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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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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
Sun 29 Jan 2006Link
thanks, doug, we'll keep it our secret. :)

Deirdre Fishel
Sat 18 Feb 2006Link
Hi,

I just switched from using a SONY PD 150 camera with which I was
using only SONY DV cam tapes to a Panasonic DVX100B. B and H said
definitely start using the Panasonic tapes because you don't need DV
cam and they are much cheaper. But my SONY deck has only been used
with SONY DV cam tapes.

My friend and teacher Cynthia Wade said definitely stick with only
SONY DV cam tapes. Does anyone have any experience with this?

I know there are issues with drop outs when mixing tapes. But am
I now locked into the DV cam tapes? I'm about to start a long
project so with tapes and dubs I'll probably shoot minimum 300 tapes
so using the Panasonic mini DVs would represent about a $2700
saving. On the other hand I want to use the best tape and not have
problems with my deck.

Any help would be greatly appreciated!!!

D

Doug Block
Sat 18 Feb 2006Link
welcome, deirdre. we go way back, you know. i'm about to register
you into the d-word community. be sure cut and paste this question
there. many more working doc makers will see it there and you'll
definitely get answers. but i've heard over and over you should stick
to the same brand of tape stock and preferably the same as the
camera's manufacturer.

Didi Francis
Sat 18 Feb 2006Link
Hi there

Im in the process of coordinating a long distance endurance event in
Africa raising money for HIV/AIDS orphans in Africa. I am looking at
approaching documentary production companies to film the event.
However, I am unfamiliar with documentary companies and am looking
for advice on who to approach. In particular i need to approach a
company with expertise in sports, social issues and simultaneously
capture the beauty of Africa.. anyone with suggestions pls help! thanks

Erica Ginsberg
Sun 19 Feb 2006Link
Deirdre, do you have the option to dub from your new Panasonic camera
into the editing system? I wouldn't use Panasonic tapes in a Sony
deck. Not sure about using Sony tapes in a Panasonic camera, but I
am sure somebody around here will pipe up about that soon.

Doug Block
Sun 19 Feb 2006Link
Didi, I highly recommend you contact David Jammy or Harriet Gavshon
at Curious Pictures in Johannesburg. They're considered the top doc
producers in SA and are great to work with. Please say hi from me:

http://www.curious.co.za/

Didi Francis
Sun 19 Feb 2006Link
Thanks so much Doug, i will do so.

Didi

Ben Kempas
Sun 19 Feb 2006Link
Ask Don Edkins of Day Zero in Cape Town. He produced "Steps for the
Future", a series of films about life in Southern Africa in the
presence of HIV/AIDS.

http://dayzero.co.za/steps/

Didi Francis
Thu 23 Feb 2006Link
Thanks Ben, I will do so as well. Thanks for all the help, really
appreciate it.

Didi

Ross Williams
Tue 28 Mar 2006Link
I'm nearing the end of my production of my first documentary. And
I'm looking into clearing some songs to include in the festival
release. I'd like to get a Guster song (smaller band on the Warner
label) and I'd like the rights to cover a Talking Heads song, not
one of their big hits. (I've already got a band working on it.)

Does anybody have any experience doing this? I've read that it's
very diffucult to do, and it's easier to go through a music
clearance company. Does anybody have any advice on how to go about
this? Any music clearance company recommendations? Any guess at
how much this will cost me? I've got an extremely small budget.

Thanks guys.

Doug Block
Thu 30 Mar 2006Link
ross, it's tricky stuff and i'd consult an entertainment lawyer. most
do a free consult with the first call. a d-word member, denise ohio,
wrote a good article about music clearances:
http://www.holytoledo.com/clear_music.htm

Ross Williams
Fri 31 Mar 2006Link
Thanks Doug, this was the sort of site I've been looking for but
have been unable to find. And now that I've read it, man... what a
pain in the ass.

Doug Block
Fri 31 Mar 2006Link
you mean you thought making docs was EASY???

