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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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Maranatha Hay
Tue 2 Mar 2010Link

Can I run the idea by you and see if it grabs you and is good enough to start poking around or shooting? I'd really, really, really appreciate your thoughts on the idea.


Doug Block
Tue 2 Mar 2010Link

Sure thing, Maranatha (sorry for dropping an "a" last time). But lets do it in the Works In Progress topic where everyone will see it and get to weigh in.


Daniel Sharon
Sat 13 Mar 2010Link

Hi all,
I wanted to see if anyone had any suggestions for me. I absolutely love documentary film and am trying to put myself in a position to learn more about this passion. However, I work full time to pay the bills and the jobs / internships I have found conflict with my Monday through Friday work schedule. How can I find something with a flexible schedule that will allow to pursue my dream without going broke?


Christopher Wong
Sat 13 Mar 2010Link

daniel, if you are in the beginning stages of exploring documentary film, there are two very low-cost and time-flexible ways to do this. first, you can read a book about it – Michael Rabiger's Directing the Documentary is probably the best one out there. second, you can watch a lot of documentary films. you've probably already seen many docs, but try watching them not just for the story, but try imagining what the director or camera person is doing when you're watching a certain scene. try to think of what questions were asked to elicit a subject's response. try to imagine what footage the editor had to choose from when constructing the scene. all these things will help you to start thinking like a documentary filmmaker.


Erica Ginsberg
Sun 14 Mar 2010Link

Daniel, I agree with Chris that it should not be difficult to learn about documentary from reading Rabiger's book and immersing yourself in documentaries. However, it is also important to get some practical experience. If you are not ready to give up a dayjob to get some hands-on experience as an intern or production assistant, I would suggest signing up for a class which works with your schedule. It doesn't have to be at a university. It could be at a community media center such as DCTV or a public access television station.

Networking is also a key part. Since you work in another field, there may be a skill you bring from that field that could be beneficial to a documentary filmmaker and might be a means for barter or at least doing some internship-like work which could fit around your schedule. For example, perhaps you do a lot of writing or editing – you could potentially offer to review a filmmaker's proposal. Or you are a numbers guy and could help a filmmaker develop a budget (and learn about documentary budgeting in the process). Or you are willing to work as a PA for lunch on a documentary shoot which might happen on a weekend.

There are many routes to becoming a documentary filmmaker or at least exploring if you want to become one without leaping off the cliff with no parachute.


Susheel Kurien
Tue 23 Mar 2010Link

Hi , I am in production on my documentary about the story of jazz in India. In addition to revealing the historical curve of jazz in India, it highlights the diaspora of African American jazz musicians (many from James Reese Europe's band) who came to India via Paris and Montmatre in the 1930's. My advisors include ethnomusicologists and jazz educators who feel that this film will be of interest to college libraries and jazz studies programs.

I need help understanding the size of this potential market (Colleges, libraries etc) from someone who is in the distribution business and understands this channel. Specifically I am trying to understand – how many potential targets might exist, cost of of sales and pricing etc in order to develop a reasonable assumption that I can use to support a proposal . Much appreciate any insights
thanks
SK

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yX0OH-t8WZY


Ben Kempas
Tue 23 Mar 2010Link

Susheel, please don't double-post, as we've already seen this in Marketing and Distribution . I know it got a bit lost there in the middle of a longer conversation. But it's also such a niche question that I'm not sure we were in a position to answer it.

You might just want to search for other films on jazz and then contact their respective distributors individually.


Terri Hems Anderson
Thu 25 Mar 2010Link

Hi guys,
This is my first post so I'm not sure if I'm doing this right but I shall give it a go! I'm currently planning a documentary that I wish to pitch as my graduation film from university. I have – I think – a good idea that needs a little work but hopefully will stand a chance at getting picked. The only problem is my subject is based in California and I'm in London. Although I plan to go several times before I shoot I think it is vital that I have a researcher over there to keep on top of things. Just wondering if anyone can offer me some advice on where to start looking for one? I mean I can't really afford to pay anyone other than expenses and obviously credit within the film. Would it be a good idea to approach film schools in the area for example?
Like I said, I'm not sure if you will be able to help me on this at all, but any advice will be greatly appreciated...before I start to panic!
Thanks


Ben Kempas
Thu 25 Mar 2010Link

California is huge. Where exactly?


