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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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Michael Oko
Thu 10 Oct 2002Link
Hi~ I am in the process of trying to finish my first independent-- ie
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
advise?

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!

Mike Green
Fri 11 Oct 2002Link
hmmm, there are people alot more pro than I and perhaps they'll jump
in but...

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.

Blake Barratt
Fri 11 Oct 2002Link
hi veena
good links for screen writers:
www.unmovies.com
www.dvinfo.net
good luck!!
blake

Blake Barratt
Fri 11 Oct 2002Link
OK so here goes
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
europe.
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.
cheers
bb

Doug Block
Fri 11 Oct 2002Link
Blake, you just start by starting. Begin shooting. If nothing else,
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
does ;-)

Blake Barratt
Fri 11 Oct 2002Link
thanks Doug that is a good pointer basically
that is the part i am having trouble
with.
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.
bb*

Doug Block
Fri 11 Oct 2002Link
That's the whole point, Blake!

BTW, I've found a book called "Art and Fear" extremely helpful in overcoming creative blocks. You might want to check it out.


Michael Oko
Fri 11 Oct 2002Link
Mike Green, thanks for your input... I will check out those sites.
Anyone else care to weigh in (see above). Thanks!

Stephen Goldberg
Sat 12 Oct 2002Link
Erica and John:
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.

Blake Barratt
Sun 13 Oct 2002Link
Hi guys i have a lsight tech question.
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 .
cheers
bb

Doug Block
Sun 13 Oct 2002Link
Blake, I have the Canon GL-1, and it's pretty good in low light but
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.

Blake Barratt
Sun 13 Oct 2002Link
Thanks Doug I have since the last post reviewd the footage on a television monitor instead of the lcd screen of the laptop and realise that the quality is not too bad and the grain from a bout a metre and a half from the tv isnt bad and the shots are not too dark so i am happy again. Just read a lot of stuff about the gl2, xl1s etc seems everyone has one of these and i feel a bit inferior with only the mx. It shoots great in normal light and what i have read is that it beats a lot of these for image quality too. Well who really knows i may have access to an xl1 for doing some of the more set up night shots of shows and stuff but if i really think about it all the night stuff will be suited to a diary style look anyway. I get comfort from the fact that there is a lot of interesting stuff to shoot and if i can get my camera skills up to scratch then the interest will be in whats in the shots and not a bit of grain here and there. I just really want to make this film and keep trying to learn lots about the techy stuff as well and get bummed out by all this what cam is best stuff. I have made a descision and well i think it will work out ok in the end. The mx is great for being inconspicuous and i dont want to distract from whats going on around me by having a hi there i am making a film camera. Neway thanks for the post I think I was just having an oh my god i spent the wrong 2000 euros moment. There are always lights as well :) cheers Blake


Heather Menicucci
Thu 7 Nov 2002Link
My partner and I have spent the past year writing a proposal and
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
arises.

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
conversation.

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

Doug Block
Thu 7 Nov 2002Link
H & M, if I were a big corporation like Walmart, I'd be skeptical,
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.

Lotsa luck.

Space Ludwig
Sun 10 Nov 2002Link
Hi, all. Um, there's a good chance I'll be commissioned to make a doc
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.

Muchos gracias.

Erica Ginsberg
Sun 10 Nov 2002Link
Heather, it sounds like a great idea for a project but I would have
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
format).

Space Ludwig
Mon 11 Nov 2002Link
Erica,

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.

Regards,

Space Ludwig

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.

Erica Ginsberg
Tue 12 Nov 2002Link
Then you've come to the right place. Don't think there's much love
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.

Space Ludwig
Wed 13 Nov 2002Link
Erica,

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.

Regards,

Space Ludwig

Robert Goodman
Wed 13 Nov 2002Link
There is no THE BOOK to read other than Aristotle.
Directing the Doc has some useful info but is hardly the end all and
be all of making nonfiction. If you want insight go to the library
and look at the vast array of nonfiction books. That's the
possibilities that exist for nonfiction films. Everything from "In
Cold Blood" to Dave Barry Cleans His Sink.

Space Ludwig
Thu 14 Nov 2002Link
Robert,

Um, I believe the rules laid out in Aristotle's poetics, if I am
correct in assuming this is what you are referring to, were
thoroughly - and successfully - refuted by the movie 'Pulp Fiction'.
If you read ALL of my previous posts you will realize that what I am
looking for is not info on how to write a story, nor am I lacking in
creative inspiration, but rather a basic outline of what to consider
when making a documentary picture, i.e. technical information. Dave
Barry cannot help me in this department. Thanks anyway.

Regards,

Space Ludwig

Robert Goodman
Thu 14 Nov 2002Link
Pulp Fiction refuted nothing. Technical information for making docs
is no different than making any other film. They don't use different
presses for printing nonfiction and fiction.

Margot Roth
Thu 14 Nov 2002Link
I think Robert is taking the word "technical" too literally here.
Obviously Space is referring to the methods, the thought organization,
etc., not literally issues of tape stock, e.g.

