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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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Doug Block
Sun 1 Jul 2007Link
dori, pretty sure most tv news is produced by staffers. are you
looking to put together a few sample news stories for a reel?

Robert Goodman
Sun 1 Jul 2007Link
except for all the video news releases run as news....smile.

Daniel Burns
Wed 4 Jul 2007Link
Subject: Start a non-profit, but what happens when we're done?

Through research on the internet, it looks like many documentarians
start a non-profit company for their film. Why is that? I assume it is
for getting grants, yes?

And what happens when they are done with the film and want to sell it?
Are they limited in any way under a 501(c)3?

Thanks!

Robert Goodman
Wed 4 Jul 2007Link
only if lightning strikes...

Erica Ginsberg
Thu 5 Jul 2007Link
Daniel, non-profit doesn't mean you are not allowed to make money.
It just means that anything above the cost of expenses has to be put
back into the non-profit. While the non-profit model can work for
some filmmakers, it is not a necessity. You do need non-profit
status for most grants, but you can do this through a fiscal sponsor.

And I am guessing that Mr. Goodman's comment relates to the fact that
very few doc films turn a profit anyway.

Robert Goodman
Thu 5 Jul 2007Link
yup. if you have the problem great. The real issue is that the set up
time for a 501c3 and the costs are major.

Eamon Ronan
Thu 5 Jul 2007Link
Hey all. I'm new to this forum thing so forgive me if my questions
seem a bit juvenille. I am creating a documentary for National
History Day, a nation-wide contests where students in grades 6-12
research a specific topic that relates to the annual theme and present
it. I'm not the best with technology, so here is my question for you:

What editing software should I use? I have both a PC and a mac at my
house, so I can use all different types of software. Do you think that
final cut express will be sufficient for this project? That's what I
was planning on using, since final cut pro is a completely out of my
price range.

Any thoughts?

Erica Ginsberg
Thu 5 Jul 2007Link
For what you are doing, Eamon, Final Cut Express should be completely
sufficient. In the case of most software, you can also probably get
an educational discount. You may also want to ask some of the
students - I'd be willing to bet some of them have some sort of low-
cost editing software on their home computers and are already pretty
adept at using it. The key thing you want is something that you can
edit nonlinear and can output to whatever media you to have to
present for the contest (I'm guessing a DVD).

John Burgan
Mon 16 Jul 2007Link
Agree with all that Erica says. There's a forum at 2-pop you may also wish to check out: DV for Teachers.


Ken Schreiner
Thu 19 Jul 2007Link
Howdy from smokin' Utah! I've tried several times to get going at D- Word since I moved here a year ago but something new always comes up. Good for business but bad for social networking. I've just finished a doc on Tibet- "Kora: Tibet and the Trail of Truth"- which premieres at the Action on Film Festival in Long Beach CA July 28. http://www.aoffest.com/show.html I've been doing this professionally for four years after 30 years in the TV news biz. I'm always open to advice and suggestions. And I'd like to help anyone any way I can and let everyone here know it's a great thing you're doing and we're all doing. This time, I mean it!


Dustin Ogdin
Tue 31 Jul 2007Link
Hi, I have a question about fiscal sponsorship. I actually have a fiscal sponsor for a film in production, ("shielded brutality"), but my question regards what happens once the film is distributed? While I'm not naive enough to think any big money will be made, what happens to whatever small revenue might be generated?

Suppose I were extremely lucky and got a television deal overseas or even through PBS. What happens to that money? Do I pay a percentage of "earnings" to my non-profit sponsor? Or, the more likely scenario... I sell the DVD's myself through my website and so forth. What happens to that money? What are my obligations? Does the fiscal sponsorship "end" once the project is finished? Thanks for any help, guys!

--------


Doug Block
Tue 31 Jul 2007Link
dustin, the fiscal sponsor typically gets 5 to 7% of whatever funds
come in to your project through them - ie. grants they apply for in
your name (such as NYSCA in New York State) or contributions that are
filtered through them for tax purposes. a fiscal sponsor gets not one
bloody cent of any other monies you raise apart from them or any
revenue you generate, unless you have a specific (much more atypical)
deal where they are helping you to raise money and take a percentage
of revenue in return. and, yes, your obligation to them ends when the
project is finished.

Doug Block
Tue 31 Jul 2007Link
jennifer, belatedly erased your promotional post, which belongs in
the classifieds topic, not the mentoring room.

