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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
Fri 19 Oct 2007Link

Titanic (that's easier to pronounce), I'm speaking at the New School on Nov 19. Also doing a Q&A after a 51 Birch screening at the Rutgers Jewish Film Festival on Nov 4. Or else just come to Sheffield.


Titania Veda
Fri 19 Oct 2007Link

Well John, I see you have a poet in you just waiting to burst out =) I'm actually going to be one of the volunteers at Sheffield so I'll see you then Doug!

Quick question though, anyone ever had the dilemma of when to turn the camera on a subject? Some say you should do it from the first day so that they get used to it but other filmmakers disagree and say wait until they are comfortable with you and then bring the camera or just bring the camera but don't turn it on. Is there a right or wrong or just a judgement call?


Doug Block
Fri 19 Oct 2007Link

Great that you'll be there, Titania. Look forward to meeting you and let's try to carve out a bit of time to talk when you're off the clock. And now get your butt out of the Mentoring Room because you're a Member and don't need to be here to post questions.


John Burgan
Sat 20 Oct 2007Link

I'm a poet? W. Shakespeare don't know it...


Titania Veda
Sat 20 Oct 2007Link

where do members post their questions? I had posted a question about whether or not to bring the camera on the very first day of meeting subjects and when to turn it on? Should I post that elsewhere than the mentoring room?


Eli Brown
Sat 20 Oct 2007Link

I'd try creative topics>directing for that one...


Monica Williams
Thu 1 Nov 2007Link

Hello D-Word community,

I'm new to this and very excited to have found such a great resource. Here's my deal. I'm a first time filmmaker, I'm overwhelmed and I am looking for a co-director or co-applicant for some of the grants that I am applying for. I have a letter of support from my local PBS station and I'm considering a co-production with them - but I'm still unsure. I have adapted the book Evil in Modern Thought, by Susan Neiman into a documentary film. I have produced a wonderful interview with her and have a good idea of how the structure will fall together and I have a rough outline for the script. I used all of the money raised to produce the interview and I'm now starting the process of grant-writing, but many of the grants that fund my area of interest, require previous experience. I'm feeling very discouraged with fundraising and so much more is needed to finish making this dream of mine.

My website is www.knowingevil.com. This is an amazingly relevant and beautiful film. I will truly appreciate any advice I can get on finding a co-director or on finding help with fundraising and upping my chances for grants. I have clips to show that are quite good and will be on my website soon.

Thank you

Monica


Robert Goodman
Thu 1 Nov 2007Link

Monica - I would avoid complicating things by doing a co-pro with your local station. I looked at your website and I have some questions for you.

Why is this a film? What is your connection to the subject? How will you visualize a book of philosophy? Is this really a biopic?


Paul Hayes
Thu 1 Nov 2007Link

Hey everyone. I started reading through old posts in this thread, but thought it might be easier to just ask for the info I need. I am lookig to break into documentary filmmaking, and wanted recommendations for moderately priced equipment, in particular a digital video camera, computer and editing equipment. Thanks for any help you can provide. - Paul

Edited Thu 1 Nov 2007 by Paul Hayes

Niam Itani
Fri 2 Nov 2007Link

Paul, the first question would be how much are you willing to spend on the equipment? :)


Paul Hayes
Fri 2 Nov 2007Link

Well, I don't want to limit my options to what I can afford now. I'd rather get some price ranges from y'all, and then plan accordingly. No info yet on cameras, but so far people I have talked to have recommended going with Macs equipped with Final Cut Pro.

Edited Fri 2 Nov 2007 by Paul Hayes

Christopher Wong
Fri 2 Nov 2007Link

make sure you get a two-monitor setup. makes a big difference when editing...


Niam Itani
Fri 2 Nov 2007Link

In this part of the world we prefer PCs but, yes, Macs with Final Cut Pro are the trend where you are :)
You definitely need a two monitor set-up no matter what the system is.


Monica Williams
Fri 2 Nov 2007Link

Robert,

Thank you for your response. When I read the book I could see it visually. I had been entertaining the idea of a documentary film that would explore the work of Hannah Arendt and when I read Evil in Modern Thought and saw Neiman's interview with Bill Moyers' I had an aha moment and haven't quit obsessing since, as I was convinced that I could adapt this book as a documentary film (I wonder sometimes at my naivete!) I have succeeded in the writing and my proposal and treatment explain the techniques I want to use. The theme is centered on how 4 catastrophic events in western history have shaped the way we think about and approach the world, and is not a biopic. The Philosophers and their work surrounding the problem of evil will add to the structure, only as their work relates to the events i.e. Voltaire's coming of age novella Candide will be animated as he is naively headed to the Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 (which was the symbol for evil at this time period, as nothing else could kill so many people at once.) There are many engravings and paintings from this era. I have many more visuals but I don't want to take up this space! My connection to this subject is a long story - basically I've been concerned about the problem of evil in philosophy, most of my conscious life - without knowing that this was what I was concerned with until my last couple of years of college. I've since come to realize that most of us are, though we may not frame our concerns in this way and I want to connect an audience to the great philosophers and writers of the modern world as a way of validating our human experience against the overwhelming insanities of history.

Thank you Robert!


Robert Goodman
Sat 3 Nov 2007Link

You need to explain how this film plays on screen because to a professional it seems better suited to a dissertation or magazine article. and it's always necessary to explain your connection to the story so people understand why you are willing to spend the next 7 years of your life making this film.

Edited Sat 3 Nov 2007 by Robert Goodman

Peter Brauer
Sat 3 Nov 2007Link

A vote for adobe. In terms of editing systems there can be no doubt that final cut has become the standard. But if you are looking to save money PC editing is the way to go in my opinion. A comparably powered PC is normally half as much as its mac counter part. I use the adobe suite. This includes premier, after effects, photoshop, and encore. They all work well together and can create just as good a final product as final cut. In most ways premier and aftereffects are very similar. Premier just has a much more narrow group of users. This can be an issue when bringing in an outside editor. I can run premier perfectly well on a 575 dollar HP desk top I bought at best buy. Just make sure not to use windows vista, as it uses way to much of your computer's ram and slows everything do. Windows XP still works great.

