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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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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.

Ben Kempas
Tue 18 Nov 2003Link
You're welcome. Good luck, Rianne. Maybe see you at IDFA?

Aaron Huslage
Fri 21 Nov 2003Link
I'm new to all of this. As I said in my introduction, I've been away
from video and film for about 10 years. I'm really struggling to
figure out the best way to switch careers and at the same time learn
all I need to. I know a lot about the production process in general
and what it takes to get a production completed sucessfully (many of
Doug's old journals rang very true to me at one point in my life.)

My passion has always been editing and it certaily feels like it is
still that way. I did a whole lot of work "back in the day" with the
Avid Media Composer and I don't think it'll take that long to get up
to speed (went to a demo last week and it felt like getting back on a
bicycle.) I don't have a lot of cash laying around to go and buy a
Final Cut or Avid Mojo system so what's the next best thing to get
back up to speed on all of this tech?

My perspective might be a bit skewed as well, considering I've been a
technogeek for all this time! I'm just feeling confused about the best
way to get started.

Do I go into debt to buy one of these and a camera and do weddings to
pay it off?

How do I get a body of work when I have nothing to edit or edit with?

I plan on going back to school at Duke in the next year or so at their
Center for Documentary Studies, but what should I do up until then to
get into the game?

Am I being impatient?

I know this is a lot of crap to just dump out there, but I would like
to get some more perspective from people who have been through this
before.

Thanks for listening,
Aaron.

Doug Block
Fri 21 Nov 2003Link
Here's my 2 cents, Aaron. Get Final Cut Pro. Ideally, the new G5
and FCP 4. Complete with 2 monitors and the works, probably would set
you back $6,000 to 7,000. If you can't afford it, get a used system
for half the price.

Edit some weddings, anything, to pay it off. Get really proficient
at it. Then, find a way to start cutting docs.

A body of work doesn't happen all at once. It builds up slowly over
the years. Take it one work at a time. And just stick with it. Stay
in the game.

Lots of luck.

Rianne Tol
Mon 24 Nov 2003Link
am in Denmark at the moment getting our last shots. Can only attend
IDFA on the last sunday, which ofcourse I will do.

Doug Block
Thu 27 Nov 2003Link
Rianne, I'll make sure to post this within The D-Word Community, as
well. Good luck.

(Just so you and others know, the Classifieds topic is the better
place for notices like this.)

Rianne Tol
Thu 27 Nov 2003Link
thanks, will remember that.

Stephanie Friede
Fri 28 Nov 2003Link
Hi everyone,
My name is Stephanie and I am currently a Junior at Cornell
University. I study Communications, Government, and Film and I am
looking for a summer internship in documentary film makeing. I live
in New York City and am looking to work in documentary film makeing
this summer. I was wondering if any film makers are looking for
interns or help around NY this summer 2004. I will be studying in
Barcelona, Spain next semester so I am hoping to line up the
internship before I go. Let me know, you can email me at
sjf29@cornell.edu if you have any leads. Thanks so much for all your
help.

Stephanie

Doug Block
Sat 29 Nov 2003Link
Actually, I could use an intern this summer, Stephanie. I'm also a
Cornell alum. Work in NYC. Let's talk more on email: doug@d-word.com

Shazia Malik
Mon 5 Jan 2004Link
ok...I seemed to have created a bit of a crisis for myself... I've
been in New Zealand for about two years now but feel I dont know the
country well enough to have an "opinion" or a "perspective" and
consequently be able to question. I really want to make something
that I strongly feel about... how do i start off??

Erica Ginsberg
Mon 5 Jan 2004Link
What about the perspective of someone who has only been in a country
for two years and surely must have some perspective on what it feels
like to be experiencing a different culture?

Alternatively, does your film program encourage collaborations?
Sometimes finding someone else who does have a stronger (or at least
clearer) opinion and ability to question can help bring out your own
perspectives.

Good luck!

Don Goldmacher
Tue 27 Jan 2004Link
Hi, I'm wondering whether any of you have ideas about affordable
storage of original footage shot for a doc., preferably in the NY
area. Are any of you interested in sharing space?
Don

Johanna Kloot
Sat 31 Jan 2004Link
Hi there. How do I protect my ideas/stories as I go about pitching
and looking for professional partners? Is there a format for
pitching that works well for the doco? It seems some countries buy
finished docos and others, like my Australia, strongly prefer pre-
sales. What are the advantages of either system and is there a
trade proforma/secret on how to secure pre-sales?
Thank you for your valuable time donations.
Jo

Doug Block
Sun 1 Feb 2004Link
Johanna, those are great questions and each one requires a long,
detailed answer, so I can't get to all of them.

The short answer to the first is... you can't protect your ideas. Not
fully. You can't copyright an idea. So the more fully developed they
are when you present them, the more it's clear that you've done the
work and someone would be foolish to try to do it themselves when
you're imminently going into production, well... hopefully, that does
the trick.

