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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.

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
Thu 3 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
Thu 3 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 Thu 3 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
Mon 14 Feb 2011Link

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


Doug Block
Mon 14 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
Tue 15 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?


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