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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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Ana Da Silva
Mon 6 Nov 2006Link
Hello!

I'm new here and looking for further guidance. I want to get into
documentary film making to cover issues in children rights
(broadly). I studied Communications for both my BA and my MA and
have a day job to pay the bills. I've been reading more and more
about docs and I want to do it for a living (or try anyway).

Any ideas on where to go from here? If you ask me what I'd like to
be doing (in the field) in 10 years, I'd say producing and still
writing, which is what I'd like to do soon.

I hope this is a clear intro and I hope you guys will be able to give
me some constructive advice.

Thank you very much!

Ana

Robert Murdock
Wed 8 Nov 2006Link
Hi all,

I have a question, well a few I guess. I recently started an
attempt at making a short documentry. Topic: online gamers. Next I
hope to do a wildlife short.

Here is my issue. I have some notes scribbled down, for example:

1. Opening intro
2. interview with.. XXX
3. comentary on convention
4. footage from convention

...etc.

Is there a better way to lay out what I want to accomplish? I know
that most people do not like software that helps with these things,
but, what do you all think?

What type of software package would help me most with getting the
layout of my documentry down? Do I need a screenwriter software?
Movie outline? Final Draft.. or?

Any help would be appreciated! Thanks.

RObert

Robert Goodman
Wed 8 Nov 2006Link
Any word processing software will be fine for a treatment.

Doug Block
Thu 9 Nov 2006Link
ana, you could try any number of things. you could take classes.
you could intern for established doc makers. you could simply pick up
a camera and start shooting. there's no set path.

Erica Ginsberg
Thu 9 Nov 2006Link
I'd go with word processing and skip the specialty software. For a
treatment, you don't need to go shot-by-shot. I assume you are
asking about a script or at least a paper edit guideline.

Some folks live by using the same format as for a fiction script.
Personally I prefer the side-by-side version where I put my visuals
in the left column and the audio (interview bites, sound on tape,
music, etc.) in the right column. You may find you like doing it in
word processing or you may find that color-coded index cards on a
wall work better for you.

I'd recommend investing in the book, "Directing the Documentary" by
Michael Rabiger for further ideas on how to do a paper edit. Some
folks find it very old-fashioned since you can now do all the layout
directly in to a nonlinear editing program, but doing a paper edit
can be really helpful as you are starting out to help you get your
head around the story you are trying to tell.

Christopher Gallant
Sun 19 Nov 2006Link
I'm half way through my first documentary rough cut and I'm in need of
some music. I'm a graduate student so I definitely need royalty free
music. The types of music range from woody allenesque jazz to 1960s
lounge music to classical piano interludes to kitschy italian
concertina music. Have any ideas? I also was wondering if there was an
easy place to access music which has had its copyright expire? Any
advice welcome.

Doug Block
Sun 19 Nov 2006Link
christopher, most any question like that can be answered by doing a
google search.

"royalty free music for films" --> www.royaltyfreemusic.com

Christopher Gallant
Sun 19 Nov 2006Link
Doug,
I appreciate the advice. I have actually already tried that. The point
of my question was to weed through the 6,220,000 hits that Google
throws your way for a "royalty free music" search and see if there was
a prefered royalty free music clearing house. Is this site,
www.royaltyfreemusic.com, your best pick and if so have you ever used
it? If it is then I guess you're not in bad company as Google also
picks it as its number one site. Any further helpful advice would be
appreciated.

Doug Block
Mon 20 Nov 2006Link
hopefully someone else will pipe in, christopher. i've only used
original music in my docs.

Joe Scherrman
Mon 20 Nov 2006Link
Christopher

I have a friend that might be able to give us some advice on suggested
music but he wouldn't know about royalty free stuff. It might help
limiting the search by having a title. Let me know if you would like me
to contact him.

Andrew Corica
Sun 26 Nov 2006Link
For my next doc I need footage of Katrina, and other similar events.
Where can I get this? No networks will answer my emails. All help is
appreciated, (maybe a spot on my credits)

Robert Goodman
Sun 26 Nov 2006Link
try your local news station. They may have footage and be more open to
you. Perhaps even do a story on you making a doc. All of the networks
have stock footage companies that sell footage. I'm sure you could buy
something if you want.

Alexandra Stubbs
Tue 5 Dec 2006Link
Hey, guys. I've been very interested in docs and doc making for
awhile now. I intend to go over seas within the next two years for
an early "OE" and have decided to invest in some equipment before I
go as I will be going to some very interesting places. I've been
looking at 'Camcorders' and "pro camcorders" for awhile now... But
to be honest I just want something efficient and well, cheap (as
cheap as possible). Can anyone make some suggestions as to what
would be good to look at? I have a budget as I'm a student… who's
currently jobless =P 2.5Grand (US dollars) would be my limit (not
including accesories). I would prefer to spend less of course but I
do want something decent! Any tips / suggestions would be greatly
appreciated!

