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.
i wanted to know how does a movie start i.e. feature
film ....i.e. 1st the screeplay writer approaches or the company
(prod. houses)... and whom to approach for working in movies...
thanks crazy film people....
There is just no general rule for all this.
So what's your ideal vision of what you want to do?
What kind of project are you thinking about?
The D-Word focuses on docs. So we probably can't give you much help
in how to get a screenplay produced.
I think there are a bunch of listserves and discussion boards for
screenwriters, though. You can try a Google search, or maybe someone
Good Question. Is it the fact that the person is enclose in a
building that makes this situation "private", or is it because of the
fact that a "religous" ( my spelling sucks) or personal act is
taking place and that makes it "private"? I recently shot over 6
hours of footage of native american and african cerimonial
activities. It was outside but it was spiritually based. I wonder if
that could be considered "private"? hummmmmmm? Another
legal grey area.
self-funded-- doc. Two questions for the "pros" (this is my first
posting, hope its the right forum):
1. What are the latest thoughts on Final Cut 3 with a new G4. Is
a dual processor G4 867 going to do the trick, or do I need
additional speed (1 gig or 1.25). What are other common pitfalls
in purchasing and configuring a new final cut setup? And of
course, any tips on where to shop to save some dough? Or is
my best bet to go to Tech Serve and load up on what they
2. A question on length. At this point, I am doing the project on
spec and hope to enter festivals, and mostly to use as a selling
card for myself. Of course if someone wants to buy it, great! My
gut says that 1/2 hour is a good length. Do I need to worry about
timing it out for commercial breaks in the event that a network
would be interested in airing it? Is there a standard reference for
this? Also, should I try to expand it to 1 hour-- is that a more
"saleable" length? Any thoughts would be appreciated!
1. G4867 is plenty fast enough. make sure you load up on RAM.. it's
hard to get too much... go to www.kenstone.net and read all about how
to set up your system... it's a fabulous concise set of guides. It
will answer all your fcp3.0 and other questions about systems. As
for saving dough... buy from someone legit who'll talk to you if you
think you'll need support. I bought my system from promax.com and
they provide good telephone support because I had no experience with
macs... but you pay more for your system (a few hundred dollars
more).. but they assemble and burn it it before shipping. Or try
bhphotovideo.com. If you're mac savvy, shop around.
2. my 2cents: do a 30 minute project; there are more slots in
festivals for shorts; the pbs length is 26:45 I believe. you can
check pbs.org producing for pbs link; and it's faster to do than
creating a 60 min program that works. It's not usually possible to
stretch a 30 minute program to 60 mins... it's sometimes possible to
cut shorter versions of a longer program. 60 minute programs are
commercial norm but unless you break the mold your first 60 minute
project will not likely find its way onto pbs or cable.
with your 30 minute project, plan ahead, think about what you want to
do and how you want to represent that with video images. try not
to 'overshoot'. Then think about your edit and outline things before
you start logging tape into your mac. But most of all, enjoy it and
learn from it. That's what your first project should be about.
I have a camera and a good idea just have
the fear of where to start.
I want to make a doco about my experiences at
festivals and touring around
there is lots of juicy material and want to shoot it up
close and personal like
part diary style part fly in the crowd style still working
on this aspect.
However i really could use some advice re preprod
and what i need to think
about re working out an angle and a premise so that
i can be more directed
with my shooting.
It seems if i just shoot everything i may not get what i
want in the end.
and eveything i have read on the net leads me to
suspect that a great deal of
careful planning before hand will help.
It will be self funded as basically all the material is
there and i just need to go
and get it and follow myself around with a camera.
it is very Doable kind of
like a cops but on the subject of performing arts festivals.
so any tips or links for info would be very appreciative
i have the next 6 months for preproduction and planning.
I would like to eventually try and find a buyer for the project as a one off or as
a series type thing.
Basically the first one would be a kind of pilot or a great short.
there will be lots of great footage of crazy performers interviews etc.
I have been doing this for six years and only just realised there was the
potential for a great doco there.
it will help you sharpen your camera skills.
But keep in mind - always - what is your story? And what are the
themes? Is there any particular point or message you want to convey?
And then look for situations that might illustrate it.
Most doc makers start in without knowing where, exactly, in the
overall story they are at. They trust that if the subject matter is
right, it will eventually all come together. Sometimes it actually
that is the part i am having trouble
what are my themes and what am i trying to convey
getting it into a form where i can articulate it is
tough for me so that advice
helps i will now ask myself these questions and
see if the answer is in my
brain somewhere i hope so!!:)
thanks for the welcome nice to be connected to a
community of this kind.
doesnt feel so lonely anymore.
BTW, I've found a book called "Art and Fear" extremely helpful in
overcoming creative blocks. You might want to check
Anyone else care to weigh in (see above). Thanks!
The question of whether a church is legally a public or private
space for the purposes of determining whether a release is necessary
has probably been addressed by some court somewhere. My guess is
that the stronger argument is that worshippers have a reasonable
expectation of privacy in the interior of a church which cant be
seen from outside and that their permission to be filmed should be
secured. But pretty much anything done in public or which can be
seen from the outside ie through a window is fair game.
I shot some bmx guys in a skate hall last night and
it all came out great except it was fluro lighting and
my new mx500 doesnt seem to like low light situations a whole lot.
I got the cam because it is really small and inconspicuous
for the kind of doco stuff at festivals and the like i wanted
to shoot now i am worried that all my lower light stuff will
be excessively grainy.
Maybe this becomes an aesthetic i can use.
I am reading lots of stuff now about the gl1 being better in
low light etc.
the shutter speed doesnt go below 1/50 but it does have gain
up settings and manual whitbalance.
