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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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Robert Shore
Wed 17 Jun 2009Link

Hi all- I haven't posted in a while. I've got a new series that I am writing up for the August deadline for the National Endowment for the humanities. Does anyone have any advice, specific or general, about NEH-specific grant-writing? Thanks, Rob.


Dustan Lewis McBain
Thu 18 Jun 2009Link

Hey guys, quick questions, im shooting a high school reunion with 300 people, and im using a panasonic dvx 100b. Firstly, what mic should i use? and secondly, what preferences should i shoot under? Maybe i could shoot with a slow shutter speed? idn any ideas?


Sudeshna Chowdhury
Sat 27 Jun 2009Link

Hi this is Sudeshna here. I want to be a filmmaker and really keen on making documentaries. RIght now am working for a news channel. could you plaese tell me how do I start. Yes, I was told that I should start making videos and post it on websites. Could you please let me know how do i begin and which are the potential websites i should send my work to?


John Burgan
Sat 27 Jun 2009Link

It depends very much on you, Sudeshna: what interests you? What's going on in your area? What stories do you want to tell? The website part is easy (you can use Youtube or Vimeo), but it's the work that counts. Are there any films which have inspired you?

Edited Sat 27 Jun 2009 by John Burgan

Sudeshna Chowdhury
Mon 29 Jun 2009Link

Hello John
Yes films that mostly deal with social and religious issues interest me. I have watched a couple of documentaries by Satyajit Ray whicb have insppired me a lot. Also this film called La Americana have motivated me to further explore subjects. I have also watched a copule of documentaries on Maoists in India. Well these are teh kind of stories that I intend to tell. Am making short videos( which i shoot with my handy cam and right now cany afford one due to financial constraints)but what i am looking at is to become part of an organisation that will give me good exposure. These of course are my views but i don't know how it actually works. Your seggestions please??


David W Grant
Tue 30 Jun 2009Link

ABOUT VIDEO ESSAYS that use docu-drama – Where do 'documentaries of the future' exist? A film that posits a possible future? Such a film obviously could be declared 'fiction'. Is there a genre of this type?
Thanks.


Craig Schneider
Wed 1 Jul 2009Link

Hi all,
Does anyone have any advice/experience shooting Sweet 16 videos? I'm shooting one this Friday documentary style, so i won't be directing so much as just capturing the moments (and there's plenty of dance numbers and such to capture), but it's my first paid job as a documentary videographer and my first Sweet 16, and I know the family, so I want to do this right. I have experience shooting formal events with my cousin's wedding and a friend's wedding. However, I'm shooting this on my own, with a Panasonic DVX100a, and my journalistic instincts. Would you recommend a lav mic on the birthday girl if she would have it? I wasn't going to bother just to simplify. If i do direct at all, is there anything fun you'd recommend shooting with her and her "court" or her court alone? I can let the photographer take the lead on this stuff of course during the photo shoot, but I think it may also be good to have her close friends and family say/do something. Would you recommend I use a separate mic during the party for that? I have a RES50B. This is really a big deal for her and her family, and they trust me to do an amazing job. I know what they have planned for the day and night, and i plan to capture some behind the scenes, getting ready moments, and the excitement and fun. I also posted in the legal section to ask about a contract template just to protect myself (I've only done pro bono before). Other than charge my batteries and get close with the camera and shotgun mic, work my angles, am I forgetting anything? I also do mostly handheld so i'm thinking that a monopod vs. a tripod would be better. Lastly, if anyone can recommend a place in NYC to pick up a spare and relatively inexpensive DVX100a battery, let me know. It's going to be a long day.
Thanks.


Doug Block
Thu 2 Jul 2009Link

Craig, as someone who's shot well over a hundred weddings, I say don't fret too much. Unless you're a hopeless incompetent (which you're not), they're gonna love what you shoot, I guarantee it. Normal people aren't used to seeing themselves captured verite-style and it's always a hoot for them.

Technically speaking, I'd simply use a good directional mic on the camera (like a Sennheiser 416), get in fairly close as much as you can, and definitely shoot handheld. Screw the tripod. And I'd set up as little as possible, just be a total fly on the wall. But that's me.

Have fun and lotsa luck.


Craig Schneider
Thu 2 Jul 2009Link

A few other related questions to my previous Sweet 16 post that i forgot to ask: I normally shoot my documentary footage in 24P on the DVX100a in squeeze mode. Do you see any issues with using that format for the Sweet 16 video? Do videographers at the formal events normally just wear a black button down shirt and slacks? When i was i shot weddings, i was actually in the wedding party so i wore a suit. And I am renting one of those light panels for the top of my camera for low light situations, but i haven't tested one out. Advice? Thanks again.


Craig Schneider
Thu 2 Jul 2009Link

Thanks, Doug. I was hoping you would post. Now I'll stop my fretting. Thanks for the sage advice.


Craig Schneider
Fri 3 Jul 2009Link

Doug, I didn't get very far in "legal" on my contract template request. Can I ask how you handle getting stuff in writing? All I have now is a verbal agreement on the price. I feel like it would be good business practice to protect myself, on this job or when i don't know the family. Have a great July 4th weekend.


