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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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Jamila Gaskins
Thu 10 Nov 2005Link
Doug,

I've never produced a film before so it's all new to me, budgeting,
crew, etc. I've begun my research and have contacts across the
country willing to help with the story, but I am in need of help
putting it all together. The person I spoke with at the company said
I should proceed with a query letter. But I'd love a meeting
instead. I agree it would be much more effective.

Ross Williams
Thu 10 Nov 2005Link
I'm editing a personal documentary right now... when I began shooting
it, I didn't have much plans of trying to get it released or
anything, but as it's coming together I think I'll at least try to
show it at festivals... and if it all works out, I'd love to sell it.

Since I wasn't planning ahead for that I didn't get release forms
from any of the places that I was shooting. (I did get some release
forms from people that I knew I wouldn't be able to track down again.
And plan on getting release forms from my friends and family that
appear in the film.)

My question is, what sort of legalities are behind the places that I
shot. The majority of it takes place in our old apartment?... will I
need to get a release from the owners. My biggest concern is the
hospital where we shot some footage?... If I don't tell the viewer
where we are exactly and never have any identifying features, do I
still need a release form?

Can anybody answer these questions or point me towards a website or
book that'll answer them for me?

I'm a newbie at the legal side of it, been shooting guerilla style
for years.

Thanks!

Doug Block
Fri 11 Nov 2005Link
i'm not a lawyer but... i don't get location releases for my docs,
personal or otherwise, unless it's a really obvious place (say, yankee
stadium, disneyland) that would sue my ass in the blink of an eye. do
get releases from your friends and family. like, right away.

www.marklitwack.com is a good site for legal stuff.

Marc Maurino
Sat 31 Dec 2005Link
hi there, i'm afraid this may have been asked before but after some
fairly extensive searching i can't find if it has or not. i'll be
shooting a short doc that will be some talking heads, some action, not
too much big landscape, some handheld stuff. my ultimate goal is film
festivals and public television, and i'm shooting on one chip mini DV.
do folks have any opinions on shooting 16:9 vs. 4:3? I think
widescreen (16:9) looks so much better, and I imagine it would be more
appropriate for television also. (PS I'll be editing in FCP.) Any
opinions are greatly appreciated. Thanks.

Doug Block
Sat 31 Dec 2005Link
as far as i know, hbo and pbs still want 4:3, while many foreign
broadcasters, like the bbc, for instance, want 16:9 (though zdf/arte,
which i pre-sold my current doc to, was fine with 4:3). it's easy
enough to make a 16:9 master from 4:3 footage - might be harder the
other way around.

that said, by the time you're done, u.s. tv may be going more towards
16:9. it's a hard issue.

personally, i'd opt for a 3-chip dv camera rather than one chip.
that's a huge quality difference, without a huge difference in
expense.

Georg Schmitt
Sun 1 Jan 2006Link
Yes do get a 3 chip, and shoot in 4:3 since most consumer cameras fake
16:9 mode is worse than just cropping the picture later in post.


Hey, I have a different format question, that is 52 or 58 min.?
Here in Europe we have a 43:30 slot, but since I own the international
rights on the project I´m working on right now I opt for a int.
distribution. I have heared about both lenght´s reffered as one TV
hour, now I´m not sure what would be best?

In addition I´d like to ask a similar question about festival formats.
Is there a min. lenght for major sections or festivals.

Thanx so much for your help, I hope that hasn´t been discussed 100
before.
G.

Doug Block
Sun 1 Jan 2006Link
i believe sundance lumps any film over 45 min. into the doc feature
category. others, like berlin, wants an hour or more (don't know if
they consider 52min an hour, but i think they would 58). i'd look at
the websites of the various festivals you're considering and read
their eligibility requirements.

an int'l sales agent i've used, films transit, has told me he doesn't
have a problem with anything between 52 and 60 min. for sales to
broadcasters with one hour slots. in the u.s., pbs generally likes 57
min.

John Philp
Tue 3 Jan 2006Link
Hi. Great forum.
I'm working on a doc about yoga that is 90 percent shot, 25 percent
edited. I have a few private investors interested, each good for a
small fraction of the budget, i.e. $10,000 of $400,000. What can I
tell these investors to ‘expect’? I’ve heard “first monies will repay
the capital contribution of the investors” is a good thing to say,
but I have no idea what it means. I’ve also heard a 50-50 split of
the profits between investors and producers is typical. But that only
seems to make sense if one investor funds the whole thing. Very
confusing.
Also, I’ve been told I need to provide a “limited offering
memorandum” and maybe a “Limited Partnership Agreement”. Does anyone
know a good, NYC-based lawyer who could cheaply draft such an
agreement?
Thanks,
JP

Marc Maurino
Wed 4 Jan 2006Link
thanks for the advice about 4:3 and 3ccd. I'm taking both bits of
advice, i'll shoot in 4:3 and do my best to borrow a 3ccd from the
local cable access channel when I can.

onward for more advice: first of all, is there a reliable "search"
function to go through the discussions so that if a question was asked
before we can find the answer? i've been trying to figure it out to
no avail.

