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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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Diane Johnson
Mon 12 Jan 2009Link

Hello – I have a question about casting subjects. Is there ever a time where Producers have to pay experts in order for them to be interviewed for a documentary?

I have always been able to convince experts to be a part of my student documentaries, but now that I'm graduating Im wondering if subjects for PBS docs or indie docs pay their experts.

Ivana Todorovic
Mon 12 Jan 2009Link

Thanks James!

Matt Dubuque
Tue 13 Jan 2009Link

Hello Mr. Longley-

I too have found your work profoundly inspirational. I have finally obtained my DVX 100b and have several documentaries ready to be actualized, as it were.

In fact you were a key reason why I joined this group about a year ago. Somehow I learned you were in it.

I wanted to commend you for one aspect of your work which I have not seen publicly acknowledged.

That is the fantastic music that you score for your films. As if it were not enough to do so much fantastic solo work on courageous topics, when I learned you did the music as well, that just took the cake!

I have a few questions. Do you ever shoot footage with a particular tune or tone piece in mind? The syncopation of your edits goes so well with your music. It seems likely that you score the music last, but I wondered if you ever made the visual image fit the music, a la Fantasia.

I'd even be interested in conducting an interview with you on this subject for a good magazine. I'm confident that this topic and aspect of your work has not been adequately explored by others and it would help to justifiably broaden your brand. I put you right up there with Vertov, Bunuel and Kurosawa (whom I have totally immersed myself in pending acquisition of the DVX 100b).

I imagine Russian film school must have really been amazing. Since I learned of your attendance there, I decided to immerse myself in a fair amount of Russian montage and I remain stupefied and in awe of Vertov, especially The Man With the Movie Camera.
I've been meaning to ask you, do you know any way how I might obtain a DVD of Vertov's "A Sixth of the World" or "A History of the Revolution"? These seem like essential items for me to study, especially the former. It's been a pretty solitary journey for me, everyone has been very nice, but nobody seems to know much about Vertov (or Kurosawa for that matter). Perhaps I am in the wrong circles.

I picked up a copy of Constructivism in Film by Vlada Petric (50 bucks!) and it was a revelation for me. As you probably know, this contains a frame by frame analysis of Man With the Movie Camera. Incredible.

I eagerly await your next film and hope that some day you feel my films are worth watching. I'm an extremely serious student. My motto is "Film that Matters, Films that Matter".

My first film will be complete by August 2009. The way things are flowing it seems likely it will be televised on HBO or The Documentary Channel or some such. I have some very good momentum established.


Matt Dubuque

James Longley
Tue 13 Jan 2009Link

Thanks for the nice email exchange, Matt.

Chahid – I am using the HVX200 in Iran and I find it works well, particularly with four 32GB cards (a bit expensive) – I would second John Burgan's advice about looking into the HPX170 – (smaller/lighter/wider lens/better picture) – unless you really want to be able to shoot standard definition material onto DV tape, in which case the HVX200A would be the right choice. But it's a much bigger camera, and if you don't need DV tape recording there's no reason to get it now.

I haven't tried the Sony cameras, but other people here say they're good.

With all of these cameras that record on solid-state cards, the biggest thing to get used to is the new workflow. At first it can be fairly daunting to have to back up all your material onto multiple hard drives or other media, but I have found the more I work this way the easier it gets. It's very much "drag-and-drop" to get the material off your P2 cards and into hard drives for editing. I'm using 500GB Lacie portable drives in the field – I have 12 of them and they're very light and seem durable – it's enough space for about 100 hours of HD material, all backed up on separate drives. These drives also run off the Firewire cable power from a Mac Powerbook, so you don't need an extra power cable, and they're small enough to put in a baggy pants pocket.

John Burgan
Tue 13 Jan 2009Link

James has very baggy pants. He's the MC Hammer of doc filmmakers.

James Longley
Tue 13 Jan 2009Link

(Let's get this party started right)

David Mcilvride
Tue 13 Jan 2009Link

James, you don't have any problem with the speed of the Lacie drives? They don't hang up and everything runs smoothly? What model of the drives are they? I've got older ones, but they'd be too big too bring along anywhere, but I recently bought a 1tb fairly small size drive but the footage hangs.