And indeed there is a big difference in approach to making a fiction
or doc film. They are entirely different beasts.

Space, you might want to hire an a.p. or co-producer who is
experienced in docs to help you. I don't think a book can replace
human knowledge and experience in this case.

Margot Roth
Thu 14 Nov 2002Link
Heather, good to see you here and your idea sounds excellent,
although the challenges do seem a bit daunting. I wonder if you could
go ahead and do some shooting and cut a short demo for Walmart to look
at.

It's all rather unfortunate with the timing of Michael Moore's movie.
Did Michael Moore shoot inside Walmart? Did he get permission?

If the angle of your film is a Fred Wiseman type of
humanity-revealing through a microcosm, I'd imagine it would be great
publicity for Walmart. What makes this tricky is you don't know who
you're pitching to, exactly. If you can pitch in person, you can
gauge their sensibility better. You could pitch it to them as almost
a reality series built around Walmart (crass, but whatever). Of
course, if you pitch it to someone with a brain and sensitivity, pitch
the humanity/vérité angle.

Robert Goodman
Fri 15 Nov 2002Link
Margot - disagree - the thought process for making a fiction or
nonfiction film is much the same. The only difference is that in
fiction you need actors and the outcome of the film is
predetermined. Figuring out what the scenes are and who you need to
talk to and how to go shoot it require same skills. No special
cameras/crews required for docs versus drama. Planning is planning.
Prepro is prepro.

Hayley Peacock
Fri 15 Nov 2002Link
Hello

Im very new to this site, and I was hoping there may be some people
out there willing to share their views on the work of Nick
Broomfield, controversial british doc maker, with me (Biggie and
Tupac, Kurt and Courtney,The leader..., Heidi Fleiss etc..). I am
currently compiling a biography and analysis of his career and
works. Im especially interested in a discussion on doc ethics, with
an emphasis on new documentary. I would also like to know if anyone
knows of anywhere, apart form the N Broomfield official website,
where I could gain access to a biographical outline of his career
timeline.

Any comments would be greatly appreciated!

Thanks- Hayley

Doug Block
Sat 16 Nov 2002Link
Hayley, no need to post the same request twice. We read all the
different topics.

Leslie Bielanski
Sun 17 Nov 2002Link
Hi all! I am a little new to the world of docs having been a
television producer for many years. My husband and I have recently
started our own company and are in the middle of our first
project. Here's my question-We are aiming to make a one hr piece
and our initial thoughts were to go for something like the History
Channel, Discovery, PBS etc. Assuming we self fund the project at
say $125,000 budget and we present the finished project to these
channels what would they typically pay? I understand the concept of
domestic international rights etc. Lets say for instance we were
looking to give them domestic and home video rights and leave the
international marketing to another company. We are just trying to
get an idea of a typical pay out from the nets. Thanks so much for
your help!

Leslie

Robert Goodman
Sun 17 Nov 2002Link
ditto for Leslie.

Leslie Bielanski
Sun 17 Nov 2002Link
Okay. So if you don't mind here is a second question. In two parts:

Where does an international market fit...in other words how much per
country-is it reasonable to expect say Germany to perhaps pay
$100,000 for a $125,000 budget piece if they are interested? Is it
better to work with a distributor who has international connections?

Secondly-I have been in the TV business for a good many years and
have worked freelance for a documentary production company. How do
these companies make any money? Does say History Channel pay little
more money once you have become established? I do love making
documentaries but I am also trying to make a living at it and trying
to figure out the best way to do that. Thank you again for your
help.

Leslie

Doug Block
Mon 18 Nov 2002Link
Leslie, I strongly recommend you read the Jan Rofekamp conference on
Selling in the International Marketplace: {LINK NOT IMPORTED} It will answer your
questions.

Heather Menicucci
Tue 19 Nov 2002Link
Hello everyone,

First, thank you for your replies. It's super encouraging to hear words of advice and interest when you feel like you're floating in a
worldof what-to-do-next's.

I think I miscommunicated one thing and I'm curious to see if this changes anyone's angle/opinion/advice. The company we're
thinking of is actually not like a controversial Walmart-y kind of place. Although it is big and national, the branches we're interested in
are actually some of the smaller, less intriguing, and famous parts of the main company. Also, they have appeared
lately on dating shows and segments of David Letterman. So although I know image is a huge factor for them, it's not clear to me
exactly what they need to protect or project. Also, I think as a place on the fringes of big business I'm not sure if I can actually say -
'what have you got to lose'? Am I naive?

(btw - hello margot and thank you!)

-Heather & Margaret (again)

Doug Block
Wed 20 Nov 2002Link
Yes, you're naive, Heather. But that's not a bad quality for a
documentary filmmaker. Nor is stubborness or persistence. If your
heart is set on this, you should just plow forward and try not to take
no for an answer from anyone -- including anyone here at this forum.

Robert Goodman
Thu 21 Nov 2002Link
conventional wisdom makes bad docs.