Scott Westphal-solary
Thu 7 Dec 2006Link
Are there any set guidelines for music credits? I have about 4 songs
and I'd like to know what I need to include in the credits for legal.
They are all christian hymns from the public domain performed by
people in the film.

Erica Ginsberg
Wed 27 Dec 2006Link
This may be of interest to emerging documentary filmmakers for a
mentoring and major networking opportunity...


The Garrett Scott Documentary Development Grant will fund two first
time documentary makers for travel and accommodations at the Full
Frame Documentary Film Festival, April 12-15, 2007. For four days,
grant recipients will be given access to films, participate in master
classes and be mentored by experienced filmmakers.

About the Grant: Garrett Scott made a distinctive mark in documentary
films during his short career. Without any formal training in film, he
directed CUL DE SAC: A SUBURBAN WAR STORY, examining the case of a
methamphetamine addict who stole a tank from an armory and went on a
rampage through the San Diego suburbs. The film prompted Filmmaker
Magazine to cite Scott as one of 25 New Faces of Independent Film. He
went on to make OCCUPATION: DREAMLAND, co-directed with Ian Olds,
about U.S. soldiers in Falluja, Iraq. It won prizes at Full Frame and
the Independent Spirit Awards. Both films were broadcast by the
Sundance Channel. In 2005, Scott died of a heart attack at age 37. His
friends, family and colleagues established this development grant to
help other emerging filmmakers reach their potential. The grant's
selection committee looks especially for filmmakers who somehow
fulfill Scott's example, by bringing a unique vision to the content
and style of contemporary documentary making.

Criteria: Applicants must be a U.S. citizen or green card holder,
living in the continental United States; any age 18 or older. By
"first time filmmaker," we mean someone who is in the early stage of
their documentary career and not yet received significant recognition
(such as major festival play or broadcast). All applicants should
anticipate finishing their first project by March 2008. You can still
qualify as a "first time filmmaker," even if you've made shorts or
student projects or worked professionally as a crew member on other
people's films. Or if you've recently completed a documentary that
hasn't been released yet. The grant is open to students and
non-students alike.

How: Applicants should send a 2 page letter addressing these areas:

1) Project summary: Describe the documentary you're working on. It
doesn't matter whether the film is a short or a feature. Describe the
characters, structure, visual approach and what stage you're at.

2) Director's statement: Describe how you came to filmmaking and how
you've trained as a filmmaker. It doesn't matter whether you went to
film school or are self-taught. Describe what you want audiences to
take from your film.

In addition, if applicants have a 5-10 minute sample of their work or
work-in-progress, please send that as well on DVD or VHS (NTSC
format). A sample work isn't required to apply. But if the selection
committee has to choose between several strong applicants, the sample
work will become a factor in making the decision.

Submit two copies of both the letter and work sample along with
your...

Name:
Address:
Phone:
E-mail:

Send to:
Full Frame Documentary Film Festival
324 Blackwell Street. Suite 500
Washington Building, Bay 5
Durham, NC 27701
attn: Garrett Scott Documentary Grant

Deadline: Applications must be postmarked by February 5. Applicants
will be notified by email in mid-March.

More information: http://fullframefest.org/call/garrettscottgrant.php

Don Dobrez Jr.
Fri 5 Jan 2007Link
Hi,

I am working on my first feature length documentary about the
destruction of the oldest Drive-In movie theater here in Illinois.
There was a very heated battle in the local city council to save the
theater, but it fell on deaf ears and the theater was torn down. I
then made it known that I was making a film about the poitics that
killed the theater, and have been interviewed a number of times in
the local press about the film. The problem I have is that I
honestly would like to get the people responsible for the theaters
destruction to appear on camera to explain their views to the
audience. How should I approach them and extend an invitation to
them even if they all ready know that the final film will not
necessarily show them in a favorable light? And I how do I assure
them that I won't "Michael Moore" them if they agree to an
interview, i.e. attack them as soon as tape starts rolling? I am
trying to draft a letter and am curious as to how others might have
handled a similar situation.

Thank You!

Don

Doug Block
Fri 5 Jan 2007Link
I would write a letter that states pretty much what you described in
your post, Don. And I'd let them know that if they don't appear on
camera to defend their position, you'll be left only having the other
side represented. I see nothing wrong with telling them where your
sympathies lie, but emphasize that you want to be fair, not have the
film be a Michael Moore-like screed.