Ross Williams
Fri 31 Mar 2006Link
Never thought it was easy. But I enjoy the creative part of it.
This legal stuff makes my mind go numb. It's something I'm doing
completely on my own. So I'm just taking it kind of slow, learning
as I go, making sure I get it right the first time. Next time
around it'll be easier cause I'll have much better idea of what I'm
doing. And hopefully I'll have some partners to help me out.

Steve Holmes
Fri 31 Mar 2006Link
Ross: From the website of entertainment lawyer Mark Litwak:
http://www.marklitwak.com/faq/music.html. Do a search on his home
page for "music" and you might get some other answers. Good luck!

Cliff Knopnik
Tue 11 Apr 2006Link
Hi,

Can any Pros help point me into the right direction?

I'm planning out (writing script, gathering resources, etc.) a
documentary/drama and am interested in finding resources on what you
can / can't include in documentaries from existing works, and how to
go about purchasing licenses for copyrighted works. For example: How
do you include a news clip about current news? How do you get the
rights to include a clip from an old John Wayne movie, etc.

Thanks in advance for the help!

Cliff

Steve Holmes
Tue 11 Apr 2006Link
Cliff: It's a tricky area. You're wise to tread carefully. There's a
concept of "fair use" which says you can use *limited* copyrighted
material, if certain conditions are met, in a new work. Those
conditions include how big a percentage the copyrighted stuff will
be in the new project, how the use will affect the market for the
material you include and whether you're likely to make any money off
of the new work (as a doc maker, the answer to that last question is
probably "no").

It is a grey area. Your best bet is to hire an attorney who's
familiar with the subject. Lawyers for the Creative Arts does pro-
bono work, I believe. Other than that, check the U.S. Copyright
Office's page on fair use (http://www.copyright.gov/fls/fl102.html),
the Cornell Law School page
(http://www4.law.cornell.edu/uscode/html/uscode17/usc_sec_17_00000107
----000-.html) or see if entertainment lawyer Mark Litwak has
information on his site (http://www.marklitwak.com/resources/). As
the Copyright Office says, your safest bet is to get the OK from the
copyright owner, which generally isn't hard if it's a local station.
A John Wayne movie would be tougher.

Cliff Knopnik
Tue 11 Apr 2006Link
Thanks. I'll check down those avenues and see how much public
domain / original stuff I can use.

Any resources for licensing music that you would recommend? I would
like to use a Louis Armstrong song in the opening credits. Is there a
central company that can get this license or do I have to go directly
to whoever currently owns the rights to it?

Cliff

Steve Holmes
Wed 12 Apr 2006Link
BMI and ASCAP are the biggies. I'll bet they have websites.

Lucio Terra
Mon 17 Apr 2006Link
Hello, I`m planning on starting a wildlife documentaries producing
company, have several ideas quite advanced, and I am now facing the
more costly (in money terms) part of the project which is buying the
initial camera and sound equipment. I`m on a tight budget, looking
for a reasonably priced camera which is "professional" enough to
achieve high quality images. My inmediate target is local TV, which
is not that quality-demanding (I`m from Uruguay, SAM), but I don`t
want to throw away my chances of going international through
cable/satellite TV just because I use lower end equipment.

I been going through the Canon XL1S and the Sony PD 150 and VX2000
models. Do you think they are enough? Do you think I could be fine
with less than that? Which camera equipment do the big ones (BBC,
Discovery Channel, NatGeo) use?

Any guidelines will be greatly appreciated, cheers

Maria Vougioukalaki
Mon 24 Apr 2006Link
ok i should post here i guess..
im working on my thesis on Pennebakers Monterey Pop(1968) anyone
any advice??any links, books on direct cinema or even the film
itself(im too optimistic i know..) thx in advance!!
maria

Doug Block
Mon 24 Apr 2006Link
Maria, there's this thing called Google...

Jon Foy
Mon 24 Apr 2006Link
Hello,

A two part question:

I've been searching out archived news clips (mostly local) and feel
like there's more out there than I find. I've tried: Lexis Nexis,
Vanderbilt, Google (of course), and searching engines on each local
news station. Any other places come to mind?

