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.
have been educating myself quite a bit with all the terrific info on
this forum. Many thanks to all who contribute to this forum and those
who take their time to give advice.
Now, I need a little guidance myself, if you don't mind. My partners
and I had an idea for a documentary. I don't want to go into it too
much, but the subject was a French athlete who is virtually unknown
in the states. We contacted her American agent with the proposal and
the agent requested we send a resume of ourselves with a description
of the project, which we kept pretty general. This morning we got
the call and were told that she had already committed to another
documentary. Needless to say, I'm pretty disappointed. We already
had private funding and a crew in place.
Do I think that she's involved in another documentary? Highly
unlikely. Do I think the agent talked with her about this project?
Highly unlikely. The agent admitted she really doesn't deal with
her. Perhaps, the agent contacted her people in France and they
turned it down. I really don't know. Sorry, I'm babbling. I really
felt this could have been an unique and entertaining project. Could
it be that we were not award-winning docu filmmakers? I don't know.
Our backgrounds are in funding, producing, directing and writing
small indy and short films. Though, I doubt that HBO, BBC, etc. are
knocking down her door.
I could go on and on, but this message is long enough. Here's my
question? Has the fat lady sung yet? Should we contact her agent in
France? Should we try to gain contact with the athlete and pitch to
her directly? I've met her before and she seems very personable.
Any advice to this problem would be greatly appreciated!!
gonna have a very short career as a documentary filmmaker. A no means
maybe. Or try again later. Or try again in a different way.
I'd try to get to the athlete directly. Use your ingenuity, your
charm and your passion for the film. Be honest and sincere. And
don't even think of giving up so easily.
You may not be a known quantity as a doc filmmaker but you do make
the grade in the funding category. Care to fund-raise for a known
i'm a new member to the forums... been reading a lot of the
posts... and very happy to be a part. as a new shooter/editor i've
happened upon some opportunities to document weddings and
am interested in exploring this.
the "clients" are interested in verite style, natural sound... i share
this sensibility and am excited about doing it.. but would love to
hear from others with experience doing this type of thing... how
they approach the day... interact w/ guests, etc. any advice would
be greatly appreciated... i've picked up a few things... and
purchased 83 min dv stock for the ceremony...(hope that's long
enough) have a backup camera and batteries just in case... love
to hear some thoughts... many thanks
good way to get doc shooting experience... and also pay some
bills... must be some nervous people... i guess remaining calm
I've been working in the advertising industry for a couple of years...
a thankless job. Anyway I have the opportunity to produce a
documantary that I think is going to make a difference to my country.
How and where do I go to learn about the in's and out's of funding,
distribution and selling a documantary to broadcasters around the world.
Hope you can help.
conference here on Selling in the International Marketplace:
Sounds like an interesting project. Would love to know more about
these singers (what country?)
I think your biggest challenge coming from a radio background is
making your story visual enough and also thinking about length and
pacing (I am not sure what sort of programs you have been doing for
radio; with the exception of things like SOUNDPRINT, it seems to me,
most radio documentaries are 7 minutes or shorter -- your film sounds
like it could be at least 1/2 hour or maybe even an hour).
While you may have in mind to use a narrator, avoid a narrator, or
bring yourself in as a character/"host", you could probably shoot for
all three possibilities. For instance, if you want to incorporate
the historical context of their music, you should ask them about it
so that you have the potential to use their own words if you decide
to forego traditional narration. Similarly, you may want to make
sure you are getting footage and/or commentary of yourself while you
are in the region filming them. I am currently producing a film that
wasn't originally intended to have the director as a character, but
it has evolved that way -- thankfully, we had a little bit of footage
of him there, but could have used way more.
The fact that you mention that the singers come from a beautiful
place may help a bit. The place probably figures prominently in
their songs and could help illustrate them. Also you say some of
these folks are real characters. So make sure those characters are
reflected on screen. Is the film only about the music or is it
really about the people who choose to keep up the life of the music?
Focus on a few of the most interesting characters and make sure to
include some footage of them in their daily life, as well as
singing. Whether you choose to do formal interviews is up to you --
some filmmakers prefer to shoot everything verite and people will
sort of open up about their lives at some point. Others prefer to
combine formal sit-down interviews with b-roll footage. Take a look
at other films on similar subjects so you can get a sense of
different ways of approaching the same material.
As far as whether to do it in English or in another language, you
probably want to think about where you plan to try to market the
film. Even on public TV, it is still difficult to get a subtitled
documentary on TV (in the U.S. anyway). We're trying with our
project, but it will still be a major handicap for us. On the other
hand, if the language is intrinsic to the music, then you might want
to make the decision to keep it. Do your subjects speak English -
i.e., would you want to interview them in English? I would recommend
if you do interviews to do them in whatever language they are most
comfortable speaking from the heart. You could always opt to do
English voiceovers later.
Just a few thoughts.
Thanks so much for your thoughtful consideration of my questions.
I like the idea of leaving my options open -- the same thing happens
in radio -- ex., sometimes you wish you'd asked the questions on
tape, as their answers don't always end up being stand-alone. Might
incorporate athird party to be 'chatting' to the singers. But must
pick the right one from the start...
