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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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Jacqueline Carlisle
Sat 19 Apr 2003Link
Hello to all,



I came across this forum whilst looking for information
on successfully producing/directing my first doco. I may have the
opportunity to film a doco and I'm really not sure where to start.
Can anyone please tell me where do I start first. I have the subject
and I have written down a few notes but that's all I've done.
Any help would be appreciated.

Cheers!

Ben Kempas
Sat 19 Apr 2003Link
What is the subject, Jaqueline?

Jacqueline Carlisle
Sat 19 Apr 2003Link
It's actually for the 20th anniversary for an AIDS organisation. They
are planning to have a year long awareness campaign in all areas of
of media, so I thought why not a documentary! It will give me a
chance to get my feet wet, and have a credit etc.

Hope that helps you Ben.

Thanks

Doug Block
Sun 20 Apr 2003Link
start first by getting a digital camcorder, learning how to shoot,
and diving right in.

ignorance is bliss ;-)

Jacqueline Carlisle
Sun 20 Apr 2003Link
Thanks Doug, that's what I'm hoping also. I do have a very good eye
and I am a published writer as well as a classically trained pianist.
It would appear that anything I do in the arts I do it to perfection,
so I believe the trend will continue whilst filming this documentary.

The organisation I'm involved in, has access to the right people in
the media, so I thought why not take advantage. I will have access to
equiptment as well as a facility. I will certainly post regularly now
that I hvae found this site.

This is GREAT!!!
Thanks for all and future help.

xxx

Diane Bernard
Tue 22 Apr 2003Link
Hi:
This is my first posting to the board though I've been reading it for a few
weeks now. First, Doug, your advice here is very helpful, especially for us
newbies (or semi-newbie in this case). Thanks.

My question is: I just finished a 15-minute sample tape/trailer for a
documentary I've been working on. It's about a failed Hollywood film
production that wound up in the hands of the CIA. There's a great story
behind it and I think this has good commercial potential. I'd like to target
more commercial funding sources than grant organizations. But I'm a little
stuck as to how to do this. How do you market a sample tape
around for broadcast/theatrical (i.e., commercial vs. grant) production money?
Where do I go? And would a producer's rep help in this early stage?

Thanks for any and all advice.

Doug Block
Tue 22 Apr 2003Link
Welcome from the shadows, Diane. An event like the IFP Market would
be perfect for a project like yours. The application deadline is
coming up soon, too:

http://market.ifp.org/market25/index_frameset_information.html

Diane Bernard
Tue 22 Apr 2003Link
Thanks Doug--yes, I'd heard about this and even joined IFP just last week.
But do they take sample tapes/trailers rather than works-in-progress? Also,
do you get a guaranteed audience with market people? Or is it luck of the
draw?

Doug Block
Tue 22 Apr 2003Link
Yes, they screen samples in their works-in-progress section, which is
where they put their emphasis.

As far as guaranteed audiences, there are never guarantees. You'll
have to work your little fanny off to get their fannies in the seats.
If you do a google search, or look closely at the IFP's website, I'm
sure there are numerous articles that have been written over the years
about how to "work" the market.

Lots of luck.

Gillian Grimm
Wed 30 Apr 2003Link
Is there any word out there about how people are finding Final Cut
Express. I am planning to shoot only on an XL1s and am about to
purchase software. The savings on Express would really help but am I
going to regret it later?

Thanks in advance, this is such a helpful site!

Doug Block
Wed 30 Apr 2003Link
Gillian, you seem to be confusing Final Cut Pro with Avid DV Express.
But both are fine programs that you won't regret using.

Ben Kempas
Thu 1 May 2003Link
Doug, you don't seem to be aware of Final Cut Express. It's like
Avid's FreeDV. More info at http://www.apple.com/finalcutexpress/ ...
they could have chosen a less confusing name, though.

Doug Block
Thu 1 May 2003Link
Well I'll be an uncle's monkey! Next thing ya know they'll have Avid
Cut Pro.

Joanne L.
Thu 1 May 2003Link
Hi everyone, I'm new here. I registered a couple of days ago and
have been educating myself quite a bit with all the terrific info on
this forum. Many thanks to all who contribute to this forum and those
who take their time to give advice.