Doug Block
Fri 3 Jul 2009Link

Craig, just emailed you my standard, one-page wedding agreement. Hope it helps. BTW, the Mentoring Room is for Enthusiasts, not Members, so keep stuff like this in the Legal topic in the future.

Edited Fri 3 Jul 2009 by Doug Block

Brian Boyko
Tue 14 Jul 2009Link

Short question with a complicated answer: Have any of you guys ever filmed in Cuba? I figure before I start doing research about how to get permission to go to Cuba as a journalist from the State Dept., I could ask here, and see if anyone's got any experience with it.


John Burgan
Tue 14 Jul 2009Link

As you're already a Member, Brian, you can pose this question in the Production Topic. There are several colleagues who I'm sure will be able to ask your question.


Mark Barroso
Tue 14 Jul 2009Link

In reply to Brian Boyko's post on Tue 14 Jul 2009 :

Brian: you can email me off list and I'll give you my phone number, but the short answer is unless you have a letter from an accredited news organization that's recognized by the State Dept., you will not qualify for a journalist exemption to the travel ban.

Assuming you do not have relatives there, that leaves you the option of going illegally, or under the license of a humanitarian group. I can advise you on that, too. Depending on what you want to do, you will also have to fly under the radar of the Cuban govt.


Brian Boyko
Tue 14 Jul 2009Link

In reply to Mark Barroso's post on Tue 14 Jul 2009 :

We considered that possibility, but isn't there an application process for freelance journalists?

http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1097.html
"Free-Lance Journalism – Persons with a suitable record of publication who are traveling to Cuba to do research for a free-lance article. Licenses authorizing transactions for multiple trips over an extended period of time are available for applicants demonstrating a significant record of free-lance journalism."

If we can't get special permission, we're considering contacting BBC, Reuters, AFP, EFE, CNN, etc., to see if they could use some stringers in Cuba, work under their aegis, and film the doc in-between assignments.

I'll e-mail you off-list, Mark.


Brian Boyko
Tue 14 Jul 2009Link

In reply to John Burgan's post on Tue 14 Jul 2009 :

Cool – I didn't notice I was promoted in my absence!


Brian Boyko
Sun 19 Jul 2009Link

Just a quick update: We had our meeting this afternoon with everyone on board. The producers didn't consider all the problems that we might have, and when I spelled them out, they realized that there was no way that they could pull off the movie with a reasonable chance of success at this time.

However, we quickly moved onto our secondary project, which will likely be an examination of Tango in Argentina.


Mark Barroso
Tue 21 Jul 2009Link

I would love to meet the performers who pass the examination. Take me with you.


George Bahash
Wed 22 Jul 2009Link

I am wondering about the best way to approach people or organizations I want to interview. what are the pros and cons of showing unannounced versus trying to get an appointment. my questions are not intended to be confrontational. thanks.


Mark Barroso
Sun 26 Jul 2009Link

Unannounced is synonymous with ambush interviews. News people do this when they intentionally want to make people look bad. Making appointments is considered civilized and professional.


J. Christian Jensen
Tue 28 Jul 2009Link

COMPARABLE FILMS DATA

Hey folks, I'm a young producer in the development stage of a documentary and I'm trying to get some data on comparable films for budget projection (DVD sales, Rentals, Negative Costs, P&A Costs, Domestic and Foreign TV, etc.) Are there any places that have this kind of information at a reasonable price? Anywhere that specializes in the more obscure documentary titles?


James Longley
Tue 28 Jul 2009Link

You're asking about a wide range of data that is unlikely to be covered by a single source.
On the one hand you have production and post production costs, on the other you have projected revenue streams. Very different stuff.
About costs of filmmaking – these are roughly quantifiable. About revenues – these are much harder to know and depend very much on your film and all sorts of variables in the way it's made and released that you can't easily predict.
Suffice it to say that if you structure the project around the distinct possibility that your film will never be profitable, you are unlikely to be disappointed.


J. Christian Jensen
Tue 28 Jul 2009Link

Thanks James,

Ha ha, yeah we're well prepared for that un-profitability possibility, but the donors/investors would like to at least see what's been achieved with other similar films.

Obviously there's BoxOfficeMojo for theatrical grosses. I know that Baseline Research (http://www.blssresearch.com/) sells other data:

- $20 a title (negative costs, P&A, rentals, & video units and gross)
- $50 a title (for expanded domestic and foreign TV)
- $70 for ROI reports

They have a pretty sparse selection of documentaries though. I just wondered if some company specialized in this kind of data for documentaries or smaller indie pics, but I guess not.

Fortunately, my particular film has some elements of marketability as well as some social objectives that might make it more interesting to donors interested in mideast peace and not in profit.

On that note, have any of you social issues filmmakers heard of L3C legal status?


Laura Moire Paglin
Tue 28 Jul 2009Link

Unless you're proposing a reality TV like scenario (eg Supersize Me), I don't suggest going the investor route. You'll have to pay an attorney just to draw up the LLC and PPM – unless you already have an investor ready to throw in $100,000. Even if your film has some marketable elements, that by no means, indicates that it will be commercially profitable.


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