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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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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!

Shazia Malik
Sat 7 Feb 2004Link
Thanks so much for responding Erica.

Well to tell you the truth, a lot of this apprehension stems from the
fact that Im in America and have to make a documentary in New
Zealand.

I was on a summer break all this time and will start my third year
the day I return. I have to pitch three topics to my school on paper
the day I land and that is creating a lot of frustration because I
havent got a chance to directly meet the people/ institutions I want
to film. And there is only so much preliminary research you can do on
the internet. So the deal is, my tutors will pick a topic from the
three I shortlisted.

This will be the only documentary I make this year. It is a
collaborated effort... I will have a student crew and the doc will be
under ten minutes. I have done a bit of reading... I read the Rabiger
book on making docs and I completely agree with you... right from day
one I really want to make something that I strongly feel about. I
definitely want to avoid at all costs a shallow "dabbling" in
something that is apparently different.

The Krishna Consciousness subject is definitely something that I'm
more than curious about. On the contrary its something that I
strongly question. Not to give you an offhanded summation of their
spiritual philosophy, their spirituality which believes in
renunciating materialism strongly triggers off questions like
escapism (from the real world) etc... which brings to mind a
question....

You mentioned something about your subject being able to develop a
trust in the film maker... how does one then approach a subject who's
practice you question from the start...

Thanks again for your time...

Shazia

Doug Block
Sat 7 Feb 2004Link
Shazia, you just need to show the subject that you're genuinely
curious and that you've done your homework and you'll gain their
trust. It's not about whether or not you agree with them or question
their beliefs (though I certainly wouldn't flaunt that). As long as
your not out to get them from the start you'll be just fine.

Good luck.

Lorenzo Meccoli
Wed 11 Feb 2004Link
Hello everybody, my name is Lorenzo Meccoli and I am a documentary
filmmaker and producer. I recently finished with Gabriele Zamparini a
long documentary, "XXI Century" (www.thecatsdream.com) which was
recently showed at IDFA and had a very good response from the public.
The question is: anybody knows were can I find prices of how much
buyers pay, on an average, for documentaries (small and big
broadcasters, DVDs and Tapes distributions, Theaters ecc.)? I know it
is a very general question but maybe, gaining some information here
and there I can try to have an idea. I read the whole forum "SELLING
IN THE INTERNATIONAL MARKETPLACE" but there were really not the
information I was looking for. Also: has anybody had experience in
selling in Italy to the printed media market? It is very common there
to buy film at the newsstand/bookstores where tapes and dvds are sold
with magazines, newspapers and books. Thank you for any help you can
give me.

Doug Block
Wed 11 Feb 2004Link
Lorenzo, please join The D-Word Community where the doc professionals
hang out. You're much more likely to get answers to these kinds of
questions there. Go to: www.d-word.com/community/join

As for what buyers pay, it varies, of course, and fluctuates all the
time. What ZDF/Arte paid me seven years ago for Home Page (90 minutes
in length, contractually) is almost irrelevant to what they'd pay now.
Also, you're talking about separate distributors for the various
ancillaries -- broadcast, theatrical, dvd/home video. Each with their
own price ranges.

Ben Kempas
Wed 11 Feb 2004Link
Doug, Lorenzo is already a member of the Community.

Lorenzo, you'll find a Marketing and Distribution topic in
{LINK NOT IMPORTED} ...

Doug Block
Wed 11 Feb 2004Link
Well, shut my mouth. A perfect illustration of how the community is
growing faster than my poor beleaguered mind can follow.

Lorenzo Meccoli
Wed 11 Feb 2004Link
Thank you both!

Diane Bernard
Thu 4 Mar 2004Link
Hi to all:
It's been a while since I checked in here, glad to see engaging
questions since my last visit. Of course, my question is fairly
mundane in comparison.

I've shot a good amount of footage for my doc and am about to edit a
demo reel. I've installed Final Cut Pro 4 and am in the market for a
new external hard drive. Does anyone have any good recommendations? I
know it needs to be 7200 rpm but beyond that, I have no experience
with what would be good.