Now, I need a little guidance myself, if you don't mind. My partners
and I had an idea for a documentary. I don't want to go into it too
much, but the subject was a French athlete who is virtually unknown
in the states. We contacted her American agent with the proposal and
the agent requested we send a resume of ourselves with a description
of the project, which we kept pretty general. This morning we got
the call and were told that she had already committed to another
documentary. Needless to say, I'm pretty disappointed. We already
had private funding and a crew in place.

Do I think that she's involved in another documentary? Highly
unlikely. Do I think the agent talked with her about this project?
Highly unlikely. The agent admitted she really doesn't deal with
her. Perhaps, the agent contacted her people in France and they
turned it down. I really don't know. Sorry, I'm babbling. I really
felt this could have been an unique and entertaining project. Could
it be that we were not award-winning docu filmmakers? I don't know.
Our backgrounds are in funding, producing, directing and writing
small indy and short films. Though, I doubt that HBO, BBC, etc. are
knocking down her door.

I could go on and on, but this message is long enough. Here's my
question? Has the fat lady sung yet? Should we contact her agent in
France? Should we try to gain contact with the athlete and pitch to
her directly? I've met her before and she seems very personable.

Any advice to this problem would be greatly appreciated!!

Doug Block
Thu 1 May 2003Link
Joanne, if you're gonna give up because her agent says no then you're
gonna have a very short career as a documentary filmmaker. A no means
maybe. Or try again later. Or try again in a different way.

I'd try to get to the athlete directly. Use your ingenuity, your
charm and your passion for the film. Be honest and sincere. And
don't even think of giving up so easily.

Good luck!

Joanne L.
Thu 1 May 2003Link
Doug, thank you so much!! It's just what I needed to hear.

Doug Block
Thu 1 May 2003Link
Oh, didn't I mention I get 10% of the funds you raise? ;-)

Robert Goodman
Thu 1 May 2003Link
how did you get funding in place without a deal with the subject?
You may not be a known quantity as a doc filmmaker but you do make
the grade in the funding category. Care to fund-raise for a known
quantity?

Karen Yaeger
Thu 1 May 2003Link
hello to all,

i'm a new member to the forums... been reading a lot of the
posts... and very happy to be a part. as a new shooter/editor i've
happened upon some opportunities to document weddings and
am interested in exploring this.

the "clients" are interested in verite style, natural sound... i share
this sensibility and am excited about doing it.. but would love to
hear from others with experience doing this type of thing... how
they approach the day... interact w/ guests, etc. any advice would
be greatly appreciated... i've picked up a few things... and
purchased 83 min dv stock for the ceremony...(hope that's long
enough) have a backup camera and batteries just in case... love
to hear some thoughts... many thanks

Doug Block
Thu 1 May 2003Link
Actually, I do verite style weddings myself, Karen:
www.dougblockweddings.com

I approach it no differently than I do shooting cinema verite
documentaries: www.wmm.com/loveanddiane

Karen Yaeger
Thu 1 May 2003Link
many thanks doug...i'll check out the website... it seems to be a
good way to get doc shooting experience... and also pay some
bills... must be some nervous people... i guess remaining calm
helps.

Danny Lurie
Tue 6 May 2003Link
Hi,
I've been working in the advertising industry for a couple of years...
a thankless job. Anyway I have the opportunity to produce a
documantary that I think is going to make a difference to my country.
How and where do I go to learn about the in's and out's of funding,
distribution and selling a documantary to broadcasters around the world.
Hope you can help.
Danny

Doug Block
Tue 6 May 2003Link
Yikes! Well, I suppose you could start by reading Jan Rofekamp's
conference here on Selling in the International Marketplace:

http://cafe.utne.com/partners/bin/motet?show+The_D-Word+9+1-

Erica Ginsberg
Tue 19 Aug 2003Link
Continuing the discussion from {LINK NOT IMPORTED}...

Stephanie,

Sounds like an interesting project. Would love to know more about
these singers (what country?)

I think your biggest challenge coming from a radio background is
making your story visual enough and also thinking about length and
pacing (I am not sure what sort of programs you have been doing for
radio; with the exception of things like SOUNDPRINT, it seems to me,
most radio documentaries are 7 minutes or shorter -- your film sounds
like it could be at least 1/2 hour or maybe even an hour).

