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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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Carolyn Projansky
Thu 25 Mar 2004Link
Doug: I think the price comparison was not for a PD150 versus BETACAM-
SP, but for a bigger DV-CAM camera, compared to a BETA-SP. I'll have
to get the specifics from my production manager. But do you, or does
someone else know whether it matters what I shoot with if it's going
to end up in a tiny box on the web? Will a better camera give a
crisper image so its better to spend the money? Or will it all end up
looking tiny and grainy so who cares?

Ben Kempas
Thu 25 Mar 2004Link
A bigger camera is always nicer for its easy handling, decent
exposure, proper lens, less depth of field, and better reliability. As
long as your footage ends up on the net, the format really doesn't
matter. Could be a 300 or 500-series DVCAM, any Beta-SP, or anything
down to S-VHS. :-)

Carolyn Projansky
Thu 25 Mar 2004Link
Thanks Ben. If anyone else out there has a opinion about format for
shooting direct-to-web I'd be interested.

Meanwhile, as long as I'm on the subject of cameras ... I have two
doccies I'm developing that raise camera questions, too. One is
definitely for int'l TV broadcast and I'm targeting the BBC
particularly. Is it best to shoot 16X9 these days and then compress,
or whatever you do for 4x3screenings? I'm still budgeting and so I
can select the shooting format as I choose. Although this one isn't
an "intimate" story, I generally prefer a smaller, more unobtrusive
camera for a documentary. Will all the broadcasters accept DVCAM
(the big kind) or is it better to go for HD nowadays? I'm not sure I
like the look of HD for a documentary. Are people having good
experiences with the "look" and "feel" of the format? What type of
film does it seem to work best for?

My other project is a very intimate doc which is destined either for
US tv or might be a feature doc for some cinema release. It depends
on how the characters work when we start shooting. We're going to do
a demo. But I don't want to shoot the demo material and then throw it
away. I'd like to start shooting with the format we're going to stay
with. What do you recommend? An intimate "family" story, needs to
be unobtrusive camera but great looking.

thanks very much! Carolyn

Erica Ginsberg
Thu 25 Mar 2004Link
Hey Carolyn. Erica from WIFV here. Glad to hear you are back from
South Africa and welcome back to D-Word.

I'm surprised by the price differential too. Even if you are looking
at getting a crew with one of the higher end DVCAM cameras, it should
still be less expensive than Beta-SP. HD could be more expensive
though. How did you get your crew quotes? Did you try posting on
the WIFV listserv?

I'll let the cinematography experts answer your other questions, but
my understanding is that BBC absolutely requires 16X9.

Ben Kempas
Thu 25 Mar 2004Link
What's wrong with the "look of HD for documentary"?

As a cinematographer, I've worked with HD - but not for "doccies".

Carolyn Projansky
Thu 25 Mar 2004Link
I still don't have the specific price quotes but I spoke again to a
production manager who gets quotes all the time. She says that a
bunch of the major houses that rent camera equipment in the DC area
have all just recently upgraded to top DV Cam equipment and they're
now renting their "old" BETAs for less. Interesting. Plausible. I
haven't check the price quotes myself but this person is very
reputable. I'll check into it myself by the end of next week and
report back.

To Ben: I'm a complete novice with HD, but from what I've seen, it
has such sharp, detailed look that it is almost the antithesis of
film with its warm, soft, shadowy edges. It's hard to describe. I
think living in an HD world will take gradual adustment.

Carolyn Projansky
Thu 25 Mar 2004Link
Sorry, Erica, I forgot to say, "Hello" back to you. No, I didn't
post this on the listserve, but I've been working with a production
manager we had recommended by the listserve. Thanks for your
comments. Carolyn

Erica Ginsberg
Fri 26 Mar 2004Link
Carolyn, you would probably get better quotes if your production
manager went to individual cameramen or a boutique house rather than
a major house (or, if you already have a cinematographer sans the
right camera, it may be cheaper to buy him the camera as part of his
payment than to rent one for him). If the major houses think they
can charge top dollar for the same camera quality as a cameraman with
his own equipment, they will likely go the way of top post production
houses which can no longer compete for the offline market while
everyone has Avids and FCP in their home offices. While you were
gone, Henninger went bankrupt and then had to retool their operation
and, as you know, Roland House recently went out of business
altogether.