Dustin Ogdin
Tue 31 Jul 2007Link
Thanks for your help, Doug. My sponsor actually is taking a very
modest percentage (4.5%) and has been great to work with (though I've
raised exactly $0.00 thus far). They certainly didn't ask for further
money, I was just wondering before I talk to some potential donors. I
know this is pie-in-the-sky thinking, but it's something I'd like to
know anyway. Let's say I find an individual donor who believes in my
project and decides to DONATE $25,000 (that's not even the
pie-in-the-sky part.) Then, all the stars align, something big
happens in the news regarding my subject and, voila, i've got a hot
property on my hands and make six-figures in revenue from DVD sales
(profoundly, profoundly unlikely, I know.) Now, won't that donor
think "damn, I donated to this guy who's now making real money from my
generous investment?"

Basically, I am just getting a feel for how to answer potential
answers from individual funders should they arise (not grant lenders,
individuals). I have a potential meeting with a business person and I
worry his questions could be of that ilk. It seems odd to ask someone
for a donation and then rattle on about my big distribution plans that
I hope generate some kind of revenue.

(Perhaps I should focus my energy on more likely scenarios than what
to do if I strike it rich making police brutality films, huh...)
Sorry to be overly long-winded.

Doug Block
Tue 31 Jul 2007Link
a donor is different from an investor, dustin. a donor is making a
contribution to help out a cause, and gets a tax break in the process.
an investor expects, or at least hopes for, a healthy return on their
investment.

Dustin Ogdin
Tue 31 Jul 2007Link
I realize that difference completely, doug, though I understand I'm
leaving a confusing impression. In short, I have a friend who will be
introducing me to a potential donor (not investor but donor) and my
friend (who has a background in for-profit video production and no
background in documentaries, non-profits, or philanthropy) was
bringing up all of these issues such as "how can this be a non-profit
endeavor if you'll be selling the DVD's 'for profit' once the film is
completed?" When you take a step back, that's a legitimate question.
Few other endeavors function this way (to my knowledge anyway). Most
endeavors are either non-profit or they aren't, end of story.

Thanks again, Doug. I promise I'm not as dense as things may seem...
I should simply quit while i'm ahead, here. I got an unequivocal
answer to my original question, after all, and I'm doing my best to
complicate things.

Doug Block
Tue 31 Jul 2007Link
your film is not a non-profit endeavor. you're just going through a
non-profit fiscal sponsor for certain kinds of fundraising. you can
easily mix private investment, grants, presales and donations, it's
done all the time.

Doug Block
Tue 31 Jul 2007Link
mind you, i'm not a lawyer. always best to consult with an
entertainment lawyer. you can contact volunteer lawyers for the arts
if you don't have the dough.

Dustin Ogdin
Thu 2 Aug 2007Link
Thanks, Doug. I appreciate your help.

Alain Martin
Tue 7 Aug 2007Link
Hello,

I'm new here and I got the most basic question of all i guess. I am
working on a short documentary. It's about Francois Macandal, a
runaway slave in the 1700's who organized the first major revolt
against the slave owning class in Haiti. The project is not going to
cost more than $5000 dollars(if my budget hits the spot). So that
basic question is where do I look for frunding for such project,
whom can I approach? (I was warned that for rookie filmmakers like
myself with no experience, applying for grants is out).

Thanks to all.

Erica Ginsberg
Tue 7 Aug 2007Link
Applying for grants is not out entirely, Alain, but it would help
your case if you could get a more experienced filmmaker on board as a
co-producer or at least as an advisor. $5,000 does seem a bit low
for a budget though.

In terms of looking for funding, start by looking at other films with
similar topics to see where they got their funding. Then start to
research those funders. You don't say where you are based. If you
are in the United States, you might find these suggestions helpful:
<http://docsinprogress.blogspot.com/2007/01/how-to-find-funding-for-
your.html
>

Alain Martin
Tue 7 Aug 2007Link
Erica, thanks for the advice, and yups, I am based in the United States.

Alain Martin
Mon 13 Aug 2007Link
Guys,

Got another question. I followed Erica's advice and made me a little
list of producers who has made films like the one I'm looking to
make. Now my question is how do I approach these producers? Because
there was a time when I used to send e-mails to producers who never
heard of me from a scratch on the wall and they never answered.

-Alain Martin

Doug Block
Mon 13 Aug 2007Link
email is still best, i think. short and sweet with a link to your
website, if you have one. if they don't reply within a few days, then
a phone call is fine. another possibility is a card. no one gets
mail these days, so it might well stand out.

