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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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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
Wed 21 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
Wed 21 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
Wed 21 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
Fri 23 Nov 2007Link

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


Steven Dhoedt
Mon 26 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
Tue 4 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
Wed 5 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
Wed 5 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
Thu 6 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
Fri 7 Dec 2007Link

follow to the bar please...


Evan Thomas
Fri 7 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 (!)


Lisa Salem
Fri 7 Dec 2007Link

Hey Evan

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.

Edited Fri 7 Dec 2007 by Lisa Salem

Doug Block
Sat 8 Dec 2007Link

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.


Evan Thomas
Sat 8 Dec 2007Link

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.


Lisa Salem
Sat 8 Dec 2007Link

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... :)


Brian Boyko
Wed 12 Dec 2007Link

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?


Joe Moulins
Wed 12 Dec 2007Link

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.


Brian Boyko
Wed 12 Dec 2007Link

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.

– Brian.


Jo-Anne Velin
Wed 12 Dec 2007Link

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.


Wolfgang Achtner
Wed 12 Dec 2007Link

Bryan,

You write that this man is a "public figure." Do you mean that he is a politician or a member of a local/national government? I'm just trying to figure out what you mean by "public."

By definition, if a given person is a public figure and they have agreed to an interview, everything they say is on the record and can be used.

In most countries, the only restriction that I can think of would be filming someone inside their homes without consent.


Brian Boyko
Thu 13 Dec 2007Link

This man is a politician. He holds a ministerial position in the national government of New Zealand. He has obviously agreed to the interview.

There are two complications. 1) The interview took place in his party's caucus room, and we do not have a location release. It's not his home or personal office, but it is an area not open to the general public. 2) The man is VERY well known in New Zealand. He is a famous and very controversial figure here. He holds high national office. But if people in the U.S. don't know who he is, would he be considered a private figure in the U.S. market?


Joe Moulins
Thu 13 Dec 2007Link

I don't claim to be an expert on ...anything, really, but I do suspect you are overthinking this, Brian. This sounds like a cut and dried case of a Big Swinging Dick messing with you.

If you ask this question in the legal forum you may get a more nuanced response, but I don't think you have anything to worry about in this case.


Brian Boyko
Thu 13 Dec 2007Link

Thanks – yeah. When we go over the raw footage, we'll see what we have him on tape saying. :)


Wolfgang Achtner
Thu 13 Dec 2007Link

Brian,

This is really a no brainer.

A Minister is a public figure. He agreed to go on camera (this is proven by the fact that you have the recording). You can use video. End of subject.


Marianne Shaneen
Sat 15 Dec 2007Link

Hi Doug and D-word folks, thanks so much for this awesome resource!

I'm currently in post on a feature documentary. I've been in discussions with a producer and funders who I will probably be partnering with. In looking through older posts I saw that you recommended your lawyer Richard Freedman, highly. I don't know if you're into making public endoresements or renouncements, but that post was in 2003. : )
Just wondering if you would still recommend him and/or if you might recommend another trustworthy entertainment attorney that works with indie directors, and perhaps is not incredibly expensive, in NY?

Or if anyone else might chime in with a recommendation (if such recommendations are allowed)?

Thanks so much!
And major congrats to Doug on A Walk Into the Sea!!!!!!


Marianne Shaneen
Sat 15 Dec 2007Link

Hi again,
another question. Could anyone lay out a basic idea of forming an LLC? Specifically: if I've been making a film and it's in post, and I bring on a producer and funders, and that producer's lawyer draws up the LLC and operating agreement, ...this is where I get a bit confused. If the producer's lawyer draws up the operating agreement and represents the film, is it any conflict of interest or am I at a disadvantage because he's also the producer's lawyer?

Wouldn't I instead set up my own LLC, and from there enter into an agreement between my LLC and their corporation? Or is it standard practice to form an LLC with all the parties involved? I want to retain ownership of my film, so I'm not sure how that works.

I don't mistrust any of these people, I just have no idea how these things work. (obviously why I'm asking for attorney recommendations). Thanks!!


Doug Block
Sat 15 Dec 2007Link Tag

Marianne, it's actually Robert Freedman, and, yes, I still highly recommend him. Here's his contact info . I'd also recommend Dan Satorius – he's in Minneapolis but considerably less expensive.

I'd ask these guys about the LLC as I'm not an entertainment lawyer. But if it were me, I'd set up my own LLC and keep ownership and control.

Edited Sat 15 Dec 2007 by Doug Block

Robert Goodman
Sat 15 Dec 2007Link

2nd that thought. Last money in should be treated very differently than the people who walked with you from the first step.