I hate being onscreen -- I bet many folks do, to - so I am reluctant
to go that route although some say I should. I also dislike the idea
of narration in this case. Although I know it could work in some
cases -- maybe in a personal doc.
My singers speak English and their own language but I feel since it
is a dying, minority language you don't often get to hear, and the
songs are in this lang., it's important to hear it on screen. I was
thinking of doing my interviews in english, then repeat part of them
in the other language, in order to intercut the interview for the
film. i think that would give a good flavour, without alienating
In Europe apparently they must overdub everything anyway so... that's
a whole other issue i guess.
I like the verite approach but i think I need a camerman to help me
do that right. whoa, a lot to think abotu but thanks very much.
yes, sorry, I'm being a bit vague about details as I know this is a
public forum so anyone could read it. My friend worked for a long
time on a film and did some shooting, was in the middle of pitching,
etc, and then found out other people were doing the same project.
not sure how she will resolve this but it was a huge blow to her.
I guess there can always be different interpretations etc but it is
a drag if they happen at the same time.
Is there a website/organization that keeps track of films in
I thought this was referred to in another thread but have been unable
to find the answer. If anyone knows about this I would be very
much about someone stealing your idea. Chances are, someone else
could be doing a similar project but if you have particular people
who really stand out, it's not something you should fret over.
Dubbing in Europe varies country to country. Some countries actually
prefer subtitles. Of course, if they speak a very pronounced
regional dialect of English, you may need English subtitles for some
If this is your first doc and you want the verite approach, you are
right that you may want to work with an experienced cameraperson.
However, if you are still at the fundraising stage and you live near
your subjects, there's no reason you can't do some shooting on your
own just to give potential funders the flavor of your subjects and
how they are on-camera (sometimes people -- even performers -- may be
comfy with a mic but clam up with camera, so you'll want to know that
as you choose who your main subjects will be).
only to show people a taste of what it might look like.
But I have zero camera experience so... not sure if it will be
usable. I'm going to try anyway, this weekend.
I have actually thought myself, that I might need english subtitles
for the english! LOL!
I think someone else might be doing something involved with the same
community, but with a very different focus to it. That one other
project I can handle, but any more than that and I'll feel pretty
laws for documentaries. When I started shooting my documentary I
didn't have a clue, I just shot it as it happened. In some footage
there is music on the radio or a tv playing in background. I need to
know what I can or cannot legally use.
thanks in advance for your help
I'm writing in regard to my documentary film URK.
(www.storytellerinc.com/urk) It was recently nominated for the 2003
IDA Pare Lorentz Award. It looks like I'm about to sign a deal with a
distributor at the beginning of next week. I've never done this
before, and I have a few questions.
1- Do I need to get a lawyer to help negotiate the contract? Are
there other resources which could help me educate myself to handle
negotiating the contract?
2- I am eager to sign ASAP, because the distributor is prepared to
take the film to MIPCOM next month. Is this a good idea, or should I
not rush into it simply in order to make it to the market?
Thanks for your advice.
MIPCOM is nice but don't settle for something because there's a
deadline. In fact, this distributor probably won't be able to
properly promote your film there if you sign at the last moment, so it
might not be helpful.
news to be added. I have found the material through VMS (Video Monitoring
Services) here in LA but as it turns out they sell it for research only. Does
anyone know the parameters of usage os such material.
I'm calling the networks now but in the meantime wanted to see if anyone had
similar experiences with this specifically in the US.
Thanks for any feedback!
footage. If they operate like national news archives, they would
probably charge you a fee for a screener tape (which you may not need
if you can a tape for free through VMS and decide exactly which
footage you need). Then you would need to pay a licensing fee (which
could vary depending on what kind of rights you need -- is this just
for festivals or small scale screenings, educational market or for
broadcast, theatrical release or home video? Sometimes you can
negotiate multi-level rights -- cheapest, most limited now with
potential to upgrade to broader rights later. I haven't worked yet
with local networks, but national broadcasters generally charge
anywhere from $10-50/second often with a 30-second minimum (some
places may also charge on a per cut basis). If anchors or reporters
are on screen, there may also be some permission/license
considerations for them.
This is a project for Channel 4 in the UK.
I have some of those questions you probably hear a million times.
I'm working on a doc focusing on the media. we're interviewing and
taping the activities of reporters and producers in the field, who
agree to our presence. some work for local stations, others for
networks. the big question: do we need to get performance releases
from everyone we shoot? or is getting them on tape agreeing to talk
enough? what about the reporters and producers we shoot from afar?
they are public people working in a public area, do we need to get
permission to use video of them?
at this point, we don't have a distribution deal, so i can't say for
sure how the footage will be used... but this will be a
serious "news" piece... how worried do we have to be about getting
any advice would be appreciated...thanks...Kevin
and get releases from anyone you've interviewed and anyone who is
speaking on camera in any kind of prominent way. I wouldn't bother
with reporters from afar (but I'm not an entertainment lawyer).
Releases are less about fear of lawsuits than for E&O insurance that
any broadcaster or distributor would demand before taking on your