Alain Martin
Mon 13 Aug 2007Link
D-block, thanks.

Doug Block
Tue 14 Aug 2007Link
that's d-b-block, alain ;-) free year of d-word usage for anyone who
guesses what the middle b stands for.

John Burgan
Tue 14 Aug 2007Link
I know. am I allowed to win?

Alain Martin
Tue 14 Aug 2007Link
B...Brother?! I hope you know there's a rap group that goes by the
name D-Block, Doug.

Doug Block
Tue 14 Aug 2007Link
really? didn't know how cool i am, alain.

Michael Lieberman
Sat 25 Aug 2007Link
Hello,
My name is Michael Lieberman. I posted here a year or two ago when I
was in production of my documentary film "The Drift." At the time, I
posted fundraising and budget concerns/thoughts, which were quite
helpful.

I thoroughly enjoyed the Fair Use discussion, issues of which I am
currently dealing with and worried about. In "The Drift", many times I
interviewed the subject, an Iraq War veteran, as he was in transit (in
a car) or near his computer playing music. I never wanted to use the
music, but the interviews literally hold the film together. The Center
for Social Media PDF file was very helpful, but then I read
contradictory reports about other films where directors had to secure
rights for cell phone ring tones in the background. Where does the
truth lie about this? The total budget for this film was about as much
as it costs for a teenager's used car. What to do?

Another separate thought: In one scene, the Iraq vet made a video for
a class of his, using music from "The Simpsons" soundtrack and a
speech from Oppenheimer. Would using this, where the intent by the
subject of my film used it to further his ideas, count as me capturing
copyrighted media contact in the process of filming something else,
i.e. the reactions to his project?

I must add that this community is invaluable. Without it, I'd really
have nowhere to go for concerns I've had as a documentary filmmaker.

Much thanks,
ML

Efren Gonzalez
Tue 28 Aug 2007Link
Hello Dear Friends and Family of the Documentary community,

First of all I got a question. Any one familiar and or have worked
with Current TV?

We are an upcomming documentary production company/collective called
Transnational Productions based in Europe (at the moment London, and
South Germany). Our main goal is to make films concerning diaspora
and culture, eventhough we are developing new ideas as we go along on
a daily basis.

We also will like to approach filmmakers interested in contacting us
for possible working together etc... as we are open to
suggestions/share cooperation and already have a few contacts world
wide, which by the way it is the main reason why we appreciate this
site.

For example, one of our friends currently went to Thailand and Burma
to shoot a documentary and we provide her with contact information to
rent some equipment she needed for her to shoot there. We also need
some support in logistics as we can offer filmmakers our logistic
contacts.

We are developing different kinds of contacts from production to
commissioning editors. We will like to develop a contact list as we
go along so we can exchange our experience/expertise equally.

We are also in the process of contacting European networks
Commissioning Editors, a difficult task but non the less exciting and
very productive.

For more information and or comments, please feel free to contact us.

Efren Gonzalez
Transnational Productions

P.S. By the way, I hope this is the right place to write this email.

Doug Block
Fri 31 Aug 2007Link
Efren, it's only open to individuals, not companies, but you're
welcome to join our professional community: www.d-
word.com/community/join. Michael, you seem far enough along with your
experience to be eligible, too. You're far more likely to get answers
to your questions there.

Vincent Keith Lim Aquino
Mon 10 Sep 2007Link

Hey guys, kinda new here. Lol I'll just post the email question to save the flavor of the question:

Hi there,

I'm a high school student in the Philippines making a documentary on
the value of teenage love and the value of chastity. I would like to
ask for some basic advice on making a documentary. I'd be glad to
credit you for the advice in the end. =)

There's five people to interview, and I have couple of 1 CCD cameras.
The documentary can't exceed 12 minutes. Do you think it's a good idea
to make the documentary an entire interview? What about reenactments?
Do you have other ideas on how to make the documentary more
interesting?

Thanks for your time reading this,
Keith

P.S. Sorry for the informality of the letter, I happen to be very candid!