Laurie Trombley
Mon 2 Dec 2002Link
Hi everyone,
My name is Laurie and I am new here. I have been working on a feature
documentary with a friend for the past 3 1/2 years. This film is
about the life and music of a musician who has passed away. This is
the first film for both of us--so we are a bit inexperienced and have
just run into a problem we were unaware of when we started editing a
year ago:

All of our interstitials (photos, journal entries, artwork) are
digitized tiff files. The Avid's ability to manipulate digital stills
(panning, zooming, various effects) is poor. People have suggested we
use Boris Effects, but we don't have the money to purchase this
software, nor the expertise to use it. So we're not sure if it's a
worthy investment. Our editor is someone who works on weekends and
after hours so the Avid is not "ours" and we probably couldn't
install the software anyway.

Is it conceivable to use After Effects and integrate into our Avid
timeline? Any advice and/or suggestions about professionally
integrating our interstitials is much appreciated.

Thanks in advance for your time. LT

Robert Goodman
Tue 3 Dec 2002Link
I'd ask the person who's Avid it is whether they have After Effects
or Boris. Also if working on XpressDV, there's a pan and scan plug.
Another option is StageTools - a plug-in that's available on the web.
Hard to believe anyone has an avid without one of these tools.

The last option is to print out your files - shoot them with your
camera and cut the footage into your show. That works too.

Laurie Trombley
Tue 3 Dec 2002Link
Thanks Robert. I am going to bring you e-mail to my editor and see
what her Avid has. I really appreciate your advice!

Elise Green
Mon 16 Dec 2002Link
Bay Area Video Coalition Vs Film Arts Foundation

We are in the process of pitching for sponsorship from FAF and BAVC
in the San Francisco area. Does anyone know whether BAVC can equate
with FAF in terms of the following:
- working connections in public TV, private networks and festivals
for docs
- successful films they have supported
- industry success ie similar brand name

Thanks in advance.
Regards,
Elise

Robert Goodman
Tue 17 Dec 2002Link
Elise,

Not sure that fiscal sponsorship will make your film more or less
attractive to PBS, festivals, et al. One or the other may carry more
weight with particular funders which is why you'd make the decision.

Also, I would venture a guess that both orgs will say nice things
about you and your film if they like the film to people in the
business because you are from their neighborhood.

Syeda Abedin
Wed 18 Dec 2002Link
Hello everybody,
I am currently directing a documentary about the Bengali community
here in Dundee,(Scotland) focusing on the dance group of young
children. As this is part of my project at university, I have been
asked to write an in-depth treatment of my documentary, as part of my
modular work. Could anyone point me in the right direction please? Of
how to write a treatment? This would be a great help! Thank you!
Sy.

Doug Block
Thu 19 Dec 2002Link
Syeda, a treatment for a doc is difficult (if not impossible) because
you can't predict what will happen once you start taping. So I don't
know why your university is asking for one. A project description or
synopsis makes a lot more sense. But if you must, I suppose you can
describe what you hope and expect might happen, and talk about your
directing approach.

Syeda Abedin
Thu 19 Dec 2002Link
Hi Doug,
Thats what I thought,but I wasnt to sure exactly what a treatment
was, so therefore i wasnt about to knock it without trying... heheh
Now instead of trying to force my documentry to fit the module, I am
doing another project for it. Thanks for your help Doug, hopefully
things like these wont keep forcing me away from my doc.
Thats all I wanna Do!!!!
Syeda.

Stephanie Davy
Fri 10 Jan 2003Link
Hi- Here I am , new to this place- and thrilled to find it!, wanting to
hear that I am not completely insane to want to put a doc
together BY MYSELF. Have people done this? Gotta camera, got
programs, got a MAC, got subject, got music, got editing skilld.
Shouldn't I be able to do this? I'm seeing some scary posts, and
doing a search for info is either giving me lots of companies that
do docs (no thanks, I've already got one...), or links to all the
places that make this seem awfully difficult. I'd like to hear from
anyone who has put something together him/herself. As I asked
in my introduction on the "introduction" page...Am I nuts?
Thanks!

Scott Peehl
Fri 10 Jan 2003Link
I am new to this too. Accidentally made my first documentary last
year. Since then I have made two short docs that have screened at
festivals. I recently completed my first feature doc...a year of
work, frustration and lessons. I might suggest a person for
audio...the most challenging part of editing has been fixing the poor
sound quality that came from the on board mic. If you believe in the
project enough you can do anything. You also might want to bring in
an editor also if you do not have prior editing experience. The
reality is that technology has made it possible for a one person doc
crew.

In answer to your question, yes...you are crazy. You would have to
be to want to make a documentary film. Welcome to the club.

Doug Block
Sat 11 Jan 2003Link
Good advice, Scott. I agree. Also suggest you do a lot of practice
practice practice on your camera work. And if you're editing
yourself, wise to spend the money on a very good, very experienced
editor to look at your scenes from time to time and offer feedback.

