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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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Ray Wood
Sun 12 Dec 2004Link
Hi Marc, Sounds like an interesting project. Is this connected with
Doctors without borders?. I believe I saw a piece on them in the
past. I would offer a suggestion: There are people in the industry
from that part of the world or live in that part of the world. I
would try and make as many contacts as possible. You can probably
find a sound person over there. I like the thought of you shooting,
just keep in mind that you will have to wear alot of hats. Clearly
defining what your objectives are will prove important. You will have
to focus yourself outside of the lense. While still getting quality
footage. Good Luck and keep me posted.

Marc Maurino
Mon 13 Dec 2004Link
Doug and Ray, thanks for your great words of encouragement. The group
I'm going with is not Doctors W/o borders, but the sentiment is the
same. I'm looking for people already in country--that's great advice.
The "defining objectives" part is hard . . . I'm sort of used to
having a script! I'm trying to work up a list of interviews, ideas,
etc., but I'm also going to just be "tagging along" a bit, so we'll
see what comes up. This whole project has come up for me in the last
few weeks with our trip scheduled in just a few months, so I unf.
don't have the chance to even take an intensive doc making class or
even attempt to raise money or find a producer; right now I'm sort of
looking for a mentor/associate producer that I can ask all my
questions--thank goodness for D-word! I'll be sure to keep you
posted. Thanks again--the encouragement means a lot!

Maureen Futtner
Wed 15 Dec 2004Link
Hi Doug & everyone,

Regarding releases -
if I'm shooting/interviewing someone on several different occasions,
is it enough to have that initial release from our first meeting or
do I need to ask them to sign a release each time?

Thanks for being here, by the way.
Maureen

Doug Block
Wed 15 Dec 2004Link
Thanks, Maureen. Nice to have you here, too. You're gonna like my
answer - you just need one release. I highly recommend that you make
xeroxs of your releases and keep them in separate locations.

Marc Maurino
Tue 21 Dec 2004Link
Hi folks, a few questions that have come up as my project progresses.
First, what would be considered "not too low to be an insult" to
offer an editor in payment for getting involved in my project now
(before anything is shot) and expecting
involvement/collaboration/editing until it's done? (At this point I'm
imagining 30-60 minute short, POSS a feature.) I'm looking to get
someone quite experienced with editing both technically and shaping
narrative, preferably someone with fairly extensive doc and/or feature
experience. My thoughts were offer $1000 if it turns out to be a
short, $2000-2500 if it turns out to be a feature, and possibly some
points share (how much?) on the back end. (Yes, I know, points
sharing on a no budget doc is not going to be a whole lot if anything
at all!) Am I going to insult a professional with that?
Question 2: I'm looking to focus my doc on one character but
extensively look at and film a larger social justice group that he's
part of; they naturally are interested in a doc about their group and
goals, but also are interested in "ownership" of it b/c it will
reflect on them. Financial investment will be mine alone, and while
I'm hopeful (and expect) that this piece will reflect nicely on this
great progressive social justice group, ultimately it is going to be
my film, which i will direct, edit, control, etc. Naturally I know
about getting releases from everyone and all that, but here's a two
part question: any advice for how to deal professionally and politely
with a group from whom you want access but for artistic reasons can't
give control?
Secondly, do you ever get a release from a GROUP? Does an
organization have any standing regarding its image? (Sorry if this
one's been done before, I've read tons of back posts and haven't seen
it.) Thanks in advance as usual.

Erica Ginsberg
Tue 21 Dec 2004Link
Marc,

Regarding the editor, the prices you mention are quite low for most
professional editors and probably no editor in his or her right mind
would accept a deal for a doc with points share unless you are
Michael Moore or Ken Burns. That said, there are often professional
editors who are looking either for a labor of love, a project which
addresses a pet social concern of theirs, or something to expand
their portfolio (i.e., someone who does mostly corporate work or
Discovery Channel-style docs looking to work on a creative doc) for
lower pay than they are used to getting. You might even find someone
to barter with (e.g., an editor who wants to direct a film, but who
needs a cinematographer). Key is finding someone who you can sell
the project on with your enthusiasm and passion. You may end up
having to work around his or her higher paid schedule if you go this
route, but it may be worth it to you financially and professionally
to find someone who is as passionate as you about the subject.