As for cameras, I highly recommend the panasonic dvx100b. it creates beautiful images and is moderately priced. If this is beyond your range a lot of consumer cameras can do. I have seen stuff shot on 400 dollar cameras that looks just fine in a gritty lo-fi type of way. Just make sure to get a 3 CCD camera. Also Audio is really important, so make sure what even you get has the ability to control audio levels, take a mic input, and have a head phone jack. Any camera looks as good as the lighting allows it. Its just that better cameras look better in worse shooting conditions.


Monica Williams
Sat 3 Nov 2007Link

Thank you for the advice Robert. I think I do get ahead of myself when explaining it. It's basically a historical documentary, told through the lens of philosophy and the classical problem of evil. Susan Neiman is my star and I have 8 hours of footage already shot with her. I will be interviewing other literary and political analysts about the historical events that have shaped the world in order to find new perspectives. We will look at four major historical events that have had a lasting impact on modern social and political consciousness. I do have a strong structure - the trials of Adolf Eichmann will be used as we consider Auschwitz, the book Black Rain will narrate Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and Israeli and Arab writers will be interviewed from the Middle East as the film looks at the war of Good v. Evil that is raging today. As for my connection to the film, I'm convinced that Susan Neiman's book will soon be considered a classic and it has been called "the book for this world political hour." I'm very nervous for the world right now for various reasons and I'm committed to bringing her work to a wider audience. I have tons of other personal reasons.


Neil Garrett
Tue 6 Nov 2007Link

Hi guys, another new member, so hallo to all...
I'm glad my first question is such a doozer. This has been keeping me awake at night. I'm currently producing a doco I hope will eventually be shown on British TV. I came across an author who's book dovetails very neatly with the theme of my film. I contacted him with a view to him contributing to the film, which he was very happy to do. He then contacted me asking if, in return for a credit (such as Associate Producer) in the titles, he could help produce the film. On the one hand, I could really use his help - he is an expert in his field and has contacts in his industry who could also be very useful. On the other, is there an ethical issue having one of your contributors also be a credited producer - could the documentary be open to accusations of simply being a platform for his views? He wants no money for his work and has agreed that creative control and copyright will remain with me.
What do you think?


Friederike Freier
Tue 6 Nov 2007Link

Hi Neil, standards vary by country so please UK-based producers contribute -- but the bottom line is: your author is the author of a book and will act as an advisor who may open doors. The job of an associate producer is something quite different.

Also, you want to retain the freedom to add other advisors later on without even feeling awkward about it. You need to protect your editorial control. Bringing him aboard as a partner is liable to make this more difficult. If you feel like all you need for your film is his book, without a great deal of other research, you could make it a doc based on his book, but it seems to me this is not what you are striving for as it would potentially compromise your editorial control. Whatever you do -- make sure to have a contract that clearly defines his role (whether he ends up getting a fee or not).

In general, you want to be careful with promising credits that are not absolutely bog standard like camera or editor etc. Credits are ususally subject to the approval of the broadcaster. All international contracts I have handled say something along the lines that the distributor tries to ensure credits are shown by their buyers but they can't promise anything. I.e. if your broadcaster thinks your credits are too long or not in line with their credit standards they will demand the right to edit them at their sole discretion.


Doug Block
Tue 6 Nov 2007Link

Friederike, it might be different in Germany for you but I've been a producer on 3 different ZDF/Arte co-productions and never once been questioned about the credits. Or by any other broadcaster, for that matter. Not saying it never happens. Just not in my experience.

Edited Tue 6 Nov 2007 by Doug Block

Monica Williams
Wed 7 Nov 2007Link

Does anyone have any books they would recommend on the art of interviewing? I'm producing a narrative historical documentary using the disciplines of literature and philosophy and want to perfect my ability to get the right pieces to my puzzle. Thanks!


Jo-Anne Velin
Wed 7 Nov 2007Link

Books? The Craft of Interviewing, by John Brady, a classic journalism school selection of approaches.


Doug Block
Wed 7 Nov 2007Link

I'll vouch for that one, too. It's terrific.


Friederike Freier
Wed 7 Nov 2007Link

Doug, arte is more relaxed about credits. Especially La Lucarne. With ARD member stations or ZDF's main programme it is very often an issue. Most of the time the complaint is that credits run for too long.


Erica Ginsberg
Wed 7 Nov 2007Link

Monica, check out Directing the Documentary by Michael Rabiger. It's not exclusively about interviewing, but he does give some very good tips.


Monica Williams
Wed 7 Nov 2007Link

Thanks for the advice on interviewing! One more question - What is the best way to approach and engage advisors? I know who I would like to ask, I'm just concerned about their workload. What is the relationship like between filmmaker and advisor? What can I ask them to expect? They will most likely be interviewed for the film, but I can't promise anything.


Katya Myer
Tue 13 Nov 2007Link

Dear Monica,

I have three advisors for my film, all professors whose field of inquiry is relevant to my subject matter. Usually, all you have to do is just ask, and if the person is interested, they'll be happy to help. In my experience, a professor who's accumulated a lot of knowledge in the area your asking for advice in will usually be glad to get involved and share their expertise.

In building the relationship with an advisor, I assume that the onus of the work and the contact maintenance is on me. Even in some intense research situations, I usually don't need to speak to my advisors more than once/twice a month. In my case, the best value an advisor can provide is an assessment of how valid my research conclusions are and whether my presentation of various topics in the film is consistent with their historical setting, etc. Out of three advisors I have, I only plan to interview one for the film. Hope this helps. Best of luck with your work!


Katya Myer
Tue 13 Nov 2007Link

Dear All,

I am new to this forum and have a few questions to ask. My current project is a full-feature documentary about Israel. I have done my preliminary research, made an 12-minute long promo for fundraising, assembled a crew (a DP and a sound engineer) and will start filming in two weeks. My main camera is HVX200, and here are the questions I have:

1. What is the best way to archive HD footage? Is it possible to burn it on blue-ray or HD-DVD disks and not keep stored on hard drives? I expect to have a lot of footage to store, and carrying around several terabytes of drive space can be daunting.