secondly: has anyone ever made a documentary about good friends, and
if so, how did it work out, did you explicitly lay out any ground
rules (ie, tonight is pizza and beer, no filming or talk of filming),
were there any lessons you learned the hard way, what worked and
didn't work; as a corollary question, has anyone ever directed a doc
in which you had a significant interest in the outcome of the
subject's journey? how did that work, what did you learn/caveats,
etc. any real experience advice or opinions are welcomed.

here's the quick background: i'm embarking on a film about the nine
month run-up to the opening of a montessori school, as a married
couple will (hopefully) find the funding, get the space, and get
children signed up. there will be informational meetings with
interested parents, meetings with real estate agents, signing a lease,
renovating a space, planning the curriculum, signing up children, etc.
the married couple also happen to be our neighbors, our very good
friends, and we intend to send our child to the school.

i'm interested in doing a doc not as a promo piece but to document the
nine month journey starting now (they've already been working at this
a long time) to the start of the school in september. the subjects
are game as it appeals to their desire for transparency as they build
this school, and because they trust me. i intend to do several
interviews but also to document a lot of their journey such as the
real estate stuff, etc., etc. i support what they're doing
wholeheartedly and have been on an informal steering committee of
parents for the past year; plus, of course, i've been to dinner at
their house or them at mine countless times and shared thanksgiving
and christmas at my house, our children are friends, etc.

am i looking for trouble, or will some good ground rules keep us all
friends a year from now?

Georg Schmitt
Wed 4 Jan 2006Link
Thanks Doug,

that was a great help!
Since I finally found my password again,
I eventually may give up my longtime lurker existence;-)

Greetings from India
g.

Doug Block
Wed 4 Jan 2006Link
john, there are some good books out there that would deal with
limited partnerships. too complicated to give a quick answer (not
that i fully understand it). just curious why a doc on yoga costs
400K (i imagine investors would be, too). are you shooting on
location all over the world?

marc, my most recent film, 51 birch street, is all about my parents
marriage and our family history. i dealt with your issue basically by
saying trust me, and by honoring their honesty with me by making as
honest and truthful a film as i'm capable of making. i did NOT bring
them into my shooting or editing process, but did allow each family
member a chance to see an early rough cut (my father first) and let me
know if there was anything in there they thought was unfair or untrue.
fortunately, they were all fine with it. and now that it's out doing
festivals (and especially because the response has been so
overwhelmingly positive), they're very proud of the film.

Marc Maurino
Wed 4 Jan 2006Link
doug, i just read through the entire "51 birch street" web site, and
i was moved and touched by your honesty and the depth it appears you
went to in a family way on that project. i can't wait to see it.

i'm intending to have another (and perhaps more after that) in depth
conversations with my subjects to talk about what may happen if and
when we hit some rough patches. what if i capture them fighting?
will they say "camera off, please?" and if so, will i feel that my
efforts to make an honest film are getting so hamstrung that i can't
be honest, and then feel compelled to trash the project and then be
regretful and annoyed with them . . . these are worst case scenarios,
but i feel compelled to visit them now rather than later.

i think your trust and honesty approach is key, and i intend to
practice it myself, to the best of my ability. thanks for weighing
in.

Ben Kempas
Wed 4 Jan 2006Link
Georg, are you the guy from Stuttgart who originally signed up with
the user name "georg"? If yes, you should also use the more specific
topics inside our professional area, {LINK NOT IMPORTED}.

John Philp
Wed 4 Jan 2006Link
Hi Doug, I'll look for some books. Yes, the $400,000 budget
includes i/nat. travel/production and frequent trips in the US, as
well as lots of music and archival pix issues. (The doc also
serves as a social history, in a way.) Most of the investors don't
balk at the figure but other filmmnakers do, including me
sometimes. I've always worked much lower budget, and may end up
doing this film for less as well.

Doug Block
Wed 4 Jan 2006Link
marc, i suggest you tell them if there's a time when they really want
you to stop shooting, then let you know and you'll honor their
request. otherwise, i don't think i'd set up elaborate ground rules.
just be sensitive to any emotional situations as they unfold and use
your common sense.

Georg Schmitt
Mon 9 Jan 2006Link
Yes Ben, it´s me but i have problems to log in there!
Coul´d you help me with that?
And by the way, i always was looking forward to meet you one day,
hopefully some time soon.
g.

Marc Maurino
Thu 12 Jan 2006Link
Hi folks. I'm shooting a documentary as a "one man band"--mostly with
my own 1 chip, but when i can get it from the local cable access
channel, i'll be using their JVC GY DV500 (3 ccd.) in no particular
order, a few questions:

1. has anyone ever used this JVC camera, and if so, any caveats,
complaints, or compliments? (i'm assuming it's better than my 5 year
old Sony DCR-TRV11, though truth be said, i've been blessed with that
camera.) also, since i'll be buying mini DV tapes in bulk, should i
go with JVC, or Sony, or some other brand, and how high quality do i
need to go? in bulk at BH Photo video i'm looking Sony premium DVM
60s running about 3$ a pop, which fits my (non-existent) budget.