Robert Goodman
Fri 26 Mar 2004Link
there is no single flavor of HD nor an agreed upon
definition of what is or isn't considered HD.

Blanket statements about what something looks like
is like suggesting that 35mm has a single look.
To dissuade yourself about that - rent Northfork,
Malcom X, and Schindler's List.

Christian DiMaso
Mon 29 Mar 2004Link
Since this thread is years old and very long I will go out on a limb
by asking a tired question. I am a complete newbie and I need help! I
have only made 4 minute videos all put to music. I am looking to step
into the world of documentaries for the first time. My purpose is not
to publish,but to fill a longing in myself to create. I would relish
any expertise you could pass on. I know this is a tall order,but I
want to make the best film I can.
Equipment:
Mini-DV Cam (no audio in)
Tripod
Sony's Screenblast Movie Studio 3 (knockoff of Vegas)
Acid Pro 4
Nero 6

Doug Block
Tue 30 Mar 2004Link
Still waiting for your tired question, Christian... If you're
looking for expertise, though, hate to say it but you should go back
and read the long threads here. Sorry 'bout that.

Christian DiMaso
Tue 30 Mar 2004Link
How about this then...what are the books I should own for documentary
production? I know that "Directing the Documentary" is a must, but
what else?

Doug Block
Tue 30 Mar 2004Link
can't say. i've never read a "doc" book, per se. but when i first
started shooting (nigh, those many years ago), a book called "the 5
c's of cinematography" was very useful. a basic primer for how to
shoot - and the best production book i've ever read:

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/187950541X

Robert Goodman
Wed 31 Mar 2004Link
Aristotle's Poetics. Laslo Egri book about writing plays. The 5 Cs of
Cinematography is a good choice. Anything that helps you figure out
storytelling - Joseph Campbell, perhaps. I'll also suggest my book
Editing Digital Video for when you get there. But the truth of the
matter is there are only a few things you must know - a documentary
is a living breathing entity - give it the space it needs to
survive. Always be true to your story and the people in it.

Steve Allen
Sun 4 Apr 2004Link
Hi all. I am to start filming soon on a cross continent (on very
different vehicles)type doco. I think it will be prime doco time for
most of the globe. My problem is that my investor wants the
impossible "facts about budget" I cannot tell him much as I have
no idea how much a 1 hour wide-demographic doco could sell
for. Could someone help me out? PPPPlease. Steve

Doug Block
Mon 5 Apr 2004Link
could sell for zippidy doo dah and could generate a couple of hundred
thousand bucks (U.S.) in total sales. who the heck knows? much
depends on how good it is and how much of a market there is for the
subject.

how's that for a (non) answer?

Steve Allen
Mon 5 Apr 2004Link
Thanks Doug. I realise it is asking a fair bit to get a simple
answer to a hard question. I think a land sailor racing against a
paraglider across the Australian outback(complete with
kangaroos) with a free and easy chat style format, will sell well. I
am hoping that someone else will say the same. I guess I am
asking for aprox how much per play will a good 1 hour doco get?
The demagraphic is probably male 16 to 70 and women 16 to 45
I guess thats about 40% of the population. Europe is mad keen
on paragliding and anything filmed in the bush. what do you
think?

Doug Block
Mon 5 Apr 2004Link
i think i'm not an international sales agent. i haven't a clue. you
might want to read the jan rofekamp conference that's archived here on
selling in the international marketplace. might give you a better
idea.

Steve Allen
Tue 6 Apr 2004Link
Read it now thanks doug. Bloody depressing for those who dont
have an idea as great as mine:-) ( We are the eternal optimists.)
I would love to read more from the industry guys. Any chance of
getting more on? I didnt see anything on what a first market is
worth. Did I miss it? Are there particular people who would be
more used to handling my type of doco?(any names?
Steve)

Aaron Huslage
Tue 20 Apr 2004Link
I'm in the Rough Cut stage of my first documentary and have a chance
to show it to some people this evening. I want to take advantage of
this opportunity and ask the right questions. The problem is, I don't
know what to ask people!

Does anyone have any samples of questionnaires for test screenings
that I might customize?

Sorry for the late notice, but this just became available to me today.
Any help would be appreciated.