Any info is greatly appreciated.
Thanks!
Diane

Lorenzo Meccoli
Thu 4 Mar 2004Link
Dear Diane, I had a very good experience with the La Cie hard drives.
But you should not look at the new ones (Porsche design) which they
told me are not strong as the traditional ones. You can check on LaCie
website http://www.lacie.com/products/product.htm?id=10022 PS: they
are not paying me! Actually I paid them more then one time!!!

Diane Bernard
Fri 5 Mar 2004Link
Thanks a mil for the advice. I checked out the La Cie info and it
looks good and I also found a good price on one at a nearby Apple
Store. So I'm about to go out and get one.
Thanks!
Diane

Erica Ginsberg
Wed 17 Mar 2004Link
In answer to question posted here about music rights
{LINK NOT IMPORTED}

Even if you have a signed agreement with the cabaret performers for
rights to their rendition of the song, in most cases, you will also
have clear rights for the song itself (usually with the publisher).
You can check with ASCAP to see if the songs you want are created by
one of their members. It doesn't really matter if your project is
not-for-profit. If you are planning to screen your film in any kind
of public space (including the Internet), you will need rights.

Can't recall if you said you were based in NYC, but, if so, AIFV is
holding a session on production legal issues soon, so you might want
to attend to get more specific answers to your questions.
http://www.aivf.org/

Jan-Luc VanDamme
Wed 17 Mar 2004Link
*I am producing a documentary about a cabaret group in NYC. The main
feasibility questions that arise are about music use. Hopefully you can answer
these questions or can give insight as to who can help me with them.
*The project is not for profit. The songs used in the shows are popular ones,
but they are being played by a piano player with a singer. Must I secure rights
to use the music if it is being played by someone else in a stage show? What
other legalities must I look into to use it in a doc?
*Any information you can give would be greatly helpful and appreciated.

Thank You,

Erica Ginsberg
Wed 17 Mar 2004Link
see my answer in the post prior to your question (makes me feel like
i have psychic powers)

Doug Block
Wed 17 Mar 2004Link
Here's a very good article published in AIVF's magazine, The
Independent, about clearing music rights:

www.holytoledo.com/clear_music.htm

Maureen Futtner
Wed 24 Mar 2004Link
Hi filmmakers,

Just introduced myself & now I have QUESTIONS!

In the early stages of production of my first documentary on a
transgender pianist/singer who will be returning to her home country
(after having not been there for 25 years!) to perform in a series
of concerts. That's all I want to say about the project right now.
My question is regarding how much footage to shoot.
The return trip/concert is not for nearly another year and a half
yet, and I already have 16 hours of footage! Now, partially, I
realize my collaborator & I will have a ton of footage 'cause we're
novices, and need to work out a lot of kinks. But I'm also
concerned 'cause I keep wanting to shoot so much of her life. I do
plan to have the return trip be the final shoot, and we'll begin
post shortly after we get back. But, as I said, that trip is still
a year and a half away. Should I have a plan NOW for a maximum
amount of shooting to do? Any wisdom and advice would be greatly
appreciated!!
Maureen

Doug Block
Wed 24 Mar 2004Link
Hard to answer that question, Maureen. It's largely going on
instinct. Wouldn't hurt to do a lot of interviews with your subject,
particularly when she's in the midst of doing something. Also seems
you have a possible built-in structure of beginning as she's taking
off for her trip, then continually flashing back as the concert tour
moves forward. Sort of like the past colliding with the present. In
the end, I recommend erring on the side of shooting, but also trying
not to overdo it. Tape is cheap but editors can be expensive.

Carolyn Projansky
Thu 25 Mar 2004Link
Greetings to all: I haven't been here in months, and never
really "got to know" the folks in D-Word, but I need some advice.
I've recently moved back to the US from South Africa and I'm
struggling to catch up with changes in the production world in the US
since 2000. I'm pricing a job now, trying to figure out what kind of
camera equipment to budget for. In SA everybody was using DVCam or
miniDV (PD150) for almost everything. Here that doesn't seem to be
the case. I'm trying to choose between shooting in BETACAM-SP or
DVCAM for a project in which the video segments will ultimately end
up on the web (for use in a web-based training program). The
surprising thing is that DVCAM seems to be more expensive than BETA
here. In South Africa it was the reverse. Anyone understand my
confusion and can help enlighten me? Thanks. Carolyn

Doug Block
Thu 25 Mar 2004Link
That's a surprise to me, too, Carolyn. Can you give us some examples
of the pricing you've run across? Because a PD150 shoots dv-cam and
goes for, what, $3500? Where can you get a beta-sp camera for near
that price?

