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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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Linda Wasson
Mon 31 Jan 2011Link

Martin,

first q – you should always be editing off a firewire drive for many reasons, much of what has to do w/how FCP operates. also it doesn't have to be a 5400; I have 2 of those and 1 7200 drive; they all work pretty much the same. However, if you are editing HD, then you will probably see a difference w/the 7200 but your processing speed will likely be the limit rather than the external.

you can actually run into some problems with a USB drive so please do stay away from those when running FCP.

your backup files should be on your hard drive; it's called the Autosave vault and you should find it in your documents dir which is the default when you loaded FCP unless you changed it. you can set it in your system preferences in FCP.

next q about transcoding files – didn't really understand what you were referring to until someone mentioned App Prores 422; I export all my files in this codec even if I've imported into FC as another such as H.264. just import the files and change it in your settings; you can also click on the timeline, then go to your settings for your sequence (go to Sequence, settings, you have to be in the timeline or it will be grayed out) and set your codec there for prores or whatever.

fyi, if you join D-word as a member you can post over in the FCP section as well as editing.


Linda Wasson
Mon 31 Jan 2011Link

In reply to Randy Lee's post on Mon 31 Jan 2011 :

your backup is in Autosave vault which is on your hard drive; you set it in your FCP preferences so yes, you do have a b/u on a different drive.


Errol Webber
Tue 1 Feb 2011Link

Your opinion guys. I know some production people in the film industry may not take well to unsolicited contact about video work, but if you were to stumble upon a production company of which you like their work and would like to shoot for them on their upcoming projects, what is a good way (notice I said "good" way, because there's probably no "best" way) to approach them so they aren't initially turned off by your unsolicited contact? A phone call first? An email first? Both consecutively? A phone call to set up a meeting (if they are in the same city/state?) I have an approach I've used for years, which works out fine most times, but I want to know your opinions.

Ever since I started doing video in '03, I've worked mainly from referrals, so my former clients usually do the trumpet-blowing for me when it came to future projects with other directors/producers. But every once in a while I will find a project that I'm interested in and would like to work on, and I sometimes scratch my head, thinking of how to approach this particular person/production company.

What are your thoughts? If you ran a decent-sized production company that's been around for years or was a producer of a newly conceived film, how would YOU prefer potential shooters contacting you? Would you even mind them contacting you? And if you WOULD mind, what was the turn-off?


Randy Lee
Wed 2 Feb 2011Link

Do you know of anywhere that someone involved hangs out? Or a group that they're a member of? I'm a member of MCA-I here in Madison, WI, and have been able to get a foot in the door on several great projects by keeping in contact with people that I've met through the meetings.

Otherwise I can't see an email with a phone call follow-up hurting – have a reel or website ready, of course, but it can't hurt. Some places don't want outside involvement, or don't keep track of good people until it's time to hire, but some do, and are happy to keep your card in the rolodex – I'd say at least try contacting someone there. Research the place a little first, see if there's a particular person who you should ask for, and take it from there. I know that at the company that I work for, if someone calls when we don't have a call out for resumes, they'll be sent to some middle-management guy who's goal is to send you on your way as quickly as possible. If you know the name of our DP, though, or an editor, and ask for one of them, you're in in no time.


Errol Webber
Wed 2 Feb 2011Link

Thank you, Randy. Some good information, especially that note at the end about how big production companies think.


Doug Block
Wed 2 Feb 2011Link

Errol, it's hard to imagine someone being turned off by an email genuinely expressing appreciation for my company and wanting to become a part of it. They may not respond enthusiastically (and that's their loss), but why would they be upset?


Neil Orman
Wed 2 Feb 2011Link

Can anyone advise me on the simplest way to light interview subjects, as a one man band? Next week I'm doing a shoot in a house with lots of windows and pretty good light. Whenever possible, I hope to take advantage of natural light. But I just want to be prepared should I need to throw some light on a subject. In the past I've used kinoflos and lit people with the people of a PA, but this time I need to keep it to just me. And I don't want to be messing with c-stands, sandbags and the like. Any advice would be hugely appreciated.


Ron Osgood
Wed 2 Feb 2011Link

Neil – try to use the natural light as your main source and add a reflector to the opposite side. Or use a soft box, umbrella or diffused light as your key and the window as your fill. Don't forget to use CTB to match to daylight. Of course figuring out how to add a back light is important.


Neil Orman
Wed 2 Feb 2011Link

Much appreciated, Ron.