While you may have in mind to use a narrator, avoid a narrator, or
bring yourself in as a character/"host", you could probably shoot for
all three possibilities. For instance, if you want to incorporate
the historical context of their music, you should ask them about it
so that you have the potential to use their own words if you decide
to forego traditional narration. Similarly, you may want to make
sure you are getting footage and/or commentary of yourself while you
are in the region filming them. I am currently producing a film that
wasn't originally intended to have the director as a character, but
it has evolved that way -- thankfully, we had a little bit of footage
of him there, but could have used way more.

The fact that you mention that the singers come from a beautiful
place may help a bit. The place probably figures prominently in
their songs and could help illustrate them. Also you say some of
these folks are real characters. So make sure those characters are
reflected on screen. Is the film only about the music or is it
really about the people who choose to keep up the life of the music?
Focus on a few of the most interesting characters and make sure to
include some footage of them in their daily life, as well as
singing. Whether you choose to do formal interviews is up to you --
some filmmakers prefer to shoot everything verite and people will
sort of open up about their lives at some point. Others prefer to
combine formal sit-down interviews with b-roll footage. Take a look
at other films on similar subjects so you can get a sense of
different ways of approaching the same material.

As far as whether to do it in English or in another language, you
probably want to think about where you plan to try to market the
film. Even on public TV, it is still difficult to get a subtitled
documentary on TV (in the U.S. anyway). We're trying with our
project, but it will still be a major handicap for us. On the other
hand, if the language is intrinsic to the music, then you might want
to make the decision to keep it. Do your subjects speak English -
i.e., would you want to interview them in English? I would recommend
if you do interviews to do them in whatever language they are most
comfortable speaking from the heart. You could always opt to do
English voiceovers later.

Just a few thoughts.

Stephanie Conn
Tue 19 Aug 2003Link
Erica
Thanks so much for your thoughtful consideration of my questions.

I like the idea of leaving my options open -- the same thing happens
in radio -- ex., sometimes you wish you'd asked the questions on
tape, as their answers don't always end up being stand-alone. Might
incorporate athird party to be 'chatting' to the singers. But must
pick the right one from the start...

I hate being onscreen -- I bet many folks do, to - so I am reluctant
to go that route although some say I should. I also dislike the idea
of narration in this case. Although I know it could work in some
cases -- maybe in a personal doc.

My singers speak English and their own language but I feel since it
is a dying, minority language you don't often get to hear, and the
songs are in this lang., it's important to hear it on screen. I was
thinking of doing my interviews in english, then repeat part of them
in the other language, in order to intercut the interview for the
film. i think that would give a good flavour, without alienating
English-speaking audiences.

In Europe apparently they must overdub everything anyway so... that's
a whole other issue i guess.

I like the verite approach but i think I need a camerman to help me
do that right. whoa, a lot to think abotu but thanks very much.

-stephanie
PS
yes, sorry, I'm being a bit vague about details as I know this is a
public forum so anyone could read it. My friend worked for a long
time on a film and did some shooting, was in the middle of pitching,
etc, and then found out other people were doing the same project.
not sure how she will resolve this but it was a huge blow to her.
I guess there can always be different interpretations etc but it is
a drag if they happen at the same time.

Is there a website/organization that keeps track of films in
production?
I thought this was referred to in another thread but have been unable
to find the answer. If anyone knows about this I would be very
grateful.

Erica Ginsberg
Tue 19 Aug 2003Link
If you have unique access to this community, I wouldn't worry too
much about someone stealing your idea. Chances are, someone else
could be doing a similar project but if you have particular people
who really stand out, it's not something you should fret over.

Dubbing in Europe varies country to country. Some countries actually
prefer subtitles. Of course, if they speak a very pronounced
regional dialect of English, you may need English subtitles for some
audiences ;-)

If this is your first doc and you want the verite approach, you are
right that you may want to work with an experienced cameraperson.
However, if you are still at the fundraising stage and you live near
your subjects, there's no reason you can't do some shooting on your
own just to give potential funders the flavor of your subjects and
how they are on-camera (sometimes people -- even performers -- may be
comfy with a mic but clam up with camera, so you'll want to know that
as you choose who your main subjects will be).