Carolyn Projansky
Thu 25 Mar 2004Link
Doug: I think the price comparison was not for a PD150 versus BETACAM-
SP, but for a bigger DV-CAM camera, compared to a BETA-SP. I'll have
to get the specifics from my production manager. But do you, or does
someone else know whether it matters what I shoot with if it's going
to end up in a tiny box on the web? Will a better camera give a
crisper image so its better to spend the money? Or will it all end up
looking tiny and grainy so who cares?

Ben Kempas
Thu 25 Mar 2004Link
A bigger camera is always nicer for its easy handling, decent
exposure, proper lens, less depth of field, and better reliability. As
long as your footage ends up on the net, the format really doesn't
matter. Could be a 300 or 500-series DVCAM, any Beta-SP, or anything
down to S-VHS. :-)

Carolyn Projansky
Thu 25 Mar 2004Link
Thanks Ben. If anyone else out there has a opinion about format for
shooting direct-to-web I'd be interested.

Meanwhile, as long as I'm on the subject of cameras ... I have two
doccies I'm developing that raise camera questions, too. One is
definitely for int'l TV broadcast and I'm targeting the BBC
particularly. Is it best to shoot 16X9 these days and then compress,
or whatever you do for 4x3screenings? I'm still budgeting and so I
can select the shooting format as I choose. Although this one isn't
an "intimate" story, I generally prefer a smaller, more unobtrusive
camera for a documentary. Will all the broadcasters accept DVCAM
(the big kind) or is it better to go for HD nowadays? I'm not sure I
like the look of HD for a documentary. Are people having good
experiences with the "look" and "feel" of the format? What type of
film does it seem to work best for?

My other project is a very intimate doc which is destined either for
US tv or might be a feature doc for some cinema release. It depends
on how the characters work when we start shooting. We're going to do
a demo. But I don't want to shoot the demo material and then throw it
away. I'd like to start shooting with the format we're going to stay
with. What do you recommend? An intimate "family" story, needs to
be unobtrusive camera but great looking.

thanks very much! Carolyn

Erica Ginsberg
Thu 25 Mar 2004Link
Hey Carolyn. Erica from WIFV here. Glad to hear you are back from
South Africa and welcome back to D-Word.

I'm surprised by the price differential too. Even if you are looking
at getting a crew with one of the higher end DVCAM cameras, it should
still be less expensive than Beta-SP. HD could be more expensive
though. How did you get your crew quotes? Did you try posting on
the WIFV listserv?

I'll let the cinematography experts answer your other questions, but
my understanding is that BBC absolutely requires 16X9.

Ben Kempas
Thu 25 Mar 2004Link
What's wrong with the "look of HD for documentary"?

As a cinematographer, I've worked with HD - but not for "doccies".

Carolyn Projansky
Thu 25 Mar 2004Link
I still don't have the specific price quotes but I spoke again to a
production manager who gets quotes all the time. She says that a
bunch of the major houses that rent camera equipment in the DC area
have all just recently upgraded to top DV Cam equipment and they're
now renting their "old" BETAs for less. Interesting. Plausible. I
haven't check the price quotes myself but this person is very
reputable. I'll check into it myself by the end of next week and
report back.

To Ben: I'm a complete novice with HD, but from what I've seen, it
has such sharp, detailed look that it is almost the antithesis of
film with its warm, soft, shadowy edges. It's hard to describe. I
think living in an HD world will take gradual adustment.