Terri Hems Anderson
Fri 26 Mar 2010Link

Good point. Sorry.
Well one part of my doc will be shot near San Quentin


Ben Kempas
Fri 26 Mar 2010Link

Is it related to that prison?

Tbe Bay Area Video Coalition might be a good starting point to find someone locally who's young and hungry. :-)

Edited Fri 26 Mar 2010 by Ben Kempas

Tom Folkes
Fri 26 Mar 2010Link

Hi,
I have developed a free AI research tool. www.alexlib.info. It is currently being used by people on Wall Street and investigate reporters. After speaking with a producer at National Geo it occurred to me that it would be a great tool for documentary filmmakers. It is fairly similar to Google Squared in the way that it functions. I was wondering what might be a good method of introducing it to film makers?


Ben Kempas
Fri 26 Mar 2010Link

I went to the site but couldn't figure out how to use it. Could you elaborate...?


Terri Hems Anderson
Fri 26 Mar 2010Link

Ok, thanks for that Ben. It is related to the prison yes. The website looks promising, will go and check it out properly now. Fingers crossed!


Phil Dorman
Sun 4 Apr 2010Link

OK well here goes, HI !
Yes a newbie to all this.
My plan goes like this:-
I was describing a trip I am about to make to someone who immediately said "You should film that".
And I thought "Yeah I would watch that for sure"
But then the doubts creep in as they should and I start thinking of all the problems ....
So I call a friend with years of experience in the film industry, describe it and ask for his thoughts. "Awesome can I come..."
So I phone another friend in the film business in the field of interest and his response is "Mad if you don't ..."

So maybe It's not such a bad idea.
Basically part a road trip through the Australian Outback in my 1929 International truck. Open cab, No doors etc. See attached pic.
And the other part visiting some major truck and tractor/machinery shows on the way and interviewing the owners/restorers of various interesting vehicles.
Not everyone's cup of tea but there have been some big time successes in the field. Check out "The Back of Beyond" from 1954 and of course recently "Long way Round" etc

So, Question is what do you all think about it ?

Oh, I have no experience with filming or presentation or marketing film. But am good at learning stuff. Taught myself to be a software developer so can learn this eh ?


John Burgan
Sun 4 Apr 2010Link

Back of Beyond is a classic, Phil – what route will your journey take you?

Edited Sun 4 Apr 2010 by John Burgan

Phil Dorman
Sun 4 Apr 2010Link

Thanks John,
From home in Hunter Valley NSW drive to Dubbo for truck and tractor show (lots of footage and interviews there) then leave truck there for transport to Alice Springs via Road Train. Then fly to Alice at the end of August for the Road Transport Museum by annual event (again lots of footage and interviews there) then drive north alone to Tennant Creek then East to Charleville etc and back to the Hunter.
The drive back at least two weeks camping in the bush along the way.
Are you also familiar with a show called "Bush Mechanics" as I'm sure there will be breakdowns and fixits to include.


Doug Block
Mon 5 Apr 2010Link

I say why not, Phil? Sure to be an adventure, no matter what. Teach yourself to shoot, practice a lot, have fun.


Marina Pessoa
Mon 5 Apr 2010Link

Hi,

I'm shootin a small documentary film and I would like some indications:
in Lima Peru, I need an indication to a driver with a van, and the procedures to film Lima and Arequipa.

in US – I'm shooting in Lapeer, MI and Olympia, WA. I'd like to know if is necessary a Film Permit to shoot in this cities and a Temporary Importation to enter the USA with the equipments

Thanks for all


Lucia Duncan
Tue 6 Apr 2010Link

In reply to Marina Pessoa's post on Mon 5 Apr 2010 :

There are some cities in the U.S. where legally you need a permit to shoot, but depending on what you're shooting you can generally get away without having one. And unless you're bringing tons of equipment, don't think you'd need any special permission.