Christopher Wong
Mon 10 Sep 2007Link

Vincent,
The answer to your question is, as always, "it depends". If you have five people who give wonderfully poignant interviews with strong sound bites, they yes, you can probably go ahead and make the entire project nothing more than talking heads (e.g. Errol Morris' FOG OF WAR). However, if you have a character actually going through the struggle of remaining chaste, it might be more compelling to film him/her in the moment. I generally frown upon reenactments b/c they are so rarely done well (especially by first-time filmmakers) and they usually look terribly fake. Animation is something that's becoming a lot more prevalent and an interesting way of presenting an event that's already happened. Try looking at a bunch of different documentaries -- then pick and choose from certain styles you like that would best fit your film. Ultimately, the film has to be a reflection of what is most significant and striking to you.


Peter Gerard
Mon 10 Sep 2007Link

I think a documentary needs more than talking heads. Errol Morris is also the king of re-enactments and even his talking heads are filmed with a very distinctive style (interrotron).

Teenagers talking about chastity? I want to see more than their heads. I want to see what they're talking about, if at least in an abstract way. Maybe, create their points of view in school or on the streets, looking at people, thinking about them. Maybe don't even show the interviewees. There's a reason it's a film and not a radio show, so let's see some compelling visuals..


Erica Ginsberg
Mon 10 Sep 2007Link

Vincent, if you can get your hands on an American documentary called THE EDUCATION OF SHELBY KNOX, it demonstrates one approach to a similar topic (it's actually broader than just the chastity issue, but that is one issue covered in the film).

I also like Christopher's suggestion of possibly using animation.


Sahand Sahebdivani
Mon 10 Sep 2007Link

Animated re-enactments of chaste teens? hmm... :-)


Maria Yatskova-Ibrahimova
Tue 11 Sep 2007Link

lol. exactly. if they are chaste, what would they be animatedly re-enacting?!

i'm with peter. unless someone has a very gripping personal story, and even then, just to hear them tell it is often not enough.

i also think that 5 characters for 12 minutes is too many.

Edited Tue 11 Sep 2007 by Maria Yatskova-Ibrahimova

Vincent Keith Lim Aquino
Tue 11 Sep 2007Link

Hey thanks guys for the information. I'll definitely use them in my documentary. =)

I'll be interviewing all five people in their dormitories. They're all in college. Do you think that's a good idea? They all definitely aren't chaste! Lol The thought of just having an interview with just some reenactments worry me.

The Documentary Film competition aims to get an in-depth view of
what the youth think, feel and say, especially with regard to human
sexuality. This will help the congress organizers, as well as parents
and educators, see where the youth are coming from. This will also
aid them in having a good picture of the dreams, ideals, and
struggles the youth are facing in our current society.

Actually I just copied and pasted the last paragraph. What do you think is the ideal number of people to be interviewed? There's a Japanese guy, a girl from Hongkong, a lesbian, a gay person, and two "normal" people. I'm choosing the Japanese guy, the two homosexuals, and one "normal" person. This would probably represent everyone fairly well. What do you guys think about this?

Thanks again for all your help! =)
Keith


Niam Itani
Tue 11 Sep 2007Link

Sorry for this quick line, but you have to take care when choosing your interviewees Vincent to how good they are as interviewees, how talkative, how focused and precise in what they say, how capable are they of capturing the viewers interests, etc...
I am curious now to know what makes the Japanese guy and the Hong Kong Girl different than the normal people? Do you mean your fellow country people?? If so, that explains...

Besides, other than enactments or animation, you might just film footage of those guys and girls lives. I mean their sexuality is part of their life (and lifestyle) after all, or isn't it?

Ok.. gotta run now. Good luck with the project!


Tony Comstock
Tue 11 Sep 2007Link Tag

I've done some work that involves interviewing people about their sexuality. Here's my advice, for whatever it's worth.

Mostly people never have the chance to express themselves candidly, to a stranger, about their sexuality and sexual experience. If you create the right environment, it can be an incredibly validating, probabably unpresidented experience for your subjects.

Let people tell the story they want to tell, even if it seems to be pretty fair afield from your objectives, or what you think your objectives are for the film. Be patient, listen, as best you can try to understand why your subject has choosen to reveal themselves to your in such an intimate way. No one agrees to be recorded talking about such a personal subject unless they feel like they have something important to share, something that outweighs the risks. Even if they can't articulate it, your subjects will have an agenda. Figure out what it is, help them express themselves.

If your lucky, you find points of tangency or even overlap with your agenda. The interview becomes a dialog (even if only one side ever makes it to the screen) When you find that, the sparks will fly! The footage you get will be good as gold!

Good luck! It sounds like an exciting project!