2. Even though I have a DP, I hope to do some filming work myself. Could you suggest any books, tutorials or other resources to read about camera work?

3. Could you suggest a minimal lighting package that would be portable enough to be carried by one person, along with the camera?

Look forward to your advice!


John Burgan
Tue 13 Nov 2007Link

1) I'll let the HD experts step in here, but I think you'll find that cost-wise hard drives will work out cheaper than burning to disks. Have you actually done a calculation on how much space you will need?

2) Hmmmm. Why not just let your DP get on with their job? Books won't tell you how to shoot, and it doesn't sound like this is meant to be just an exercise.


David Felix Sutcliffe
Tue 13 Nov 2007Link

My film is about Adama Bah, one of two 16-year-old Muslim girls from New York who were arrested by the FBI in 2005 after they were accused of being "potential suicide bombers." The FBI made no attempts to reveal what evidence they had on these girls and only released them after the New York Times published a series of articles about the 2 girls that led to intense scrutiny and public pressure. One girl was deported, and the other-the subject of my film-was allowed to stay, albeit, with an ankle bracelet and a gag order.

For the past two years her life has pretty much unravelled-her father was deported, her mother has suffered several nervous breakdowns, children's services is constantly threatening to place Adama's four younger siblings in foster homes. The government is now also trying to deport her. On top of this, Adama has been forced to become the primary breadwinner for the family. Her friends all graduated last spring and left for college this past fall (her best friend is at Smith right now) as Adama works, what she calls, "immigrant jobs-" babysitting, house-cleaning, etcetera.

I'm looking for an executive producer (as well as editors) and wondering if there's any interested parties out there, or someone who might be willing to pass on contact info of a good EP/editor fit. I've been shooting for almost two years and am ready to begin post-production. As far as fundraising, I have a fiscal sponsor and am preparing my grant applications, but would like to have a partner help me secure a reasonable budget. This is my first-time working on a full-length documentary and although I've been tempted to downsize it and produce it as a 30 minute piece, I think the story demands to be given at least an hour, if not feature length. My editor is based in California and hasn't been able to work much with me, and is eagerly waiting for funding to come through so he can come to New York and get to work. In the meantime, I'm looking for a New York based editor to help me with my sample. (So far, the sample seems to get such a wide range of responses that I think it's time to begin a new approach. Maybe I could post it here and see what people think...)

Anyway, I know this is a lot to put out there but I thought it would be best to put it all in one place rather than attempt to think of all the relevant topics where these issues could be posted. I would be supremely grateful for any advice veteran doc bystanders are willing to sling my way.

Thanks.


Christopher Wong
Tue 13 Nov 2007Link

david, your doc sounds fascinating, and definitely deserving of more than a 30-minute treatment. it really helped me out on my doc to get an executive producer on board... before you proceed, however, have you answered the question of where you want the piece to be broadcast? On PBS? Theatrical? Non-PBS TV? This will dictate what kind of grants you go after, and thus, what kind of EPs will be best for your project. For instance, my EP is Renee Tajima-Pena who has done extensive work with POV, which is exactly the place I want it to air after festivals, theatrical, etc.


Katya Myer
Tue 13 Nov 2007Link

In reply to John Burgan's post on Mon 12 Nov 2007 :

Dear John,

Thank you for your response. You are right, it's definitely not meant to be just an exercise :) I will need approximately 2.5 terabytes of storage space.

With respect to the shooting, I agree too - the only problem is that I want the film to have a very specific visual atmosphere and so far my DP and I haven't reached a complete agreement on it. Also, I won't be able to have the DP with me every day and sometimes I go to places in Israel where one just needs to pick a camera and capture a unique moment. I wanted to try and prepare myself for that as best I can.

Thank you for the advice!


David Felix Sutcliffe
Tue 13 Nov 2007Link

Chris,
I really love the extensive work that PBS has done to create a strong web-partnership with their films, and although it would be great to have a more mainstream tv audience (via HBO, Cinemax, etcetera) I think PBS has such a strong outreach program that the issues I'm addressing in the film will have a real landing pad, and a chance to significantly and substantially affect an audience, rather than briefly triggering a flash of guilt/sympathy/pity in people's frontal lobes, as seems to be the case with mainstream films that make a splash but aren't sustained by any broader effort to create change.
That said, I think I'm aiming for PBS as well after festivals (and, hopefully, theatrical release). How did you make contact with your EP?


Christopher Wong
Tue 13 Nov 2007Link

through a great seminar at the WGBH Producers Academy, i made contact with a really helpful person at PBS (Kathy Lo). When I told Kathy that I was looking for an EP, she then introduced me to a bunch of different people who would make sense for my project (e.g. Freida Lee Mock, Renee Tajima-Peña, Steven Okazaki). After she made the intro, then I made contact with them through email. Renee turned out to be the best fit.

what i might suggest for you is to find a PBS film (or 2 or 3) that you really like, do some research to see how it was funded, and then if it's a good fit, go and track down that person. if you need help, i can always give Kathy Lo a call on your behalf.

lastly, are you applying for Sundance's next funding round? they are really good at giving first time filmmakers a shot at the money. if your footage is really compelling, and you get funding from them, that really makes it easier to get an EP on board.

i'm sure the more experienced vets here have better suggestions than i.


David Felix Sutcliffe
Tue 13 Nov 2007Link

I am planning on applying to Sundance but I thought that Sundance was rolling. is there a deadline coming up?

As far as your other comments, I have been looking at a few PBS films and eyeing the EP credits, although my experiences in the past with cold-calling people has been a bit frustrating. Perhaps I'll update my list of potential EPs and run them by you to see if Kathy would possibly be willing to be a middle-(wo)man. Thanks for your advice Chris.


