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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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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! =)

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) =)


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).



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:

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.

Dave Chameides
Tue 25 Sep 2007Link

I'm heading to the Ukraine in two weeks to shoot a doc on my dad who is visiting the monastary he was hidden in as a child during WWII. I've been working in the film industry for 16 years as a steadicam op/direcotor so mechanics wise I'm feeling good, but having never made a doc, I'm a bit freaked out about easy mistakes I can avoid as a first timer. Any siggestions would be great. Also, can someone point me to a short/simple release form I can bring?



Peter Gerard
Tue 25 Sep 2007Link Tag

Follow your instinct....

There are lots of release forms around that are good. This one is provided by Channel Four's website.

Gretta Wing Miller
Wed 26 Sep 2007Link

You know, Dave, if anyone talks into the camera they are giving their agreement to be in the film. When interviewed, they can say (and spell) their names on cam and say I agree to be used in this film. And if you do not hide the camera, so that anyone can walk away from it, you can use a shot of them.
I just find forms too unwieldy for direct cinema; better make a general announcement to the entire monastery that you will be shooting and anyone who doesn't want to be on tape should stay out of range!

Gretta Wing Miller
Wed 26 Sep 2007Link

Also, when I was an assistant editor, we all agreed that the best directors had started out as editors. When you are shooting, always keep an edited scene running in your mind; think about what cutaways will be good for what a person is saying; when you are shooting action, figure out how you are going to get CUs of the same action, and move fast. the alternate angles might not happen til another day, so you have to keep them in your mind. It's so mesmerizing to get caught up in the continuity of what is happening, but you have to really think fast about how much of any given activity will end up in the final product.
Almost anything can be 'fixed in post', as long as you have the right cutaways!
(Last year I cut an amateur shooter's film about a relief kitchen in NO, and there were NO (zero) shots of people actually using the facilities…huh? We shot this after lunch, I was told…And you didn't go back the next day??? (Still photos actually saved the day, in this case)

Peter Gerard
Wed 26 Sep 2007Link

I agree that it makes sense that talking to the camera is like consent, but I doubt any lawyers or (more importantly) broadcasters will agree.

Joe Moulins
Wed 26 Sep 2007Link

You may have a difficult time getting E&O insurance with signed consent forms.

Doug Block
Wed 26 Sep 2007Link

I think you mean without signed consent forms, Joe. And it's true, a broadcaster won't show your film unless you have E&O insurance, and the insurance company will want to know you have appropriate releases from everyone. The broadcaster's lawyers will also check sometimes, but usually for the key releases of anyone they see as a red flag or potential lawsuit situation.

Joe Moulins
Wed 26 Sep 2007Link

Yes, without.

As always, I learned this the hard way, when I had to cut a character from a film after she soured on the film and I hadn't had her sign a release.

I now carry releases in my camera bag...and almost always forget to use them.

Mike Luehring
Wed 26 Sep 2007Link

What a great website! It's great to ready through the post and know we're all in the same quicksand so to speak. I am working on a doc now where I need some guidance in setting up contracts to include the main participant of our doc to recieve a portion of any funds that would be paid. Any ideas?

David Maynard
Thu 27 Sep 2007Link

Question about Sundance. If a film is accepted to Sundance do they give the director a certain amount of "passes", etc for those wanting to tag along? For instance, if I get in and want to bring my mom, dad, brother, girlfriend, best friend, etc. etc. how are these sorts of things accommodated? I've never been so I'm not even sure if "passes" are needed. Any feedback on this? Thanks!

Peter Gerard
Thu 27 Sep 2007Link

Mike, sounds a bit complicated to me. Can you not agree on a figure instead?

Edited Thu 27 Sep 2007 by Peter Gerard

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