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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
Tue 14 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
Thu 16 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
Thu 16 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
Fri 17 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 Fri 17 Sep 2010 by W. James Meagher

John Burgan
Fri 17 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 Fri 17 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

John Burgan
Sun 19 Sep 2010Link

How far have you got with the project, Manoj? Have you shot already?


Manoj Raj Pandey
Sun 19 Sep 2010Link

John, I have already shot it.Now am in editing stage.But am facing problem on structure.Seeking brilient idea.


John Burgan
Sun 19 Sep 2010Link

It sounds like you both shot and directed it and are planning to edit it as well, which may well be part of the problem. Is that the case? How much material do you have?


Doug Block
Sun 19 Sep 2010Link

Manoj, here in the U.S. we're all but required to make a fundraising sample before we begin editing our film, usually somewhere between 5 and 15 minutes. We complain like hell, but it actually forces us to think through our story and work out structural issues. And it's a great opportunity to get feedback from others.

Since you're a D-Word member, this discussion actually belongs in the Works in Progress topic (the Mentoring Room is saved for Enthusiasts who have very limited access to the topics). There you'll find many other examples of samples our members are making.


Manoj Raj Pandey
Mon 20 Sep 2010Link

In reply to John Burgan's post on Sun 19 Sep 2010 : John yes! I directed it and plan to edit myself.I have around 150 hour footage.


John Burgan
Mon 20 Sep 2010Link

As Doug suggests, let's take this discussion to the Works in Progress topic


Daria Khlestkina
Wed 22 Sep 2010Link

Hello! Maybe it's a bit an offtop, but I wouldn't know where else to ask it, except Mentoring room.
I'm thinking about applying for Documentary Campus Master-school and my question is: what does "self-presentation clip" means? Does it mean a video of myself telling smth about myself, or it should be a video clip of my works, or a trailer of the film with which I'm applying? If smb knows, I would appreciate the suggestions very much. Thanks in advance, Daria Khlestkina


Jo-Anne Velin
Wed 29 Sep 2010Link

In reply to W. James Meagher's post on Fri 17 Sep 2010 :

James, if you need peer support, Winnipeg should be good. Documentary Organisation of Canada (DOC) is an association of Doc professionals (in the main), that also does a lot of legislation-related lobbying (read: there are lawyers involved). http://docorg.ca/ and here's the link to the Winnipeg chapter http://docorg.ca/en/chapters/winnipeg/about-winnipeg-chapter .... Someone on that list, or known to them, will know to deal with this, what releases you'll need, and similar fiddly things. Nice subject (your film), by the way.


Maranatha Hay
Thu 14 Oct 2010Link

Hi all,

I put together this short doc called "Surgeon of Hope". It's about two children who undergo pediatric heart surgery in Nicaragua.

I would love some feedback and words of wisdom if anyone has a few minutes. I realize that it's already published, out and about, but I'd like to know if something should be done differently for future films? Is there anything I should try to work on?

http://www.viewchange.org/videos/surgeons-of-hope


Linda Wasson
Sun 24 Oct 2010Link

Hi and help please ...

I come from a still doc photo background so working with others on a film is a new experience – it does help I'm in a film grad program but still...

the film I'm working on now is literally exploding with support from the community it's involving – the formerly incarcerated – and is blowing me away with its potential. of course I'm thrilled but for whatever reason my dp is slacking off, breaking scheduled shoots, and generally mucking things up in a major way. he's also a student and I'm not really sure how to go about handling this. we had a good one-on-one the other nite and he assured me he's on board but then turned around and screwed up again the next nite.

I've just posted an ad for a new dp but am wondering if anyone has any words about this situation? I've tried to include him as much as possible in decisions and progress of what's going on – I don't think I'm being too difficult or anything like that – he seriously seems to be sabotaging himself.

comments? suggestions?


Jo-Anne Velin
Sun 24 Oct 2010Link

... polite but firm separation as soon as you find a reliable DP. Maybe he just needs a little more maturity, or has too much to do to meet his course obligations (?), but if the shooting involves protagonists and others, his unreliability bruises your reputation with them. We all know in the pro, freelance, competitive world, he wouldn't be given a second chance easily.


Linda Wasson
Sun 24 Oct 2010Link

Jo-Anne – since you're the first one to reply – ok – I'm going to ask the q I didn't before – is this also happening because I'm female?


Jo-Anne Velin
Sun 24 Oct 2010Link

I wouldn't want to comment, I don't know the situation first-hand.


Doug Block
Sun 24 Oct 2010Link

Linda, it really doesn't matter what the reason is. If he's not doing the job, find someone who will. There are many good, young, hungry DP's out there. Not to mention, highly professional and experienced ones.


Linda Wasson
Mon 25 Oct 2010Link

ahh Doug – I understand what you mean but every time I post on craig's the posts are flagged and removed since I can't pay anything but a credit and a dvd.

we had another long talk last nite. he's definitely overwhelmed w/the subject matter. it's very intense for both of us; he's from S. Africa and old enough to remember apartheid. I can't imagine what's going on in his mind right now.