In terms of ownership, has the group actually asked you to make a
promotional film about them? As you spend more time with them and
get their trust (presumably your main character can help be an
advocate for you), you can diplomatically state that what you are
making is a documentary and you want the film to reflect the reality
of what they are doing without being compromised by coming across as
an advocacy film. Very often, a doc can be an even more powerful
advocacy tool than an informational video because it is made with an
outsider's eye (a recent example is SEEDS about the Seeds of Peace
Camps; you may wish to contact those filmmakers for their
experiences - link to the website is at
<http://mergemedia.tv/projects/t2project_seedsdoc1.html>). You can
always promise to have a sneak preview fundraising premiere of the
film on behalf of their organization or share some of the proceeds of
a screening or allow them to have a certain number of free copies of
the film to sell or give as a gift to funders, but the key is that
you need to retain creative control.

Marc Maurino
Tue 21 Dec 2004Link
Thanks for your great advice Erica. This is just the answer I needed
and provides me a great tool for being frank and direct with the
group. I haven't been asked to make a promotional film; I want to
document my friend's journey, and he's part of the group, so while it
will reflect well on them, on not looking to make an informational or
advocacy piece; more of an exploratory film. I will def. contact
Seeds of Peace filmmakers as well, if only b/c our projects share
some of the same impulses.

On the subject of editors, I knew the $ amounts were a pittance, I
also agree, I need to sell someone who both sees it as a labor of
love and wants to be part of the creative team, and also someone
maybe looking to step their own game up a notch. I hope my doc
subject is compelling enough to find someone who will say, yeah,
that's worth my time. Thanks again for all the generous advice!

Doug Block
Tue 21 Dec 2004Link
marc, figure any editor with real professional experience and talent
comes at a minimum of $1500/wk. you can get someone less experienced,
of course (at your peril), but it'll be hard to keep them on for any
length of time just because it's your labor of love.

Marc Maurino
Tue 21 Dec 2004Link
Thanks Doug, for us newbies having an idea of what professionals
should reasonably expect is a great post-production planning tool.
Happy holidays to all!

Jim Wharton
Tue 28 Dec 2004Link
Okay, I am new to the site and have introduced myself on the other
thread so here goes the question.
I am prepping a doc about 2 unsolved murders and the effects of non-
closure on the family members. Much of the content will be their
ongoing search for answers and frustrations with the investigating
agencies. In shooting the interviews, I want to give a face to the
victims and show my audience who they were. I know that "talking
heads" can be VERY boring. Any tips on composing these interviews to
make them really interesting?

Doug Block
Tue 28 Dec 2004Link
it's not the composition that makes an interview compelling, jim. it
helps, of course, as does lighting, as does focus, as does good sound.
but worry about the interview itself and trust that the subject matter
is inherently interesting. there are lots of terrific docs out there
that rely on talking head interviews. this fella named errol morris
has made few.

Robert Goodman
Wed 29 Dec 2004Link
Jon Else's films are also another resource.

Maureen Futtner
Thu 30 Dec 2004Link
HI, again, oh Brain Trust.

Looks like I'll be posting to this site often in the next few
months, as I'm embarking on a new project.

OK - making a road trip from San Francisco (my home) to Santa
Barbara in mid-Jan to interview a man I hope to be a supporting
character for my documentary. In this initial visit I probably only
have 1 "session" of 4-5 hours with him, and have never been to Santa
Barbara. We are a 2-person crew, relying on natural light - hoping
to shoot outside. My subject lives in an apartment building, but I
was hoping to shoot him in a park or outside a cafe and walking,
maybe to the beach - out and about. My problem is I don't know
Santa Barbara at all. Is it ok to rely on your subject to "scout"
for you? I have already asked him if he wouldn't mind thinking of
such places where we might go. We'll probably shoot a little in his
house, but ideally I want the atmosphere of his city.
So, how does one "research" such a thing? Maybe we should show up a
couple hours early and scout on our own? Should we just rely on our
subject's recommendations? Visit websites? Any ideas?