Avery Morgan
Fri 4 Feb 2011Link

I am making a short (10 minute) historical documentary. I have all of the important information, but so far the documentary is a little boring. Any advice on how to make it a little more interesting while still professional?


Laura Moire Paglin
Fri 4 Feb 2011Link

I'd have to know a little more about what it's about. But the key with any documentary is to remember that you are still telling a story. The story is more important than imparting facts and information.Think about Ken Burn's documentaries. Also figure out why you're using a visual medium to tell the story. What can you communicate in a visual way? Watch lots of historical documentaries. Try to figure out what makes you like them and figure out how you can apply that to your project.

Edited Fri 4 Feb 2011 by Laura Moire Paglin

Avery Morgan
Sat 5 Feb 2011Link

Thank you very much for your help. I will try to keep that in mind and will follow your advice before I start filming and putting together information. Also, the documentary is on Susan B. Anthony and her work as a suffragist for Women's Rights if that helps.


Dean Lenoir
Tue 8 Feb 2011Link

Hey, can anyone provide some general advice on which of the following cameras would be better to use:

Canon XH A1
or
Canon EOS 7D

Someone is letting me borrow the XH A1 for a couple of months to shoot a documentary I'm working on, but I can also get access to a Canon 7D through school. I also have access to professional lighting and audio equipment through school, compatible with both cameras, so I don't see that as much of a factor (although I am new to filmmaker, so maybe it is).

The lens that I have for the 7D are the following:
Nikon DX Af-S Nikkor 35mm 1:1.89
Canon EF-S 18-135mm lens

In terms of image quality, which do you all think is best? Also, do you think that I could use both, or would there be a noticeable difference between the two?

I am really new to film-making, so any advice here would help!


Nigel Walker
Tue 8 Feb 2011Link

If you are really new to filmmaking I would strongly recommend the XH A1. The DSLR's have a variety of issues that have been well documented and although there are work arounds for many of them I would focus all your energy into making a film not dealing with the equipment.


Dean Lenoir
Tue 8 Feb 2011Link

Great point Nigel, indeed I think I will go with the XH A1. Thanks for the advice :)


Errol Webber
Tue 8 Feb 2011Link

Dean, I would get neither. The XH A1 only shoots HDV, which is QUICKLY becoming less favorable. I would recommend getting a Sony EX1R if you're a beginning filmmaker. It shoots XDCAM which isn't disappearing for a while, shoots at a significantly higher bit rate and gets a truer white balance in MY opinion.

Video shot on a Canon XH A1 Video Camera tends to have this greenish brown tinge to it even when you supposedly have correct white balance. There is a technical reason for this, but I won't go into that detail. Also, with the Sony EX3, you have more handling options thanks to its ergonomic hand-grip.

But yeah, if the ONLY options were XH A1 or 7D, I'd choose the XH A1 for the same reason Nigel said.


Randy Lee
Wed 9 Feb 2011Link

I would definitely make use of the 7D while you've got it available though, too. It's a great tool when used properly, and there are enough people using it that avoiding using it is a bad idea, because you never know when it'll pop up as what you need to use. But as far as focusing on telling a story and learning video gear go, definitely the XH A1.


Angela Snow
Mon 14 Feb 2011Link

I've been approached by a distribution company in Europe regarding my first documentary film.

I've never gotten to this stage before and am looking for advice on international distribution. I would really appreciate any and all information, from basic to specific.

My main specific questions are
-Is it normal / OK to give exclusive distro rights for all of Europe or internationally to one company? Do you often pick distributors based on countries and break it up that way?
-What are some questions that I can ask them to discover what level of a distributor they are? WHAT SHOULD I KNOW? How can I make sure they have the contacts / experience / can get my film out there...
-What % is normal for a distributor to take as a commission of sales and pre-sales?


Doug Block
Mon 14 Feb 2011Link

Angela, first of all, congrats for getting your first film made, and for doing it well enough for there to be interest from a distributor.

For U.S. filmmakers, it's pretty typical to have a distributor (and sometimes even a sales agent, if there's theatrical potential) for domestic distribution and another company handling sales for international distribution (especially, broadcast). Since most of your international sales will be to broadcasters, you don't need a distributor in each country. You just need one sales agent who can approach all the broadcasters at markets like the EFM in Berlin and MIP in Cannes.

The best ways to tell if this company is legit are to check out the films they have in their catalogue, check out their website to see how well they promote the films online and contact the producers of some of their films and see what their experience has been like. Did the company work hard for them and make sales? Have they been reliable in their reports and payments? Were they easy to communicate and collaborate with? Stuff like that.