Christopher Wong
Tue 13 Nov 2007Link

as far as i know, the sundance documentary fund has two funding cycles per year. though they don't have any official deadlines, they usually issue funding announcements around January and in June -- which is obviously around the time they have their committee meetings where they make the decisions. just make sure you have a good 20-30 minutes of continuous edited footage before you apply... if you want, the D-Word is a good place to get some feedback on your work-in-progress.


Niam Itani
Tue 13 Nov 2007Link

David, Chris, I suggest you carry this to the WIPs because many others do not read this thread.
And, David, if you want to try and contact some of the Muslim Associations in America or something of that sort for funding, probably I can link you to a friend who can help.


Jo-Anne Velin
Tue 13 Nov 2007Link

David - bearing Niam's words, meet me in WIP


Leah Cameron
Wed 14 Nov 2007Link

In reply to Doug Block's post on Thu 11 Oct 2007 :
Hi Doug,

So, it's taken me a while (shooting, good old grant apps), but here I am. I like the 10 Rules of personal documentary filmmaking, especially the how-much-to-put-yourself-on-camera debate. Gahd. I'm already in mine more than I had hoped and looking kind of bleary-eyed at that.

Say, Doug, did you or anyone else who has made a personal doc ever feel like the story is really about what goes on when the cameras are off (i.e. how difficult it is to make a doc about your family?)

I'm having a bit of trouble seeing the larger picture with this one. Think I need the help of a good editor!

Sigh,

Leah


Reed Thompson
Wed 14 Nov 2007Link

Hi Leah. Saw your post here and couldn't help but want to respond. I think that "losing site of the big picture" is just a normal part of the process with doc making -- particularly, if you are going it alone and with minimal collaborative feedback. My advice would be to simply put the project away for a period of time (the longer the better). Take an extended break from it. You will be amazed at just how much more of a refreshed perspective you will have (with respect to your story) once you return to working on it. Good luck!


Leah Cameron
Wed 14 Nov 2007Link

Hey Reed,

Good to meet you and thanks for the advice. The trick is, the doc is about my father learning to fly airplanes again after 40 years. He hasn't had his license all this time, there is a long stoy behind why. The idea was that I would follow him until he got his license again and dip back into some of the issues behind why he was barred from flying - encounter with mental illnes, loss of two loved ones in plane crashes. Good idea in theory.

It turns out that he contacted transport Canada and they just reinstated his license. They send it to him in the mail, just like that. Gahd. This despite the fact he told me it would be a long process to get it again. Then I find out today that he's been booking classes behind my back! Sneaky devil. I think he's tired of having film crews around poking into his life. Fair enough.

So the thing is, I do feel a certain pressure to follow the story.

What's keeping you busy right now?


Doug Block
Wed 14 Nov 2007Link

Leah, for sure there's a story about my family's reaction to being filmed, but I don't think it's nearly as interesting or significant as the story at hand. That's why I saved it for the dvd. But nobody wants to hear the filmmaker whining about how hard it all is (other than fellow filmmakers). Because it's a whole lot harder for your family members dealing with a lens in their face.

Edited Wed 14 Nov 2007 by Doug Block

Reed Thompson
Wed 14 Nov 2007Link

Oh, my mistake, Leah. Something about your post caused me to think you were in post-production.

In regards to your circumstance:

I think so much about [verite/direct cinema] doc making is just placing yourself in situations and circumstances where your gut tells you a compelling story might take shape. It certainly seems to me that your idea for this doc was a good one. Obviously, it is difficult (if not impossible) if your subject is reluctant.

As for me, I am patiently chipping away, one tiny little baby step at a time, towards completion of my humble little doc, Blue Devils. Thanks for asking! :)


Brian Boyko
Wed 14 Nov 2007Link

Okay, this is a big one.

I've got enough material together to start cutting together a 6-12 minute promo of a 55-minute piece, and I want to start shopping it around to get development grants for post-production. (I have found that it takes more than final cut pro and hope to master the nuances of video editing, and that I should probably get some help...)

However, even though I'm not a member of the Writer's Guild, AND I only work with unscripted non-fiction, if I'd be crossing the picket line by pitching.

Now, I don't intend to sell the movie until the Writer's strike is resolved, but I don't know if it's okay to move forward with it.


Brian Boyko
Wed 14 Nov 2007Link

One more thing - I'm thinking about applying to ITVS for finishing funds, but this is my first documentary. Where can I find a documentary co-producer that I can apply with in my area?


Monica Williams
Wed 14 Nov 2007Link

I will be starting the dig for archival materials for my historical documentary. I'm noting which archives the historical docs that I love use, but does anyone have any other advice on where to start and how to avoid archives that require a Ken Burns budget? My film looks at four events in modern history - The Lisbon Earthquake of 1755, Auschwitz, Hiroshima and Nagasaki and September 11th.

Thanks Katya for your advice on advisors!


Monica Williams
Wed 14 Nov 2007Link

One more - There are about three songs that I really want for my film. I've seen many documentaries with popular songs and I know that we don't usually have the budgets of hollywood. Are there any tricks to gaining the rights to use these songs without breaking the budget?


John Burgan
Wed 14 Nov 2007Link

Brian - what's your film actually about? Also, what stage are you in now - it sounds as if you have shot already.

Monica - archive and music rights can be very, very expensive - that's exactly why Ken Burns has those $$$$ budgets.

Edited Wed 14 Nov 2007 by John Burgan

Danielle Fautrat
Thu 15 Nov 2007Link Tag

Monica - Re archive footage, you'll pay an awful lot if you go the traditional route of archive libraries/banks. Your best bet is to either find private collectors who own the rights to the footage and would be happy to let you use them for free or a small discreet donation. Other than that, you can also try to approach small local museums/trusts/organisations/TV stations that would not be as greedy as big commercial cos.

Music - check this D.I.Y guide: http://www.clearance.com/get_yourself.htm

Alternatively, you could get someone (friend/student in need of portfolio) to create something for you that sounds "similar" for your film, and sign the rights off to you.

In any way, budget constraints always send you on long and tortuous roads.


