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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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Elizabeth A. Dillion-Stelling
Mon 21 Jul 2008Link

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.


Robert Goodman
Tue 22 Jul 2008Link

contact the Philadelphia Film Office or the New Jersey Film Office for lists of camera operators.


Michael Beckelhimer
Sat 26 Jul 2008Link

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!


Michael Jacoby
Mon 28 Jul 2008Link

Hi,

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
www.tenmoregoodyears.com


Michael Wisniewski
Fri 1 Aug 2008Link

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?


Mark Barroso
Fri 1 Aug 2008Link

I found this tutorial from a Creative Cow moderator useful to me. If you want, I'll sell you my copy of Shane's DVD at half price. Whoops, is that allowed here? Email me at mbarroso@mindspring.com. There's also Ken Stone and others.


Mark Charles Berlin
Tue 5 Aug 2008Link

Hello.
Anyone from michigan that could tell me of some good film festivals in the state.


Doug Block
Wed 6 Aug 2008Link

Well, you just missed Michael Moore's Traverse City Film Festival ...


Chico Colvard
Wed 6 Aug 2008Link

hey michael,

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 :


Erica Ginsberg
Wed 6 Aug 2008Link

Mark, if you like experimental film, Ann Arbor has a good fest. I would imagine there is also a festival in Detroit itself.


Mark Charles Berlin
Fri 8 Aug 2008Link

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.


Darla Bruno
Fri 8 Aug 2008Link

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)


Doug Block
Sat 9 Aug 2008Link

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?


Darla Bruno
Sat 9 Aug 2008Link

Wow, Doug, that is quite a plunge for me. But I appreciate the candor/simplicity of your answer. Thanks!


Christopher Wong
Sat 9 Aug 2008Link

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.


Gita Pullapilly
Sat 9 Aug 2008Link

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!


John Burgan
Sat 9 Aug 2008Link

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.


Doug Block
Sat 9 Aug 2008Link

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.

Edited Sat 9 Aug 2008 by Doug Block

Wolfgang Achtner
Sun 10 Aug 2008Link

Hiya Gita,

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.

Edited Sun 10 Aug 2008 by Wolfgang Achtner

Roderick Taylor
Sun 10 Aug 2008Link

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.

Question:

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}?


Paul Miil
Mon 11 Aug 2008Link

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."


Ramona Diaz
Mon 11 Aug 2008Link

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?


Paul Miil
Mon 11 Aug 2008Link

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.


Christopher Wong
Mon 11 Aug 2008Link

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...


Neil Garrett
Mon 11 Aug 2008Link

Hi all,
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?


Mark Barroso
Tue 12 Aug 2008Link

Neil:
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.


Andrew David Watson
Tue 12 Aug 2008Link

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.


Neil Garrett
Wed 13 Aug 2008Link

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!

Cheers


Roderick Taylor
Wed 13 Aug 2008Link

Hey Neil,

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

Take Care,


Neil Garrett
Thu 14 Aug 2008Link

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?


Mike Mossey
Fri 15 Aug 2008Link

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.


Doug Block
Fri 15 Aug 2008Link

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.


Skyler Buffmeyer
Sun 17 Aug 2008Link

hi!
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 :)


Christopher Wong
Sun 17 Aug 2008Link

welcome skyler...

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.


Joe Moulins
Sun 17 Aug 2008Link

It's been a long time since I checked, but doesn't Avid have a free version for Windows and Mac?

(three minute later)

I guess not

Edited Sun 17 Aug 2008 by Joe Moulins

Skyler Buffmeyer
Sun 17 Aug 2008Link

Hey! thanks for the advice about the editing thing :)
Sadly, I have a PC and the FCE looks realllly good.
I have a few more questions and will probably have a lot more in the future....lol.
I will be interviewing random people on the street AND set up interviews. I was wondering what kind of release forms I would need. Can I make one up myself? I would really rather not see a lawyer or anything like that.
Also, for the filming I will be using a camcorder (Canon ZR850). I was wondering what advice you would give for sound? Could I use a simple boom?
Thanks again, this website is a great resource and, I will definitely take advantage of it. :)


Robert Goodman
Sun 17 Aug 2008Link

Pinnacle Studio 12 is a good program. A lot of features for $79. Remember you don't need much. For 90 years every Hollywood feature film was edited with a viewer and scotch tape. It used to be that you'd find less than 10 dissolves and all the other edits would be cuts.

If you want to go up the scale – Sony's Vegas Video is a good program and then head to Adobe Premiere CS3. All available for far less than Avid and other professional programs.


Paul Kloeden
Mon 18 Aug 2008Link

A quick google search will lead you to a lot of release forms. A quick cut and paste will get you what you need. As for interviews, especially set up ones, I would be tempted to buy a cheap lapel mic – simple one with cable to your camcorder.