Peter Brauer
Tue 6 Apr 2010Link

basically every US city has different rules. I would say NYC and LA have the hardest rules, because there is so much shot there. Small American cities are generally very easy to shoot in with out permission. There may be exceptions, but generally this is the case.


Stephanie Caruso
Fri 9 Apr 2010Link

Hi,

I'm trying to put together my reel & create a website. Any suggestions?


Peter Brauer
Fri 9 Apr 2010Link

Just do it. And use wordpress for your web page so you can update it easily. Other then that, do you have any specific questions?


Stephanie Caruso
Fri 9 Apr 2010Link

any dos or don'ts in putting together the reel?


Tom Dziedzic
Fri 9 Apr 2010Link

Create your own YouTube or Vimeo channel and post your reel there, would be my suggestion


Cianna Stewart
Sun 11 Apr 2010Link

Stephanie – Any guidelines for reels and sites are not really universally true for all people in all fields. Take a look at the websites of people who are doing the kind of work you want to do. Look at a lot of them. Take notes. Pay attention to what grabs your attention, what irritates you, what you find easy to remember. Base your own reel and site design off what you discover that you like and what you think communicates what you want people to understand about you.


Stephanie Caruso
Sun 11 Apr 2010Link

In reply to Cianna Stewart's post on Sun 11 Apr 2010 :

thank you!


Cianna Stewart
Sun 11 Apr 2010Link

You're welcome! And: have fun.


iLan Azoulai
Mon 12 Apr 2010Link

Hi All,

I am in the process of my first documentary about the aftermath of sex slavery into Israel and the resulting effects on two women as they're trying to regain their family rights and social status after they have suffered the consequences of sex slavery.

i am at the phase where i need to "attach" someone to this project, advise, and an editor to put a short trailer for this. i am in the place where i need to start get funding for the project as all the trips thus far (and the continued trip at the end of the month) are personal investments. I am looking to build a "core" team that will live throughout the project and the success of the storytelling will be everyone's.

So, help will be greatly appreciated in the following:

  • Advisory and attachment to the project (for the purpose of fiscal sponsorship and grant applications)
  • Editor
  • Raising money methods and/or channels

in addition, since this is my first indie project, any suggestions, comments, help, would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks


John Norby
Mon 12 Apr 2010Link

Hi there!

I have a few ideas plotted out for documentaries and I'm soon planning to embark on the journey of putting everything together to actually make the film. I am very new to this, though. Despite having read multiple sources about making documentaries, I can't seem to find anything that tells me how to go about the initial stages of getting things going. To give you an idea, this is exactly where I'm at now:

I have an idea for a documentary. It involves some travel. I have the premise and the subject matter planned out, so now it's a matter of knowing where to go from there. Do I put a proposal to a production company or television station? Or do I try to assemble a team of my own first of all? Basically, I just need to know the best route – from a writer's perspective – to getting a documentary made from the intial idea.

This is the path I have chosen for myself. I am 100% dedicated to making this work and to becoming a filmmaker/documentarian. Any suggestions or help would be most welcome.

Thanks so much in advance,
John


Christopher Wong
Mon 12 Apr 2010Link

ilan, if you haven't already, watch a whole bunch of documentaries (perhaps even on similar social issues as yours), and contact one of the producers of a film that you really like. tell them about your project and you just might be able to bring them aboard as an Executive Producer. (of course, make sure that they are not just a "name", but that they can actually do something tangible for your project.)

documentary producers/directors are ridiculously easy to contact (compared to their counterparts in the fiction world). for my last project, i contacted Davis Guggenheim out of the blue, and ended up having an hour-long, face-to-face conversation with him at his office. he didn't end up being my EP, but you just never know.


iLan Azoulai
Mon 12 Apr 2010Link

Thanks Christopher,

i do watch quiet a bit, but it's never enough.
since you mentioned that it's ridiculously easy to contact documentarians, is there a way to contact you outside of this forum? :)

Cheers

iLan

Edited Mon 12 Apr 2010 by iLan Azoulai

Doug Block
Mon 12 Apr 2010Link

iLan, you can get someone's email address here by clicking on their profile (their name and photo link to it). We just ask that you not abuse it by spamming members.


