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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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Ramona Diaz
Thu 29 Oct 2009Link

Stanford – I'm an alum. You can emal me offline and I'll give you the lowdown. Are you from the Philippines? cinediaz2000@gmail.com


Doug Block
Thu 29 Oct 2009Link

Magee, you might want to consider The School of Visual Arts in New York City. They have a new MFA program in documentary that I hear very good things about.


Christopher Wong
Thu 29 Oct 2009Link

stanford and berkeley come to mind as the top grad schools for documentary production. ucla is also quite good, but it provides the extra benefit of giving you exposure to fiction narrative production as well. (if you are a CA resident, ucla would also be substantially cheaper than a program like stanford)


Magee Clegg
Thu 29 Oct 2009Link

Thanks for responding! I will check that out. If anyone else has anymore ideas, I would love to hear from you.


Erica Ginsberg
Fri 30 Oct 2009Link

I'm an alum of American University in Washington DC. It is not specifically a documentary program but, since non-fiction is the bread and butter of the area, the majority of the students are focused on documentary. I can't say how it compares academically or artistically to the other aforementioned universities, but it does position you firmly in the real world of actually finding work in the industry.

Edited Fri 30 Oct 2009 by Erica Ginsberg

Diane Johnson
Tue 3 Nov 2009Link

Is there an experienced line producer that can send me sample budgets of a documentary – I would really appreciate it, I know that budgets vary depending on different elements, but I just need detailed budget to look at.

nycproducer212@gmail.com is my email

Thanks in advance!


Daniel McGuire
Tue 10 Nov 2009Link

In reply to J. Christian Jensen's post on Tue 4 Aug 2009 :
An MA won't help you get much in getting work in academia – A doctorate in Communications or Art Hist Concentration Film Studies would. To teach filmmaking then an MFA is considered the terminal degree – so that is more useful than an MA. That being said, going into debt for 100k or so to get a degree should be questioned in this day and age – better to use that money to make a couple of good films.


Arjuna Krishnaratne
Wed 11 Nov 2009Link

Hi this is Krishna from Sri Lanka. Can some one help me to find out an online course in documentary film making. Please.


Ginger Rose Lee
Wed 11 Nov 2009Link

hi there – i am doing two different series – one is a set of one on one interviews, the other is trailing a team of people for a day. it's for a great idea but i have no documentary filmmaking experience, so i was going to hire film students to do it – or have them do it for deferred pay as i have no money. for the one on one interviews, i dont need anything fancy, right? i just need someone who has shot interviews, with a camera and lighting adn sound kit? these are going to be aired on the web – tey're sort of long. what sort of camera should i ask that they have? i'm clueless, please help! thanks


Ginger Rose Lee
Wed 11 Nov 2009Link

and also for the part where they are trailing a team of people, should i hire more than one camera person? that could get tricky...


Christopher Wong
Wed 11 Nov 2009Link

tackling second question first... if you and your crew have little to no experience with documentary filmmaking, you should definitely limit yourself to one camera only. you don't want to be worrying about shooting from the wrong side (it's called "crossing the line" and results in major difficulties when it comes time to edit), and you also don't want to have to avoid being in the way of the other camera(s).


Christopher Wong
Wed 11 Nov 2009Link

as for the 1-on-1 web interviews, it sounds like you just need basic lighting and framing, nothing tricky or especially artistic about your setup. so, yes, just find someone with a lighting kit (2 or 3 lights should do) and a basic DV camera. you can use HD if you want to, but it's not necessary for the web.

by the way, hiring film students to do work for you on a deferred pay basis is a difficult proposition. film students are not known for being extremely reliable, and if they are not being paid, you never know what you're going to get. if i were you, i wouldn't even promise deferred pay – i would just sell the project on its own merits, and hope that whoever wants to do it just needs the experience. good luck.


