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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
Wed 11 Aug 2010Link

Welcome aboard, Judy. If it's Sundance we're talking about, I'd submit your best version RIGHT NOW. You're at a huge advantage getting something to them earlier rather than later and I'm sure they'll see how great your film is even if it's not fully finished (full disclosure: I moderated a DocuClub work-in-progress screening of Judy's film, so I know firsthand).

By the way, the Mentoring Room is pretty much for non-members. As a full member, this kind of question should go in our Festivals topic.


Doug Block
Wed 11 Aug 2010Link

In reply to Seth Shire's post on Fri 6 Aug 2010 :

Likewise, Seth, the reason you might not be getting any replies is the technical folks generally don't hang around the Mentoring Room. As a member, you're better off posting in the Editing topic.


Judy Lieff
Wed 11 Aug 2010Link

In reply to Doug Block's post on Wed 11 Aug 2010 :
Hi Doug,

I couldn't locate the Festivals topic last night – probably due to the fact that it was close to 2am!
Thanks for your note. We've locked picture but I wanted to get the sound in better shape before submitting. Festivals like Sundance are swamped with submissions – do you think it's helpful to know a programmer in instances like this?

Cheers,
Judy


John Burgan
Wed 11 Aug 2010Link

(no need to "sign" your posts – they are already identified by your name and photo, if you have uploaded one.)


Christopher Wong
Wed 11 Aug 2010Link

judy,
when submitting to sundance, EVERYTHING is important... but great sound quality is probably the least crucial. i agree with doug – if your picture is locked, then get the submission into them now.

the best course is to proceed as such:
1) Get a good publicist (e.g. David Magdael, etc.)
2) Have your publicist send out a feeler to one of the programmers (e.g. David Courier)
3) Submit your cut
4) Have publicist follow up soon after

Early bird (with publicist) gets the worm!


Dean Hamer
Thu 12 Aug 2010Link

In reply to Judy Lieff's post on Wed 11 Aug 2010 05:50 UTC :
If you get into an "A" festival you'll be able to find a good publicist – plus the festival itself will probably have a really good person on board, and if the newspapers like you're film they will cover it. It's not surprising that a publicist told you to "buy early while supplies last"! What I would like to find is a publicist who works on a contingency fee; this much if you get a feature in the NYT, that much for a review in Variety, etc.


Robert Goodman
Fri 13 Aug 2010Link

That's never going to happen. If you find a publicist who'd agree to that arrangement, I'd run the other way. Variety reviews every film shown in competition at A-list festivals though the reviews may take months to appear. They also review films that appear likely to gain distribution.


Bill Jackson
Mon 23 Aug 2010Link

In reply to Judy Lieff's post on Wed 11 Aug 2010 :

I may be able to help you with the sound, quickly, if you haven't wrapped post production yet.


Sanford Lewis
Tue 7 Sep 2010Link

I am a new user of the site. Apologies if this question is already discussed somewhere on this site – I couldn't find it easily.

I am working on a feature length documentary related to dance and personal growth, for theatrical or broadcast release. My immediate question and quandary has to do with the degree to which I may undermine the ultimate product if I do incremental releases of related products (using some of the footage, for a different audience) prior to completion. It occurs to me that a lot of the footage that I am gathering will be of interest to the specialized audience of dancers who understand this form, and that this audience is different from the broader audience I hope to reach with the end product. So I am thinking about producing and releasing some products in the interim, either through digital download or DVD sales prior to completing the final film. One thing that will distinguished the final film is that there will be a core story arc completely different from the prior releases; also I envision a much broader audience rather than the specialized audience of the prior releases. This is partly an interim funding strategy, partly about creating buzz, and partly just a way of mitigating the artistic frustration of wanting to share footage with the smaller community that will most easily "get" it.

Questions:
- Is this a bad idea?
- How much (or in what circumstances) would this undermine entering the final film in film festivals?
- What are the things I need to avoid?
- Though it would complicate things, and not be 100%, would it be advisable to make a general practice of designating specific clips EITHER for the final film or the interim products but not both?
- Is there a discussion of this dilemma/strategy somewhere on the D-Word site already?


Dale Thompson
Fri 10 Sep 2010Link

I'm writing out some one page treatments this weekend and wanted to know if there's any specific font I should use for them. I know Courier is the traditional font for screenplays but does this also apply to treatments?

TIA,
Dale


Marj Safinia
Fri 10 Sep 2010Link

No. I would just try and avoid comic sans :)


Josh Rose
Mon 13 Sep 2010Link

Does a documentary live and die by its subject?


Doug Block
Mon 13 Sep 2010Link

No. Helps, though.


Rick Dillwood
Wed 15 Sep 2010Link

Anybody out there recording their own voiceover? Got any microphone recommendations?

I'm a film student and my current set-up (basic though it may be) is a Shure SM57 straight into GarageBand. And I know it isn't ideal, but it's what I've got.

But sometimes a person might be in a position to upgrade. I'm just looking for a good vocal mic. Something in the $200-$400 range.

And if this isn't where a person should post these kinds of questions, I promise to slap my own wrist--just say the word.


Bill Jackson
Wed 15 Sep 2010Link

In that price range, a Heil PR-40 will give you a nice, fat, clean sound. Much more pleasant than the 57. And, unlike condensors, will be less likely to pick up extraneous sounds, like nearby traffic, since I'm assuming you are recording at your home.