2. The cable access channel said i'll need to buy a new battery for
the JVC, they lost theirs or something. i've done some internet
searching and found some online battery places that have compatible
batteries for about $55. am i doing the right thing here or do i need
to find a JVC-manufactured battery?

3. Naturally i want great sound and don't have a boom operator, so
i'm investing in a shotgun mic. in the BH PHoto Video catalog i'm
looking at an Azden SGM-X shotgun mic for about $130, a Sennheiser
MKE300 for $170, and a Sony stereo condenser mic for $80. Any
recommendations about these or any others you swear by? I really
don't want to go over $200, and am only willing to go that far because
I obviously know the importance of really good sound.

4. I have a something which was given to me which I realize now is a
Beach Tek Dual XLR audio adapter DXA 4 for Sony cameras. Is this
going to be compatible and/or necessary for a shotgun mic?

5. My doc is not, thus far, proving to be something where I can set
up lights and all that; I'm documenting a couple who are starting a
small private (Montessori) school and most of what I'm catching is
them having business meetings with the bank, the business plan guy,
interviews with them about their partnership and philosophy, scouting
out the (potential) school space, giving informational meetings for
parents, meeting with realtor, etc. Since I'm shooting on DV, and
mostly 1 chip for that matter, what would you, experienced D-worder,
recommend as the things I absolutely should (or should not, as the
case may be) be doing when I'm shooting? As you can see, good sound
is something I'm paying attention to, but should I absolutely have a
single light i'm setting up behind my camera, or invest in an
expensive tripod (i have a lightweight one that i set up and then
don't touch), etc? Professional experience and words of wisdom are
greatly appreciated by us first timers.

As always, thanks in advance!

Doug Block
Fri 13 Jan 2006Link
no time to answer now, marc, but i highly recommend you not post so
many questions at one time. it's a bit overwhelming for us time-
challenged folks. one quick thought, though: go with sennheiser.

Marc Maurino
Fri 13 Jan 2006Link
thanks for the advice, doug, both on sennheiser and posting
etiquette. i guess i wanted to avoid the "man, that guy is posting
new questions every day" thing, so i post a dozen at once . . . looks
like i backed the wrong horse! i'll give it a few days and then
dribble questions in one at a time from now on. thank you for taking
the time, and have a great weekend!

Ben Kempas
Fri 20 Jan 2006Link
Georg - just email me with your account details and we'll sort out
your access problems. ben@d-word.com

Stephanie Vevers
Fri 20 Jan 2006Link
Marc,

The beachtek adapter is not needed with model MKE300 sennheiser
mic which already has a 1/8" connector.

If the mic you choose has a 3-pronged connector you do need the
beachtek adapter. It is a good device and I have used it a lot
with a Sony TRV900 camcorder. It also allows you to take a line
feed from pa and sound systems.
You would need a cable to go from the mic to the beechtek. A
short cable for ease of use.
A long cable for remote location from camera, if you need to tape
a panel discussion or pass mic around.
You have to be concerned about mic noise of course. Connections
and handling introduce noise. Headphones?

Try to review your footage as you go, learn from your mistakes.
don't zoom with impunity. do change shot setup or angle, rather
than stay in an poor one.
But don't wear out your tapes with viewing. Dump onto hard drives
or make vhs viewing dubs?
Hard drives are going to be an investment.
Start thinking about editing now.

B&H sells generic batteries too.

http://www.beachtek.com/dxa4.html to download info and
instructions if you need them.

THere are some good books out there,
Directing the Documentary, by Michael Rabiger, seems popular.

Marc Maurino
Sat 21 Jan 2006Link
Stephanie,
Thanks for taking the time to provide such a detailed and intelligent
response. The "review . . . learn . . . and dump" as you go advice is
really good. I have a spreadsheet form that I fill out after shooting
and I'm going to start logging as I go, as I anticipate shooting a few
hours a month for nine months, and don't want to wake up in september
with thirty hours staring at me! :)

I just had my first experience with the beachtek the other night,
borrowed a few shotgun mikes from the local cable access station (and
stands) and ran them into my beachtek, monitored it all on headphones.
good experience, and when I have a static environment, i think i'll
go with mikes on stands; but for more mobile shooting (or tighter
quarters) i think i'll go with Sennheiser. I really appreciate the
advice! Thanks for being so generous!

Marc Maurino
Sun 29 Jan 2006Link
quick question on ethics and doc filming--if you've got a good scene
going but your subjects are just a little too far apart (physically)
to both be in your frame, is it ethical/permissible/fair to ask them
to scoot closer to one another to fit into your frame? in this case,
it was a married couple discussing a budget, and i was crammed into
the corner of their dining room, and they were comfortable just
sitting a little closer and pushing their laptop over a little.
anyone have any thoughts on this? thanks in advance.

Doug Block
Sun 29 Jan 2006Link
sure, i've done that. had no great moral scruples, either. but,
shhhhh, don't tell anyone ;-)

Marc Maurino
Mon 30 Jan 2006Link
thanks, doug, we'll keep it our secret. :)

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