Erica Ginsberg
Thu 15 Nov 2007Link

Brian, since you are in Austin, recommend you join the Austin Film Society if you are not already a member. There have a healthy doc membership and it would be a great way to network and potentially find a more experienced producer who's interested in your project. As far as the Writer's Strike, not sure I see how you would be crossing the picket line to pitch. Unless you already have a lead, there's relatively little development money from networks or cable entities for first-time filmmakers. You'd probably be better to go the grant route. Like John, we'd want to know more about your film to advise further.


Erica Ginsberg
Thu 15 Nov 2007Link

Monica, D-Worder Robert Richter's last film was about the A-bomb in Japan. If he doesn't answer here first, suggest you look him up in the People link above and e-mail him about his experiences finding archival from Nagasaki and Hiroshima. For Auschwitz, recommend trying the National Archives and the U.S. Holocaust Museum.

Edited Thu 15 Nov 2007 by Erica Ginsberg

Monica Williams
Thu 15 Nov 2007Link

In reply to Danielle Fautrat's post on Wed 14 Nov 2007 :

Thank you very much Danielle for your great advice - this is just what I needed.


Monica Williams
Thu 15 Nov 2007Link

In reply to Erica Ginsberg's post on Wed 14 Nov 2007 :

Thanks for the great tip Erica - I will be sure to look him up.


Brian Boyko
Thu 15 Nov 2007Link

John and Erica - The documentary is called "Makers."

If you'll recall, I'm doing the feature-length documentary interviewing Prime Ministers and such in New Zealand. I know I'm in over my head so I thought I'd get some experience by filming events at an event in Austin - the Maker Faire, and turn it into a 28 minute piece. I mean, I thought, it's a bunch of cool looking stuff that is strange and the people who build it, right?

But there's also an additional issue that came up - the entire thing looked like it was a countercultural movement - like Burning Man. And I wanted to examine that more, so after I got all my footage (shot in a weekend - the event was only two days long) I started working with the idea that trends in our current society are forcing what was once considered "American Ingenuity" into a counter-culture.

I got the participation of Mark Frauenfelder (editor of Make Magazine - I interview him this Friday), Bruce Schneier (Security consultant), and Adam Savage (Mythbuster) to talk about the DIY Counterculture.

(Savage takes the point of view that eventually the DIY counterculture will, like rock and roll enthusiasts, become the culture, while Schneier takes the point of view that since 9/11, underqualified security personel are treating "different as a stand-in for dangerous because no one knows what dangerous actually looks like."

They're all willing to let me film them, but without development funds I can't afford to fly out to them, so the rough cut I want to shop around to grant-making solutions will simply have their voices recorded on the phone. Additionally, I've got some pretty unique stuff - for example, the Star Wheel, a pedal-powered moving ferris wheel. Sure, other cameramen were there filming it, but I don't think they got the moment that the thing ran into a powerline. (No one was hurt.)

I've put up a couple of promotional preview clips - one of them has already gotten 5000 views due mainly to a link from Fark.com. You can view them all here in 720p H.264 streaming.

http://www.vimeo.com/channel1257


Brian Boyko
Thu 15 Nov 2007Link

Oh, and as for progress - the event's over so I can't go back and film more footage. I think I have enough for 57 minutes, but I can always scale back to 28 if I don't. (Truth be told, I think this would probably fit best in 45...)

So: Structure:

Intro - 2 min. ROUGH CUT COMPLETE

"The Counterculture Becomes the Culture" - 8 minutes (Adam Savage talks about curiosity and the DIY culture, robot builders show off computer technology) ROUGH CUT COMPLETE

"A Bigger, Better Mousetrap" - 4 minutes (Footage of a Life Sized Mousetrap Game) ROUGH CUT COMPLETE

"Who but a Subversive would Make something?" - 8 minutes (Bruce Schneier talks about fear, security, and the danger of being different - some of the more dangerous exhibits are shown)ROUGH CUT COMPLETE

"The Ferris Wheel that Got Away" - 4 minutes The Star Wheel is a fun-looking contraption that accidentally runs into a powerline when the cameras are rolling. ROUGH CUT COMPLETE

"Ain't Those Freaks Just Grand?" - 8 minutes - Talking about the relationship between performance art and invention. ROUGH CUT COMPLETE

"These are our people" - 4 minutes - EepyBird talks about the science of the "Diet Coke and Mentos Experiments," followed by a live recreation. ROUGH CUT COMPLETE

"[Quote to be determined]" - 8 minutes - Mark Frauenfelder on running Make Magazine and devoting his life to the subculture. NEEDS MORE FILMING

"[Quote to be determined]" - 4 minutes on hybrid car conversion. FILMING COMPLETE

"Everything is Miscellaneous" - 7 minutes - an unapologetic break from the narrative to look at all the strange things that didn't really fit in with the narrative but which are interesting enough in their own right to be included. (for example, case modders, craft makers, model rockets, musical tesla coils, self-replicating robots...) FILMING COMPLETE

Conclusion - 2 minutes recapping the lessons learned and what I took away from it. FILMING COMPLETE


John Burgan
Thu 15 Nov 2007Link

Monica - check out D-Worder Denise Ohio's advice on music clearance

Brian - it's very unclear (to me at least) what the above description has to do with "interviewing Prime Ministers and such in New Zealand".

Do you have a 100 word description of your project? A sentence?

Edited Thu 15 Nov 2007 by John Burgan

Brian Boyko
Thu 15 Nov 2007Link

Oh, no, it doesn't have anything to do with that. That's a separate project.

"Following Alexis West" is the "real deal." It's the movie I really want to make and it's the movie I'm spending my life savings on.

"Makers" is the project I'm cutting my teeth and making my mistakes on - a project that I took on mainly to familiarize myself with the equipment I'd be using on FAW, and figure out what I need to do. It was chosen as a subject because it was only 3 days of filming at most.