Bill Jackson
Wed 15 Sep 2010Link

But, if you need a USB microphone, check out the Shure PG42SUB.


Bill Jackson
Thu 16 Sep 2010Link

In reply to Rick Dillwood's post on Wed 15 Sep 2010 :

That should have been Shure PG42USB.


W. James Meagher
Thu 16 Sep 2010Link

In reply to Rick Dillwood's post on Thu 16 Sep 2010 :

I know it doesn't cost as much as your target price, but I've had great results with the inexpensive and easy to use Samson CO1U USB mic.

If you want to save some of that $200 – $400.


W. James Meagher
Thu 16 Sep 2010Link

Quick (not really) question about union dancers in documentaries . . .

I have an extremely small budget to shoot a little documentary about a Canadian ballet company traveling to Israel for the first time since 1975 and Jordan for the first time ever. The logistics of taking an entire ballet company from Winnipeg to the Middle East is quite something . . . as is the financial gamble of such tours for the company.

I have permission from the company to document the tour. The ballet company itself is in no way funding the doc.

Here's where it gets sticky. The dancers at the company are all very eager to participate, but they are all members of The Canadian Actor's Equity Association. Whenever it comes to the dancers being on film the Equity Association's contract defers to ACTRA.

My interest is to document this tour from the point of view of those who are running the show and the dancers who are performing. After a brief conversation with my local ACTRA office this morning I can tell that this isn't going to be easy.

I don't need or intend on having a lot of footage of the dancers actually performing in the ballets they are touring. I am more interested in what goes on behind the scenes . . . For example, while we are there a joint Israeli/Palestinian community centre is being opened and some of the dancers are going to give some free classes to the children there. The dancers would like me to cover this. I would like to cover this. I think ACTRA and Equity is going to want me to pay for this.

I don't have the money to put a company of 28 dancers on ACTRA rates for 3 weeks . . . nor do I feel I would be making a documentary if I did.

Has anyone here ever navigated these sorts of waters before? If so, any advice would be hugely appreciated. Or I might just end up making a documentary about Bob the Production Manager who is in charge of all the lighting and sets and carnets and customs and all of that fun stuff.

Cheers,
James

Edited Thu 16 Sep 2010 by W. James Meagher

John Burgan
Thu 16 Sep 2010Link

This is crazy, James. Firstly it's commonly-held assumption that a "documentary film" is synonymous with Hollywood and that the filmmaker is making a pile of money off the people who appear in it. Reality check: the vast majority of documentaries do not make a profit, barely break even if they are lucky. Secondly, unless someone is being asked to perform specially for the film, or an expert is being asked to do some particular research, it is not normal practice to pay those who appear in documentaries. There may be a very small, nominal fee paid to interviewees, but this is mostly symbolic and connected to a release form.

The way you explain your project makes it clear (a) that the dancers are going on tour at the behest of the company, not at your command (b) they are more than willing for you to document them. This is a good start. It seems that the problem lies with the local union office who are almost certainly in the grip of the Hollywood illusion cited above.

Firstly, with the performers agreement, you probably need to go over the heads of the local office and negotiate directly with ACTRA's head office. A brief google (= documentary!) on their website revealed the following clause (below) of a draft agreement with the NFB which seems the right direction for you to explore, especially as the alternative would seem to be abandoning your film entirely. Explain that you're not making a "for profit" concert film but focusing on the work with the children etc.

A2307 Waiver of Minimum fee for Documentary A Performer may voluntarily consent to waive his minimum fee for the inclusion of a performance, interview, or appearance in a Documentary Program, the subject of which is "the making of" the Production in which the Performer has been engaged.

http://www.actra.ca/main/wp-content/uploads/OA-2008-2011-National-Film-Board-Agreement.pdf

Finally, I should point out that I am NOT A LAWYER and that you should make sure you have rock solid legal advice before proceeding with your film.

Fingers crossed that it all works out – keep us posted.

Edited Thu 16 Sep 2010 by John Burgan

W. James Meagher
Fri 17 Sep 2010Link

Wow John! What a great find!

Thanks for digging into this a bit. I think you've definitely found something here that I can use as a jumping off point for my future negotiations. This was a wonderful post to wake up to!

Cheers,
James


John Burgan
Fri 17 Sep 2010Link

Well I had a few minutes spare and felt like helping out – The D-Word can't always promise to offer this level of service, though!

For future searches, you could try this ;-)

(PS you don't need to add your name at the end of your post – it's already there at the top)


W. James Meagher
Fri 17 Sep 2010Link

Oh John . . . That hurts!

Not only have I googled ACTRA documentary, but I've taken the current ACTRA agreement to bed with me three nights running. My hat goes off to you though for finding this gem in minutes where I failed for days.


John Burgan
Fri 17 Sep 2010Link

It's true – finding things can be a real needle in a haystack sometimes.

The main thing is that this temporary setback doesn't present an insurmountable obstacle.


Manoj Raj Pandey
Sun 19 Sep 2010Link

Now am involve in a documentary about labour.
In this documentary I want to follow the life and working state of several workers and try to explore the real condition behind them. I want to look into with camera life of the labors of different sector and level and the reason for their dissatisfaction and possible some remedy on how this could be changed.

This will be a film about their problems and finding the solution from within them.

AS always am very much confusing about its structure.I have very much confusion about editing.So, Seeking help from senior.

Edited Sun 19 Sep 2010 by Manoj Raj Pandey

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