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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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Doug Block
Tue 25 Mar 2003Link
I meant some synopsis's on file, not treatments.

Robert Goodman
Wed 26 Mar 2003Link
for synopsis - see TV guide.

Rob Stewart
Thu 27 Mar 2003Link
thanks guys
once again, very helpful.

Riley Morton
Mon 31 Mar 2003Link
and I wouldn't send anyone a tape -ever.
The purpose of a tape is to allow distributors
to say we saw that - it's no good. You
need to take the trailer to a market, show
em that only, and make a deal or not. No
deal no show. The alternative is to take
the completed doc to an A list festival
and win a prize. Then let them approach
you with a deal.

Sending tapes out is the kiss of DEATH!

I'm just curious if the other 'working pros' out there agree with
this Statement of Robert's - and Robert, if you could back this up
with some examples or experience.

As someone who has made a few films, but hasn't had much
luck with broadcast, I'm still mystified by this idea. Why would a
broadcaster agree to buy a film if they haven't seen more than a
trailer?

thanks.

riley

Doug Block
Mon 31 Mar 2003Link
Riley, there's a big difference between a trailer and a sample and
sometimes the terms can get confused. A trailer is basically a minute
or two long. A sample can be anywhere from a few minutes to, well,
almost any length. I helped produce a doc called "Silverlake Life"
and the sample was almost a half-hour. And very effective, too.

If you have a contact or previous experience with a broadcaster,
sending a cassette out is perfectly fine. If you don't, then a market
like the IFP's is better. But there aren't many like them out there.

Robert Goodman
Mon 31 Mar 2003Link
Riley,

For confirmation please check a recent issue of the Independent Film
& Video Monthly - I think Dec/Jan with the Open City folks on the
cover. Jason and Joanna Kliot.
they wrote a piece about distribution that confirmed everything I've
learned and made the points i posted.

Donya Archer
Fri 4 Apr 2003Link
Dear Pros-
Is it necessary to secure "life story rights" for a documentary?
Is it ever kosher to pay a subject for appearing in a doc? The
subject of my film feels he needs some kind of compensation, beyond
publicity-- He also needs the money, which I totally understand.
Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks--

Robert Goodman
Fri 4 Apr 2003Link
we all need money but paying for participation seems unethical to
most. What can and does happen is if the project is successful, the
participants share in the wealth, e.g., hoop dreams - the players
and parents received a share of the pie.

It's a very good idea to secure "life rights" because Small Wonders
becaming Playing with Strings with Meryl Streep and the life rights
holder benefited from Hollywood's interest after the doc was
successful.

Doug Block
Fri 4 Apr 2003Link
Nothing wrong with the participant reaping much, if not all, of any
profits. Not that docs make profits ;-)

Robert Goodman
Sat 5 Apr 2003Link
rarely or ever.

Rhonda Moskowitz
Sat 5 Apr 2003Link
Robert- What are life rights? Is this something that all documentary
filmmakers need to get from their subjects?

Doug Block
Sun 6 Apr 2003Link
Rhonda, as I understand it, life rights are rights to the life story
of the main character(s) in your doc, which are nice for you to secure
in writing in case someone wants to make a fiction film based on their
lives after seeing the documentary.

Not always easy to get. It brings up possible issues of the subjects
feeling exploited, so you should tread carefully and find out from an
entertainment lawyer how to go about it. Also, wouldn't do it unless
you feel your character and his or her situation is so compelling that
Hollywood is sure to come calling.

Rhonda Moskowitz
Mon 7 Apr 2003Link
Thanks Doug. You are right about treading carefully. I'm just in
the beginning stages of production, so I won't deal with this until
further down the road. Speaking of an entertainment lawyer, is there
a difference between an entertainment lawyer and a producer's rep?
Also, is this the place on D-Word where I can ask specific questions
about my film-in-progress? This is my first film.

Doug Block
Mon 7 Apr 2003Link
the lines are getting increasingly blurry with the john sloss types
out there doing both, but generally an entertainment lawyer is paid by
the hour and a producer's rep gets a percentage of any distribution
advance and, depending, other sales.

Jennifer Fleming
Tue 8 Apr 2003Link
hi there, new to the board.
i am thinking of making a doc, i have very limited resources
in terms of money.just curious what is fair compensation for a main
character(s) in terms of percentages if the film makes any money?

Doug Block
Tue 8 Apr 2003Link
it's your choice, jennifer. most doc makers don't give their
subjects a profit share. some give up to 50%. it all depends on your
relationship to the subjects, what they want, what you want to give,
etc.

just make it clear to them that the chances of making any profit is
excedingly small.

Jennifer Fleming
Tue 8 Apr 2003Link
thanks doug! that helps!

Rhonda Moskowitz
Tue 8 Apr 2003Link
Thanks Doug.You are a wealth of information and very generous in
sharing it! Which would you advise for someone like me? An
entertainment lawyer or a producer's rep?

Rhonda Moskowitz
Tue 8 Apr 2003Link
Hi Doug, Just saw the list of Sundance grant recipients and saw you
just received a development grant. Congratulations! That's
wonderful!