Carolyn Projansky
Thu 25 Mar 2004Link
Sorry, Erica, I forgot to say, "Hello" back to you. No, I didn't
post this on the listserve, but I've been working with a production
manager we had recommended by the listserve. Thanks for your
comments. Carolyn

Erica Ginsberg
Fri 26 Mar 2004Link
Carolyn, you would probably get better quotes if your production
manager went to individual cameramen or a boutique house rather than
a major house (or, if you already have a cinematographer sans the
right camera, it may be cheaper to buy him the camera as part of his
payment than to rent one for him). If the major houses think they
can charge top dollar for the same camera quality as a cameraman with
his own equipment, they will likely go the way of top post production
houses which can no longer compete for the offline market while
everyone has Avids and FCP in their home offices. While you were
gone, Henninger went bankrupt and then had to retool their operation
and, as you know, Roland House recently went out of business
altogether.

Robert Goodman
Fri 26 Mar 2004Link
there is no single flavor of HD nor an agreed upon
definition of what is or isn't considered HD.

Blanket statements about what something looks like
is like suggesting that 35mm has a single look.
To dissuade yourself about that - rent Northfork,
Malcom X, and Schindler's List.

Christian DiMaso
Mon 29 Mar 2004Link
Since this thread is years old and very long I will go out on a limb
by asking a tired question. I am a complete newbie and I need help! I
have only made 4 minute videos all put to music. I am looking to step
into the world of documentaries for the first time. My purpose is not
to publish,but to fill a longing in myself to create. I would relish
any expertise you could pass on. I know this is a tall order,but I
want to make the best film I can.
Equipment:
Mini-DV Cam (no audio in)
Tripod
Sony's Screenblast Movie Studio 3 (knockoff of Vegas)
Acid Pro 4
Nero 6

Doug Block
Tue 30 Mar 2004Link
Still waiting for your tired question, Christian... If you're
looking for expertise, though, hate to say it but you should go back
and read the long threads here. Sorry 'bout that.

Christian DiMaso
Tue 30 Mar 2004Link
How about this then...what are the books I should own for documentary
production? I know that "Directing the Documentary" is a must, but
what else?

Doug Block
Tue 30 Mar 2004Link
can't say. i've never read a "doc" book, per se. but when i first
started shooting (nigh, those many years ago), a book called "the 5
c's of cinematography" was very useful. a basic primer for how to
shoot - and the best production book i've ever read:

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/187950541X

Robert Goodman
Wed 31 Mar 2004Link
Aristotle's Poetics. Laslo Egri book about writing plays. The 5 Cs of
Cinematography is a good choice. Anything that helps you figure out
storytelling - Joseph Campbell, perhaps. I'll also suggest my book
Editing Digital Video for when you get there. But the truth of the
matter is there are only a few things you must know - a documentary
is a living breathing entity - give it the space it needs to
survive. Always be true to your story and the people in it.

Steve Allen
Sun 4 Apr 2004Link
Hi all. I am to start filming soon on a cross continent (on very
different vehicles)type doco. I think it will be prime doco time for
most of the globe. My problem is that my investor wants the
impossible "facts about budget" I cannot tell him much as I have
no idea how much a 1 hour wide-demographic doco could sell
for. Could someone help me out? PPPPlease. Steve

Doug Block
Mon 5 Apr 2004Link
could sell for zippidy doo dah and could generate a couple of hundred
thousand bucks (U.S.) in total sales. who the heck knows? much
depends on how good it is and how much of a market there is for the
subject.

how's that for a (non) answer?

Steve Allen
Mon 5 Apr 2004Link
Thanks Doug. I realise it is asking a fair bit to get a simple
answer to a hard question. I think a land sailor racing against a
paraglider across the Australian outback(complete with
kangaroos) with a free and easy chat style format, will sell well. I
am hoping that someone else will say the same. I guess I am
asking for aprox how much per play will a good 1 hour doco get?
The demagraphic is probably male 16 to 70 and women 16 to 45
I guess thats about 40% of the population. Europe is mad keen
on paragliding and anything filmed in the bush. what do you
think?

Doug Block
Mon 5 Apr 2004Link
i think i'm not an international sales agent. i haven't a clue. you
might want to read the jan rofekamp conference that's archived here on
selling in the international marketplace. might give you a better
idea.