Jason Caminiti
Mon 18 Aug 2008Link

Skyler,

There are a number of PC editing programs. Last year when I dove back into Non-Linear Editing, I started using Adobe Premiere Elements. It is surprisingly good for a program that costs about $99. Elements is a pro-ish program dumbed down quite a bit for newbies. Though, it has some features that Premiere Pro doesn't have, like the ability to make a DVD with titles and all. Also, if you find yourself getting serious, the learning curve to Premiere Pro will be almost nothing. In fact, you will start to see many of the quirkyness that is somehow built into Elements dissapear, and it is a slick program.

I'm not a fan of the Pinnacle software at all. I have it just to import VHS and it seems amateurish.

(Ducks flames from Mac users)

Edited Mon 18 Aug 2008 by Jason Caminiti

Skyler Buffmeyer
Mon 18 Aug 2008Link

Hi again!
Thank you so much for the great feedback! It is so appreciated!!!! I just love this website :)
I have another question:
What recommendations would you make for finding subjects to be in your doc? I was thinking maybe flyers around town or an article in the newspaper...anymore tips?
Thank you again.


Robert Goodman
Mon 18 Aug 2008Link

it's not amateurish it's simple for amateurs on purpose.


Mark Barroso
Mon 18 Aug 2008Link

Depends on how random you want to be. If you want just anyone to comment on, say, how they feel about the latest fashions or the Iraq Occupation then just walk up to people on the street.

If you're looking for specific kinds of people, like folks with rare diseases or ex-cops who killed people in the line of duty then you can either advertise or talk to people who work with that population.


Jason Caminiti
Mon 18 Aug 2008Link

Robert, True, I guess I expected more from it. Adobe Premiere Elements seems really good considering. There are some really annoying quirks that I can't get past but otherwise it is great.

Skyler, You really didn't tell us what kind of documentary you were looking to make. If you are looking to just get experience, I'd recommend going to the local public access studio and volunteering. I take my camera when I go to an event in the city and make a 'show' out of it. You could throw in some interviews to get some experience there. Learning on the access facilities equipment is not only free, but it lets you see what you don't like. Which helps you zone in on what kind of equipment you need.


Evan Thomas
Tue 19 Aug 2008Link

So i want to film for a few hours at a Military Cemetary with a PD-170 + tripod. My project is lo / no budget and i'm self funded etc working on the film in my spare time.

In order to get permission to film i need to provide:

"Proof of adequate insurance coverage for any person participating in the film production or photography, as well as any spectator who may be at the site and might be injured as a result, directly or indirectly, of the filming or photography. Adequacy of coverage will by as determined by the organisation"

Clearly i don't have public liability insurance. Any way around this?


Jason Caminiti
Tue 19 Aug 2008Link

It's not like you are filming a movie there. If you weren't using a tripod, I'd say just go for it.

I'm in the US, and we have public access television here. People tell me all the time I am supposed to have filming permits and the like, but I just tell them it is for Public access and they seem to go away. I've never been thrown out of anywhere for filming with a lower end looking camera. Even with a tripod. I have had people ask me questions.

I think the liability stuff is more if you are going to be bring in crew and heavy equipment.

Call the groundskeeper and tell him what you are doing, and tell him you are just going to be filming with a small camera and tripod. I bet they'd be fine with that?

If not, bring a consumer grade camera and get the footage that way. A La Michael Moore.

BTW: I'm no lawyer, so you should check with a lawyer before taking any of my advice...

Edited Tue 19 Aug 2008 by Jason Caminiti

Skyler Buffmeyer
Tue 19 Aug 2008Link

Hey Everybody!
You are all such a huuuge help! Thanks!
I was wondering if anyone could give advice on getting archives (especially news-media related). Any good websites or procedures I need to go through to get good archives?
Thanks again,
Skyler

Edited Tue 19 Aug 2008 by Skyler Buffmeyer

John Burgan
Tue 19 Aug 2008Link

Archives – it depends a lot on what you plan to do with the material. More and more are online these days and you can search for footage which you can then license for use, whether for a web presentation or a film to be broadcast, whatever. It's not cheap though!

For instance check out the ITN Archive

BTW Skyler – please note that we ask all D-Worders to register with their full, real-world names, so please log in when you have a moment and update your profile. Thanks.


Skyler Buffmeyer
Tue 19 Aug 2008Link

Hey John!
Thanks so much for the advice.
I'm very sorry that I didn't put my full last name up.
I felt a little uncomftorable doing so considering, I just found this website a few days ago and I am underage.
I am so sorry if I have broken any rules.
If there are certain reasons that you need people to put up their last names please tell me and I will change it.
Again, I am very sorry if I have broken any rules and also, thanks so much for the advice about the archives.
:)
Skyler


Joe Moulins
Tue 19 Aug 2008Link

I wouldn't want my daughter sharing her full name on this board. No offense.

Let Skyler B be Skyler B.


Andrew David Watson
Tue 19 Aug 2008Link

Skyler – check out http://www.archive.org/index.php

Evan – The public access or "student film" lie can go a long way. Also, you could try to track down a local professional that might be willing to help you out and have them as a "co-producer." I would say go take a walk around there and see what the vibe is like and try to get a sense if you would even be bothered.


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