As for the 100 word summary:

Makers is a 2007 short-subject documentary directed by Brian Boyko about the "do-it-yourself counterculture." With interviews from Mark Frauenfelder (editor of "Make:" magazine,) Bruce Schneier (Security consultant,) and Adam Savage (Co-Host of "Mythbusters,") Boyko asks what the emergence of this counterculture of "making" says about our mainstream culture of "consuming." Are the “makers” on the bleeding edge of the future? Or are they being pushed to the fringes of society because of post-9/11 fear of the unusual? The interviews range from people who build musical Tesla coils, two-story-tall robots, pedal-powered amusement park rides, a giant game of Mousetrap, and more.

Edited Thu 15 Nov 2007 by Brian Boyko

John Burgan
Thu 15 Nov 2007Link

Aha. Do you have a short description of either project?


Brian Boyko
Thu 15 Nov 2007Link

In the spirit of Alexis de Tocqueville, the Frenchman who examined American democracy in the 19th century, American director Brian Boyko travels to New Zealand to examine its democratic system. “Following Alexis West” examines the unprecedented peaceful change of New Zealand's American-style two-party system to a European-style proportional representation system in 1993 - and the effects of that change 15 years later. Through interviews with former Prime Ministers and current party leaders, it will show how New Zealand’s “MMP” system prevents problems that we have in the United States, including gerrymandering, negative campaigning, civic disengagement, and undue influence of powerful lobbies.


Leah Cameron
Thu 15 Nov 2007Link

In reply to Doug Block's post on Tue 13 Nov 2007 :

Ya, point well taken. I was kind of kidding about the how-hard-it-is-to-make-a-doc-about-your-family angle. I've decided that the best thing for right now is just to follow the story and see where it leads. I'm curious what the NYU student response was to your talk on Personal Docs. It's a genre that really seems to divide audiences.

Leah


Doug Block
Thu 15 Nov 2007Link

The response was really enthusiastic, Leah. There was clearly a lot of interest. I've actually talked at a few other schools recently and it was similarly great. Doing another NYU class on personal docs tonight (subbing for Thom Powers) and one at the New School on Monday.


John Burgan
Thu 15 Nov 2007Link

Sounds like a really complex subject, Brian. How is the project being funded? And why the title?


Brian Boyko
Thu 15 Nov 2007Link

John: The project is /not/ funded in it's production stages. I'm paying for everything out of pocket so far. Everything.

I actually brought this up with one of the Prime Ministers I'm interviewing - he taught law in the U.S. at one point and, before I told him it was self-funded, expressed complete surprise that there was any interest in the United States in funding the project, because there's absolutely no interest here in changing the electoral systems here. Everyone here thinks we're the best damn democracy on earth and that there can be no better system, even though they haven't looked at any of the others.

So it's a bit complex - there's absolutely no way this movie would get funded in it's production stages - especially with an untested director. Yet, I don't think a "tested" director would handle the topic, nor do I believe that anyone would believe that a movie about electoral reform would be interesting enough to sit through.

So paradoxically, the fact that no one would possibly fund it and no one would possibly make it is one of the reasons that I feel so strongly that I have to do it. It may be Don Quixote (and my production manager, Pancho) tilting at windmills.

There's other reasons that I feel risking $10000 of my own money on this is a good idea even if it's an abject failure. First of all, I'm considering a major life change by moving to New Zealand permanently. This project will give me contacts and experience in the country so it will be easier to find journalism work. And hey - it's a tough market for reporters - how many of them have interviewed heads of government before they were 30?

But as I said, I can handle the production costs, and I can smush out a rough-cut that looks sloppy but serviceable. It's post-production that gets me - I'd like the thing to look better than an amateur production.

One of the big problems is that, if it wasn't for Makers coming along and providing me with the opportunity for a short-subject, I'd be having the same problem with Following Alexis West as I would for Makers - that is, you need funding to produce a documentary, you need a produced documentary in order to get funding.

Now, I think Makers is a good subject in it's own right and deserves a more professional treatment. But if I don't get it - and that's a possibility - I can still do the best I can with it, shop it around, and use THAT as my previously-produced material when applying for funding for Following Alexis West.

The title, "Following Alexis West" is a reference to Alexis de Tocqueville's "Democracy in America" and is a title less dry than "Democracy in New Zealand" and more serious than "Boyko: Cultural Learnings of New Zealand For Make Benefit Glorious Nation Of Bushistan."


Christopher Wong
Fri 16 Nov 2007Link

definitely feel your pain, brian, about the whole catch-22 situation of not being able to get funding b/c you haven't finished a doc yet yourself. but as someone who is only perhaps half a step ahead of you in the process, i think it's best if you approach "Makers" mainly as a place to hone your skills and even make your mistakes, and not so much as a way to have a finished piece that you can then use to get funding for other films.

because if "Makers" is not a standout film, it may not get you much further down the funding line. it will allow you to apply for funds, but you won't get them b/c of the stiff competition. what will really help is to get yourself a producer or Exec Producer on board who will give you (and your future project) the legitimacy it deserves.

i'm not saying that you 100% can't get funding yourself; it's just that it is extremely unlikely, given your subject. so go find some films that you like with similar themes and see who produced those -- then contact them with some good footage and a one-page treatment. best of luck!


Katya Myer
Fri 16 Nov 2007Link

In reply to Monica Williams's post on Wed 14 Nov 2007 :

Monica,

You are very welcome. One more thing that I thought might be useful to you, given your subject matter, even though the connection is not perfectly direct - I have recently seen this documentary called "The Century of Self." It spoke to me very powerfully about the turning wheels of evil in our time, and the documentary itself was fairly well-made. http://imdb.com/title/tt0432232/


David Felix Sutcliffe
Fri 16 Nov 2007Link

In reply to Niam Etany's post on Tue 13 Nov 2007 7:40 UTC :

Niam,
I would love to talk to you more about Muslim associations in the US (or abroad) that would be interested in supporting my project, either financially, or even as partners.


Brian Boyko
Fri 16 Nov 2007Link

Christopher Wong - The trouble is if there were any directors making documentary films like mine, I wouldn't be making documentary films.