Christopher Wong
Mon 12 Apr 2010Link

sure, ilan. just put a call into my publicist. she will then refer you to my masseuse who will then text a message to my therapist. and if i'm not in session, then maybe i'll call you back...

just kidding, of course! yes, just email me anytime. if you want to talk over the phone, we can easily set that up too.


Tina Flemmerer
Tue 13 Apr 2010Link

Hi I was wondering if any of you have a contact with the German TV channel ARD for securing the rights to some archival footage.

Edited Tue 13 Apr 2010 by Tina Flemmerer

Kaoru Wang
Fri 16 Apr 2010Link

Hi! I'm a first time documentary filmmaker and was hoping to get some examples of grant applications that have been funded. I'm applying for a grant and I'm not sure how to answer questions in regards to my plans for distribution aside from a hybrid DIY and film festival strategy. I'm more familiar with the online DIY side of things but am not sure about which festivals and networks I should be aiming towards.

In addition I'm unsure about how to address visual approach and special ways to shoot interviews that lends itself to the topic. If I can get some examples, that would be so useful. Thanks!

By the way, the logline of the film is: when a society is being educated for a world that doesn't exist,
can a young college grad find the rebirth of education within "The Killer App?"


michael gatti
Sat 17 Apr 2010Link

Hi, I am making a documentary about retail and the horrors of customer service and I am just having the damndest time with finding someone or some group to give me a lil funding money. Shooting is going well, I have gotten a lot of footage that I need. But the funding is important so I can buy some stock footage that would help me out.


Doug Block
Sat 17 Apr 2010Link

michael, you know the old time/money/quality equation, right? you can get two of the three. so given that it's gonna be great, be prepared that it will take a long time. just hang in there.


jade wu
Sun 18 Apr 2010Link

In reply to Kaoru Wang's post on Fri 16 Apr 2010 :

Kaoru, as I had mentioned before you went to Sundance, you have a great idea and how you tell the story is more important than getting grant app samples. If you can mold a compelling story, the grant will come. How you write a grant for your app will be different from someone else's project. I'd focus on galvanizing the story and be innovative on your distribution strategy. Most of us are still swimming in DIY confusion, so if you think you have a handle on it already, then write it down. I also think your logline is still too vague. I think "Society" and "a world that doesn't exist" are too general. Once you get a better handle on your story, then the logline will be easier to write. Mostly, funding takes time. We all get rejected, sometimes multiple times, before landing funding. If your heart is in the story, it'll get done, with or without, funding.


Ethan Steinman
Wed 21 Apr 2010Link

In reply to Marina Pessoa's post on Mon 5 Apr 2010 :

Marina, in Lima and Arequipa you don't need to bother with permits unless you're looking to film in a national park. The Peruvian national parks usually ask for between US$ 500 and US$ 1,000 a day. If you are in that situation, get in touch with the park beforehand as there is almost always a way of working around these fees. As for a van driver in Lima, unless you are planning on setting up to shoot from the van, you're best off just using taxis. You will never be without one in Perú.


Elayne McCabe
Wed 21 Apr 2010Link

Hi, I am currently directing a documentary film on the Indian side of Kashmir on local artists in the aftermath of the conflict. I was wondering if any filmmakers had any fool-proof methods to list and organize Mini-DV tapes and also to import and organize footage on FCP? I feel like somtimes I don't know whether I am organizing things properly and in a useful manner for when I start to edit. Anyone have any tips?Thank you!


Mark Barroso
Thu 22 Apr 2010Link

You are smart to think about this now. It will save you a lot of frustration down the road. I don't know your level of knowledge, but make sure you number the tapes and change the "reel number" when digitizing so that the clips correspond with the tapes. Use the log notes or comment section since they are searchable. Name the clips by subject, date or however you want to organize your movie.

There are loads of tips out there, and I bought this DVD to get me started. It's pretty good, albeit overpriced, but I was desperate at the time.


Noam Osband
Sun 25 Apr 2010Link

I'm a PhD student who's a budding visual anthropologist/documentary filmmaking. I've saved up money for a camera, and I'd love some advice.