Steve Allen
Tue 6 Apr 2004Link
Read it now thanks doug. Bloody depressing for those who dont
have an idea as great as mine:-) ( We are the eternal optimists.)
I would love to read more from the industry guys. Any chance of
getting more on? I didnt see anything on what a first market is
worth. Did I miss it? Are there particular people who would be
more used to handling my type of doco?(any names?
Steve)

Aaron Huslage
Tue 20 Apr 2004Link
I'm in the Rough Cut stage of my first documentary and have a chance
to show it to some people this evening. I want to take advantage of
this opportunity and ask the right questions. The problem is, I don't
know what to ask people!

Does anyone have any samples of questionnaires for test screenings
that I might customize?

Sorry for the late notice, but this just became available to me today.
Any help would be appreciated.

Doug Block
Tue 20 Apr 2004Link
aaron, you don't need a questionaire. ask if they feel it dragged
anywhere. if they were confused anywhere. if they feel anything is
missing. but mostly listen. you'll learn most from their visceral
responses during the screening.

Erica Ginsberg
Tue 20 Apr 2004Link
I'd start by asking them what they think it was about. Not that
there can't be multiple answers to this question (the best
documentaries leave lots up to interpretation), but it would be
helpful for you to know where they are coming from when they give you
feedback. And as Doug said, mostly listen. This is not the time to
defend your choices or people will not feel comfortable being honest
with you.

Lora Covrett
Sun 25 Apr 2004Link
I have a question about getting permission slips signed, etc. I've
seen documentary films where police are asking the filmmakers to
leave or a business is asking them to leave the premises. Do those
filmmakers get releases signed by these disgruntled folks in order to
release the film? If I'm interviewing someone for my film, do I need
them to sign a release?

Robert Goodman
Sun 25 Apr 2004Link
yes. If you don't have a release you can't use the interview.
Different rules apply to news organizations. Broadcasters require
independent filmmakers to carry errors and ommissions insurance for
every program as a requirement to air it. If you don't have signed
releases that will hold up in court, you will not be able to buy E&O
insurance or will have to pay a heavy premium to obtain it. E&O
insurance covers you in case you are sued for liable.

Maureen Futtner
Fri 30 Apr 2004Link
Ok, Wise Documentary Filmmakers -

I admit I am a novice, albeit a very ambitious one. I am working on a long-
term project about a musician who's returning to her native Cuba
to perform in a series of concerts in Summer 2005. I've been
shooting her periodically and will continue to do so all the way
through her trip next year. I have no written agreement from her
as yet, but she's reassuring me constantly that this is my project.
I am getting concerned, however. I realize I need to broach the
subject of obtaining a release from her, but I also believe we
need a contract of sorts that I have exclusive rights to this project
over x period of time. Probably what I need is a lawyer, I know.
But one filmmaker has said to me, "You don't want to enter into
a "contractual relationship". You just want a release. "
What are the opinions out there? Any help welcome. Maureen

Doug Block
Sat 1 May 2004Link
hey maureen, sounds like you and your subject should have a talk.
that said, if she's at all famous, i'd be surprised if she's willing
to sign something that gives a novice filmmaker exclusive rights.

but at leastg get a release from her, and as soon as possible. if
she's unwilling to sign one, you're in deep doo-doo and should
seriously reconsider continuing on with the film.

Maureen Futtner
Thu 6 May 2004Link
Doug & all mentors,

So i have had a discussion today w/my subject about getting a
release from her, and she basically told me she needs to get
paid; she wants a contract that figures in some kind of payment
to her. She said "I'm gonna give you my story, my life, I need
something in return." I told her people do not generally pay their
doc. subjects and she insisted because she's a performer, and
... on and on. This was all over the phone, and we have a real
meeting in a couple of weeks. She is not famous. I told her she
could get great publicity out of this. This didn't seem to sway her.
Seems she's been screwed over before, and while I've
established a great deal of trust with her (she now considers me
her friend), she does not want to feel exploited. She says my
paying her would give me creative control and I would own the
film (well, yea!).

Is this an absurd request? We haven't even broached amount. It
doesn't sound like she wants a mere token, however. At this
point, I've done 20 hours of exploratory shooting, have
researched for the last 8 months, and have mapped out my
future year and a half or more with this project in mind. Is this a
big red flag, or what?

Did Wim Wenders pay the musicians of the Buena Vista S.C? I
rather doubt it. Any wisdom welcome.

Maureen

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