I've found it pretty typical for an international sales agent (or distributor acting as one) to charge a 30 to 35% fee for their sales. I think it's generally less for pre-sales (25%?), but I'm not sure how common it is anymore for them to actively look for pre-sales.


Angela Snow
Mon 14 Feb 2011Link

Doug,
Thanks so much, that's the best feedback I've gotten thus far in my quest. So, it is normal to contact past producers that worked with them? I've gotten this advice before. Most are European films that I'm having trouble hunting down contact details for, would I / could I ask the company for referrals?

This company is pretty small, so trying to determine if that can be a good / ok thing.

THANKS!


Laura Moire Paglin
Tue 15 Feb 2011Link

Angela – It's absolutely acceptable and normal. And if the company is reluctant – that ought to be a red flag.


Doug Block
Tue 15 Feb 2011Link

I agree with Laura, and they'll steer you to the producers who they know are happiest. You might want to use your internet detective skills to track down other producers they don't list.

In the meantime, you should register for professional membership here, which will give you access to all 50 of our discussion topics.


Daniel McGuire
Tue 15 Feb 2011Link

And don't forget the overhead clause...<http://vimeo.com/14071168>


Mark Barroso
Tue 15 Feb 2011Link

that's some funny stuff


Jo-Anne Velin
Tue 15 Feb 2011Link

In reply to Angela Snow's post on Mon 14 Feb 2011 :

... where you can list a couple of titles, and we in Europe may know the people who made the films.


Angela Snow
Wed 16 Feb 2011Link

In reply to Daniel McGuire's post on Tue 15 Feb 2011 :
HAHA. Amazing. Could always be worse.

Thanks all.


karen donald
Wed 16 Feb 2011Link

Dear Doug

How are you? I am a first time film maker and live in Bali.

Tracks Magazine in Australia are interested in providing the finishing funds for my documentary about an Indonesian surfer. However, they want to produce a DVD for the front of their magazine but I want to broadcast the project and I would like to find a broadcaster with your help at the D-Word.

This way I will reach beyond the surfing audience which has always been my vision. Please post advice soon.

Best wishes
Karen


John Burgan
Wed 16 Feb 2011Link

Welcome to The D-Word, Karen. It's quite a challenge to find a broadcaster, particularly as a beginner and another thing again to produce a piece for a specialist magazine. Have you already shot some material and do you have a trailer online?

Edited Wed 16 Feb 2011 by John Burgan

karen donald
Wed 16 Feb 2011Link

Hi, yes they have seen the 12 minute trailer and then offered finishing funds. They are media partners with the sponsor.


karen donald
Wed 16 Feb 2011Link

We already have 1/3 footage. The rest to be shot in Oz and maybe a return to Sumbawa. There's vintage stock footage to add that requires conversion from 16mm


Daniel McGuire
Wed 16 Feb 2011Link

I'll chime in – I've seen some of Karen's piece.
It's a portrait of an Indonesian surfer from a tiny, remote village who has made it to the big time of the surf world.
There are so many unknowns here – The key one as far as I can see is exclusivity – does the magazine want some ownership of your film in exchange for the finishing funds? If all they want is to put your film on a DVD with your magazine, but you have all broadcast sales rights, that might be a good deal for you. But you might not be able to get your film in certain festivals if it has already been distributed on DVD. I am not certain that magazine/dvd distribution will hurt broadcast sales, which would be aimed at a general audience. Perhaps you could negotiate with the magazine that you are given a window (before dvd distribution) where you could enter the film in festivals.
DAN


Daniel McGuire
Wed 16 Feb 2011Link

You should also research your market and find other films in the genre and talk to their producers – how many surf films get TV sales? How much do they sell for? Are your hopes and expectations realistic, and based on an understanding of the market for this genre of film?


Doug Block
Wed 16 Feb 2011Link

Karen, seems like you're getting good advice from others. So I'll mostly just welcome you to The D-Word and let you know we've upgraded you to Professional status, as befitting how far along you've taken your film.

This is an interesting discussion and now belongs in the Funding (Europe, Elsewhere) topic, where more people will see it and weigh in. We don't encourage double posting, but in this case feel free to post again there.