Gary Parker
Fri 5 Jan 2007Link
Hello Doug and Erica,
First of all, thanks for all the advice you so freely give. Thanks
to Erica for the info on the Garrett Scott Documentary Grant. I will
be applying for the grant.
I have been away, in Ohio, for a few months. I am working on the
aviation documentary about Charlie Taylor. He was the man who built
the engine that made it possible for the Wright brothers to fly. I
am also planning a video shoot with Wright State University sometime
in February or April. This video is separate from the documentary.
We will be taping in HDV. It will be an period piece interview
taking place in 1948. The author/historian of the Taylor book will
portray Charlie Taylor and I will be the reporter. I discussed the
editing process with a university media producer and he stated that
they have Final Cut and Adobe Illustrator. Which do you prefer or
what other editing program do you use.

Doug Block
Sat 6 Jan 2007Link
I use FCP, and a lot of filmmakers still use Avids. It's usually one
or the other.

Gary Parker
Sat 6 Jan 2007Link
Thanks Doug, I'll take a look at both products. I believe that
Wright State uses FCP for most of their work.

How have the screenings for 51 Birch Street been going?
Successfully, I hope. I sent an e-mail to Copacetic about getting
information for showing 51 Birch Street here in Sacramento, but
never received a response. What kind of information do I need from
you to have 51 Birch Street shown in Sacramento, Ca. They have two
theaters here that show documentaries, The Crest and Tower theaters.
If you can send me some information, I can contact both theaters to
see if they will be interested in showing it. I have also been in
contact with another producer here who will be showing his first
documentary film in Davis, which is just up the Interstate from
Sacramento. His film is about recovering MIA flyers from WWII. Check
out the trailer at http://www.BentStarProject.org/.

Doug Block
Sat 6 Jan 2007Link
Gary, sorry about not responding - I travelled a lot in Decmember and
have gotten ridiculously behind in answering email.

It would be great if you could contact those theaters. Would be
easiest to direct the programmers there to our website, which has a
trailer, reviews and all sorts of info about the film:
www.51birchstreet.com

Screenings for 51 Birch Street have gone great. We're still showing
in New York City, 11 weeks after opening there, and the NY Times lead
critic, A.O. Scott, named it one of his top ten films of the year.
We've already shown in about a dozen cities and have at least another
dozen lined up and counting.

Gary Parker
Sat 6 Jan 2007Link
That is fantastic news. I'm really happy for you. 11 weeks!! Even
the big money pictures don't last that long. I'll contact the
theaters and get the information to them. I've told everyone that I
come in contact with about 51 Birch Street. Hopefully, we can get a
buzz going here and have a showing in Sacramento or Davis. If you
are not familiar with the area, Davis is a college town (University
of Davis). I'll see what I can do to stir something up.

Steve Holmes
Sat 6 Jan 2007Link
Don:

I agree with Doug's suggested approach to the people responsible for
the theater's destruction. There is no statement more damning to
them than "no comment."

As a fan of drive-in theaters, I share your pain. Your town's
experience is far from unique.

Gary Parker
Sun 7 Jan 2007Link
Hi Don,
I'd do what Doug suggests. Give them the opportunity to tell their
side. If they give the "no comment", you can mention that in the
documentary. Steve is right. Check out http://www.16right.com/. It
is a site for a documentary about the closing of small airports
around the country. This one in particular is about Van Nuys airport
in California. Click on "One Six Right the Movie", and then click
on "Video". You can see the "opening sequence", "flight", and "Look
Ma - No Hands!". This might give you some ideas on what you want to
show in your doc. We are about to lose our last drive-in complex
here in Sacramento. They plan to put an indoor multi-screen building
in its place. Good luck with your project.

Don Dobrez Jr.
Thu 11 Jan 2007Link
Hello All,

Thanks for your wonderful comments! I typed up my letters and sent
them all off last week. Needless to say, I haven't heard any
responses yet, but that was to be expected. I am still hopeful that
at least one of them decides to do it.

I do have another question if that's OK. The local (Chicago) news
stations all did extensive coverage of the drive-in fight and I am
dying to get permission from them to include some of their footage
in the documentary (especially since I didn't start work on my film
until AFTER the final vote was taken to kill it). How is it best to
approach them? The only station I tried to email was the local ABC
affilate and I got a curt response "We don't do that" (that is their
direct quote, I swear). Don't most local stations have rights that
can be purchased to use their footage if properly credited? And how
do I go about asking?

Thanks again for the help. For anyone interested you can check out
my website at wondersense.com for more information and updates about
this documentary.

Don

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