Stephanie Conn
Tue 19 Aug 2003Link
Thanks, I do like the idea of doing a bit of shooting on my own , if
only to show people a taste of what it might look like.
But I have zero camera experience so... not sure if it will be
usable. I'm going to try anyway, this weekend.

I have actually thought myself, that I might need english subtitles
for the english! LOL!

I think someone else might be doing something involved with the same
community, but with a very different focus to it. That one other
project I can handle, but any more than that and I'll feel pretty
discouraged.

Laura Hayes
Fri 5 Sep 2003Link
I am a new member looking for websites or resources regarding the
laws for documentaries. When I started shooting my documentary I
didn't have a clue, I just shot it as it happened. In some footage
there is music on the radio or a tv playing in background. I need to
know what I can or cannot legally use.

thanks in advance for your help

Doug Block
Sat 6 Sep 2003Link
try: www.marklitwak.com

and, as i said in the intro topic, join the community:
www.d-word.com/join

Laura Hayes
Sat 6 Sep 2003Link
thank you so much doug, will do.

Andrew Berends
Fri 26 Sep 2003Link
Hi there,

I'm writing in regard to my documentary film URK.
(www.storytellerinc.com/urk) It was recently nominated for the 2003
IDA Pare Lorentz Award. It looks like I'm about to sign a deal with a
distributor at the beginning of next week. I've never done this
before, and I have a few questions.

1- Do I need to get a lawyer to help negotiate the contract? Are
there other resources which could help me educate myself to handle
negotiating the contract?

2- I am eager to sign ASAP, because the distributor is prepared to
take the film to MIPCOM next month. Is this a good idea, or should I
not rush into it simply in order to make it to the market?

Thanks for your advice.

Doug Block
Fri 26 Sep 2003Link
Micheal Wiese's book, The Independent Film & Video Guide has a very useful chapter on the distribution contract. But I would definitely recommend you run the contract by an entertainment lawyer.

MIPCOM is nice but don't settle for something because there's a deadline. In fact, this distributor probably won't be able to properly promote your film there if you sign at the last moment, so it might not be helpful.


Deleted User
Thu 2 Oct 2003Link
I am making a doc right now and there has been a need for some local tv
news to be added. I have found the material through VMS (Video Monitoring
Services) here in LA but as it turns out they sell it for research only. Does
anyone know the parameters of usage os such material.

I'm calling the networks now but in the meantime wanted to see if anyone had
similar experiences with this specifically in the US.

Thanks for any feedback!
Drew Carolan
Los Angeles

Erica Ginsberg
Thu 2 Oct 2003Link
Contact the local stations directly to find out if they license
footage. If they operate like national news archives, they would
probably charge you a fee for a screener tape (which you may not need
if you can a tape for free through VMS and decide exactly which
footage you need). Then you would need to pay a licensing fee (which
could vary depending on what kind of rights you need -- is this just
for festivals or small scale screenings, educational market or for
broadcast, theatrical release or home video? Sometimes you can
negotiate multi-level rights -- cheapest, most limited now with
potential to upgrade to broader rights later. I haven't worked yet
with local networks, but national broadcasters generally charge
anywhere from $10-50/second often with a 30-second minimum (some
places may also charge on a per cut basis). If anchors or reporters
are on screen, there may also be some permission/license
considerations for them.

Deleted User
Thu 2 Oct 2003Link
Thanks Erica. That's very helpful!
This is a project for Channel 4 in the UK.

Kevin Brass
Mon 13 Oct 2003Link
Hi all,

I have some of those questions you probably hear a million times.
I'm working on a doc focusing on the media. we're interviewing and
taping the activities of reporters and producers in the field, who
agree to our presence. some work for local stations, others for
networks. the big question: do we need to get performance releases
from everyone we shoot? or is getting them on tape agreeing to talk
enough? what about the reporters and producers we shoot from afar?
they are public people working in a public area, do we need to get
permission to use video of them?

at this point, we don't have a distribution deal, so i can't say for
sure how the footage will be used... but this will be a
serious "news" piece... how worried do we have to be about getting
signed releases?

any advice would be appreciated...thanks...Kevin

Doug Block
Mon 13 Oct 2003Link
Kevin, I'm not an entertainment lawyer, but... I would definitely try
and get releases from anyone you've interviewed and anyone who is
speaking on camera in any kind of prominent way. I wouldn't bother
with reporters from afar (but I'm not an entertainment lawyer).

