and photographed some activities of the Guatemalan army and medical volunteers who traveled from the USA to give aid to the locals there. I stayed with the Guatemalan Army in Nebah, in the mountains, at the Sanidad Militar. At the time I was working for a newspaper but retained the rights to the photos. I still have a quantity of the 35mm Ektachrome slides which I can make available to people who might have an interest.
In reply to Joe Moulins's post on Tue 24 Jun 2008 :
True, I have a MacBook bought 6/2007. Despite what Apple says, I have 3 gigs of ram in it, so you might as well max out the ram as well. The current ones will use 4 gigs. FCP works too, although Motion won't.
In reply to Wolfgang Achtner's post on Fri 23 May 2008 :
I picked up a new Maxtor 300 gigabyte external hard drive with Firewire 400 and USB 2 ports from Office Max back in April for $79.00. It was not advertised but there it was on the shelf. Works fine with my MacBook.
After you've logged your footage, come up with a ten best list, or twenty to start and then go down to ten. The ten best list should be comprised of the golden moments of your film – the "I can't believe we got that on film" moments, the moments that you still talk about after hours and months of filming. This is where you should really be disciplined because you can't really have a top fifty list, or forty or thirty, even twenty is pushing it. Then arrange those moments in order (depending on your narrative structure – linear, non linear etc) and the rest is filling the gaps to lead up to those moments in the most effective, dramatic, and magical way. And along the way you'll move things around and loose some moments too.
I know I'm making it sound easier that it seems. It's tough but this is one way to not get overwhelmed by your footage and to somehow get on top of it.
Is anyone working on a project at the Democratic National Convention?
Ramona, that's a brilliantly simple way of explaining how to work backwards. Ten sounds right.
Lora, see the hidden section below for something I recently posted in the Classifieds (though I think I only posted in the Members-Only Classifieds). It's not my project – just passing the world along.
Lora, I'll be shooting at the DNC for the IFC. We are set with crew but if i hear of anything i'll post it here. Denver is going to be a mighty interesting place come aug 25th!
Hello wonderful community.
It is great to connect again especially now since I find myself looking for a magician and am very behind schedule.
Most of all I need a senior EDITRIX OR EDITOR.
Pressing Onward in spite of setbacks "SMOKE SCREEN" the documentary is (like a virtual cigar) quite oceanic. In all of this there is a particular magic to articulate real or imagined separations between people in Cuba and people in the USA while at the same time revealing many similarities and shared interests.
The character of this isolated island of Cuba is seen not so much in the great moments, but in the small ones. Most folks know that in 1962 Kennedy declared a blockade against the island but he died tragically before he could reverse the embargo.
I've got over 70 hours of footage. In places I open aperture allowing for a transporting feeling through the people I meet especially farmers. I feel grateful to experience being under the radar of this 'evil eye' that wants to steal attention from Cuba and latch tight another notch in the harness of the mask that binds and blinds.
My "Papi" suggested to me that there is magic, mirth and mischief in those intricate swirling gossamer vapors appearing form the tip of his beloved cigar. My travels to Cuba go against the tide of many other Cubans. There are people who refuse to help me because this film is about Cuban cigars, community and family oceans apart. (Pedestrian protest rallies against smoke are not about to subside any time soon.)
This doc has the potential to unite the folks who abide in 'el Che' together with the exile embittered embargo backing folks like my sweet aunt!
Please help make this 'socially irreverent' and 'highly relevant' film find its audience now!
I have 2 versions one 42 minutes and another 50 minutes and both lack the "ability" to insist on being noticed by the vast audience that this topic deserves. Also if you know of any slight of hand tricks please don't hold back!
I am open to receiving help.
You are invited to participate at any level.
I thank you for your time.
Any suggestions on where to look for a possible camera person to work with me on my project, I checked craigslist.com which someone suggested but nothing there. Any films schools in NJ you might recommend, otherwise I am running around with a new handcam scaring the beheba's out of all my friends trying practice on my own.
contact the Philadelphia Film Office or the New Jersey Film Office for lists of camera operators.