Doug Block
Tue 20 Apr 2004Link
aaron, you don't need a questionaire. ask if they feel it dragged
anywhere. if they were confused anywhere. if they feel anything is
missing. but mostly listen. you'll learn most from their visceral
responses during the screening.

Erica Ginsberg
Tue 20 Apr 2004Link
I'd start by asking them what they think it was about. Not that
there can't be multiple answers to this question (the best
documentaries leave lots up to interpretation), but it would be
helpful for you to know where they are coming from when they give you
feedback. And as Doug said, mostly listen. This is not the time to
defend your choices or people will not feel comfortable being honest
with you.

Lora Covrett
Sun 25 Apr 2004Link
I have a question about getting permission slips signed, etc. I've
seen documentary films where police are asking the filmmakers to
leave or a business is asking them to leave the premises. Do those
filmmakers get releases signed by these disgruntled folks in order to
release the film? If I'm interviewing someone for my film, do I need
them to sign a release?

Robert Goodman
Sun 25 Apr 2004Link
yes. If you don't have a release you can't use the interview.
Different rules apply to news organizations. Broadcasters require
independent filmmakers to carry errors and ommissions insurance for
every program as a requirement to air it. If you don't have signed
releases that will hold up in court, you will not be able to buy E&O
insurance or will have to pay a heavy premium to obtain it. E&O
insurance covers you in case you are sued for liable.

Maureen Futtner
Fri 30 Apr 2004Link
Ok, Wise Documentary Filmmakers -

I admit I am a novice, albeit a very ambitious one. I am working on a long-
term project about a musician who's returning to her native Cuba
to perform in a series of concerts in Summer 2005. I've been
shooting her periodically and will continue to do so all the way
through her trip next year. I have no written agreement from her
as yet, but she's reassuring me constantly that this is my project.
I am getting concerned, however. I realize I need to broach the
subject of obtaining a release from her, but I also believe we
need a contract of sorts that I have exclusive rights to this project
over x period of time. Probably what I need is a lawyer, I know.
But one filmmaker has said to me, "You don't want to enter into
a "contractual relationship". You just want a release. "
What are the opinions out there? Any help welcome. Maureen

Doug Block
Sat 1 May 2004Link
hey maureen, sounds like you and your subject should have a talk.
that said, if she's at all famous, i'd be surprised if she's willing
to sign something that gives a novice filmmaker exclusive rights.

but at leastg get a release from her, and as soon as possible. if
she's unwilling to sign one, you're in deep doo-doo and should
seriously reconsider continuing on with the film.

Maureen Futtner
Thu 6 May 2004Link
Doug & all mentors,

So i have had a discussion today w/my subject about getting a
release from her, and she basically told me she needs to get
paid; she wants a contract that figures in some kind of payment
to her. She said "I'm gonna give you my story, my life, I need
something in return." I told her people do not generally pay their
doc. subjects and she insisted because she's a performer, and
... on and on. This was all over the phone, and we have a real
meeting in a couple of weeks. She is not famous. I told her she
could get great publicity out of this. This didn't seem to sway her.
Seems she's been screwed over before, and while I've
established a great deal of trust with her (she now considers me
her friend), she does not want to feel exploited. She says my
paying her would give me creative control and I would own the
film (well, yea!).

Is this an absurd request? We haven't even broached amount. It
doesn't sound like she wants a mere token, however. At this
point, I've done 20 hours of exploratory shooting, have
researched for the last 8 months, and have mapped out my
future year and a half or more with this project in mind. Is this a
big red flag, or what?

Did Wim Wenders pay the musicians of the Buena Vista S.C? I
rather doubt it. Any wisdom welcome.

Maureen

Doug Block
Thu 6 May 2004Link
The subject of the successful French doc, To Be and to Have, famously
sued the filmmaker for a share of the profits last year. It's opened
up a lot of discussion on the subject.

It's not common at all to pay your subject but it's not uncommon, or
IMHO, necessarily wrong to share profits. Of course, profits are
usually dreamworld in the docworld, but if you hit the jackpot then
she shares in it. You might suggest that.

If she insists on payment, I'd be wary. Very very wary.