Thanks, in advance. And happy & safe new year to all!

Doug Block
Thu 30 Dec 2004Link
maureen, i'd simply ask him to take me to some of his favorite local
spots. done all the time - by me, at least. while you're out and
about you can keep your eyes open but i'd go where the subject is most
comfortable.

Erica Ginsberg
Thu 30 Dec 2004Link
I'd recommend you ask him for ideas in advance and, if you can, get
to SB a day or two before your shoot to check out the locations to
plan how you want to set up the shot. A subject may have a favorite
park or cafe but may not be thinking about such things as noise or
available light. For instance, he may like to go to a certain park,
but always sits in a part of it that is very crowded and noisy.
Might be better to find a quieter spot for the interview or perhaps
consider one section for the interview and another for him
interacting with other people (if you want anything more verite).
Also not sure whether the city plays a sub-character to this
character; if so, the extra time will give you the opportunity to get
some beauty locale shots.

Jim Wharton
Sat 1 Jan 2005Link
Doug and Robert, thank you very much for your input!

X Ali
Sun 2 Jan 2005Link
Hello All & a happy 2005
Read a few of the very useful and practical guidelines offered here
and am very excited. Am based in Nairobi Kenya and am in pre-prod.
for a docu. on the youth and issues that affect them especially in
high school and college.

Has anyone done a similar project or any thoughts?

Xali

Doug Block
Sun 2 Jan 2005Link
hi xali,

if you've had any professional experience as a documentarian please
feel welcomed to join the d-word community, which requires another
regisration step (you've already done part one):
www.d-word.com/community/join

that's where you'll meet your docu colleagues.

Maureen Futtner
Thu 6 Jan 2005Link
Yet another question about releases, however this one is about web
pages. My project is begging for some footage of internet sites.

At our facility, I have access to a scan-converter so that means I
can get fairly decent images off of computer and onto tape. But my
question, of course, is ... are the "release rules" regarding web
sites the same as they would be for using still photos, archival
footage, etc. Do I have to email the web master of each site and
get their permission?

Any info/experience regarding this stuff would be very helpful.
Thanks so much. - Maureen

Doug Block
Fri 7 Jan 2005Link
When I made Home Page I made sure to write each web site I filmed and
get the owner's permission. They were personal web sites, though. It
was pretty simple. I would try in your case, too.

Maureen Futtner
Fri 7 Jan 2005Link
Thanks so much for your wisdom, Doug. I appreciate this forum so
much. You're going to see me posting more and more in the coming
weeks.

All the best, Maureen

Michelle Plett
Wed 12 Jan 2005Link
Hi, i'm new here. I recently introduced myself on another posting.
I'm working for my cousin and she'd like some questions answered if
possible. We're working on a documentary called Childless by Choice.
We're interviewing couples who have made the choice not to have
children. As neither of us have much practical experience, we need
some help. Thanks in advance.

1. Are d-makers copyrighting their treatments or proposals before
sending them out to funders and prospective partners?

2. Do we need Errors and Omissions insurance for a TV Doc that will
be marketed toward both US and Canadian broadcasters?

3. What percentage of a doc budget is typically allotted for post-
prod and marketing? If a dco budget is $100,000, what percentage is
likely to go towards post production, how much to market it?

4. Should an indy filmmaker put in a lump sum payment for her
services (into the budget), even though typically the filmmaker
doesn't get paid until there is money left over?

5. Do you need a location release in addition to a talent release
when you interview in peoples homes? what about in a hotel?

6.Is there a ay to convert film from PC Adobe Premier to Mac Final
cut pro without losing?

Thanks so much
michelle

Robert Goodman
Wed 12 Jan 2005Link
My answers to your questions.

1. No.
2. Yes.
3. Post - depends on how much material you shoot and how quickly you
can edit. Marketing - depends on profile - high profile project -
typical marketing expenses can run from $30,000 to 100,000 after
completion of the project and before a distributor starts spending
money. Also include money for outreach activities - reaching the
affected communities.