James Longley
Tue 13 Jan 2009Link

I'm using this one – the 500GB version. So far it works fine for cutting 720pN material on the Macbook Pro in Final Cut. I've only been using these drives for a few weeks, but no problems to report so far. And yes, I sometimes carry them in my pockets.

David Mcilvride
Tue 13 Jan 2009Link

Merci for thought.

Naftali Beane Rutter
Tue 13 Jan 2009Link

Hello everybody---

My new feature doc, an all- verite day in the life of three families in New Orleans, was accepted free of charge to the Thessaloniki Documentary Film Market after I submitted to the Film Festival. The movie is not in the festival, and it has not yet been picked up by any distributor (although I got really really close, dammit!)

I have never been to a film market of any sort before, and can find very little info on the net about the Thessaloniki Docmarket. So I am wondering if anyone has had any experience there or has heard anything, can tell me a bit about other docmarkets, whether it would be useful to be there in person or whether it's too crazy to go all the way to Greece [from Brooklyn]. One other thing to consider-– My flick is definitely a European style movie, which could hypothetically be most successful with audiences over there, so this market could be exactly where I want it to be in terms of target audience.

Thank you thank you thank you,


Doug Block
Tue 13 Jan 2009Link

Naftali, it's not really worth it to go over to Greece if you're just in the market. Often they don't even let the filmmaker in to where the market is, it's just a bunch of commissioning editors and festival programmers sitting in a room with monitors watching stacks of films on dvd. What you really want to do is get your film to the few good sales agents out there that take on docs and sell them internationally (Films Transit and Roco Films are two). They go to the various markets and larger festivals and do the dirty work for you. Meanwhile, keep applying to film festivals and try to premiere it in the biggest and best one possible before you settle for the second or third tier festivals. Lots of luck.

Chahid Charbel Akoury
Wed 14 Jan 2009Link

In reply to James Longley's post on Tue 13 Jan 2009 :

thank you for the reply Mr. Longley.... i just had a chance to try the Sony PMW-EX3 as a friend is over to visit from the U.S. and i found it to be rather good, except for some minor details, i'll try and find a Panasonic HPX170 , unfortunately we do not have a vast range of camcorders, or anything but the commercially available consumer minicams in lebanon... well its more convenient for me to shoot directly onto solid state cards.
and as you say it's pretty much "drag-and-drop" to get the material off the cards and into hard drives for editing.... i found it so easy especially with the non-linearity approach to viewing the clips ...

thank you again...

Naftali Beane Rutter
Wed 14 Jan 2009Link

In reply to Doug Block's post on Tue 13 Jan 2009 :


Thank you very much. Mmmm, dirty work for me. That sounds fantastic. I will track Films Transit and Roco as best as I can.
And I am applying to those festivals, oh yes, I am applying those festivals. Thanks for the luck.

And good luck with all you are doing.

Best of the best,

Matt Dubuque
Wed 14 Jan 2009Link

In reply to James Longley's post on Tue 13 Jan 2009 :

Your welcome James. I enjoyed it.

I wanted to ask you, on some of your long shots it occasionally seems that you are shooting the footage with music in your head. It seems that the way some of your camera movements are made as you wind your way down passageways in Baghdad, Gaza or Najaf have a distinct rhythm and syncopation to them, separate and apart from the way you punctuate your edits.

I play percussion and I occasionally had this distinct impression while watching your work. Is this true? Do you ever have music or rhythm in mind as you shoot any of your "Steadicam" shots?


Matt Dubuque

James Longley
Wed 14 Jan 2009Link

Everything is hand-held in those films and the only music is the music of the spheres.

Matt Dubuque
Thu 15 Jan 2009Link

Cool. Filming to Pythagoras. I can relate!



Matt Dubuque
Sun 18 Jan 2009Link

Can I write off my camera, lights and sound equipment?


I'm asking this question here because others may have it and I trust the answers from a tax law library or tax professionals that may be here far more than a Google search.

However, I find the CCH and RIA tax materials somewhat disorganized in their approach and layout, so I'm trying to avoid a trip to the law library.