Doug Block
Wed 9 Apr 2003Link
thanks, rhonda. i'd recommend an entertainment lawyer until you're
confident your film will start a bidding war at sundance next year.
then, hey, give me a call ;-)

Rhonda Moskowitz
Wed 9 Apr 2003Link
Thanks. Do you recommend any particular ones in NY?

Doug Block
Wed 9 Apr 2003Link
Well, I like my lawyer, Robert Freedman: 212-974-7474. He's been
very involved with AIVF over the years and is very sympathetic to
indie filmmakers. Say hi from me.

Rhonda Moskowitz
Wed 9 Apr 2003Link
Thanks Doug. Also, I called Fernanda Rossi, because I don't like my
demo reel and she was extremely helpful and knowledgable. I saw that
you mentioned her in this "Mentoring Room", and I trust your
referrals. She made some terrific suggestions and she's also
extremely nice. You are very hooked in to the documentary film scene
and are a wealth of knowledge. As I've mentioned,I'm making my first
film and I find your suggestions and this whole doc film site an
invaluable resource. (For other people reading this I am not related
to Doug, and I'm not earning any extra income from him for my
feedback, which he didn't ask for.)

Jennifer Fleming
Tue 15 Apr 2003Link
Hi There!
First time filmmaker here, I want to begin shooting a documentary
about a club and the exotic dancers who work in the club, is there
any legal protocal I should follow in terms of releases, life story
rights, and location releases? Can anyone also recommend a book or
online website that would have similar legal contracts and releases?
Any info from you pro's would be greatly appreciated. Thanks in
advance!

jenn

Doug Block
Tue 15 Apr 2003Link
Hi, Jennifer. I highly recommend you check out entertainment lawyer
Mark Litwak's website: http://marklitwak.com. Get releases from
everyone you can, including patrons whose faces are recognizable (good
luck!). Get a release from the club, absolutely. As for life rights,
it seems premature. I'd deal with that a little later down the line -
might spook your subject(s) unnecessarily.

Jennifer Fleming
Tue 15 Apr 2003Link
Thank you so much Doug! Your advice is greatly appreciated!

Doug Block
Tue 15 Apr 2003Link
Are you perchance the same Jennifer Fleming who worked on An American
Love Story?

Jennifer Fleming
Wed 16 Apr 2003Link
Darn . . . there is another Jennifer Fleming filmmaker out there? No
Doug, I am not her. I am a first-time doc filmmaker - I wish I can
claim her experience instead of her name.
Thanks again for your help. I am certain that my questions will be
posting frequently over the next several weeks as I embark on this
storytelling journey. :)

Gillian Grimm
Fri 18 Apr 2003Link
Can you give some advice on music copyright for documentaries. What
do you need to get/do to use an artists music in your film? Thanks!

Doug Block
Sat 19 Apr 2003Link
D-Word member Denise Ohio has written an extremely helpful article
about music clearances: http://www.holytoledo.com/clear_music.htm

Jacqueline Carlisle
Sat 19 Apr 2003Link
Hello to all,



I came across this forum whilst looking for information
on successfully producing/directing my first doco. I may have the
opportunity to film a doco and I'm really not sure where to start.
Can anyone please tell me where do I start first. I have the subject
and I have written down a few notes but that's all I've done.
Any help would be appreciated.

Cheers!

Ben Kempas
Sat 19 Apr 2003Link
What is the subject, Jaqueline?

Jacqueline Carlisle
Sat 19 Apr 2003Link
It's actually for the 20th anniversary for an AIDS organisation. They
are planning to have a year long awareness campaign in all areas of
of media, so I thought why not a documentary! It will give me a
chance to get my feet wet, and have a credit etc.

Hope that helps you Ben.

Thanks

Doug Block
Sat 19 Apr 2003Link
start first by getting a digital camcorder, learning how to shoot,
and diving right in.

ignorance is bliss ;-)

Jacqueline Carlisle
Sat 19 Apr 2003Link
Thanks Doug, that's what I'm hoping also. I do have a very good eye
and I am a published writer as well as a classically trained pianist.
It would appear that anything I do in the arts I do it to perfection,
so I believe the trend will continue whilst filming this documentary.

The organisation I'm involved in, has access to the right people in
the media, so I thought why not take advantage. I will have access to
equiptment as well as a facility. I will certainly post regularly now
that I hvae found this site.

This is GREAT!!!
Thanks for all and future help.

xxx

Diane Bernard
Mon 21 Apr 2003Link
Hi:
This is my first posting to the board though I've been reading it for a few
weeks now. First, Doug, your advice here is very helpful, especially for us
newbies (or semi-newbie in this case). Thanks.

My question is: I just finished a 15-minute sample tape/trailer for a
documentary I've been working on. It's about a failed Hollywood film
production that wound up in the hands of the CIA. There's a great story
behind it and I think this has good commercial potential. I'd like to target
more commercial funding sources than grant organizations. But I'm a little
stuck as to how to do this. How do you market a sample tape
around for broadcast/theatrical (i.e., commercial vs. grant) production money?
Where do I go? And would a producer's rep help in this early stage?

