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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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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.


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?

Thanks

dave


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

Mike Luehring
Thu 27 Sep 2007Link

Until we get the film completed or start shopping what we have, I have no way to know what figure to offer. It would be a agreement with our talent for them to share in the procededs if a sale where to happen. My quesiton is how do I set that up in a contract?


Robert Goodman
Thu 27 Sep 2007Link

Dave-go with your instincts and remember that you will remake every idiotic mistake in the book on your own show and that ultimately it won't matter. Nothing worse than clients and nothing worse than being the client.


Doug Block
Thu 27 Sep 2007Link

David, I last had a film at Sundance in 1999 so my memory is hazy but I think they gave us a total of 10 tickets to our own screenings and we could choose which ones to use them for. You also had the opportunity to buy extra tickets before they went on sale to the public. Might be a different policy now.


Erin Hart
Fri 28 Sep 2007Link

Hi, I have been searching for a free confidentiality or non-disclosure agreement and keep getting referred to sites that charge--does anyone have a form suggestion? Thanks!


Megan Conkey
Sat 29 Sep 2007Link

Hello! Does anybody have any suggestions on how to break into documentary? I'd love to be a part of one. Thanks!


John Burgan
Sat 29 Sep 2007Link

No need to double post, Megan. Have you ever tried to make a small doc yourself? It's pretty easy to get hold of a DV camera these days.


Doug Block
Sat 29 Sep 2007Link

Megan, John doesn't quite go far enough. Yes, grab a camera. Find a compelling subject. Follow him or her (or it) for, oh, 3, 4, 5 years while something interesting happens. Tap out all your money, friends money, relatives money, while you edit for another, oh, 2 or 3 years. Get into Sundance. Win a major prize.

It's pretty simple, actually.

Edited Sat 29 Sep 2007 by Doug Block

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