I'm kinda stumped I think at the responses here. Yes, I understand he's not doing his job but at the same time, this is a creative industry and especially in social justice documentary, I would think people would be offering a bit more insight into how to practice what we preach. altho I have to say, I've met some documentary filmmakers who seemed more ready to jump on the social justice bandwagon for the status symbolism than they are ready to put it into actual practice.

Jo-Anne – your 2nd comment is exactly what I'm referring to.

I'm here in this industry because I want to make a difference – if I can't put this into practice myself then what's the point?

and before anyone accuses me of anything, I'm only being honest and trying to open up a frank discussion in the mentoring room because I was hoping others would help me become the kind of director that shows the same compassion to my crew as I do to the participants/subjects in one of my films.


Doug Block
Mon 25 Oct 2010Link

I'm not suggesting you be an asshole about it, Linda. There are ways of letting someone go that are honest and humane, and it doesn't necessarily mean that you drop them from your life.

But what can I say, if mentoring or providing opportunities for your DP is more important to you than making the best film you possibly can than go for it. If making a difference is what you're after, I'd argue you'd be making a bigger difference to society by making a great film. And if your DP is more of a hindrance than a help in accomplishing that, I'd do what needs to be done. Again, it can be done compassionately.


Laura Moire Paglin
Mon 25 Oct 2010Link

It looks as if my previous comment was removed. Was it? It was in no way meant to be insensitive. As JoAnne says – without knowing the exact situation – it's difficult to provide specific suggestions other than practical advise about what one would do in such a general hypothetical situation. As a female director myself – I've concluded that it's a waste of time to speculate about whether one's gender commands more or less respect among crew members. I do believe however that it is a reasonable question to ask when dealing with documentary subjects.

I think sometimes being a director means behaving in ways that might feel contrary to one's nature. If you're generally a friendly laid back sensitive person who likes to avoid confrontation , it's sometimes a difficult thing to muster up the courage to tell someone firmly that things are not working out. But you have to do for the sake of your film – and that is really the only reason.


Linda Wasson
Tue 26 Oct 2010Link

Hi Laura – donno about your other post – maybe the server had a burp or something?

Doug – I hear you, just wanted to make it clear I didn't want to be too hardnosed and insensitive to other people's issues.

anyway – everything's moot now – my dp is now my former dp – he totally choked, flaked out, flew the coop, whatever you want to call it.

I think most of all I just wanted reassure myself I did my best. This has definitely been a learning experience. I've supervised people before, heck, I'm a teacher (tho just subbing presently) and just didn't want this to be business as usual.

I know now it wasn't, that it was him, for whatever reason, he couldn't cut it.

The only problem now is that it's the middle of the semester and everyone is working on someone's film or their own so I might be really screwed with this project. I have reached out so hopefully will be able to continue but am making a plan B just in case.

sigh, live and learn, huh?


Doug Block
Tue 26 Oct 2010Link

yup.

and laura, your post wasn't removed, at least as far as i know. what was so horrible that you wrote?


Jo-Anne Velin
Tue 26 Oct 2010Link

Everyone here recalls that this is a publicly-viewable topic, right?


Laura Moire Paglin
Tue 26 Oct 2010Link

Well Doug – I certainly didn't think so – a little tough perhaps – could have been construed as a bit sarcastic.

Jo Anne – thanks for reminding us! Truth be told, I had completely forgotten. Since Linda is a member, she should probably be posting this sort of thing in the production topic don't you think?


Doug Block
Wed 27 Oct 2010Link

Yes, actually.


Jo-Anne Velin
Wed 27 Oct 2010Link

This is mainly for Linda (LW, you may know this): If you are not logged into D-Word when you google your name, you will see what everyone with an internet access will see. (the host(s) can delete anything here that was added inadvertantly).


Linda Wasson
Sat 30 Oct 2010Link

uh ok ? I guess? am not sure what I'm supposed to acknowledge but yeah, I stay logged in...

and no, I don't think this should have been posted in production because I'm a grad student, this is a student film, and I'm new at a lot of this and was looking for mentor remarks, as opposed to mngmnt advice. as a business person, the answer was all too clear but I wanted to make sure I had everything else in mind to consider.

moving on, please see my next q


Linda Wasson
Sat 30 Oct 2010Link

this film I'm working on, about the formerly incarcerated, seems it's growing day by day and is becoming very exciting to work on.

in school they stress over and over again to concentrate on making shorts (this one will be maxed out at 20min) and IF there is interest and IF there is more to shoot, etc., etc., then consider using the short as an intro to the longer version.

I'm just wondering if anyone here has gone that route before – from a short to a longer version? and how did it work out? how did you make various decisions, like what to use in the short? how long did it take to make the longer version (and how long was it?), etc.


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