Any comments would be cool. I just didnt really have the budget
for another grand for the gl2 .
not what I'd call fantastic. I haven't shot enough with other cameras
to make a comparison. If it has a gain up setting, I'm not aware (and
I shoot a lot with it), but cameras that effectively give you a gain
up effect with a shutter speed give you that pixellated look when you
move the camera (which is sometimes nice, but not always). As for
manual whitebalance, it has no affect on low light shooting.
Anyway, my gut reaction is you take your own advice and use the
excessive grain as an aesthetic. Could work very well.
refining our concept, approach and goals for a documentary
we've become obsessed with making. Probably not the best
idea to put all our eggs in one basket, but we've learned a lot and
hopefully we'll find ourselves able to be flexible if the need
The project involves a pretty big, but not neccessarily
controversial (i.e. Walmart) corporation as the setting and the
vehicle to understanding people within the environment and
ultimately ouselves as a whole. I suppose similar to Neiman
Marcus in Fred Wiseman's film. We have finally made contact
with them and are sending them information on the idea. They
were abrupt and skeptical, although polite in our phone
Our approach to the film is one of personal, intimate
open-mindedness and we believe the film will be a celebration
of the place and certainly not critical or exposing in style. What
tone should we use in our letter and correspondence? For
example: sheer desperation, PR-style convincing,
sentimentality? I know that sounds false, but as I write the info
sheet out I can't help but fear that one step in the wrong direction
could blow everything. Also, the advice we were initally following
was to just send a letter of introduction but our telephone
conversation was so abrupt and marred with miscommunication
that we feel we should provide enough info to prevent any
misunderstandings. What we really want is to meet with this
person face to face, in the hope that our honesty and passion
will prevail. In moments of fear, I feel why in the world would they
care enough about us and honest personal filmmaking to say
yes. Any ideas?
Also, the info sheet we're writing is a page and a half bulleted
with headings, etc. Does that sound right? What other materials
or ideas should we include?
Whoever's out there, thank you very much for all your help.
Heather & Margaret
too. What could they possibly gain from having two unknown, indie doc
makers probing around with their video camera? These companies spend
millions in advertising and take their branding and corporate image
very very seriously.
If I were you, I'd think long and hard from their point of view about
what you could offer them by doing this doc. What promotional value
could it have for them? How will it enhance their image? My guess is
that the doc you wish to make isn't alligned with the public image
they wish to convey.
I assume you want total editorial control, so there is probably zero
chance they'll go for it. However, given that, you have nothing to
lose. My approach would be as honest as possible (it's almost always
the best approach in trying to get access, anyway). Explain what
you're attempting to do and convey your passion for your project as
best as you can. You never know.
for a production company. Problem is (and it's not, really), I'm a
movie guy and think in 'cinematic' terms. So I was wondering if
anyone could, and would, be kind enough to post a link to ANY online
web tutorial or article that covers the basic outline (subject
approach, research, blah blah blah) of Documentary film
writing/directing. I don't really need this information but an
objective (i.e. theoretical) perspective might prove a great time
saver in organizing my thoughts & actions.
to agree with Doug's comments. Also I wouldn't be too quick to say
Walmart does not involve controversy. Michael Moore made them look
pretty bad in "Bowling for Columbine" (if you haven't yet seen his
film, he takes WalMart and K-Mart to task for selling firearms and/or
ammunition in their stores. K-Mart changed its policy as a result of
his film, but now Moore is campaigning vigorously on his website
against Walmart). I'd be very surprised if Walmart would agree to
any filmmaker doing an observational doc about them.
Space, docs can be every bit as "cinematic" as fiction films -- with
a storyline, a protagonist/antagonist, a climax, a conclusion, etc.
The main difference is that most documentaries (barring those dull
historical films with only a narrator and archival footage) are not
scripted in advance of the shoot (though, of course, the director may
have an outline and a fairly good idea of what he/she is looking for)
and you have more leeway in structuring than you do if you come from
the Syd Field school. Sometimes the footage is just given to an
editor who re-constructs it. Sometimes it is tightly scripted. Even
when scripted, the format may look considerably different than what
you would be accustomed to with a fiction script. Others here may
disagree, but I find the 2 column approach works best, especially for
films that use a lot of voiceover over visuals.
I would recommend two books to you: "Directing the Documentary" by
Michael Rabiger (excellent overview of the process)
and "Scriptwriting for High Impact Videos" (covers industrials as
much as docs, but gives some suggested guidelines as far as script
Thanks for the info. I am well aware that a doc can (and
should) be cinematic, but I always feel that some kind of 'outline'
of objectives is always a great way of aligning ones thought process
before starting any kind of project (cinematic or not). I have heard
about "Directing the Documentary" and I'll probably buy a copy as it
seems to be very highly regarded by those in the doc circle. Anyhoot
thanks again. Also, any additional info (or links?) to the '2 column
approach' would be welcome.
P.S. FYI, I can't stand that insufferable, patronizing Syd Field. I've
bought and read three of his books which I've given away.
lost between most documentarians and Mr. Field though some folks
would argue that docs can and should follow a similar structure to
the 3-Act fiction film.
Not sure of too much on the web in the way of formatting. Closest I
could come is
<http://faculty.uscolo.edu/ebersole/handbook/script.html> If I'm
doing a paper cut based on window dubs, I usually also add a column
to note Tape Number and timecode.
Thanks for the link. Also, I just won "Directing the Documentary" on
ebay for $5, which is a bargain, I guess, so that should provide some
useful info. Apparently this is THE book to read. However, I heard the
same thing about Field's books which turned out to be a pedantic
farce so I'll wait until I read it to pass judgement. I'm looking
forward to readjusting my thinking process. Thanks for your help and
info. I'll post my progress and hopefully the 'veterans' can give me
advice along the way when I hit road blocks.