Stephanie Davy
Sat 11 Jan 2003Link
Lucky for me, I hope, I have worked in vid editinmg, and YEARS
in audio- am polanning to do some separate sound
recording-though not on interviews, because I don't wanna deal
with time code. Doing the actual camera work is probably where
I'll nedd the most work- so I intend to spend lots of time with my
cats(that oughta give me some practice!)-and I'll make my poor
daughter be an interviewee for a while-she'll love that!
Any suggestions- books or sites to go and learn more about all
of this and putting together? And anyone whose got things I can
look at on web would be great! Let me know. Thankyou all so
much for everything so far!

Ben Kempas
Sun 12 Jan 2003Link
Wait ... in an inteview situation, it can be most useful to have a
separate sound recordist, because you'll have other things to focus on
in that moment. You're already asking the questions, operating the
camera, and, most importantly, listening to your interviewee.

This doesn't mean that the sound has to be recorded on a separate
medium and thus cause timecode worries. The soundman's signal can
still go straight into your camera, no?

Erica Ginsberg
Mon 13 Jan 2003Link
Also it's good to have a sound recordist because he or she is REALLY
listening to your interview and may actually be paying more attention
to the content than you are, as you are concentrating on making sure
the subject is speaking in useable soundbites and thinking about
seguing into the next question. I always let my soundman have the
last question of the subject and he never disappoints with a good one.

Stephanie Davy
Mon 13 Jan 2003Link
Aha- Very good points! I assume (tho' I know what happens
when you assume) that I have an aux audio on the camera. My
husband does audio for a living (as I have done in past) I will tap
hiim, then, there by insuring a reasonable sound without
timecode- you people are so wonderful! And I start shooting next
week- so this is all really great - I also realized I can set up a
mike and mixer, and set all to start (camera and mike at same
time) once I am ahppy with audio and video levels. This will all
be fairly static shots w/tripod/mike stand- so even if I decide to
change positions here and there for some alternate angles, I
should be able to do it- I just was telling the spouse about your
input, and he suggested we do dry runs of this possible set-up
at the house to see whether I can do it...Does that sound
sensible?
Again- your input is really priceless, I can't thank you enough!

Stephanie Davy
Mon 13 Jan 2003Link
Another ?- any of you in NY or even Long Island? Maybe I could
pick some brains, if anyon's willing at all- I'd also love to
meet/speak with others who are no doubt far more able than I at
this, and just soak it all up!

Scott Peehl
Mon 13 Jan 2003Link
Stephanie, I am in New York - East Village(no "RENT" jokes please).
Not sure what I would have to offer at this point...still sort of new
but I could share the lessons learned so far. Feel free to email me.

Leslie Bielanski
Fri 24 Jan 2003Link
Hi there. I have a fundraising question of sorts. I am doing a
Holocaust related doc-My first doc. Where can I find non-profit
sponsors to help me raise money for the doc as going it alone at the
moment has not yielded me much funding. Grants seem to tak to long
as this story is time sensative and being that this is my first doc
it has been really hard. Thank you all for any advice.

Doug Block
Fri 24 Jan 2003Link
Would help to know where you live, Leslie. If it's NY, there's NYFA,
for starters. Regardless, they have a great website that'll give you
some helpful info: www.nyfa.org.

Erica Ginsberg
Fri 24 Jan 2003Link
Leslie, you might want to partner with a more experienced filmmaker
as producer or co-producer and apply for grants that way. As you
have learned the hard way (as have many of us), there are few funders
willing to take a chance on first-timers. If your story has a Jewish
theme, one place to consider (but you would need someone with a track
record to apply with you) is the Fund for Jewish Documentary
Filmmaking (http://www.jewishculture.org/docs/film_fund.html)

As for non-profits, we would need to know more about the angle of
your story to give better advice. Also worthwhile to look at the
credits of other Holocaust docs, check out donors to the Holocaust
Museum, etc. etc. to get ideas of organizations to approach. Also
important to know whether you looking just for a pass-through for non-
profit status or an organization that wants to take an active
interest in fundraising because your project could benefit them.

But do know that while taking on a co-producer or an NGO as a partner
may help you get access to funds, it may also take away some of your
freedom in how you want to tell your story. Especially with an NGO,
you want to ensure that you are on the same wavelength as to the
purpose, angle, and distribution strategy for the project (not to
mention clarifying who gets paid and how much).

I am reading between the lines that your story is only time-sensitive
because it involves interviewing a Holocaust survivor(s) who may not
be long for this earth. You may be able to find a kindred spirit who
would be willing to help you out on a deferred pay basis or a service
barter to shoot the interview/s. But again you need to say more
about your project so that the world knows what makes your Holocaust
story unique?

Leslie Bielanski
Mon 10 Feb 2003Link
Okay so now let's say I have found someone interested in financing
the remainder of the budget for my film. However this budget
includes salaries for myself and my husband as producers etc. Is it
unrealistic to expect this person to pay salaries? We need the
money from the salaries to pay rent etc. but this person has said
that our personal needs are not her problem she is only interested
in paying what it would cost minus the saleries to get this done.
Advice is greatly welcome.