Neil Orman
Wed 16 Feb 2011Link

Hey, I had three quick questions related to a short doc I just did, related to sound editing, classical music licensing and posting this on the Web. Any advice on any of these would be greatly appreciated!
-Sound editing: I have a short problematic portion with a low electromagnetic hum related to, I think, someone's cell phone being turned on. It's not loud but it's noticeable, and occurs for maybe 5-7 seconds of a 30 second interview portion I'd really like to use. Is there any way to remove/minimize something like that in either Pro Tools or preferably Final Cut, because I'd prefer to handle this myself and I don't have Pro Tools?
-Classical music licensing: I want to use a 30 second portion of Vivaldi's 4 Seasons, and this piece is for someone to post on their Web site to promote their business. Is it necessary to pay to license the music for something like this, which won't be widely seen, and if so any recommendations on good Web sites or sources?
-Web streaming: I want to deliver this in a version that's going to be a good-looking Web viewing experience. In the past, when I've posted something on Vimeo for example, I've just exported a Quicktime using the Broadband choice. Is that the best way?
Much appreciated,
Neil


Doug Block
Wed 16 Feb 2011Link

Neil, the Mentoring Room is for Enthusiasts who don't have access to the many discussion topics open for Professional members. Since you have Professional status, in the future please ask these questions in the appropriate topics.


Bill Jackson
Thu 17 Feb 2011Link

In reply to Neil Orman's post on Wed 16 Feb 2011 :

If it is just that one clip, you can send it to me and I'll send it back. I probably can completely get rid of it in Pro Tools, depending on what it is.

If you have Final Cut Studio, Soundtrack Pro Audio Restoration can lessen or remove it.

Music – You would need permission to use the recording, unless you record/perform the music yourself. Someone on here knows more than I do about the legalities.

Can't answer the Vimeo part...


Neil Orman
Thu 17 Feb 2011Link

Got it, sorry about that Doug. Bill, I really appreciate that and will get in touch via email. Thank you!


James Longley
Wed 2 Mar 2011Link

In reply to Neil Orman's post on Wed 16 Feb 2011 :

Neil – cell phones generally don't make humming sounds on recordings. They make twittery, high-pitched interference noises. To minimize a hum sound in Final Cut, try using the multi-band equalizer tool and find the frequency with the hum. Then turn down that frequency for the duration of the problem. Any tool that allows you to selectively adjust volume across a small band of frequency will work for this. You might not be able to completely eliminate the offending noise, but you can make it less horrifying.

About Vimeo, try making your video 720p H264 format, assuming you are starting out with HD material. Without knowing your original format it's a little tricky to advise you on this.

But Doug is right (always) – you should be asking these questions in the pro topics.


Laura Marshallsay
Sat 5 Mar 2011Link

In reply to Avery Morgan's post on Fri 4 Feb 2011 :
What is your topic? I'm a novice doc maker, but a seasoned public historian.


J. Christian Jensen
Fri 11 Mar 2011Link

I just received word about my acceptance into Stanford's MFA program as well as the MFA in Film & Electronic Media at American University. I've done a fair amount of research about both programs online so I have a good idea of certain information, but I've found it hard (particularly with American University) to answer a number of questions not covered on website FAQs.

Is anyone familiar with the differences in structure and curriculum from the two programs? Perhaps any American University grads out there? I've already spoken to a number of Stanford grads, who were very helpful.


Erica Ginsberg
Sun 13 Mar 2011Link

I am an AU alum. I graduated a while back just when they were starting the MFA program (I opted to stick with the MA). Can't compare it to Stanford b/c I don't know Stanford's program. AU is a great program if you plan to make social issue documentaries, environmental documentaries, or want to be close to the research facilities of Washington DC. It is very much a practical-focused program (since it is situated in the School of Communications).

For perspectives from more recent AU alums (including ones who have been through the MFA program), you might want to repost(sorry hosts) your specific questions in the Teaching Docs topics since not all the professionals who could answer your question check the public topics.

Congratulations on the acceptances to both institutions.

Edited Sun 13 Mar 2011 by Erica Ginsberg

Jacob Bricca
Tue 15 Mar 2011Link

I'm an established doc editor venturing out for the first time as a producer of his own doc. I got a couple small grants which got me started, and now have a bunch of footage shot, a trailer, treatment, and prospectus materials. I have non-profit status with IDA and intend to raise some funds that way, but want to solicit larger chunks of change from investors. I'm looking for resources (example documents, books, advice) about how to set up a situation where I can engage investors in my film (total budget = approx. $160K.) Must I set up an LLC? Is there a quick-and-easy way of doing this? What do the contracts look like when people invest? Any pointers or advice is much appreciated.