For acquiring the footage: I'm looking for two local news segments
from 2003 (Pittsburgh WTAE, Cleveland WKYC) and I've tried the
stations (won't release them) Multivision, and an assortment of
local archive houses. Any other ideas? Anyone know of any ways (by
hook or by crook) to get the stations to hand them over? I know
that this must be a common problem for doc film makers.

Much thanks in advance, -Jon and the Resurrect Dead film crew

Steve Holmes
Mon 24 Apr 2006Link
Jon, what's their reason for not releasing the clips? Money?
Privacy? Too lazy to dub them? Is there an organization that studies
your subject and might have clips or access to them? If you're
talking about the crop-circle project, how about the Coast to Coast
radio show which looks into a lot of mysterious phenomena?

Joshua Moro
Mon 24 Apr 2006Link
Hello, we are considering producing a feature length doc that
utilizes dramatic Alaskan landscapes and wildlife as major
characters. We are novices and so don't think we can go with film
and instead think HD will be more realistic. Are there different
types of HD? What is a good example of a doc or program recently
shot on high-end HD?

Steve Holmes
Tue 25 Apr 2006Link
I don't mean to be disrespectful, Joshua, but if you're novices, can
you afford HD shooting and editing? I haven't worked in that medium
and will defer to people who have, but I know it's high-end stuff.
So I don't seem to be just a naysayer, here's a place for info. on
HD: http://www.hdnnc.org/index.php. It's a group that promotes the
use of HD. You might get some answers there.

Joshua Moro
Tue 25 Apr 2006Link
No worries about disrespect. We've made one 50-minute doc, shot on
location in China, Montana, Seattle on widescreen digital beta. It's
had a good amount of success at the second-tier festivals and we are
currently looking at broadcast deals. We still think we are novices,
but have an opportunity, story and some connections to make a leap
into the feature-length doc world. From what little we know about
HD, it seems a great option for capturing the details of vast
landscapes and wildlife. Maybe not for interviews or indoor footage,
though. Thanks for the info!

Michael Lieberman
Thu 11 May 2006Link
Hello. I forgot my user info last fall, and am finally back.

I was/am making a documentary about an Iraq War veteran, and am in the post-
production stages. I was curious, as I was sent here last fall for a discussion, lost my login
info (and my job, moved, etc.), and am now back.

At the time, I asked a bit about grants and producers. I've been turned down by a few
grants, mostly because I suppose this is the *wrong* time to be making a film about a
veteran, given the timeliness and the vastness of films about this subject. Oh well.

I've self-financed this project from beginning to end and have spent under $1000. I have
no distribution or festival plan, and work most of my time so I am unable to edit as I'd
like. I know this sounds, well, like alot of other filmmakers doing the same thing. But I
was wondering if there might be a few pointers someone would consider offering. I have
no experience or helpful people around me regarding this, even though I know
filmmakers who have found distribution. When I ask them, I get a cold shoulder or my
question ignored, as if they're protecting their precious resources.

I've tried some local fundraising, and haven't found any organizations or individuals
willing to put any financial backing. I've offered clips and a small edit (like 20 minutes)
and nothing still. I don't hope to change minds about the war and refuse this idea of fair
and balanced reporting about the war, because this project isn't about that at all. Could it
be that, given how most feel about the war, that putting money behind a project with this
subject matter is considered fruitless, given most disagree with the war and my subject as
well?

Sorry for the ramble, but I've about given up finding any funding at all, or a producer. At
this point should I do everything myself?

Doug Block
Thu 11 May 2006Link
yep, join the club, michael. we all go through this. the best
advice i can give is to read some of the books and articles out there
on fundraising, starting with morrie warshawski (check out his
Fundraising conference with carole dean here):

<http://fdncenter.org/cleveland/cl_interview_warsh_verdon.html>

Doug Block
Thu 11 May 2006Link
I mean, his Fundaising Conference on The D-Word is here: {LINK NOT IMPORTED}

Steve Holmes
Thu 11 May 2006Link
Michael Lieberman wrote:

<<I've been turned down by a few grants, mostly because I suppose
this is the *wrong* time to be making a film about a veteran, given
the timeliness and the vastness of films about this subject.>>

I know of several Iraq films out there, including two by our own
James Longley and Julia Guest, but timeliness usually means it’s the
*right* time to be doing something.

