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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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Michelle Plett
Wed 12 Jan 2005Link
Thanks for the info..

as far as #6, that's what I meant...sorry, should have been more
clear or read my post over again!

Doug Block
Wed 12 Jan 2005Link
ditto what robert says. v. good advice (as usual).

Erica Ginsberg
Wed 12 Jan 2005Link
ditto ditto. I'd just add on question 1 that, while you can't
copyright an idea or a proposal, you can protect yourself a little by
keeping good documentation of the different stages of production and
perhaps finding a way to make sure that the story will be unique to
you (i.e., you have special access to the subject, etc.)

Outreach can be a major part of the budget depending on what you are
planning to do. You should consider it separately from post-
production. Not sure where you are based, but you might want to
check out an upcoming workshop on outreach strategies that is being
sponsored by the Center for Social Media in Washington DC on February
7. More info at
<http://www.centerforsocialmedia.org/outreachworkshop.htm > Also
there was an online forum on outreach here in D-Word a few years back
with Robert West from Working Films. The thread should still be
there.

Doug Block
Wed 12 Jan 2005Link
Yup. LINK NOT IMPORTED...


Michelle Plett
Thu 13 Jan 2005Link
thanks! I'm going to get Laura (the director) to get out to that!
She's in Virginia.

Michelle Plett
Thu 13 Jan 2005Link
Where do i find out about E & O insurance?

Doug Block
Fri 14 Jan 2005Link
I highly recommend Dennis Reiff & Associates. Just give them a call
and ask: http://www.reiffinsurance.com

Richard Levitt
Wed 26 Jan 2005Link
Hey there!
I'm in the prep stage for a doc on a former CIA station chief who
helped turn central Africa into the wonderful and happy place it is
today. Brushing aside his usual disdain for agents who have gone
public, he's talking--and it's only to us! We're getting some quick
interest, and we are in the process of putting together a preliminary
budget--around $500k--for a potential investor. A basic question
please: What would be a sensible amount to enter for a
producer/director in terms of salary--given the overall budget? I
know there are no rules, but let's have a figure for the budget and
if the universe allows, I may actually see some of it!
Thanks

Doug Block
Thu 27 Jan 2005Link
That's always a tricky question, but I figure anywhere between 50 to
75k wouldn't raise any eyebrows. you'll have considerably more
trouble explaining to an investor how he or she will see a profit with
that high a budget on a doc.

Richard Levitt
Thu 27 Jan 2005Link
Thanks for you quick response! I suspect I will make it through with
much less than that, but it's good to have some general numbers. My
partner, who is in fact used to working on small budget productions,
reminds me that no filmaker she ever met got paid during production;
but frankley, the scope of this film is more expansive and, in
addition, there would be no other source of income during the making
of the doc. Is it completely unreasonable to expect at least
something to live on?

Doug Block
Thu 27 Jan 2005Link
absolutely not. most experienced funders actually worry more about
filmmakers who don't put ENOUGH salary for themselves to live on. it's
a big red flag pointing to their inexperience. still, even the most
experienced often pay themselves last. like, um, me...

Richard Levitt
Thu 27 Jan 2005Link
Thanks again!! Two more questions--two major producers want to see a
three-minute pitch reel (it might, in addition to everything else,
help us retain creative control over this project--which one producer
has already tried to grab away). Our DP suggests we go with the 24p
package he has, for the pitch and maybe the doc itself. Not knowing
where this will be distributed (cable television has expressed an
interest), should we be thinking higher in the quality universe?

Also, the person who recommended an investor, wants a hefty
commission--have you heard of that before and, if so, how was that
handled?

Robert Goodman
Thu 27 Jan 2005Link
finder's fee - worth 5-10%.
which 24P package - a DVX100A? a SDX900? a VariCam? a Cinealta? 16mm?
35MM? If the answer is DVX100a, I'd suggest unless you don't get
your 500K, moving up the production scale.

Doug Block
Thu 27 Jan 2005Link
hey, you're talking to a guy who had a film shown on hbo, at sundance
and many other fests, and even limited theatrical that was shot on
good ol' hi-8! so a dvx100a seems perfectly tasty to me.

Robert Goodman
Fri 28 Jan 2005Link
doug - not what I meant. If the budget is $500K think the
expectation is that you will shoot on something better than Hi8. Now
if you're talking Pixelvision I could understand. And was I talking
to you?

Robert Goodman
Fri 28 Jan 2005Link
re-read the posts. Doug you didn't ask the question. Richard did. If
I were the investor, I'd opt for better quality for my $500,000.
Just my 2 cents.

Doug Block
Fri 28 Jan 2005Link
assuming richard raises 500k, as opposed to 2 cents ;-) given that
he may well need to shoot in stages, should add that nobody's ever
been arrested for upgrading camera quality mid-stream. or mixing
looks.

Karen Loeb
Fri 28 Jan 2005Link
I'm wondering if anyone out there has some advice about how to get
advice on writing a budget for a full-length documentary film. Are
there any online mentorship programs? I'm in Canada, by the way....

Doug Block
Sat 29 Jan 2005Link
I've always liked the Michael Weise book on Film and Video Budgets:

http://shop.store.yahoo.com/cinemasupplies/filvidbudmic.html

Robert Goodman
Sat 29 Jan 2005Link
I'd second Doug's suggestion and also suggest you look at the CBC's
website. There's a wealth of info there and I believe at the Film
Board website.

Christopher Gallant
Tue 1 Feb 2005Link
Hello all,
I'm starting taping on a documentary concerning my father and a
boyhood story. I've watched Alan Berliner's "Nobody's Business". Any
other suggestions on material to watch, books, etc? Any advice
appreciated!

Doug Block
Tue 1 Feb 2005Link
"my architect" and "capturing the friedmans" are the most obvious
recent choices. i'm doing a similar film and i think the main
question is can you treat your own role in the film with the necessary
objectivity and distance? in other words, can you treat yourself as a
character in a movie? other than that, my own rule of thumb is that
no one in the film can come off looking worse than me. a sense of
humor about oneself never hurts, either.

but my best advice is find a great editor. or, if you can't afford
one, find one to be a consulting editor.

Erica Ginsberg
Tue 1 Feb 2005Link
Also POP AND ME in addition to Doug's recommendations above.

Maureen Futtner
Tue 1 Feb 2005Link
I am mailing a letter requesting an interview with a gentleman named
Ernest Callenbach - known mostly for his visionary 70's sci-fi
novel "Ecotopia".
Frankly, I'm a novice filmmaker and am wondering if established
people like Mr. Callenbach would want to be offered, from the get-
go, an honorarium? I have no budget and little money, but if that
might help me get an interview w/him, I might be able to up front
offer $75-100.

ANy thoughts on this? Is that simply insultingly low? Should I not
offer at first and see what happens?

Doug Block
Wed 2 Feb 2005Link
maureen, i've been involved with many docs and have never paid for an
interview, never offered pay, never been asked for pay. more than
likely he'll be more than happy that a filmmaker knows who he is and
appreciates his work, and wants to put him in her film. if he's so
inclined, offer to take him out to lunch or dinner, instead. and
shoot a really terrific interview.

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