John Burgan
Fri 16 Nov 2007Link

Adam Curtis' entire work is an excellent example of how documentary can explore complex ideas with humour and irony, without becoming a dry academic lecture.


Monica Williams
Sun 18 Nov 2007Link

In reply to Katya Myer's post on Thu 15 Nov 2007 :

Katya and John,

Thanks for the recommendation! I have been reading about Adam Curtis but still haven't seen his films as I didn't know how to get them. I just realized that I can buy Century of Self now and I'm so excited. I really want to see The Power of Nightmares too. Thanks for thinking of me and please send any others I should see. I really appreciate the help.


John Burgan
Sun 18 Nov 2007Link

There are some links at the bottom of the Wikipedia article, you can even watch some of his (otherwise unavailable) work online.


Thomas Beach
Sun 18 Nov 2007Link

Hello Folks,

I am beginning the research phase of my first doc and have a question. As my doc will be driven by period still pictures, I'm wondering what you would recommend for scanners in today's market? I need to buy one soon to begin laying down the 3000+ photos (all B&W) as well as newspaper articles and handwritten correspondences. So reliability, speed, and an easy but broad feature set would be most helpful. From my investigations, prices would seem to be all over the place. I expect a driect-to-video release and hopefully broadcast. Any help would be appreciated.

Thanks

Tom Beach


John Burgan
Sun 18 Nov 2007Link

Actually many mid-range scanners will be more than adequate for what you need. The main thing is to be clear about things like resolution and how these images fit into your workflow, technically speaking. What format are you working with? What is your delivery format?

If you're working on Mac, you should check out Scan Guide Pro (available via the LAFCPUG store)


Thomas Beach
Mon 19 Nov 2007Link

Thanks, John. I look forward to checking the link out.

Not sure I understand the thrust of your "workflow" comment. That said, my intent is to scan images and edit them into my project using FCP Studio 2 including both my sound design and DVD authoring. I expect I will need Photoshop or Aperture to manipulate images? I intend shooting with either the P2 or the XL-H1 for interviews. Specific format TBD although I am leaning toward one of the HD formats. I am also still considering shooting GV's and the like with my NPR (I still prefer film where possible). As this is a one-man production, I expect to perform my own final mix (I'm a production recordist by trade) and simply author to DVD and self-distribute. I hope I have answered your questions? Again, any help you can offer is most appreciated.

Tom Beach


John Burgan
Mon 19 Nov 2007Link

Well you should certainly make the decision about what format you are shooting and delivering on. Not sure how the mix of film and video will work.


Thomas Beach
Mon 19 Nov 2007Link

Agreed. I have some research to do on that yet. I'm beginning project research in December and the aquisition of photos etc. No shooting for some time yet. Film telecined with proper parameters to match project settings should present no issues.


Monica Williams
Wed 21 Nov 2007Link

At what phase of my project will I need to hire an entertainment lawyer? I have an attorney now that has drafted an offering memo for a group of investors interested in my film. They are lawyers and I'm sure they will be asking some legal questions. Will I need an entertainment lawyer throughout the project?


Doug Block
Wed 21 Nov 2007Link

Certainly no harm in finding one you like early on in the process. You only pay them by the hour, as needed, so why not?


Steven Dhoedt
Wed 21 Nov 2007Link

Hi all,

I've got a question concerning a contract between director and production company, more specifically the part which deals with the audiovisual exploitation rights.
What is an acceptable percentage for the director/screenwriter to receive of the gross income for a) cinema release b) dvd release c) tv sceenings, etc... I know this all comes down to what producer and director agree upon, but just wanted to know if there is an average percentage that is usually agreed upon.
As a beginning producer and documentary maker this is all new to me, so just looking for some feedback or online resources that can guide me through the business process of documentary production :)


Doug Block
Thu 22 Nov 2007Link

Stephen, unless you're Spielberg and talking about a big Hollywood movie, directors don't get any percentage of gross income. If they're lucky, they get a percentage of net income. Which, after all the bills are paid off (a BIG if), is known as profit. And how much is pretty much done by negotiation on a case by case basis.


Tony Comstock
Thu 22 Nov 2007Link

Thom,

If you want to shoot film, shoot film. Five years ago we made the move to shooting Super16 for everything except interviews. I think it's helped our projects both commercially and financially.


Steven Dhoedt
Thu 22 Nov 2007Link

Thanks Doug for your answer.
it makes sense that giving a percentage of the gross income is not really done, since the production budgets of most documentaries already include distribution advances, tv presales etc., money that is directly in the actual making of the movie, not raising the director's salary. Correct?
I'd been receiving some standard contracts between director and production company and they all included paragraphs where you should fill in the blank percentages for these exploitation rights.
anyways, thanks a lot for your help


Doug Block
Thu 22 Nov 2007Link

No problemo, Stephen. We live to serve...


Steven Dhoedt
Thu 22 Nov 2007Link

One more question about exploitation rights:
what is the average length in years that the author/director should concede the exploitation rights of the movie to the producer? 5 years? 10 years?
Can this duration affect future distribution deals or do they not affect each other at all?


Jo-Anne Velin
Thu 22 Nov 2007Link

Stephen, I won't answer concretely because I don't have the answeres, but can suggest given your interest, you might want to continue by googling independent producers' "terms of trade" and "video on demand rights" for various countries, and also explore through any independent filmmaker unions, where you are involved (Is there one in Belgium? If not, if you can handle German look at AGDOK's website, and the UK's PACT ). Electronic media rights are a hotly contested issue. "Should" concede is different from "do". Your questions are clear but the answer can be very complex and depend on territory, it seems to me. I have no knowledge about the US, please note.

"Terms of trade" are just the rules of the game, as agreed by participants,where the percentages and timeframes are spelled out across a sector of the industry. In the UK for example, terms of trade were recently agreed between PACT (indy producers/directors) and various public broadcasters. If you are in Belgium and working locally, my guess is you really do need to talk directly with your more experienced colleagues working in the same market.

