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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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Byrd Mcdonald
Thu 19 Sep 2002Link
Thanks Doug.

I'm in the trenches of finishing the film, and sometimes it's hard to put
everything in perspective.

Back to the trenches, Sundance deadline on the horizon.

Byrd

Robert Goodman
Thu 19 Sep 2002Link
Wish you the best of luck with Sundance.

Byrd Mcdonald
Fri 20 Sep 2002Link
Thanks Robert.

I know the chances are slim. You gotta keep hoping.

I'm done rendering. See ya later.

Byrd

John Greer
Wed 25 Sep 2002Link
All, Anybody !!,

This issue is driving me crazy because everyone I ask has a diferent
answer. So here goes nothing...... Do I, or Do I not need a signed
release from all living persons that is in a shot segment. For
example:

I shoot footage of an event. The footage shows groups of people doing
various things. Some shots show individuals taking part in
activities. Some shots are wide shots showing multiple activities
going on. In all but the widest shots people are recognizable. The
footage will be used as part of a doc.

Question: Do I need a signed release from every recognizable person
in every shot used? Some say I do, but can't tell me why. Some tell
me no unless the person has a speaking role.

In films or docs where street sceans are shot from a moving vehicle
showing hundreds of people walking, talking, working, and playing. Do
they go back and get signed releases from all those people !!!???? I
don't see how that is possible. Thanks for any help at all in this
matter.

John

Doug Block
Wed 25 Sep 2002Link
I'm not an entertainment lawyer (okay, disclaimer out of the way)
but... personal releases are less about fear of lawsuits and more
about the need to get Errors and Omissions insurance, which any
broadcaster or distributor would want before taking on your film.

If someone sues, it's more likely they'll come after the one with the
bucks, not the poor indie docu filmmaker.

Sure, it's safer to get as many releases as you can, particularly if
they say something on camera. Or, if it's a sensitive or
controversial situation. But, generally speaking, the main concern of
the lawyers scrutinizing your film is do you have the releases of the
featured people in your various scenes.

In crowd scenes, I don't worry too much. Am I 100% guaranteed to
pass the E&O test? No. But, I calculate the slight gamble against
the knowledge that it's impossible for me to get everyone's release.

As a fallback, in post-production, you can always fuzz out the face
of those people in crowds you didn't get releases for.

Erica Ginsberg
Wed 25 Sep 2002Link
I would echo what Doug says. I've asked two different lawyers and
gotten two different answers. The one I like better is to get
releases (1) for those with "speaking parts" and (2) for others if
the environment is one that could be controversial or embarassing to
the subjects (a strip club, an infertility clinic, a communist party
meeting, etc.). Of course, a park may not seem controversial, but if
you catch a man and a woman holding hands and they just happen to be
having an illicit affair, well how are you to know? But it's not
something to worry about too much. As Doug said, when it comes to
documentary filmmakers, it's not like we have so many assets to drain.

When filming a speech or a performance, you can also put signs at the
entrance or have the speaker announce your presence and what you are
doing this for so those in attendance have at least been given fair
warning. I know this could be an issue on an upcoming shoot I have
where I'll be filming a church service where there may be many
illegal immigrants in the pews. I am planning to ask the priest (who
speaks the language of the congregation) to announce the filming one
week in advance so those who do not want to be filmed can opt to go
to a service at a different time.

John Greer
Fri 27 Sep 2002Link
Dough & Erica,

Thanks for the response. This is one of those areas that seems
to be a catch 22. There seems to be no 100% right or wrong
answer. If there are large groups of people in the footage, there
is just no way humanly possible to get to all of the people unless
the whole thing is staged. Well............... I guess the only option is
to get as many releases as possible and pray about the rest !
What else can you do. Thanks.

Peace

Stephen Goldberg
Tue 8 Oct 2002Link
Doug and Erica:
Im a lawyer and and a filmmaker. Im also shooting in a controversial
environment.The release in a situation like the "illegal immigrant"
context has no legal effect. You cant be sued by someone doing
something illegal for filming them while doing it. Its simply to
get cooperation and access when filming. Also people doing anything
in public have no "expectation of privacy" thus releases are legally
unnecessary. Still for my peace of mind I try to get a release from
anyone I shoot in an enclosed space.

Veena Almad
Tue 8 Oct 2002Link
hi people,
this is veena almad drom india. i am a student of mass media and i
am crazy abt movies....direction do let em know if anything on
direction and screeplays....
and i wish to know some filmmakers plz help to know anyone from
it....as i have an internship coming up...next summer..so i have
choise but to do it...for film making...
bye
thanks
luv
veena

Doug Block
Tue 8 Oct 2002Link
Veena, we're crazy about movies here, too! If you have a specific
question, feel free to ask.

Erica Ginsberg
Tue 8 Oct 2002Link
Stephen, would a church be considered a public space or an enclosed
space?

Veena Almad
Wed 9 Oct 2002Link
hi people,
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....
luv
veena

Ben Kempas
Wed 9 Oct 2002Link
The thing is that with documentaries, you rarely have a screenplay
writer.

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?

Doug Block
Wed 9 Oct 2002Link
Veena, the Distribution panel covers the gamut of all indie film, but
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
else knows..?

Veena Almad
Wed 9 Oct 2002Link
thanks people....
for caring abt me and writing....
veena

John Greer
Wed 9 Oct 2002Link
Erica,

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.

Peace,

John

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
Thu 10 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.

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