Where are you in the process? I’m confused. Are you looking for
distribution of a completed film or fundraising to finish it? Those
are two different animals.

<< even though I know filmmakers who have found distribution. When I
ask them, I get a cold shoulder or my question ignored, as if
they're protecting their precious resources.>>

Strange. I can understand being coy about some funding sources,
especially if a filmmaker feels he has a special “in,” but people
around here are quite open with advice about the pros and cons of
distributors.

<<I've tried some local fundraising, and haven't found any
organizations or individuals willing to put any financial backing.>>

Where are you located? Is there a filmmakers’ group nearby that has
occasional workshops on fundraising and distribution? There’s no
money in doc distribution unless you’re Michael Moore. Most doc
makers get their funding through grants or their own checkbooks.
Very tough to sell this as an investment. You need people who will
put money into it for emotional reasons. They believe in the topic.
They believe in the veteran. They believe in you. Maybe some group
such as Vietnam Veterans against the War. They might not have money,
but should be able to steer you to people who can help you with
cash, in-kind, endorsements or contacts.

Try the Foundation Center (<http://fdncenter.org>). Its site allows
you to search by key word for potential funders. The group also has
placed copies of its core collection of grantwriting books in
libraries around the country. Get the nearest location through the
website.

Ross Williams
Thu 11 May 2006Link
In my documentary I want two quick shots of two seperate
celebrities. Unable to afford paying for any usage rights, I'm
wondering about how to get around this.

How I've worked it now, is I've changed photos of them very
significantly, cut them out, messed with them in photoshop and
animated them. I don't know if anybody would ever be able to
recognize them from the original photo.

I thought I'd heard somewhere that if you change a photo more than
50% than it's considered a new image. Is this true? I can't find any
evidence of this anywhere.

Has anyone dealt with this before? Or point me to a website that
would explain this?

Thank you.

Doug Block
Thu 11 May 2006Link
call me dense but who do you need to pay the usage rights to, ross?
the photographer? a magazine?

and if you change the phot so much you can't recognize the celebrity,
why are you even using the photo?

Ross Williams
Fri 12 May 2006Link
I believe that you would have to pay the photographer, because they
are the copyright owner.

The celebrities are still recognizable, they look more like
charactures now... but the photos aren't recognizable.

Erica Ginsberg
Fri 12 May 2006Link
Ross, you should look at the Fair Use Statement for Documentary
Filmmakers, authored by the Center for Social Media and a number of
film organizations. Depending on how you are using the images in
your project, they may come under fair use.
<http://www.centerforsocialmedia.org/resources/publications/documentar
y_filmmakers_statement_of_best_practices_in_fair_use/
>

Christopher Gallant
Wed 17 May 2006Link
Hi everyone,
I also have a usage question. I need to use some footage from some of
the old roman empire b+w epics - ya know "cast of thousands"kinda
ficks. There are a few really old ones from the 30's and 20's which
might be less problematic(?) I would love to write whomever owns the
rights to ask but I have a tight deadline for the finishing of this
documentary... It's for my thesis project. I would like to show the
film more widely later on, but for now I just need to show it on
campus and have a small community gallery/space showing to fulfill my
requirements. Using this footage, a minute or two, will make the
project concept work sooo much better. What's your advice?


David Seidman
Sun 21 May 2006Link
I'm a longtime print journalist and non-fiction author who wants
to work in documentary film/video. I've joined IDA, I've started
pitching ideas to various production houses, and now I'm here.
What else should I do to find work in this field?

David Seidman
davidseidman@earthlink.net

Robert Goodman
Sun 21 May 2006Link
Find work - look elsewhere. Most of us support our habit by working in
peripheral areas. For example, shooters do everything from corporate
work to commercials to weddings. The ranks of the doc makers who earn
their entire living from making docs is slim. The Maysles earned more
from commercial work than they ever did from making docs. Michael
Moore likely earns more from book sales than doc films. Lots of people
teach. Some are independently wealthy. As several famous nonfiction
filmmakers have told me - this is a hobby not a profession.

sorry to disappoint.