Maybe see if you can access the European Documentary Network's magazine, DOX from this fall. I wrote a piece about VoD rights for them and you will appreciate the companion pieces in the same issue that were extracted from other sources – especially a compact version of the PACT agreements (really useful if you are new to the topic). Try EDN on-line. Good luck!


Riley Morton
Sat 24 Nov 2007Link

Stephen,
you should get Mark Litwak's book called 'risky business'


Steven Dhoedt
Tue 27 Nov 2007Link

Thanks Jo-Anne and Riley for the info and suggestions!


Thomas Beach
Tue 27 Nov 2007Link

In weighing my options regarding format, I am strongly considering SD and the use of the AG-DVX100B camera. This consideration is clearly money-driven. I would appreciate feedback regarding the current viability of SD, given the present wave of multiple HD formats and the market. Am I severly limiting my market potential by shooting SD? I don't expect theatrical release. Thanks in advance for your input.

Tom Beach


Tony Comstock
Tue 27 Nov 2007Link

I think you've got the cart in front of the horse. Shooting HD (or better yet, film) will expand your market potential, and (perhaps more importantly) your marketing potential.


Doug Block
Tue 27 Nov 2007Link

No need to sign your posts, Tom. It appears LIKE MAGIC automatically above every post.


Brian Boyko
Fri 30 Nov 2007Link

Tom: With the Canon HV20 shooting HD video for $800 or less in some areas, I so no reason to go HD. You can always downrez to SD but you'll want an HD copy of your tapes to "futureproof" the footage.

Me, I'm shooting in HD because I don't know what I'm going to do with the footage yet.


Brian Boyko
Fri 30 Nov 2007Link

Speaking of which – anyone know where I can get a Ph.D. in Documentary Film in an English-speaking country outside the United States?


Malgosia Askanas
Wed 5 Dec 2007Link

Dear All,

On the dust jacket of Vladimir Dedijer's book "The Yugoslav Auschwitz and the Vatican" it says that Gottfried Niemietz, who wrote the Foreword to the book, "has worked on two documentary films about the [then] current civil war in Yugoslavia, which have been broadcast worldwide via satellite." Coud anybody tell me what those two films were, or point me to a possible source of this information? Many thanks for any help you can provide.


Jo-Anne Velin
Wed 5 Dec 2007Link

I did a quick search but came up with two lawyers by the same name. It is possible he is one of them. Just google (german word for lawyer is Rechtsanwahlt).

Fastest way to the right person is to contact the author or publisher of the book.

If GN has 'worked on' a doc, then maybe just as consultant or researcher or similar that might not show up on a google search.

Alternative, look up films on Jasenovac, and related, then scan credits. Tis possible he will show up that way.

http://www.jasenovac.org/videos.php – Jasenovac research centre in NYC
good luck.


Monica Williams
Thu 6 Dec 2007Link

Hello everyone,

I could use some advice on organizing my last phase of production. I have already shot an extensive interview with the author of the book I'm adapting. I have a pretty good idea of the structure I will be using for the film, but I'm not locked into it. I now have images to research and gather and some more people to interview. For a historical/essay documentary (Ken Burns and Adam Curtis are my best models) which should come first – the interviews or the gathering of images. I can see the good in doing both first. I have a background in art history and the 20th century, so I have a pretty good idea of what images are out there. Thanks!


Riley Morton
Thu 6 Dec 2007Link

Never having made a film in the Ken Burns style myself, here is how i would approach the next steps on (what i know about) this film:

view post production as the place where the film will likely find its voice. as such, you'll want to assemble the foundation and structure of the film AS you acquire the Broll and illustrating material. Even if you know right where to go for all the images that you hope to use in the film, it will undboubtedly take much longer than you anticipate to get the rights to use all those stills and Broll/archival material. Of course, you may claim fair use on all that material, and decide not to pay for rights – but that is a bigger question for you and an entertainment lawyer to answer together after much research.

do this simultaneously with shooting interviews and other scenes that you want to include. But I'd recomend starting right now. You say that you've got a structure that you want to use in the film – sounds like using this big interview as the skeleton. Open up a new FCP project, and save it as "Evil01" import all the usable clips from your big interview, and start laying it down on the timeline in the structure that you imagine. How does it flow so far? Did you get everything you needed from your subject? what else do you need to add? which concepts need to (or can) be explained by other interviewees/sources? which examples in history have stills/film that you can cull from? are you finding the right balance to make the material engaging for your audience? start work on getting all those assets, and by repeating the questions above over and over for many many months, you can start to see your film take shape in the way that you want to get your message through. a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step – and making a great documentary is in many ways a longer journey than that. you've already taken a few big steps, which is more than 98% of wannabe doc makers take, but now its time to jump in the difficult questions of how to best tell your story. it seems to me that jumping into post production, along with creating the beginnings of a paper edit and maybe a white board to outline structure – and you are well on your way! its going to be a great learning experience – and hopefully you'll have a great film in the end as well!


Monica Williams
Thu 6 Dec 2007Link

Thanks so much Riley for the thoughtful and valuable advice! It makes perfect sense to go about it this way and I don't know why I was thinking there had to be an order. This is a huge journey, I'd say closer to a million miles. I began two years ago with no idea the work that goes into these films. I Can't believe how much respect I've developed for the people behind this craft. Hope everything is alright in Seattle – stay dry!


Riley Morton
Fri 7 Dec 2007Link

my basement got a touch damp – but its dry now...;)

good luck, Monica- keep us posted.


John Burgan
Fri 7 Dec 2007Link Tag

Brian – here's a list of graduate courses on documentary


Jo-Anne Velin
Sat 8 Dec 2007Link

follow to the bar please...


Evan Thomas
Sat 8 Dec 2007Link

Hey there,

Can anyone point me in the direction of some decent info about streaming my documentary online, i mean how to actually set something like that up. I'm making a documentary short that i'd like to show exclusively on the web.

I now find myself in need of finishing the film and creating a website from which to stream it. I want to go 100% DIY and just put it out there and maybe charge a minimal fee. I guess i should be trawling website development forums (!)


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