Here goes:

I'm conviced I can make a profit on some of my films over the next five years and am willing to prove this to the IRS over time. This is the first year of my business and it is not a hobby.

As such, I am filling out a Schedule C and possibly a Form 4562 for tax treatment of my purchases of camera, lights and sound equipment.

I would like to expense these items rather than depreciating them. Can I do so?

Thanks. I just wish the Rutter Group (or even CEB) would make tax guides.

Matt Dubuque

James Longley
Mon 19 Jan 2009Link

Yes – I think you can do this – but most tax advisors will probably tell you that you should calculate whether that will be the most beneficial thing to do.

Matt Dubuque
Mon 19 Jan 2009Link

Super, thanks so much James. I managed to get hold of the IRS instructions for this form (Form 4562) and was finally able to confirm that this is possible; the wording is pretty dense, but after reading it many times to learn whether film gear is considered a "listed" asset or not, I was finally able to decipher it.

I have a string of documentaries in the queue and have set up both non-profit and profit entities for them. I feel comfortable that for this particular for-profit entity this is what I want to do....

Many thanks,

Hope all is well.

Marcia Pacheco
Wed 21 Jan 2009Link

I'm sure you guys have already gone through this, but, I'm in need... Sorry!!! I'm currently working on my release forms for my documentary. The catch is it's a thesis project in order to gain my Masters degree. May you help me with sample release forms?

Thanks in advance.

Ethan Steinman
Thu 22 Jan 2009Link

Marcia, do a search for "release form" on this forum you'll find several examples. If you need one in Spanish, let me know and I can dig one up.

Wendell Martinez
Fri 23 Jan 2009Link

Hello to everyone in D-Word community,
I am a 35 year old living Brooklyn, NY who over the past 5-7 years has fallen in love with the documentary medium and is looking to make a career transition into this field. My original background has been in the fine arts industry of New York, but I now find it unfulfilling and less socially vital than important cultural visual media. I recently have been laid off due to the economy which I very much want to use as an opportunity to get involved in this industry. As you may know It's usually a bit difficult to get that first bit of experience in a new field when one has no previous experience in it. I'm setting my sights on getting a internship with any individual filmmakers or production companies to meet people and gain experience. I have been viewing craigslist regularly and applying there and it occurred to me that I could possibly post an "internship wanted" ad in the classified section of D-Word. I wanted to request any thoughts or input from anyone of the D-Words members regarding the likelyhood of attaining an internship at my age, or any thoughts or tips on going about getting involved with this amazing medium that has changed the way I see the world.

Thanks to all for your time and consideration,
Dell Martinez

Christopher Wong
Fri 23 Jan 2009Link

welcome, Wendell. in your time off from work, you should see if you can learn the basics of editing in Final Cut Pro. the most useful interns often work as assistant editors – digitizing, organizing, and finding footage. this will give you a great introduction to what documentary filmmaking is all about (assuming the director you are working for is competent...) best of luck as you make your transition!

Amir Bar-Lev
Fri 23 Jan 2009Link

Hello everyone;
I may be hired to creatively consult / oversee a documentary by a financier. I've never held this role and wondered if anyone out there had experience with this. I'm putting together a proposal right now and would be grateful for suggestions, the more detailed the better. Should I suggest being compensated by the week or a percentage of the budget? Should I ask for back end profit participation? As you can probably tell, since this isn't my own film, I'd like to make it work for me in a "work for hire" fashion, that is, I'd like to get paid as well as possible. What credit should I ask for? What "looks better on a resume," to put it crassly? Producer? Co-director? I'd also like to make sure I respect the director's vision and be helpful without stepping on toes. Has anyone been in this type of relationship before and what are some pitfalls I should look out for? Thanks in advance for your time –

Evan Thomas
Sat 24 Jan 2009Link

Hi all,

I will soon be recording a choir for soundtrack use – so sound only. What releases should i get from the choir members? Can i get all of them to sign one form? If the piece of music is out of copyright then i just have to get permission to use their performance right? This is small choir at a local cathedral singing sacred music for mass.


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