Maureen Futtner
Thu 6 May 2004Link
Doug,

I'm grateful you're out there. Thanks (as always) for your prompt
response. I'm sure I'll be keeping you posted.

Maureen

Dave Panitz
Mon 10 May 2004Link
Hi Working Pros,

I'm entirely new to film/video and starting a New York Film Academy
course this summer. Although I don't expect to become a filmmaker
in 12 weeks, I hope to pick up technical skills that will allow me
to start making videos/films and be valuable to potential employers
in the industry.

A couple questions: first, I've heard positive and negative things
about NYFA, and haven't paid yet, so if you think it's not a
worthwhile place to go, I'd be interested in what you have to say
(if you'd like to respond privately so as not to make a public
statement about them, that's fine!).

Second, I'm given a choice between a "film & DV" course or
a "straight DV" course. I'm leaning toward the latter, as I'm most
interested in documentary and like the idea of learning by lots of
shooting, without fear of wasting expensive media.

Miscellaneous advice is also very welcome.

Thanks for the help!
Dave

Rouane Itani
Mon 17 May 2004Link
Maureen,

My understanding about life stories is that it is a case by case
scenario. It is not uncommon for producers to have to pay money to
basically buy the right to the life story. Sometimes even other
members of the family will interfere and want money or say you have no
right to the story, especially if they are somewhat involved in the
story you're telling.

How much money to pay and whether to pay at all depends on situations,
stories, people. What the subject is asking for is not surprising,
perhaps only the attitude.

There are different ways of doing that, where perhaps a small amount
could be offered initially and additional amounts to be paid if the
film gets distributed and makes any money. and yes a release and a
contract would be signed. It is in a way like optioning a book.
There is a possibility that you could "option" the story for a term
[2-3 years for example], and pay a specific amount of money that gives
you exclusive right to tell her story. After that time expires, if you
secure additional funding or a distribution deal, then you can pay her
additional money.

There are many versions of this. I am not an expert, so you might
want to check elsewhere on this, but that is my general understanding.
and a lawyer could help draft a contract. Some samples are available
online and in some books and one could edit them to fit the case.

Hope this helps. This is an interesting experience and I would be very
curious to learn what happens as you keep negotiating with her.

Perhaps if she realises you're not interested in paying and that it
would mean that she would loose the chance of having her story told,
she might reconsider. Perhaps a small token might be convincing.

let me know if you find out some of what I said was completely wrong.
I am testing my knowledge here. so take it with a grain of salt. sorry
for this long post.

Adele Schmidt
Mon 24 May 2004Link
Perhaps you are interested:

Are You a Documentary Filmmaker Desperate for Feedback?
Been working on your film for so long that you can’t think straight
anymore? DOCS IN PROGRESS may be for you.

At the heart of DOCS IN PROGRESS is a monthly workshop
where film professionals and the general public screen
documentary rough cuts and offer constructive criticism to help
filmmakers get to the next stage of the editing process. The
workshops are moderated by D-Word's own Adele Schmidt
and Erica Ginsberg.

We are now soliciting submissions for the DOCS IN
PROGRESS workshop to take place on the evening of Tuesday,
July 13 at the Warehouse Theater in Washington DC.
Filmmakers do not have to be based in the area, but must be
available to attend the screening/feedback session at their own
expense.

To be considered for the July screening, you just need to send a
brief, written description via our website by May 31. See our
website for details: http://www.docsinprogress.org or contact us
at: contact@docsinprogress.org

If you would like to check out our next workshop, details are
below.

DOCS IN PROGRESS JUNE WORKSHOP
When? Tuesday, June 8 at 7:30 pm
Where? Warehouse Theater (1021 Seventh Street Washington
DC - walking distance from the Gallery Place or Mt. Vernon
Square Metro stations)

THE LAST COLONY - Rebecca Kingsley
In Washington DC, the capital of the world's best known
democracy, local citizens continue to be denied political rights
that other Americans take for granted -- the right to be governed
by their ownlocally-elected leaders rather than by the U.S.
Congress. This film looks at the history of Washington DC's
unique relationship with the federal government and its impact
on the city's residents.

DAUGHTERS of THE LEVANT - Rouane Itani
Women have often been at the forefront of immigrant families
and Arab-American women are no exception. This film traces
the stories of Lebanese and Syrian women immigrants to the
United States who settled with their families in cities and small
towns across the country and emerged as entrepreneurs,
artists, and activists in their new communities.