Hello. I recently bought an XH-A1 and I'm looking for recommendations on microphones. I need a lav and a shotgun. I have been directing a documentary and using professional shooters and equipment, but on my next shoot I'd like to use my own equipment. Most of the audio will be interviews in controlled environments, with some interviews conducted as we walk through the city. My budget is flexible. I was thinking $500-$800 per mic. Also, someone in an earlier post mentioned the possibility of wireless mics experiencing interference or having problems in Europe. Is this a widespread problem? How can it be avoided? (I am filming in Russia.) Thanks!
I'm a first time documentary filmmaker who just completed a feature doc called Ten More Good Years about the challenges lgbt elders face in America today. I've licensed the film to The Sundance Channel and Logo for five years giving up only national broadcast rights. I want very much to self distribute the film to universities, institutions, libraries, etc. I was hoping to get into New Day, but was denied. Is anyone aware of a good distribution solution? I am happy to do the work myself, but would like time to move on to my next project. If there is another co-op of filmmakers that distribute educationally I would love to know about it. Hell, if anyone knows of a decent distribution company that won't bend me over backwards and take 75% of the profits that would be good. I've had offers from several distribution outlets but the deals seem way to off point for me.
Any suggestions from seasoned veterans?
Best to you! Mike
Hi, beginning editor here, getting into it with my rear end facing the wrong direction if you know what I mean. I would love to hear what techniques you use to organize large amounts of footage for the editing process, think 200+ hours of footage. And what other practical things do you do to help the editing process be more efficient?
Anyone from michigan that could tell me of some good film festivals in the state.
i'm only 6-7 years into filmmaking... but my advice to you is to organize your footage by 1) characters or subjects in the film 2) then interviews of those people vs. verite footage of them 3) next i'd separate the footage by topic or themes that you/director have identified and 4) b-roll: driving footage – night/day... kentucky, new york, interior mom's house, exterior prison, etc... AND of course you'll have separate folders for your stock/archival footage/pics
hope this helps. good luck
In reply to Michael Wisniewski's post on Fri 1 Aug 2008 :
Mark, if you like experimental film, Ann Arbor has a good fest. I would imagine there is also a festival in Detroit itself.
Thanks Doug and Erica,
I heard about the travese city film fest but ann arbor. I didn't know. Yes there is the Detroit-windsor internationa film Fest. If you ever get the chance. Thanks again gang.
Been a crazy summer, but I'm back and need to get my footage (on PAL – sd) digitized/time codes . . . that's the first step. Then I can translate/edit.
I don't have Final Cut, (just PC/MovieMaker) but someone offered to put everything (using a PAL camera deck – if I buy or rent it) into FinalCut for me and give it back to me on a hard drive (and I might ask him to throw everything on DVD as well – if I can get that with time codes).
So I'd have to pay him around $400 to do this. It's 16 hours of footage, plus buy a hardrive from BestBuy ($100) and rent or buy the PAL camcorder.
Since I'm not prepared to get/buy a MAC/Final Cut right now, I think this might be my best option for having my footage digitized.
But I'll still need to give it to a translator with time codes, so I can prob. ask this guy to put it on VHS/DVD whatever for me. . . that way I can also watch it (on my PC) and log the footage.
Does this make sense/sound like a deal?
Thanks! (Please excuse semi-newbie language)
If you're really looking to edit, I'd just take the plunge and get a Mac and FCP. You'd save $400 right off the bat by not having to pay this dude. Are you making a film or not?
Wow, Doug, that is quite a plunge for me. But I appreciate the candor/simplicity of your answer. Thanks!
darla, i really, really hope that you are not thinking about cutting your film (even the first version) on PC/Moviemaker... that would be disastrous for you in terms of wasted time and energy.
if you really can't afford to get FCP now, then the $400 arrangement sounds fair. to load 16 hours of DV tape takes about 2 days, and that's worth it. if you can get that person to get you DVDs of all the material (with timecode stamp) – perhaps for an extra $100-200? – then that also sounds reasonable.
but if there's ANY way that you can get your hands on a very cheap iMac or MacBook laptop ($1000 for cheapest model), you should definitely do so. and if you have a friend who can lend you a "trial" version of FCP – no, i'm not advocating piracy – then that might be a good way to see if FCP works for you. if you don't have such a "friend" available, email me and i might have a suggestion for you.