Ben Kempas
Tue 15 Mar 2011Link

Jacob, now that we just gave you Professional status due to your impressive experience in documentary editing, let me suggest that you just start searching and reading our whole category of Business Topics. I'm sure you'll find many answers and ideas there.

While you're at it, you should really Introduce Yourself and tell this community a bit more about your background. Thanks!


Jacob Bricca
Tue 15 Mar 2011Link

I've been searching as you suggest and have found lots of useful tidbits. Will do an introduction, too. Thanks, Ben!


Martin Kelly
Thu 17 Mar 2011Link

Hi,

I'm starting a documentary project that will be shot in HD, and someone at the Apple Store recommended that I talk to Maxx Digital (http://www.maxxdigital.com/) about getting consultation for a RAID setup for a MacPro that I'm thinking of getting. Has anyone dealt with Maxx Digital before? How's their consultation and, more importantly, their products?


Kevin Hallagan
Sun 20 Mar 2011Link

hey everybody,

I don't know if this is the section to be doing this in, but here it goes.
I have some experience, but not much, so I was wondering if any filmmaker would like some free help on a project this summer? I am a fast learner, but I want to be a documentary filmmaker and the cinema department at my school isn't giving me very much practical experience.
Please respond if you're interested. I have a passport and am willing to travel. I'm friendly and easy to work with, I promise.


J. Christian Jensen
Tue 22 Mar 2011Link

In reply to Erica Ginsberg's post on Sun 13 Mar 2011 :
Erica,

Thanks so much for your input. I apologize for my slow acknowledgement of the reply. I was away for a few days. I've decided to put my lot in with Stanford because of its more intimate atmosphere as well as the long-standing reputation and pedigree. The decision wasn't made lightly though. Stanford, AU, and NYU (which I just received acceptance to) all have really amazing aspects that I wish I could benefit from. If only I could afford to go to all three... :)


Erica Ginsberg
Wed 23 Mar 2011Link

Well it says something about you that you were accepted into all three. I know a lot of really amazing documentarians have come through the Stanford program so certainly a good choice.


Doug Block
Thu 7 Apr 2011Link

Independent Film Week

Seeking Scripts and Documentary works-in-progress – Emerging Narrative and No Borders now open for submissions! Spotlight on Docs opens April 15!

http://www.ifp.org/independent-film-week/


Kristen Turick
Thu 7 Apr 2011Link

My husband is a DP/Director and was contacted about 2 years ago by a client wanting him to shoot an interview and broll for one woman's story of abuse, survival and healing through an alternative method called Transformational Bodywork. There was an urgency to do the shooting asap as she was also diagnosed with 4th stage Ovarian Cancer and her prognosis was not good. The purpose was to have her story documented so that sometime in the future it might be used for a documentary about the kind of work this therapist is doing. 

Some time later, my husband was contacted again by same client to come out and film some more footage with the same subject as she had now finished with chemo and was in remission. She had made great strides in her work with our client/her therapist and was celebrating her life. This time, I went with him and shot several days with her. During the shoot, it became clear that my husband and I had gained a remarkable perspective on how best to pursue this documentary. Since the client hadn't even yet lined up a director, we pitched to him that we could helm the project, and he wholly agreed. We then did one more round of shooting this past March.

Through each stage, the client had paid my husband his standard dayrate, so everything was essentially a work-for-hire gig. But as some other parties have now come forward with additional financing and the documentary as a whole is picking up steam, we're now floundering with the business end of all of this, playing catch-up to this bass-ackwards way of producing a documentary.

Which brings me to this... We need help! We have a producer we'd like to bring on board to handle all the administrative details moving forward, but we're so ignorant about what all those details are exactly. In doing research, I've read things about fiscal sponsorship, advisory boards, non-profit, etc. As of right now, we are slated to do our final round of principal photography this May in NY and CA and still have no protection in case things go horribly awry. Husband is currently talking with a lawyer about forming an LLC and drafting an operating agreement for the three parties involved: my husband and I, and the client-turned-partner. But we're unclear how to handle things such as:
- Who should own the Copyright?
- What is an appropriate split for profit/loss between us and client-turned-partner?
- How to accept outside monies which are still unclear yet as to whether or not they'll be Donations vs. Investments?
- If the incoming monies are Investments, what's an appropriate way to handle profit splits between we the filmmakers, and them?
- Do we need an advisory board? Does it help? Offer more credibility?

I apologize for the novella, if you've made it this far... any insight into these questions would be immensely appreciated, or if there's something else I might be altogether overlooking. Thanks so much for any and all help!


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