Marianne Shaneen
Sun 16 Dec 2007Link

Thank you so much! I will look into both.
From what I've read it seems that the LLC can be structured (with all partners) in any way, so I could be sole owner and it determines how payments/points/percentages come in and clarifies what everyone's roles and responsibilities are. But yep, I'm not doing anything without consulting an attorney.
I'll keep you posted. :)


Doug Block
Sun 16 Dec 2007Link

good luck, marianne. tell bob and/or dan that i sent you their way. it can't hurt.


Marianne Shaneen
Sun 16 Dec 2007Link

Thanks Doug, will do!

Show hidden content

Malgosia Askanas
Wed 19 Dec 2007Link

Many thanks for the response to my previous question. Now I have another. Could anyone advise me how I could get hold of a copy Jonathan Lewis' documentary "Reputations: Pope Pius XII – the Pope, the Jews and the Nazis", which was made for BBC2 and shown in 1995? I tried contacting BBC about it through their website, but received no response. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Perhaps there is some way to contact Jonathan Lewis directly?


Marianne Shaneen
Wed 19 Dec 2007Link

Hi Doug- I spoke to both attorneys you recommended, they were both really wonderful and both raved about you : ) (really).
One more expensive w/no retainer, one less expensive requiring a retainer, and both seemingly equally great (knowlegable, helpful, cool).
Many thanks again!!


Doug Block
Wed 19 Dec 2007Link

you're welcome, marianne. sorry i gave you a tough choice ;-)

Edited Wed 19 Dec 2007 by Doug Block

Evan Thomas
Wed 19 Dec 2007Link

Hi Malgosia,

I'm assuming it's not available to buy.

It could be expensive to get a copy from the BBC as it's liklely it's sat on a big shelf somewhere and could cost £££ to get a copy from the master tape. Maybe you would have more joy with contacting Jonathan Lewis?? Might be a long shot though...

It's a bit naughty but it might be on a torrent somewhere on the web? Especially since it features Nazis there always seems to be plenty of Nazi related documentaries available for download.


Darla Bruno
Fri 21 Dec 2007Link

Hi,

Wondering if someone can advise me on sound. I'm going to be working with a dp in January on a shoot in a hilltown in Italy for my first doc. Our sound guy can't do it, and my budget already has me eating beans and rice. So we're going without a boom operator. My dp assures me we'll be fine, but all anyone has ever warned me about (and I'm a TOTAL newbie) is how important sound is.

My dp has done other docs, and I trust his opinion; we have wireless mikes and he's got an awesome camera with a good mike, but again--everyone has always said, don't rely on the camera mike. Most of our work in Jan is going to be interviews and b-roll, but are we screwing ourselves without a boom operator?


Wolfgang Achtner
Fri 21 Dec 2007Link

Darla,

Have read your previous postings, was under the impression you'd be shooting next summer. You could be fine without a soundman, I have completed several documentaries without one, it really depends on what you're doing.

For interviews and some B-roll you should be fine without one.

I live in Orte, outside Rome and I've worked here zillions of years. if you care to call for a chat, feel free to do so. Remember we're 6 hours ahead of you over here.

E-mail me and I'll send you my phone nr.


Nick Higgins
Fri 21 Dec 2007Link

I concur with Wolfgang that as long as your DP sets up the audio well for the interviews you should be fine.

Doing the one man band thing only really gets tricky when you have multiple people talking at one time eg. a dinner scene with lots of people or a hike in the hills with lots of people etc etc, any of these "verite scenes" with multiple people is when an audio tech with boom/multiple lavs is worth their weight in gold.

The camera mic will be fine for b-roll but for an interview thats more than a few feet away it wont be much good. If you take it off the camera and mount it on a stand close to the subject being interviewed it could be a good addition to the lav mic too.

When you go the one man band route its best to acknowledge that it can be done but if and when something goes wrong it definitely takes one person doing multiple jobs much longer to identify problems and correct them than when you have a dedicated sound person doing nothing else.

I shot one man band in a verite scene last week, a demonstration by workers who met at a parking lot and marched a half mile to their factory. It was sub zero temperatures and all was going well right up til the march got underway. The second they set foot on the road the lav went down. I had to march along and try and fix it on the fly. It didnt happen and we had to go with camera mic only until they arrived on site and we managed to rectify. Thats the downside of one man band cause if we'd have had an audio tech he probably could have fixed the problem while I shot on. With only me I had to choose between fixing it or shooting and after a few fumbly minutes I had to give up.

Edited Fri 21 Dec 2007 by Nick Higgins

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