Doug Block
Tue 11 Sep 2007Link

Great advice, Tony. And not just for the topic of sexuality but for all documentary interviewing.


Maria Yatskova-Ibrahimova
Wed 12 Sep 2007Link

Yes, excellent!

To clarify: i didn't mean that 5 was too many to interview, you can interview as many as you want to or can afford to. i was saying that for a 12 minute finished film, i think 5 is too many to follow. unless all 5 are super strong - but in the end you'll see that some are just stronger than other on the screen. plus, it's only once you have all those interviews will you see what the recurring themes are or how to play one off another.

i would also, like niam, suggest that you film them going about their daily routine, the people they meet, dates they have, classes they take, social settings, parties, clubs, extra-curricular activities etc. this will later be a gold mine for you to use over whatever they are saying in the interview.

p.s. do any of them know or have relationships with the others?

Edited Wed 12 Sep 2007 by Maria Yatskova-Ibrahimova

Tony Comstock
Thu 13 Sep 2007Link

I think the number of subjects or characters you can present in a give amount of time is going to vary tremendously from project to project, and is going to depend a lot on your own skills and objectives as a filmmaker. One of my best films was a scant 9 minutes long, and featured seven subjects, selected from perhaps 30 interviews. My latest film is 54 minutes long and has only two subjects, interviewed simultaniously.

Again I can't help but think of the idea of tangency and overlap, only this time between what you think the finished film is supposed to be and the film the universe want you to make. You can't cede control to fate, but neither can you can ignore the life a project will take on of its own accord – nor would you want to!

Ultimately, a film's "will to be" is you best ally. As much as you should strive to be in a dialog with your subjects, you should hope to find yourself in a dialog with your film. When/if that happens, the film will tell you the right way to arrange your elements at least as much as you will decide.

When do we get to see it? :-)


Tony Comstock
Thu 13 Sep 2007Link

Also, if I'm sounding like some zen budha jedi wannabe master asshole, my apologies. That's not my intention at all.

My professional training is in commercial photography, especially larger-format products and interiors. It's an approach that allows for an exacting control of every detail of the frame that I don't think even the biggest budget features can achieve, let alone the little indie docs I produce. I am entirely self-taught, and anything I (think I) know is merely a recitation of my experience, and nothing more.

And even though I've been doing this for more than a decade now, every single outing reminds me (often in the most brutal fashion) how little control I have over the process of making a film, that the best I can do is try to set a few things in motion, and then be watchful for the happy accidents that (hopefully!) result.

But no way do I mean to imply that careful planning and rigorous craftsmanship are of lessor value. If anything you'll need to bring the very best you can muster to this project, especially considering the subject matter. There will be people will look for any excuse to dismiss your work as exploitive, pandering, sensationalist. A finely, passionately crafted film will be your best defense against these attacks.

Good luck!


Vincent Keith Lim Aquino
Fri 14 Sep 2007Link

Hey guys,

Sorry for the late reply, a lot of school responsibilities need to be take care of first.

Thanks guys for all the tips and advice, you'll definitely see the end result! (if you want to) =)

Keith


Don Dobrez Jr.
Thu 20 Sep 2007Link

Hello All,

I am in the middle of editing my first feature-length documentary about the destruction of the oldest drive-in theater in the state of Illinois ("Hi-Lite's Last Gleaming" is the documentary's name). A lot of the story is told through the headlines of the local paper, so I am fascinated by the various techniques that are used to make headlines "come alive". Specifically, ones where the headline is shown and then a sentence is highlighted and scrolls in front of the image. Can anyone help me with what program is best used to get that effect? I have the entire Adobe Production suite, so I assume that I can format this is in Photohsop and then import it into Premiere Pro, but I'd love to know how others have achieved this effect (or other ways to dramatize newspaper shots).

Thanks!

Don


Basil Shadid
Thu 20 Sep 2007Link

After Effects! You can do all of the things you're wanting to do with it.


Eli Brown
Fri 21 Sep 2007Link

If you're up for a challenge, you can play around with the stereoscopic effect made famous in "The Kid Stays in the Picture" -- also very doable with some time, After Effects and Photoshop. And while you figure it out, you might even stumble on something cool and new that no one's seen before...

And there's even a tutorial: http://blogs.adobe.com/bobddv/2006/09/sonofben_kurns.html


Doug Block
Sat 22 Sep 2007Link

no need to sign your name at the bottom of a post, don. we see your name above each post automatically.


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