Releases are less about fear of lawsuits than for E&O insurance that
any broadcaster or distributor would demand before taking on your
film.

Charis Raya
Thu 16 Oct 2003Link
hi guys, i know this is a real basic question, and i'm kinda
embarassed asking about it. But seeing i'm a newbie and all, i'd like
to ask about performative docus. I've read stuff written about it but
i still don't get how it's different from the other
established "genres" of docus (i.e. verite, direct cinema, etc.)

And what exactly is the "performative" element? furthermore, if i may
add another question, are there certain subjects that are
particularly suited for a performative docu? Hope you guys can help
me out. Thanks! :-)

Robert Goodman
Thu 16 Oct 2003Link
direct cinema and verite are two names for the same thing.
Never heard of performative docs. Have heard of performance docs -
that would be all those shows about musicians.

care to give us the definition you've read so perhaps we can figure
this out.

I will say that most of the writing about film, filmmaking,
documentaries, and the rest is mostly horse shit.

Federica Martino
Wed 29 Oct 2003Link
Hello everyone and good afternoon ...well it's afternoon over here...
In my presentation post I have mentioned needing help with research.
In fact I am looking for people who are passionate about collecting
garden gnomes and also for people who snatch them from their homes.
I'd like to make a documentary on this subject and would like to
investigate further. So far, I'm sorry to say, I've met only with
lunatics who took the whole thing very lightheartedly and seemed to
steal the dwarves out of boredom. I know there must be something more
to it.
Can anyone help?
Thank you very much.

Ben Kempas
Wed 29 Oct 2003Link
Federica, I guess you are aware of the French "Front de Liberation
des Nains de Jardin", aren't you?
<http://membres.lycos.fr/flnjfrance/>

Erica Ginsberg
Wed 29 Oct 2003Link
Am I hallucinating or didn't our very own Birgit Rathsmann do a
similar project on garden gnome world travellers? Does she check in
here at the public forum? If not, do a search for her on the handy-
dandy search tool below and you can find her e-mail address.

Federica Martino
Thu 30 Oct 2003Link
Thanks Ben. I am aware of the French Front etc. etc. There are many
of these fronts in Europe but they're not too collaborative.
For Erica. Hi Erica! I'll search for the film-maker you mentioned.
Bye now!

Evan Gregg
Fri 14 Nov 2003Link
So, after reading all the older posts in this forum I didn't quite
have my question answered so I figured I would post it.

I'm considering doing a no-budget doc on a local community, focusing
mostly on people who I know pretty well from my place of employment
(they're customers at the dump where I work) and I want to make sure
that they feel involved and not taken advantage of or anything like that.

So in order to do that I need releases of course. So my question is
basically, any advice on where to get sample releases or general
advice on writting them? I'm too poor to deal with a lawyer and due
to the small scale of the subject and production, and the fact that I
know everyone it would seem a bit gratuitous.

I've never had a reason to use releases for my previous projects (even
smaller scale student films nobody will ever see) but I would plan on
submitting this at least to my local film festival next year
(Northampton Independent Film Fest) and i wanna do everything nice and
legal.

Although I haven't used releases before I know the basic idea, just
want to make sure I don't exclude any legal mumbo-jumbo that needs to
be in there.

Also if it makes any difference I would like to keep the releases as
simple as possible to read/understand because more than a few of the
people who would be in the film are neigh-illiterate.

I assume there isn't any particular format or standard for releases as
they're pretty much a formality, but figured I would solicit any
advice from here just in case there's something i should know).

Thanks much
----ev

Doug Block
Fri 14 Nov 2003Link
Evan, there's a book called Contracts for the Film & TV Industry that should suit your needs. You can get more info on entertainment lawyer Mark Litwak's site: www.marklitwak.com/store/contracts.html


Erica Ginsberg
Fri 14 Nov 2003Link
Evan, I'd also recommend another book, Media Law for Producers.