Thanks for any and all advice.

Doug Block
Mon 21 Apr 2003Link
Welcome from the shadows, Diane. An event like the IFP Market would
be perfect for a project like yours. The application deadline is
coming up soon, too:

http://market.ifp.org/market25/index_frameset_information.html

Diane Bernard
Tue 22 Apr 2003Link
Thanks Doug--yes, I'd heard about this and even joined IFP just last week.
But do they take sample tapes/trailers rather than works-in-progress? Also,
do you get a guaranteed audience with market people? Or is it luck of the
draw?

Doug Block
Tue 22 Apr 2003Link
Yes, they screen samples in their works-in-progress section, which is
where they put their emphasis.

As far as guaranteed audiences, there are never guarantees. You'll
have to work your little fanny off to get their fannies in the seats.
If you do a google search, or look closely at the IFP's website, I'm
sure there are numerous articles that have been written over the years
about how to "work" the market.

Lots of luck.

Gillian Grimm
Wed 30 Apr 2003Link
Is there any word out there about how people are finding Final Cut
Express. I am planning to shoot only on an XL1s and am about to
purchase software. The savings on Express would really help but am I
going to regret it later?

Thanks in advance, this is such a helpful site!

Doug Block
Wed 30 Apr 2003Link
Gillian, you seem to be confusing Final Cut Pro with Avid DV Express.
But both are fine programs that you won't regret using.

Ben Kempas
Wed 30 Apr 2003Link
Doug, you don't seem to be aware of Final Cut Express. It's like
Avid's FreeDV. More info at http://www.apple.com/finalcutexpress/ ...
they could have chosen a less confusing name, though.

Doug Block
Wed 30 Apr 2003Link
Well I'll be an uncle's monkey! Next thing ya know they'll have Avid
Cut Pro.

Joanne L.
Wed 30 Apr 2003Link
Hi everyone, I'm new here. I registered a couple of days ago and
have been educating myself quite a bit with all the terrific info on
this forum. Many thanks to all who contribute to this forum and those
who take their time to give advice.

Now, I need a little guidance myself, if you don't mind. My partners
and I had an idea for a documentary. I don't want to go into it too
much, but the subject was a French athlete who is virtually unknown
in the states. We contacted her American agent with the proposal and
the agent requested we send a resume of ourselves with a description
of the project, which we kept pretty general. This morning we got
the call and were told that she had already committed to another
documentary. Needless to say, I'm pretty disappointed. We already
had private funding and a crew in place.

Do I think that she's involved in another documentary? Highly
unlikely. Do I think the agent talked with her about this project?
Highly unlikely. The agent admitted she really doesn't deal with
her. Perhaps, the agent contacted her people in France and they
turned it down. I really don't know. Sorry, I'm babbling. I really
felt this could have been an unique and entertaining project. Could
it be that we were not award-winning docu filmmakers? I don't know.
Our backgrounds are in funding, producing, directing and writing
small indy and short films. Though, I doubt that HBO, BBC, etc. are
knocking down her door.

I could go on and on, but this message is long enough. Here's my
question? Has the fat lady sung yet? Should we contact her agent in
France? Should we try to gain contact with the athlete and pitch to
her directly? I've met her before and she seems very personable.

Any advice to this problem would be greatly appreciated!!

Doug Block
Wed 30 Apr 2003Link
Joanne, if you're gonna give up because her agent says no then you're
gonna have a very short career as a documentary filmmaker. A no means
maybe. Or try again later. Or try again in a different way.

I'd try to get to the athlete directly. Use your ingenuity, your
charm and your passion for the film. Be honest and sincere. And
don't even think of giving up so easily.

Good luck!

Joanne L.
Thu 1 May 2003Link
Doug, thank you so much!! It's just what I needed to hear.

Doug Block
Thu 1 May 2003Link
Oh, didn't I mention I get 10% of the funds you raise? ;-)

Robert Goodman
Thu 1 May 2003Link
how did you get funding in place without a deal with the subject?
You may not be a known quantity as a doc filmmaker but you do make
the grade in the funding category. Care to fund-raise for a known
quantity?

Karen Yaeger
Thu 1 May 2003Link
hello to all,

i'm a new member to the forums... been reading a lot of the
posts... and very happy to be a part. as a new shooter/editor i've
happened upon some opportunities to document weddings and
am interested in exploring this.

the "clients" are interested in verite style, natural sound... i share
this sensibility and am excited about doing it.. but would love to
hear from others with experience doing this type of thing... how
they approach the day... interact w/ guests, etc. any advice would
be greatly appreciated... i've picked up a few things... and
purchased 83 min dv stock for the ceremony...(hope that's long
enough) have a backup camera and batteries just in case... love
to hear some thoughts... many thanks

Doug Block
Thu 1 May 2003Link
Actually, I do verite style weddings myself, Karen:
www.dougblockweddings.com

I approach it no differently than I do shooting cinema verite
documentaries: www.wmm.com/loveanddiane

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