Erica Ginsberg
Mon 10 Feb 2003Link
Is this a grant-making organization or a private donor and has
he/she/they already seen the detailed budget? If the sentence: "In
order to complete this project on time and on budget, we will have to
devote ourselves fulltime to it" is not enough to stop an otherwise
intelligent person from confusing livelihood with personal needs,
maybe you need to find another line item other than salary to ensure
that you get paid (my, those post-production expenses have gone up,
haven't they?). I'd only do that though if it isn't an organization
where an accountant-type will be bean counting every expense.

Robert Goodman
Tue 11 Feb 2003Link
depends on the salaries. I'd offer the following deal -
include the salaries and the project will be completed by the
following date. No salaries, it will proceed in between all the
other projects we will have to do to earn our living.

So if you are willing to wait 3-7 years for us to finish the project
and get your money back, because you don't want to pay any salaries
that's fine. Or you can fast track it. I won't recommend burying
salary in another line item because it only means there will be an
unintended surprise later on.

Elise Green
Thu 13 Feb 2003Link
Hi all,
I have a couple of outreach questions - ones I couldn't find answers
to in the archive of Robert West forum (please direct me to it if
I'm wrong).

Context:
I have a completed doc and am seeking distribution through direct
sales with broadcasters and specific distributors. I have strong
outreach partner relationships and am finalizing my outreach
program.

Everyone on the outreach side is raring to go but I don't have a
distribution deal yet! I don't want to lose momentum or make a
costly mistake re: distribution.

Questions:
- If I screen the film at community locations and some local film
theatres will this harm my chances to do a TV or distributor deal?
- if I give copies of the film to people involved in the film and
people I want to win over in the local community before I get a
distribution deal with broadcaster or distributor is this bad?
- what is the optimal timing for rolling out the outreach program ie
should I wait until I have distribution with someone before I roll
out the outreach?

Please feel free to direct me to previous, similar Q&A on the D-word
site if they exist. And thanks to the D-word, it's been a real
source of information and support.

Steve Mennie
Fri 21 Feb 2003Link
Barging in here with what might be a ridiculously simple minded
question to be asking of 'working pros' but then again..who else?

I've been a working artist (painter, printmaker) for 30 odd years and
am now determined to move into a new (for me) media, digital video.
So, assuming I know nothing about editing but have used a video
camera in a somewhat haphazard manner in connection with my work as a
painter..should I lay out a whack o' dough and purchase a 3 chip
camera (say, Canon G1), a big computer with something like Adobe
Premiere 6.5 etc. etc. or should I perhaps get the big computer, but
go for a high-end single chip camera and something a little cheaper
in the soft-ware..

I'm wondering if using simpler cheaper equipment will result in more
frustration and disappointment and be a less than positive
introduction to this medium or would it be worth it to have higher
end stuff?

thanks,

Steve

Doug Block
Fri 21 Feb 2003Link
Impossible to answer your question, Steve, without knowing how much
you have to spend and what your priorities are. A great image? A
more powerful edit system?

If you can afford it, higher end is always better. And these days,
there isn't much price diff between higher end and low end.

Steve Mennie
Fri 21 Feb 2003Link
Doug..

Thanks for taking the time with this..I have roughly priced
out 'higher' end stuff and would be around 15 thousand bucks
including 3 chip camera..would be a considerable stretch to go for
that and was wondering about staying with the higher end editing
capabality and going with a single chip camera to sort of feel my way
around and in the process develop some small projects that could be
used to raise money..grants etc..That would cut 5 grand off the top
and make it much more doable..

At the same time I'm concerned that the single chip would
compromise 'quality' and perhaps render these small projects useless
for such purposes. I guess I'm wondering if it's possible to get
one's feet wet cheaper and be able to produce something that could be
used to generate interest (income) that would then translate into the
possibility of upgrading to a 3 chip camera?

thanks,

Steve

Doug Block
Fri 21 Feb 2003Link
Steve, you can get a top of the line Final Cut Pro edit system, G-4
dual processor, all the memory and hard drive space you'll need for a
feature length doc, two monitors, etc. for under $7,000. You can buy
a state-of-the-art 3-chip digital camcorder like the Sony VX2000 or
PD-150 or the new Panasonic 24P camera for around $3,000. You can get
everything you need for under $10,000 if you shop around.

Margot Roth
Fri 21 Feb 2003Link
Steve, where do you live? Perhaps you want to rent a camera for a
weekend and use your local public video/film coop to edit... you can
prob. take an editing class at your local access station or something?

Then decide where you want to spend your money... nothing wrong w/ a
one-chip camera. Just depends what you wanna do w/ your stuff...

Steve Mennie
Fri 21 Feb 2003Link
You're right on the money, Doug..You're talking American dollars I
presume inwhich case 10k US translates to about 15k Cdn. As i am just
getting into this, Margot, I'm quite sure where the hell I'll be
going with it. I'm certainly committed to doing this and I want to
produce 'quality' projects so am wanting to get good stuff to work
with.

One problem for me is that I live in the interior of British
Columbia, Canada and have little access to professional help although
I do know a couple of people involved with the medium and one of whom
is quite professional having moved to this location from Toronto..