Feel free to e-mail me if you would like a sample plain-language
release form.

Rianne Tol
Sun 16 Nov 2003Link
hello all, I recently introduced myself on this site and posted a
question on including yourself as a documentarist in your d-film. I
did read the conference about personal documentary but it was
slightly different from what we (my sister co-documentarist and me)
want to do.
We are not making a personal documentary, but a doc about a young
danish filmmaker trying to get his second short film finished and
aired.
We are almost finished filming. Thursday we go to Danmark for the
last shots; the premiere, and some last interviews. It has been a
struggle and we want to do the editing right. We have good material
but we have to make some important choices now. So here are some
questions we hope to get answered before we start editing.

We are friends of the director and the leadactor. Besides filming we
also helped out with some pre-productionwork for the film and
functioned as mental support for our friends sometimes. I had great
trouble changing role but managed it in the end.
Thing is if you look at the ‘group’ we were part of it. For example;
To get the group-atmosphere we want to include some scenes we came
to calling the 'dinertabletalks'. We are present at these
dinertabletalks and in shot sometimes. At one point when things
almost got out of hand we let the producer know we were worried
about one of our friends which resulted in her cancelling another
nightly shoot.
Our idea about this is that we should show we were there for the
sake of pursuing truth and all. On the other hand it might cost us
all the credibility we have, if we show our own involvement. Our
question is should we edit this thing around us or not. Personally
we like the idea of subtly including ourselves but we also wonder if
that is not a trap every documentarist falls in. In other words are
we making a beginnersmistake?

Another question concerns language. We and the leadactor of the film
are dutch, the rest of the crew is Danish. The language on set was
mostly English, but in heated moments or sometimes off-set they
changed into Danish. We have someone to translate it so that is not
a problem. We decided to interview the dutch-speaking guy in Dutch
because we thought it would look strange to have a dutch person
speak English in a dutch documentary. Only now we have three
languages in what is gonna be a 30 min. documentary. We are afraid
this will cause confusion. Can anyone tell if this fear is justified
and if so what we can do about it? (The doc is also getting an
English version.)

Since this is our final project of our study journalism we have to
write an essay as well. We chose to explore the presence of the
documentarist in the documentary. How far can you go, how far should
you go, what are valid reasons, what are the effects, etc. Can
anyone tell us where we can find in-depth information and examples
of this? We have searched the net, and found this forum…

A last question. We want to include a scene in which our subject
watches his short with a professional (director, teacher etc.) We
had arranged someone from the Danish filmacademy but she suddenly
changed her mind. Peter Aelbeck agreed to watch it but will only
know after seeing it if he has something to say about it. (he is a
producer and maybe not the best person to comment on the film) We
tried most Danish directors but they all said no. Does anyone have
an idea of who we can try? We are gonna call the academy again, but
time is getting short to arrange this.

Thanks for your time.

Doug Block
Sun 16 Nov 2003Link
Rianne, can't answer your last two questions but the simple response
to the first two is if you tell a good enough story NO ONE will care.
There are so many docs that have included their makers (including
verite docs where suddenly you hear a question from the filmmaker off
camera, or see the crew included in a shot) that few if any will
question your decision.

My own feeling, without having seen the footage, is if you can
exclude yourselves from the story, it is cleaner and less confusing,
but whatever... To me, the mulitple language question is a non-
issue.

Ben Kempas
Sun 16 Nov 2003Link
Just be honest and include yourselves. Use narration or title cards
to explain the constellation.

I once filmed an interview with a British professor twice: First in
English for the English version of the film, and then in German for
the German version, as his German was excellent. But the poor man
seemed totally exhausted during the second part of the interview, so I
wouldn't do anything like this ever again. Well, the prof was almost
90 years old, but still... When in doubt, always opt for interviewee's
native language.

As for professionals to give their opinion the guy's film, what about
Mogens Rukov?

Rianne Tol
Tue 18 Nov 2003Link
About Mogens Rukov; he is a teacher at the academy and we tried to
contact him as so. So the waitinggame begins again.
I am still in doubt of in- or excluding ourselves, but decided to
include us and see what happens when we start editing after this
last trip to Denmark.
Enjoy the idfa if you are going, and thanks for your replies &
advise.

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