Joanna Arnow
Wed 11 Nov 2009Link

Hi Ginger, it might be difficult to find students who have their own cameras, lighting and sound kit so I would start out by seeing what you get. But in terms of cameras try to find someone with a 3ccd camera that has manual modes. Also, try to find someone with a lavalier microphone. And if someone doesn't have lighting or sound you could try renting from DCTV (downtown community television center)--they have pretty reasonable prices. If you're following people for a whole day, I think you'd get a lot of footage with one camera and be able to follow the action but it really depends on how much is going to be happening in your event, and how much material you need for this series. Good luck!


Ginger Rose Lee
Wed 11 Nov 2009Link

wow, incredibly fast responses! you know what, they dont even have to be students – i'll just post on mandy, but selling project on merits & for their film reel is a good idea. so is renting from dctc, thanks! so no one will notice quality difference between dv and hd camera? i know nothing! thanks


Ted Fisher
Wed 11 Nov 2009Link

In reply to Ginger Rose Lee's post on Wed 11 Nov 2009 :

Hi Ginger,

I do have one recommendation: when you set up the interviews, consider what sort of shot you can gather that could be used to cut away to or to otherwise allow your editor to break up long sections of the interview. There are many possibilities: b-roll shot outside the interview, or detail shots taken at the time of the interview, for example. But definitely find something that will give your editor reasonable options when they are editing the interview. Ideally, you'd like to have the option of shortening, clarifying or repairing parts of the interview, so get those shots that will allow you to "cover" the editing.

Edited Wed 11 Nov 2009 by Ted Fisher

Joanna Arnow
Wed 11 Nov 2009Link

Okay, and now my own question. I've been doing a lot of handheld camera and my wrist starts hurting soon into shooting. It didn't used to do this, and I've been wondering if people wear wrist braces during or after shooting? It feels strained.


Ginger Rose Lee
Wed 11 Nov 2009Link

also is there a program where i could get an actual mentor, like an old documentary pro, to help me? it's a real do-gooder project. i dont know if ifp and similar organizations offer stuff like that...i just want to make sure i do this right!


Ginger Rose Lee
Wed 11 Nov 2009Link

thanks ted! GREAT suggestion. is there a place to get free b roll? god you guys are awesome!


Ginger Rose Lee
Wed 11 Nov 2009Link

i meant b-roll – not the type you mention of things happening during or immediately preceding interview, but like b-roll of related actions that the subject is talking about...


Ginger Rose Lee
Wed 11 Nov 2009Link

oh, another thing – compensation for subjects. this section of the series i'm asking about is the interview section (not really a documentary sectopm). let's say i'm interviewing a famous woodworker who is also going to spend a large portion doing a demo of his work to show you how to do it. he gets to publicize his own site and name in agreeing to be interviewed – but is it standard to offer these people compensation? my site will be ad supported, i dont think i will charge people to use it, but it will be a for profit company. thanks so much for your help!


Christopher Wong
Wed 11 Nov 2009Link

ginger, it sounds like you are really starting from the beginning on this... i would recommend that you do a quick read of Michael Rabiger's book called "Directing the Documentary". it will get you up to speed very quickly. also, it wouldn't hurt to watch a few docs from the library: Hoop Dreams, Fog of War, Salesman, Capturing the Friedmans, etc.


Doug Block
Wed 11 Nov 2009Link

Joanna, given that you're a Member, no need for you to ask questions here. This is for newbies like Ginger. And nice to see you taking advantage, Ginger.

Arjuna, you're a Member, as well, so you should take your question to the Teaching Docs topic. Believe me, many more folks here will see it there.


Joanna Arnow
Wed 11 Nov 2009Link

ah, I thought I'd better ask here because the working pros sound like they have wrists of steel, but I'll try a different topic...


Doug Block
Thu 12 Nov 2009Link

Naaahh, we're all softies here. Try us.


Tony Mohareb
Fri 13 Nov 2009Link

In general, do the docs we see nominated for Oscars have distributors prior to festival attendance or are they picked up at the festival?


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