I've saved close to 10k for a camera. That being said, I won't be doing the bulk of my shooting for my dissertation for another 2-3 years. I'm tempted to spend around 2k for a camera now, save my money, and make the big splurge in 2-3 years time. I figure the technology will be better for the price if I wait.

Should I do that, what is a good camera in the 2k range? I'd love something with two audio inputs and something gives me multiple options for fps and something with a detachable lens. I'm guessing a 2/3rds chip is insanely greedy given my price range, although if it wasn't too much more or if people thought it was that much better, I'd think about it.

Any thoughts? I've been making movies for a year, so the world is still new to me, but I'm trying to learn as much as I can so any word of advice would be appreciated.


Jeffrey Radice
Sun 25 Apr 2010Link

In reply to Noam Osband's post on Sun 25 Apr 2010 :

Noam, my advice is to save your money until you are ready to make the big purchase. The technology landscape is changing so rapidly that postponing your purchase for 2-3 years until you need the gear will save you money and buy you significantly more product when you are finally ready to spend. If you must get your hands on something now I would suggest one of two routes.

(1) Get the Canon Rebel DSLR (T1I), and a decent lens or two for it, and start getting comfortable with the format and the shortcomings. That's what I would do if that money was burning a hole in my pocket. Then in a couple of years you can upgrade to the best bang for your buck equivalent to the 1D/5D/7D and you'll already be comfortable with the format and have lenses that fit your upgrade. You will not go wrong with DSLR as a format choice. The adoption rate there with filmmakers is phenomenal.

(2) Alternately, go low end and get a flip HD camera. It is small, cheap, and gives decent enough output. The advantages are that you are more likely to carry it with you, and it would not be obtrusive when you do break it out. This would allow you to cheaply spend the next couple of years getting comfortable busting out your video camera and thinking about shooting always. In my opinion, documentary is as much about the quality of the equipment as it is about the visual eye of the cinematographer and just being there with a camera shooting. This would allow you to spend a few years learning on the cheap and developing a visual eye, so when you are ready to spend more bucks you have developed a better sense of what your priorities are.

Also don't neglect sound in your budget. You'll need an external sound recorder and higher end mics, which means less to spend on a camera. If you did end up spending $10k on a setup, I'd recommend 60:40 ratio of spend on video to audio at least. Audio is far too neglected by new filmmakers, and it's at least half of your presentation in a film.

Edited Sun 25 Apr 2010 by Jeffrey Radice

Noam Osband
Tue 27 Apr 2010Link

I'm skeptical of the DSLR's because you can only shoot 12 minutes at a time. Similarly, the HD camera is way below what I want equipment-wise, both in terms of image quality, but far more importantly, sound. I'm hoping to find a camera that has XLR inputs. With that in mind, are there any cameras you can think of that do HD, have XLR inputs, and get good HD images in the 2-2.5k range?

thanks for the help!


Jeffrey Radice
Tue 27 Apr 2010Link

In reply to Noam Osband's post on Tue 27 Apr 2010 :

I was skeptical of the 12 minute limit too, but it's proven to be less of a practical concern than I anticipated. There is a long history (and workflows) for dealing with those types of issues ... super-8 and 16 both had carts with similar constraints. You are doing yourself a disservice ruling out the platform for that reason alone. Also, the Panasonic GH1 does not suffer from the exact same issue.

I don't know of anything that meets your criteria. Any camera in that price range, even if it has XLR in, is going to make audio sacrifices. You're better off with an external recorder and sync sound, using the camera for dual-system to make the sync easier in post.

Don't rule out a flip video camera either. If you spend the next two years indoctrinating yourself to bring the camera everywhere and to use it always and focusing on your technique, you'll get a lot more for a lot less – and you'll know exactly what you want/need when the time comes to buy the full setup. It's less about the gear and more about the mindset and "eye" than you might think.


Noam Osband
Wed 28 Apr 2010Link

Thanks for help with thinking about a camera. Some audio advice would be helpful too. Vis-a-vis audio, my thinking is that I'd like a shotgun mic, two wireless lavs, and a sound mixer. I'm thinking of a shotgun attached to the camera and not a boom pole because much, if not most, of the shooting I'll be doing in the near future will be a solo job.