The local cable station has moved all of its video equipment to the
local high school to be used in a audio-visual class..I've checked
out the program at the school and although the teacher involved is
fairly clueless as to how to use the editing software (they hava a
new system with Adobe Premier 6.5, there are a couple of students who
do seem to know their way around on the system and have agreed to
give me some free tutorials. I'm hoping i can work my way into
getting access to the system and spend some time there perhaps
cutting up some old home movies to get a feel for the editing.
I suppose in a general sense, I'm interested in community and in
focusing on the 'particular' as apposed to the 'corporate'..in paying
attention to what is lost in communities when international
franchises move in and give communities the 'same as everywhere else'
look and feel.

I note that you mention getting Final Cut and a G4, Doug. I know that
deciding wether or not to get a Mac or a clone pc is probably more
difficult than finding a proof for God..but what is your take on the
pros or cons of going with one or the other?

thanks again for your time,

Steve

Doug Block
Sat 22 Feb 2003Link
I'm not the best to ask, Steve. All I know is me and the rest of the
world use FCP. You want a clone pc? Be my guest but lotsa luck with
support.

Ben Kempas
Sat 22 Feb 2003Link
Ehm.... the rest of the world uses FCP? Wait for this:

http://www.avid.com/company/releases/2003/030107_AvidFreeDV_prod.html

Erica Ginsberg
Sat 22 Feb 2003Link
Steve, you should see if there is some way (even a journey to
Vancouver or freebie downloads) to test out both Final Cut and Avid.
From my limited experience (I am not an editor), Final Cut has an
easier interface as an editing program if you have little editing
experience (and especially if you are interested in doing lots of
artsy overlay type effects), but, as a committed PC person who has
never found Macs more user-friendly, I knew that I had to get a
program that worked effectively on a PC so I invested in Avid XPress
DV. The main problem I've found with the Avid is that the
instruction manuals seem to presume the folks using it are
experienced with Avids and are simply new to having one at home. The
Final Cut instruction manuals I've seen don't presume you have any
editing experience.

Margot Roth
Sat 22 Feb 2003Link
STeve, maybe you could borrow someone's Mac and test out iMovie??
I've never used it but it comes free on Mac and whittles down editing
to the essentials.

For someone just getting into video, a 1-chip camera and iMovie (or
that new free Avid software Ben mentioned) would let your experiment
and have a lot of fun...

then after you've started up the learning curve, you'll have a better
idea of where to invest your money... fancier edit system, or fancier
camera (or both). Your 1-chip camera will always be handy to have...
you can use it to load footage instead of a deck later, e.g.

Also, for someone who is an artist/printmaker, I imagine the smaller
the camera the better... you can get more artistic and experiment
more... carry it w/ you everywhere... there's something about a more
expensive camera that might make you afraid to throw snow at it or
whatever...

Erica- there are so many "unofficial" editing manuals out there (for
FCP at least).. The bookstores here have whole sections of 'em. Did
you ever find an Avid manual to help you?

p.s. Steve, if you're wanting to do interviews, you will have to
invest in a microphone as well, eventually.

Steve Mennie
Sat 22 Feb 2003Link
Thanks everyone for your time and info.. Margo,Is it possible to
combine footage shot with a one chip and a 3 chip..would the cheaper
camera be useful in that way in the future? After what you were
saying about the portability etc of the smaller camera, I'm thinkin'
yah..that could be good.

I know i have to get a microphone but I was leaving that for now
while I fretted about the system and camera etc. Is there a
particular microphone that one should get/avoid??

Man, this is so great to be able to get information like this..altho
if this list wasn't available I would probably have been overwhelmed
with the difficulty etc and gone quietly back to the brushes thus
saving myself much travail..not to mention money..

Does anyone have an opinion about the Pinnacle products? The fellow
I'm talking to about a computer is yakking up the Pinnacle capture
card and Adobe Premiere 6.5..

Once again, thanks for info and time

Steve

Margot Roth
Sat 22 Feb 2003Link
real quick, am running out door...

-You really want a Mac, not a PC clone, for what you wanna do.
Believe me.

-You don't need a capture card--if you get a Mac, you just plug the
DV camera into the computer (via Firewire) and you can load footage...
It's very simple. You don't need to know about Pinnacle cards, etc.

-Any level of new Macintosh computer (including laptops) and a cheap
DV camera (one-chip) will let you get started w/ what you wanna do.

-yes, you can combine 1-chip and 3-chip footage, no problem.

In terms of Final Cut Pro... you should look at a newer product
called Final Cut Express instead... it's way cheaper than FCP, and
omits all the crap you won't need anyway.

Erica Ginsberg
Sat 22 Feb 2003Link
Margot, I am holding out for the Visual Quick Pro manual since the
one for Final Cut seemed to be pretty helpful. The Avid one was
supposed to come out by the end of 2002, then got pushed to April
2003, and now I see on Amazon, the release won't be until June.
Crap. My main issue is that my background is all in Media 100 and
Avid doesn't use the same terminology at all, so when I look up in
the manual or online guide something like "split clip," it doesn't
exist and I simply don't have the same sense of logic as whoever
created Avid to figure out its terminology. That said, I have
actually finished one simple piece for my office on the Avid, so I'm
hardly giving up on it yet. If anyone else here has any other
recommendations for good Avid XPress manuals, that would be welcome.
The online Avid User Forum is OK, but the interface is way too
unwieldy for the amount of questions generated there that good
responses are few and far between.

