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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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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
Fri 4 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
Sat 5 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.

Doug Block
Mon 7 Apr 2003Link
the lines are getting increasingly blurry with the john sloss types
out there doing both, but generally an entertainment lawyer is paid by
the hour and a producer's rep gets a percentage of any distribution
advance and, depending, other sales.

Jennifer Fleming
Tue 8 Apr 2003Link
hi there, new to the board.
i am thinking of making a doc, i have very limited resources
in terms of money.just curious what is fair compensation for a main
character(s) in terms of percentages if the film makes any money?

Doug Block
Tue 8 Apr 2003Link
it's your choice, jennifer. most doc makers don't give their
subjects a profit share. some give up to 50%. it all depends on your
relationship to the subjects, what they want, what you want to give,
etc.

just make it clear to them that the chances of making any profit is
excedingly small.

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