Steve Holmes
Mon 22 May 2006Link
Excellent advice from Robert, as usual. To find work in this field
as a producer, which is what I infer you want to do, you have to
make your own work. You'll find no ads that say, "Wanted:
Documentary makers." Almost everyone on D-Word has created labors of
love that they have funded by themselves or through grants or co-
production deals and then attempted to sell and distribute. Find an
idea or topic you can stay in love with for at least several years
and begin to pull together funding possibilities and a filmmaking
team. That's how you find work in this field.

Robert Goodman
Mon 22 May 2006Link
Actually find an idea or topic that will remain interesting to people
for the next 40 years - we call them evergreens. An evergreen brings
in a trickle of money year after year. Anything less and you'll never
get a return on your investment.

Doug Block
Mon 22 May 2006Link
David, hopefully you can keep doing your print journalism to fall
back on. A first doc generally takes years to make and then get out
into the world (don't forget that part).

Karen Nedivi
Wed 31 May 2006Link
I just started working on a documentary as the cinematographer, that
will take place in the cloud forest in ecuador. I don't have
experiecne shooting abroad on film. They are planning on buying either
the arriS or the SR (money) and will be either sending film or
bringing film with us. We also are worried about the bext way to
develop the film, since we will be there for over 3 months, and if it
is better to do this locally though a kodak, or send back to AMerica
to a lab.
If anyone has experience with shooting abroad and have any
recommendations or warnings, it would be very helpful, or online
resources. We will contact kodak and labs to ask them what they
suggest, but I would like to find out information from people who
actually had the experience.

Julia Guest
Thu 8 Jun 2006Link
Karen this sounds like a very expensive, high risk medium to use in
a steamy jungle. You will face problems with condensation for a
start. Have you consider going Hi Def instead? I doubt a lab in
Ecuador is going to be adequate to process the film, so you will
also not see your results till you get back.

Luke Walden
Fri 7 Jul 2006Link
Hello all. This is my first post here, and I'm wondering where should
I go and whom should I ask to get some really experienced advice about
technical issues around post production for an indie historical doc
that combines contemporary 24P DV interviews/B-roll with a wide range
of archival footage formats and stills. I'm trying to plan and budget
for an edit that will cause minimal headaches in an online for
broadcast and also for possible film transfer. We will most likely
edit in Final Cut and online on a high end AVID at a decent post house.

I've done a lot of internet
searching and talked to several post houses in New York, but I don't
feel like I've yet gotten answers that really take into account the
possibility of mixing all that archival material with 24p footage and
what that might entail in terms of technical issues, workflow and
onscreen look. Perhaps the person I need is on this very board! But
if not, where to look?

Thanks,
Luke

Doug Block
Fri 7 Jul 2006Link
as noted in the intro topic, since you clearly qualify as a
professional, luke, you'll find qualified pros to answer that question
in the professional community here: www.d- word.com/community/join.

but you could also post this question on the shooting people website:
www.shootingpeople.com

John Burgan
Mon 10 Jul 2006Link
For FCP/24p questions you could start by browsing through these
sites:

<http://forums.creativecow.net/cgi-bin/new_view_posts.cgi?forumid=8>

<http://www.2-popforums.com/forums/>

Joe Wilson
Wed 19 Jul 2006Link
Greetings Folks,

I'm new to this world, and am up to my neck (or is that in over my
head?) in my first big project:
(http://qwaves.com/QWAVESnew_10/Heartland.html).

As I begin fundraising, I'm wondering if there are recommendations on
which org(s) work well as a fiscal sponsor .. ? (So far, I'm looking
at International Doc Assoc., Film Arts Fdn., & Southern Doc Fund.)

Also, as I begin to grapple with approx. 70 hours of footage, I'd love
to connect with (and hopefully hire) a talented writer, experienced in
documentary work, to help me flesh out the narrative / structure for
the piece. Any suggestions on how / where to reach out / connect with
writers? (I'm particularly interested in someone with experience in
queer film and/or activism.)

Thank You for any comments or suggestions that may come my way:
qwavesjoe@yahoo.com

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