Robert Goodman
Sat 22 Feb 2003Link
Erica - Buy my book "Editing Digital Video" - if only for the translations from Media 100 to Final Cut terminology. Whole section. Should help - if it doesn't let me know why. The Visual guide is nothing more than a mediocre rewrite of the Apple manual with slightly better arrangment.

Steve- buy my book and the little digital video book by michael rubin. That should help you understand what to think about before you go spend thousands in US or Canadian dollars.

here's a link if you want to check it out. www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0071406352/qid%3D1033683221/sr%3D2-2/ref%3Dsr%5F2%5F2/102-4080661-8154522


Ben Kempas
Sun 23 Feb 2003Link
Yes, Robert, we really should have put the plug for your book. It is
essential reading.

Erica, if you have any questions about your XDV, you know where to
ask them... {LINK NOT IMPORTED}.... There's quite a bunch of Avid
editors among D-Worders.

Erica Ginsberg
Sun 23 Feb 2003Link
Robert, your book has been on my Amazon wishlist for months. My
birthday is Tuesday. Hint hint. (But does it give translations from
Media 100 to Avid? I'm not using Final Cut.) And, of course, I know
I can always ask questions in the Community. Just didn't want to
come across as the dumb dumb Avid newbie that I am. A pride thing, I
guess. :-)

Robert Goodman
Sun 23 Feb 2003Link
translations from m100 to Avid included.

Erica Ginsberg
Mon 24 Feb 2003Link
super!

Steve Mennie
Mon 24 Feb 2003Link
Thanks Margo, Erica, Robert et al...Your book is ordered Robert and I
will put off any further exploration until I have had a chance to
read it..thanks again all..

Steve

Maria Nicolás
Thu 13 Mar 2003Link
Hi ! We are an independant group who are making a documentary about
Eva Peron. We almost finished the 48 minutes version and now we are
contacting distributors and networks to sell it around the world.
Many of them just watched the trailer (posting on our web site) and
are asking for us to send them the full version to analyse it and
then send a proposal. My question is regarding of international
rights: We have regustered the documentary here in Argentina, but we
don´t know exactly how it works for the rest of the world, we should
register in every country ? Do we have to get any papel for export
the video ? We are not a company yet, so we have no idea how to
manage the commercial issues...
Thank you very much ! Maria

Doug Block
Thu 13 Mar 2003Link
No need to register elsewhere, Maria. You license your film to
broadcasters on a territory by territory basis. Or you find a
distributor or sales agent who will contact the broadcasters.

Since you are intending to enter into contracts one way or the other,
I suggest that you form a company. Or, at the very least, you need a
lead producer who will sign any contracts on the group's behalf.
Sounds like a company might be better, if only to force your group to
come to terms with the business end of the biz.

Robert Goodman
Sat 15 Mar 2003Link
and I wouldn't send anyone a tape -ever.
The purpose of a tape is to allow distributors
to say we saw that - it's no good. You
need to take the trailer to a market, show
em that only, and make a deal or not. No
deal no show. The alternative is to take
the completed doc to an A list festival
and win a prize. Then let them approach
you with a deal.

Sending tapes out is the kiss of DEATH!

Paul Butler
Tue 18 Mar 2003Link
I am currently completing an historical documentary and am having a
hard time locating guidelines for what to include in the credits and
in what order. Any resources or suggestions would be greatly
appreciated. Thanks.

Robert Goodman
Tue 18 Mar 2003Link
there aren't any standards for credits. Suggest you look at a few
other films you admire - and copy.

Paul Butler
Tue 18 Mar 2003Link
Thanks. I have looked at a few and am trying to emulate them the
best I can.

Rob Stewart
Fri 21 Mar 2003Link
wish i could ask some vaguely technical question so i wouldn't seem
out of place, but all i really need help with (and i REALLY DO need
help with) is an idea of where to start. What do i mean? Well, I have
an idea that i'd like to turn into a documentary, but in school kid
terms, i'm still in pre-school. In documentary terms,i can't speak
and have no teeth.

Where do i / should i go to find out how i might turn an idea that
i'm passionate about into a film? I need to know everything really -
technicalities, equipment / funding / story telling etc etc. Is a
passion for something and a creative eye enough to go on? Is formal
training totally neccersary?

All i can say is that i'm totally commited to fulfilling this project
and would love to get on with it. I'm based in London and would love
somebody to point me in the right direction.

Doug Block
Fri 21 Mar 2003Link
Welcome, Rob. AIVF (Association of Independent Video and Filmmakers)
is an incredible resource for the beginning indie filmmaker. I
recommend you begin there, and check out their links:

http://aivf.org/resources/tips/aspiringfilmmaker.html

Lots of luck!