Doug Block
Mon 24 May 2004Link
Adele, this goes in the Classifieds and Announcements topic, not the
Mentoring Room.

when is release required
Fri 4 Jun 2004Link
A friend (amateur videographer) is documenting a travel
journey and the footage was originally just going to be
for family viewing. But as things develop it looks like some
interesting stories and people have emerged. Some footage
includes informal spontaneous responses from people along
the way, and a few people have given voluntary on camera
interviews with informal verbal approval. I'm going to send my
friend some written performance release forms in case he wants
to use them. We think we "might" be able to edit the material
eventually into some educational documentary or similar program
- who know if there would ever be any profit. Where do you
draw the line about who needs to sign a performance release
eg.,people on the street spontaneous interviews, etc. For those
interviews with no release he might eventually be able to track
down some but not all of the people to get a release. What
would you advise?

Simone Fary
Fri 4 Jun 2004Link
From digging around here I've learned that Errors and Omission insurance is a
necessity for a major broadcast or distribution outlet. (it's never been an issue for
any of the second tier festivals or broadcast outlets we've been in so far) The insurers
won't give you a quote until they've seen the finished film, which is understandable.
I've heard that if one doesn't have written releases the cost is higher than if you do.

Our project is doing a fair number of "man on the street" interviews in public places,
and the rest are of willing experts. We won't be doing what Micheal Moore
sometimes does - filming reluctant subjects in private places. I realize that a lawyer's
role is to help you protect yourself, so would probably advise us to have written
releases for all our interviews. However, I'm wondering if it wouldn't be worth paying
extra at the end (if the documentary turns out to be marketable enough) not to have
to deal with the written releases now. It's not the nuisance of the extra paperwork so
much as the chlling effect of asking somebody to sign that paper, and what it will do
to the tone of the interview and the subjects willingness to participate. We will keep
copies of the emails between interviewees/their agents where we explain the project
and who we are and their agreement to the interview.
If we do decide to do the full paperwork route, do folks have any advice on how to
present it in the least intimidating way possible? Besides having a "friendly young
female" production assistant to handle the matter which is not in the budget right
now :-)

This forum has been invaluable - thanks to all,
Simone

Chris G.
Fri 4 Jun 2004Link
Whenever I've had subjects sign releases, I always ask them
immediately after (not before) the interview or appearance
is completed, so that it doesn't make them freezeup or run
away. In my previous post re: my friend (amateur videographer,
traveler) he felt it would spoil the moment and will probably
opt to just get their name and contact info in a friendly
interchange after the on camera stuff. That way if we
eventually produce anything that might be distributed for
profit or aired etc. he'll try to contact them and get a release
signed at that time. In the worst case scenario where we couldn't
reach someone for a needed signature and we really want to use
the footage, I guess we could wait til they see or hear about the
release and pursue us asking for pay or whatever. He's not shooting
any reluctant people or embarassing type of subject matter.

Doug Block
Fri 4 Jun 2004Link
simone, i agree with chris2. have them sign after the interview.
explain that it's not your druthers but the broadcasters require 'em.
be low key and professional about it.

chris2, i tend to draw the line with people who speak on camera. or
if they appear prominently in footage that might cause embarrassment
later. otherwise, i don't worry too much about it. but that's just
me ;-)

Erica Ginsberg
Sat 5 Jun 2004Link
With the "willing experts," have them sign the release before the
interview. Usually, I send it to them a few days ahead of time and
explain why we need it and to feel free to call me if they have any
questions or concerns. I ask them to bring it to the interview.
I've never had anyone question it (but I did have a "willing expert"
become "unwilling" when presented with the release AFTER the
interview; it was a big blow to both of us for feeling we had wasted
the time of the interview).

With "man on the street," I judge the circumstances of the
interview. In general, I also try to get the release signed before
the interview, but have done it after as well. I usually find that
using a dose of humor helps - "Now's when I need to ask you to sign
your life away," followed by a brief explanation of why I need the
release (similar to what Doug said) usually does the trick.