Advice on showing the main characters in your film the final cut?
I have heard varying opinions...show them alone...show them the film at a festival (so they can see how the audience responds)....we are debating how to do this and would appreciate any advice. Thanks!
Darla – for a DV project you can't go wrong with Final Cut Express which is cheaper than, yet fully compatible with its more powerful sibling.
Gita, generally showing the film to your main characters before the public sees it is better and more considerate. They'll probably need the first screening just to absorb it. It's not an across-the-board rule, but if they're even somewhat exposed or vulnerable in the film it's good to let them have their own private reactions first.
Doug has given you good advice.
On the other hand, there is no simple answer to your question.
Many different factors may came into play. Just to mention one or two: what kind of story you've told, what kind of relationship you have with your subject, what role your subject has in the documentary, the way you've told their story, etc., etc.
In some cases I'd say it would be best NOT to show it to them before your film comes out (goes to a festival, airs on tv, is released in the theaters, on DVD, etc.), in others, there wouldn't be any valid reason not to show it to them privately.
Unless you give us some additional details about your film and your relationship with your main character, it's almost impossible to say what might be best or more appropriate in this particular case.
I work as a clinical counsellor for children and youth. As a volunteer project I help youth make their own documentary films. Our current film is about the perception of female body image and its correlation with eating disorders. For our b-roll, we added motion to images that we downloaded from the internet and scanned from magazines. These images are often advertisements or pictures from fashion magazines. In addition, we have included clips from movies and music videos as part of our b-roll. For example, a kid is talking about the stupidity and sexism in music videos while we show a clip from a 'Girlicious' video.
1) Is my use of these copyrighted images and sources of media legal seening how I am making an educational/research based film.
2)If I am allowed to use the aforementioned images in my film, am I allowed to alter them in any way. For example, I took a photo from the internet of a best buy advertisement which showed a skanky looking model. I used the image of the model as part of my b-roll but, in doing so, I used adobe after affects to delete part of the ad(words and other pictures}?
Is it possible to make a biography on a famous musician without their permission?
If so, can I use their name in the title?
I have intentions of distributing to Canada & USA.
I contacted their management and this was their reply--I removed their identity.
"xxxx is a very private person and isn't looking for this type of recognition.
In view of how xxxx would feel about the whole thing, we would not be allowed to license any music nor would the band be available for interviews."
Well you could argue that the musician is famous and therefore you can make this film about the public persona. BUT how can you make a film about a musician without access to his/her work – i.e. the music? If management and the band are unwilling to give you permission to use the music, you can't use it. What would be the point of the film?
So, simply because someone is famous I can make a doc about them without their permission?
Would I be able to show the inside of previous homes and schools that he mentioned in his books or is that too private? Where is the line?
They say he is a private person and yet he's a celebrity who has written several books with intimate details about his private life.
paul, for an example of how to profile a musician without using ANY of their music, check out AJ Schnack's Kurt Cobain About a Son
however, the above doc did primarily utilize the artist's recorded tapes from an interview for a book. so, you will somehow have to access something which gives the artist a voice. i'm sure you'll think of something creative...
I'm filming a low budget community project (uk) over the next couple of weeks some of which will involve shooting teenagers (sadly only with a camera) at a club they attend. As most of them will be under 16, this puts me on tricky ground with the release forms. I need parental consent, but it's unlikely any of the parents will come to the club during filming. I'm a bit nervous at the prospect of say, giving each kid a release form and self addressed envelope and relying on them to return them, and there's no way of knowing or finding out who'll be attending in advance.
Should I be worried about this or just go ahead and shoot? Do I have to get release forms even for kids who'll just be wallpaper?
Laws are country-specific, so us Yanks can't tell you squat. That said, I'll tell you my thoughts anyway (us Yanks are like that).