Rob Stewart
Mon 24 Mar 2003Link
Thanks Doug - interesting.
I've been back through the postings, but is there a definitive line
on writing treatments? The obvious point (and one discussed
previously) is that its impossible to write something other than a
synopsis as your story (assuming its based on unfolding events)
hasn't happened yet.

Can anyone share any thoughts on structuring a synopsis? AIVF has
some thoughts, but not sure how relevant these are to Doc's, perhaps
more features based. I'm currently at concept stage, haven't begun
filming, but am looking to pitch to some production companies I've
targeted here in London.

Be really grateful for this.

This place is a godsend!

Doug Block
Tue 25 Mar 2003Link
Rob, a synopsis is basically just a summary of what the film is
about, told as compellingly as you can. Can be anywhere from one or
two paragraphs to a couple of pages. There's no real formula to it,
but you should try and find some treatments that are on file
somewhere.

If you're in NY, visit the AIVF office: www.aivf.org. Or try an
organization like NYFA or Film/Video Arts that has been a fiscal
sponsor for many projects and would have proposals on file. Even if
you're not in NY, there should be a local organization in your nearest
city. Doesn't even have to be a film proposal to get the idea.

Doug Block
Tue 25 Mar 2003Link
I meant some synopsis's on file, not treatments.

Robert Goodman
Wed 26 Mar 2003Link
for synopsis - see TV guide.

Rob Stewart
Thu 27 Mar 2003Link
thanks guys
once again, very helpful.

Riley Morton
Mon 31 Mar 2003Link
and I wouldn't send anyone a tape -ever.
The purpose of a tape is to allow distributors
to say we saw that - it's no good. You
need to take the trailer to a market, show
em that only, and make a deal or not. No
deal no show. The alternative is to take
the completed doc to an A list festival
and win a prize. Then let them approach
you with a deal.

Sending tapes out is the kiss of DEATH!

I'm just curious if the other 'working pros' out there agree with
this Statement of Robert's - and Robert, if you could back this up
with some examples or experience.

As someone who has made a few films, but hasn't had much
luck with broadcast, I'm still mystified by this idea. Why would a
broadcaster agree to buy a film if they haven't seen more than a
trailer?

thanks.

riley

Doug Block
Mon 31 Mar 2003Link
Riley, there's a big difference between a trailer and a sample and
sometimes the terms can get confused. A trailer is basically a minute
or two long. A sample can be anywhere from a few minutes to, well,
almost any length. I helped produce a doc called "Silverlake Life"
and the sample was almost a half-hour. And very effective, too.

If you have a contact or previous experience with a broadcaster,
sending a cassette out is perfectly fine. If you don't, then a market
like the IFP's is better. But there aren't many like them out there.

Robert Goodman
Mon 31 Mar 2003Link
Riley,

For confirmation please check a recent issue of the Independent Film
& Video Monthly - I think Dec/Jan with the Open City folks on the
cover. Jason and Joanna Kliot.
they wrote a piece about distribution that confirmed everything I've
learned and made the points i posted.

Donya Archer
Fri 4 Apr 2003Link
Dear Pros-
Is it necessary to secure "life story rights" for a documentary?
Is it ever kosher to pay a subject for appearing in a doc? The
subject of my film feels he needs some kind of compensation, beyond
publicity-- He also needs the money, which I totally understand.
Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks--

Robert Goodman
Fri 4 Apr 2003Link
we all need money but paying for participation seems unethical to
most. What can and does happen is if the project is successful, the
participants share in the wealth, e.g., hoop dreams - the players
and parents received a share of the pie.

It's a very good idea to secure "life rights" because Small Wonders
becaming Playing with Strings with Meryl Streep and the life rights
holder benefited from Hollywood's interest after the doc was
successful.

Doug Block
Sat 5 Apr 2003Link
Nothing wrong with the participant reaping much, if not all, of any
profits. Not that docs make profits ;-)

Robert Goodman
Sat 5 Apr 2003Link
rarely or ever.

Rhonda Moskowitz
Sun 6 Apr 2003Link
Robert- What are life rights? Is this something that all documentary
filmmakers need to get from their subjects?

Doug Block
Sun 6 Apr 2003Link
Rhonda, as I understand it, life rights are rights to the life story
of the main character(s) in your doc, which are nice for you to secure
in writing in case someone wants to make a fiction film based on their
lives after seeing the documentary.

Not always easy to get. It brings up possible issues of the subjects
feeling exploited, so you should tread carefully and find out from an
entertainment lawyer how to go about it. Also, wouldn't do it unless
you feel your character and his or her situation is so compelling that
Hollywood is sure to come calling.

Rhonda Moskowitz
Mon 7 Apr 2003Link
Thanks Doug. You are right about treading carefully. I'm just in
the beginning stages of production, so I won't deal with this until
further down the road. Speaking of an entertainment lawyer, is there
a difference between an entertainment lawyer and a producer's rep?
Also, is this the place on D-Word where I can ask specific questions
about my film-in-progress? This is my first film.

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