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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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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.

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