I'm assuming you can't contact parents ahead of time and are shooting kids who just happen to show up. If it were me, I would demand from the kids the phone number of their guardian and call them on the spot. After getting a verbal release from mum, I'd tell her you need to get all this in writing and that she will have to sign a release and get her address.
Know going into it that x percent of the kids you shoot will be unusable because their parent never followed up by mailing you the release.
What type of club is this? A chess club? A music Club? Will the kids be getting picked up by their parents at the end? Will you be interviewing the kids or will they just be background? Thats a tough situation.
It's a computer game tournament organised by a local library. I think the age range is gonna be quite broad so I'm assuming a fair number of kids will be making their own way there and back. The sequence ain't gonna live or die on whether I get interviews with them, but it would be nice to get some reaction – only with kids who I've got cast iron consent to use though!
-And Mark, thanks for the advice about getting verbal releases. I think thats probably a good place to start!
I'm not sure how it works in the UK, nor am I really sure how it works in my own country (Canada), as the lawyers like to debate these issues to the end of time. That said, my understanding of it is this. Anyone can film anything in a public forum. Where you may be sued is if you use that public footage in a manner that could be construed as defamation of character. For example, if I'm making a video about prostitution and I videotape women waiting for the bus or teenage males cruising in their cars on main street, and I use that footage as b-roll in my film, but in such a way that those persons are depicted as prostitutes or 'john's', it would be pretty good grounds for a defamation of character lawsuit laid against me. If I was actually filming prostitutes and 'john's' cruising around the red light area of my city, and I disguised their faces in final production, I'd be minimizing the chances of a lawsuit, as I've eliminated a great deal of possibility for someone's character to be defamated.
At the end of the day however, anyone can sue anyone for anything. All you have to do is file a writ in a civil court. So, there is no 100% protection from a law suit. What you can protect yourself from is the credibility of the plaintiff's lawsuit.
If you are filming people in a private setting, such as a library, you will likely need permission from the library to do so. The library will then probably put up a poster that warns people of the shooting and gives them the option to inform you if they don't want to be captured in your film.
As for the 16-year-olds and their consent. I think it depends on two factors; the age of majority in the UK, and wheter or not you have something like an Infants Act in the UK. The Infants Act in Canada allows counsellors to provide their services to children under the age of majority, without consent from their parents, provided that the counsellor considers the child to be old enough to fully understand the consequences of such services. Maybe the UK has a law like that but pertaining to the rights of a child to access any kind of service.
Those are just my thoughts
Well just got back from the filming and wouldn't you know it, the God of Production was smiling down on me. All but one of the kids had parents drifting in and out, all perfectly happy to have the kiddywinks on camera. Even the mum who wasn't there gave verbal consent over the phone and has agreed to sign the release I'm sending her.
Now I just need to know whether I can use cutaways of the TV screen showing the computer games being played, or whether that breaches uk copyright. Anyone?
Do most people start their own company as a documentary filmmaker or can you just do business as yourself?
Does anyone know of any resources that outline the steps for creating a small-scale Doc-film business?
I am new to this. Thanks.
Mike, I did business as myself (using a DBA) for quite a while. Once I started raising significant money for my first doc I incorporated. I think that's a pretty common way to go.
i am interested in making my own doc and was wondering if there was a good editing program out there that is somewhat reasonable in the price and is not to complicated.
thank you :)
there are a few decent editing programs out there, but the most common one is Final Cut Pro (FCP). A cheaper version of the same thing is Final Cut Express (FCE). But both of these programs only work with a Mac. (Speaking of which, iMovie comes absolutely free of charge with the Mac, and is a very handy program for beginners.)
if you have a PC, there are a myriad of options, the most popular of which are Avid and Adobe Premiere. unless you are wanting to be a professional editor, Avid is probably too expensive for you and requires too much of a learning curve. Adobe Premiere is easy to learn and widely used but not so much by documentary filmmakers.
all in all, if you can afford it, get the cheapest new Mac you can get, and start editing with iMovie. after a month or so of practice, then shell out the few hundred bucks for FCE. when you have a project that's actually fit for broadcast, upgrade to FCP.