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.
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.
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.
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.
Sounds like a really complex subject, Brian. How is the project being funded? And why the title?
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."
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!
In reply to Monica Williams's post on Wed 14 Nov 2007 :
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/
In reply to Niam Etany's post on Tue 13 Nov 2007 7:40 UTC :
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.
Christopher Wong - The trouble is if there were any directors making documentary films like mine, I wouldn't be making documentary films.
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.
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.
There are some links at the bottom of the Wikipedia article, you can even watch some of his (otherwise unavailable) work online.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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 :)
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.
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.
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
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?
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!
you should get Mark Litwak's book called 'risky business'
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.
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.
No need to sign your posts, Tom. It appears LIKE MAGIC automatically above every post.
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.
Speaking of which – anyone know where I can get a Ph.D. in Documentary Film in an English-speaking country outside the United States?
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.
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
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!
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!
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!
my basement got a touch damp – but its dry now...;)
good luck, Monica- keep us posted.
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 (!)
Check out: http://nomadsland.com/content/view/56/138/, http://arincrumley.com (look for the video podcasts from the London Film Festival 'Power to the Pixel' event and especially watch the two videos where Lance Weiler of 'Head Trauma' and Susan Buice / Arin Crumley of 'Four Eyed Monsters' detail the processes they went through for getting their films out there – levering their web presences as much as possible). And after you've looked at those, and best of all, check out http://workbookproject.com for all things DIY filmmaking. It's a big subject and you'll probably initially only want to take on a small section of it by the sounds of what you're trying to do, but it's good to know the bigger picture before starting out I think. Nomadsland might be a simpler way of catering to your needs though too and I've given you the link for their 'About' page. http://www.selfreliantfilm.com is another one to look at.
Good suggestions, Lisa. Have you introduced yourself yet? There's no info about you in your profile so no idea whether you qualify to be a Member. But sounds like you know your stuff, so consider it. You'd have access to many more discussion topics here.
Cheers Lisa. I've had the workbook project bookmarked for a few months and it's one of my favourite sites to visit. Thank you for the link to the "Power to the Pixel" panel discussion, i just watched it, very interesting and just what i needed to watch right now.
I think i know what i have to do but i need to learn the technical stuff so i can put it into practice. I'm off to scour the web.
Hey Evan – I kinda realised that after I posted.... It might also be useful to check out the videoblogging Yahoo group – at the least it'll lead you to great info about optimum compression settings etc... – just type in videoblogging on the Yahoo Groups homepage and you'll find it – but I realise that's not really what you're after...
And cheers Doug – I just did the formal introduction and will get onto the member/bio stuff too... :)
I've got a problem. A key person in my documentary on New Zealand politics sat down to do the interview but refused to sign the release form. We did the interview anyway. On camera, he gave us permission to use the interview in New Zealand's Film Archive and for Online Streaming – unedited – but would not sign the contract.
He's a public figure and it shouldn't be a problem – I don't he'd sue us, but I can see how this can scare off distributors.
Here's what I'm thinking about doing. The problem is not permission to use his words. It's journalism – and so long as he is quoted accurately, it's not a problem. The problem is using his voice and image- the talent release, as it were.
That says to me that my best option, if I want to use him (and he's so key I kinda have to), is to buy a Getty Images picture of him, dump that on the screen, and hire a voice actor to say the exact same thing he said the same way he did during the interview. Because I have permision to use the unedited material online, people can see that the quotes are accurate.
The way I think this would work, artistically in the film, would be to shoot footage of a NZ flag, and have a scrolling screen with a stentorian voice reading:
"Mr [...] was willing to sit down with us for an on-camera interview but was not willing to sign a release so that we could use his voice and likeness in this movie. Because of that, his voice has been reenacted in this documentary.
Those interested in seeing the original footage can go to the New Zealand Film Archives Reference # "X", or go to "www.youtube.com/X" – both of which Mr. X has given permission for."
What do you think?
You'll be able to use the interview. If it happened as you describe it, he very obviously consented to be interviewed.
He's a public figure. And a dick, by the sound of it.
Make him look bad.
He is... a man used to getting his way.
I'll do the rough cut with the full video interview. If a distributor balks, I can tell them what happened and offer the voice recreation option.
When working in news for (Australian) ABC in Europe, I was told on-camera consent is adequate. Did he specifically say no to the images? If not, check with legal eagles but I think you're covered.