A few questions then:
1 – In looking at a camera, should I only want something with XLR inputs or is something like a Beachtek sufficient if the camera has no XLR inputs

2 – Even if it does have XLR inputs, is an audio mixer a good idea? It seems from speaking with the people I've spoken to that it is.

3 – In many ways, what I buy depends on my budget which isn't yet set. I'm willing to spend a couple thousand on audio if it is that much of a step up from cheaper things, although I'm not planning on buying top of the line. I have no sense for how much better a $1,000 shotgun is from a $500. With that in mind, any recommendation for any of the audio equipment?

In terms of what I'm shooting, I'd like versatility. The longer project/dissertation is a documentary about migration to Arkansas which will include both individual interviews and crowd scenes at events. I'd love to have versatility with my equipment so I feel like I can have a decent chance at getting good sound no matter what I'm shooting.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated!!!!


Jeffrey Radice
Thu 29 Apr 2010Link

In reply to Noam Osband's post on Wed 28 Apr 2010 :

Noam, my best advice is find an audio geek local to you, pick their brain, and see if they can demonstrate the differences in quality of different pieces of gear to you.


Noam Osband
Mon 3 May 2010Link

So, I’ve been doing research all week on buying my first shooting setup, relying in part on the friendly advice from this site, and I think I’m close to making decisions and I figured I’d ask to see what people thought.

Camera:
Panasonic AG-HMC40 and its XLR adapter (I considered the Panasonic AGHMC70U, but reviews I read seemed to steer me in the other direction. Let me know if you disagree!)

I’m going to get a bunch of SDHC-6 cards. I have not heard any recommendations about brand.

Tripod:
Either the Manfrotto TRIREMOTEKIT Aluminum Video Tripod Kit or Manfrotto BO055XB503H 055XDB Pro Tripod with 503HDV Fluid Video Head. The first one has the ability to do remote panning and tilting, although I wonder if that’s a feature I’d ever use.

Audio equipment:
For a shotgun mic, I’m deciding between the Rode 2 or 3. I have the money for the 3, and I’m inclined to do so for that reason.

For wireless lavaliers, I’m thinking either Senn Evolution G3 100 wireless or the Sony UWP-V1. Both have been recommended to me.

I’m also tempted to bring around a handheld mic for interviews on the go, when I can’t wire someone with a lav. I’d use the shotgun on the camera and have them hold a handheld. In that case, I’m considering either buying a EV-RE50 or just using the Shure SM58 I have at home for music recording.

Regarding cables, are there any brands one recommends for XLR cables?

As for my work, I’m doing documentary work in rural Arkansas and will often be shooting solo, so I’m not going to get an audio mixer.

Regarding all of the above, I have more money to spend if someone thought I really should upgrade something. However, I’d just as soon not spend it so that I have money for more gear in the future. I’m planning on buying a much higher quality camera in about two and a half years, and any money I don’t spend now can go to that. I also think I'm going to buy new and look for used for peace of mind, although if someone thinks that's dumb, please don't hesitate in telling me so.

Thanks!


Andy Schocken
Mon 3 May 2010Link

Sennheiser G3 is solid- used on plenty of pro productions, which the Sony isn't. Get yourself some manicuring scissors and moleskin, and do a little research to learn how to best mount the lav- that will make a bigger impact on your sound than the choice of brand. Wouldn't recommend having subjects hold a mic. If you don't have time to place a lav, just get your Rode on-cam mic as close as possible (keeping in mind the pickup pattern of the mic) and try to find the quietest place nearby. You'll probably need a sound-isolating shock mount for your Rode or you'll hear camera handling noise and possibly lens noise. And you'll need wind protection for it if you'll be shooting outside- get something like this that fits your mic. Turn off auto gain control on your cam and set levels manually.

D-word can help with tech stuff, but is better suited for creative issues. You'll find more detailed tech advice at a place like dvinfo or dvxuser. Good luck, and come back and post some of your work when you're ready!


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