As far as format for pitching, TDF at Hot Docs, IDFA and a number of
other places have formal pitching sessions for international docs
during the year and they all have a similar format. You can read up
on it at the TDF website: http://www.hotdocs.ca/tdf_intro.cfm.

The only trade secret on securing pre-sales is to shoot a lot of
great footage and make it into a fantastic sample tape. And, if you
can, allign yourself with producers who have international experience
and contacts (all but necessary in int'l co-pros and presales).

Lots of luck.

Johanna Kloot
Mon 2 Feb 2004Link
Thank you so much for your valuable advice. I will take heed. It
must feel great to know you are making a difference.
Thank you again, Johanna.

Sarah Richards
Wed 4 Feb 2004Link
Does anyone have any tips on getting into the industry for a lawyer
turned documentary filmmaker? Do I need to go back to school? Is it
realistic to want a career in documentary? Am I crazy???! Cheers,
sarah

Doug Block
Wed 4 Feb 2004Link
Yes, Sarah, you're crazy! Totally bonkers!!! Then again, so are all
of us. So, you're in good company. But you're also ahead of the game
since much of producing is doing all the agreements yourself that you
wish you had the money to pay a lawyer to do.

I'd also say don't go back to school. What for? Use all that money
you save towards making your film. There are plenty of ways to learn
outside of school. Just one recommendation: if you're gonna wind up
shooting yourself, get a camera and practice, practice, practice.

Doug Block
Wed 4 Feb 2004Link
Sarah, just noticed you applied to the community. We don't normally
let in inexperienced doc makers, but if you promise to hang out in our
Legal Issues topic and restrain from asking too many basic questions
we'll make an exception. When you get in (later today), please
introduce yourself again there.

Sarah Richards
Wed 4 Feb 2004Link
Thanks Doug, you've made my day!

Lynnae Brown
Wed 4 Feb 2004Link
do you have any recommedations for transcription services? I'd like
to have my footage transcribed for paper editing..thanks

Lynnae Brown
Wed 4 Feb 2004Link
in NYC preferably

Shazia Malik
Fri 6 Feb 2004Link
Hi every one,

Forgive me for sounding stupid... Ive finally managed to shortlist
two topics for my first school documentary:

1. Since Im an immigrant Im very interested in the plight of
children born of Immigrant parents.

2. The Hare Krishna Consciousness and their way of life (supposedly
aiming for a kind of spirituality). What kind of spirituality are
they aiming for really?

Now for my question:

Im in America at the moment and have to hand in topics the day I
land NZ (where I study and will be filming). So I have chosen topics
based on very minimal research done abroad. Im scared that mid way
in my research if I discover that there really isnt much to
discover...

I guess my fear is partly born out of the fact that I might not be
able to go back and change my topic...

Hope Im not sounding too vague...

Shazia

Erica Ginsberg
Sat 7 Feb 2004Link
Shazia,

Without knowing more about your circumstances (when is the project
due, whether you are working with a crew of fellow students, whether
the school is funding it entirely or you have to fund part of it,
etc.), it is hard to give really good advice, but here are a few
thoughts...

I'm assuming by your saying this is your first school documentary
that this means you will probably go on to make a second school
documentary. So, in a sense, you could think about both of your
choices as possibilities -- one for now, one for later. Your real
choice is which one are you more passionate about right now and which
one seems achievable given the likely limitations of time, money,
crew, etc. Do you have an advisor at your school who has given any
feedback on which one looks more realistic as a first project?

It'obvious what led you to choice #1, but how did you get interested
in choice #2? Are you Hare Krishna or do you have connections to
Hare Krishnas? Are there many Hare Krishnas near where you are in
New Zealand? It is certainly not a requirement to have a pre-
existing connection -- sometimes being somewhat removed from a topic
but curious about it can make you look at it more objectively. But
you do have to be interested enough in it to carry your passion
through the ups and downs of following the subject (starting with
research and getting the access and the trust level of people who may
feel they have been misrepresented in the past)

In terms of the first topic on children of immigrants, it is one
which has been done a lot, which is not to say don't do it. Issues
of cross-cultural identity are always ripe for documentation. I am
not sure how many other documentaries have been done specifically
about immigrants in New Zealand compared to issues in U.S., European
countries, Australia, etc., so I am not sure if the stories would be
similar or different. I assume you may have noticed some
similarities and differences between immigrant experiences since you
have been in the U.S. You may also want to look at other films which
have dealt with this topic.

The advantage of having a personal connection to a story is that you
could either introduce yourself as a character or have a means to
make your subjects more comfortable since you share something in
common with them. The disadvantage is that you may make assumptions
that those who don't share that identity might miss. So it's also a
question of who is your audience? Would you want this film to reach
others who are immigrants to make them feel they are not alone? Do
you want it to make people who don't share that identity and either
know nothing or think they know something to know more about the
experience of immigrants? These are two very different audiences and
it is hard, but not impossible, to make a documentary which would
appeal to both.

Good luck, what ever you decide!

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