Mfilmie28
Tue 15 Jun 2004Link
This is more of a producing question--but i'm looking everywhere for
help...I'm producing/directing/writing/editing, etc. a doc. about an
independent avant-garde record label. They want the copyrights and
so do I...what do you think is fair? can we share?
thanks if you can help,
sincerely,
meryl

Doug Block
Tue 15 Jun 2004Link
meryl, the simplest and lowest budget solution is for them to
maintain copyright and you simply license the music for the film
itself (worldwide rights, all media, in perpetuity). if you make a
big concession over the copyright you can probably get the price down
pretty low. then y'all can work as partners in crime in getting the
film out as widely as possible.

why would you need to own the copyright, btw?

Mfilmie28
Tue 15 Jun 2004Link
thanks for the response Doug. I am obtaining all licensing rights
for the musicindeed...what price are you talking about though?
to answer your question, I want the copyright because I funded it,
made it all myself, etc....so i feel as though I should own it. >?
is that stupid of me? as long as it is in the contract that they
will sell it in perpetuity, and if not, then i have the rights to
sell it..i guess it doesn't really matter. ?
they are licensing the music to me for free.

Doug Block
Wed 16 Jun 2004Link
oh, i misunderstood, meryl. i thought the issue was copyright to
their music. if it's copyright to the film, you should absolutely own
it, since you funded it.

i'm confused, though: the record company is the subject of the film.
are they helping you distribute it, as well?

Mfilmie28
Wed 16 Jun 2004Link
hey doug...ok good, do you know of any good books that cover the
business side of documentary...all of mine just touch very briefly
and aren't much help. i want to have a document in front of me that
i can show him so i can explain this.
yes, they are helping distribute it--it will be sold in tower
records, indie record stores, on their website, at their shows, etc.
but i will be putting it in the festival circuit and we'll see if we
can get it to some art houses first...maybe we'll make a tv cut too.

Will Blesch
Fri 16 Jul 2004Link
Hello there people!

I have a big question. I am involved in a project that is most likely
going to be shooting overseas. Now, having looked at Michael
Moore's "Farenheight 9/11" and how politically charged it is, I am
wondering about his need for release forms concerning Senators,
Congressmen etc. I doubt he got permission from some of the people he
interviewed.

Now my problem is this, (If things go well) I will be interviewing
politicians from countries other than here in the States....what sort
of rules apply?

Robert Goodman
Sat 17 Jul 2004Link
all sorts depending on where the doc will be shown. e.g., which
countries. You need a signed release as protection for your film.
The other rules apply to what you can and can't ask depending on who
you are talking to. Politicians have handlers. Expect them to set
rules.

Cameron Page
Thu 29 Jul 2004Link
Hi there everyone,

I have one specific question and one general neurosis:

Question---Where can I find a good comprehensive release form
online? Or do you any of you have a standard release that I can use?

Neurosis---for my film I will be shooting in the waiting room of an
emergency department. I have gotten permission from the hospital to
do this, but they are requiring that someone from their marketing
dept. be with me all the time. Any suggestions on how best to handle
this situation? Will people really talk to me with a marketing rep
around?

thanks,
Cameron

Cameron Page
Tue 3 Aug 2004Link
Hey, I'd love to participate in the political documentary forum, but
for some reason no text box appears when I go to that topic, even
though I do get a text box in all other topics. Anyone else having
this problem? Is this maybe why there are no comments yet?

Cameron

Doug Block
Tue 3 Aug 2004Link
It hasn't started yet, Cameron. It runs from Mon, Aug 9 to Fri, Aug
13. Until then, it's "read only."

John Philp
Thu 19 Aug 2004Link
HI all. I've been working on a film by myself for about a year and now have
found someone i want to bring on as an assistant producer/associate
producer type. of course i don't have any money, and i'm wondering what i
can offer to keep their interest. deferments? percentage of any money they
raise from grant bodies, etc.? or should i just pay them a nominal amount (i.e.
$75/day)?

this is someone with no experience in docs but great experience as a writer,
etc. i.e. someone who deserves to be paid. what's usual? what's fair?

Doug Block
Thu 19 Aug 2004Link
hard to keep an assoc. or ass't producer without paying something.
you could do a partial deferment. and/or % of funds raised. or,
better yet, make him or her co-producer and pay them nothing ;-)

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