4. Better to create line items knowing full well you'll never see a
dime.

5. No location release needed for people's homes. Insurance is
needed in case you break or damage something. Hotels - as long as
the hotel isn't recognizable I wouldn't bother. Get you into more
difficulty asking than just doing it.

6. Not sure what you are asking. Adobe Premiere doesn't use film. It
edits digital media files that must be captured if analog or
transferred if using firewire into the program. The media files are
not compatible with Final Cut Pro. The timeline may work. So you
might be able to edit and create an edl that can be transferred to
FCP. The media will need to be re-transferred into the mac.

Michelle Plett
Wed 12 Jan 2005Link
Thanks for the info..

as far as #6, that's what I meant...sorry, should have been more
clear or read my post over again!

Doug Block
Wed 12 Jan 2005Link
ditto what robert says. v. good advice (as usual).

Erica Ginsberg
Wed 12 Jan 2005Link
ditto ditto. I'd just add on question 1 that, while you can't
copyright an idea or a proposal, you can protect yourself a little by
keeping good documentation of the different stages of production and
perhaps finding a way to make sure that the story will be unique to
you (i.e., you have special access to the subject, etc.)

Outreach can be a major part of the budget depending on what you are
planning to do. You should consider it separately from post-
production. Not sure where you are based, but you might want to
check out an upcoming workshop on outreach strategies that is being
sponsored by the Center for Social Media in Washington DC on February
7. More info at
<http://www.centerforsocialmedia.org/outreachworkshop.htm > Also
there was an online forum on outreach here in D-Word a few years back
with Robert West from Working Films. The thread should still be
there.

Doug Block
Wed 12 Jan 2005Link
Yup. LINK NOT IMPORTED...


Michelle Plett
Thu 13 Jan 2005Link
thanks! I'm going to get Laura (the director) to get out to that!
She's in Virginia.

Michelle Plett
Thu 13 Jan 2005Link
Where do i find out about E & O insurance?

Doug Block
Fri 14 Jan 2005Link
I highly recommend Dennis Reiff & Associates. Just give them a call
and ask: http://www.reiffinsurance.com

Richard Levitt
Wed 26 Jan 2005Link
Hey there!
I'm in the prep stage for a doc on a former CIA station chief who
helped turn central Africa into the wonderful and happy place it is
today. Brushing aside his usual disdain for agents who have gone
public, he's talking--and it's only to us! We're getting some quick
interest, and we are in the process of putting together a preliminary
budget--around $500k--for a potential investor. A basic question
please: What would be a sensible amount to enter for a
producer/director in terms of salary--given the overall budget? I
know there are no rules, but let's have a figure for the budget and
if the universe allows, I may actually see some of it!
Thanks

Doug Block
Thu 27 Jan 2005Link
That's always a tricky question, but I figure anywhere between 50 to
75k wouldn't raise any eyebrows. you'll have considerably more
trouble explaining to an investor how he or she will see a profit with
that high a budget on a doc.

Richard Levitt
Thu 27 Jan 2005Link
Thanks for you quick response! I suspect I will make it through with
much less than that, but it's good to have some general numbers. My
partner, who is in fact used to working on small budget productions,
reminds me that no filmaker she ever met got paid during production;
but frankley, the scope of this film is more expansive and, in
addition, there would be no other source of income during the making
of the doc. Is it completely unreasonable to expect at least
something to live on?

Doug Block
Thu 27 Jan 2005Link
absolutely not. most experienced funders actually worry more about
filmmakers who don't put ENOUGH salary for themselves to live on. it's
a big red flag pointing to their inexperience. still, even the most
experienced often pay themselves last. like, um, me...

Richard Levitt
Thu 27 Jan 2005Link
Thanks again!! Two more questions--two major producers want to see a
three-minute pitch reel (it might, in addition to everything else,
help us retain creative control over this project--which one producer
has already tried to grab away). Our DP suggests we go with the 24p
package he has, for the pitch and maybe the doc itself. Not knowing
where this will be distributed (cable television has expressed an
interest), should we be thinking higher in the quality universe?

Also, the person who recommended an investor, wants a hefty
commission--have you heard of that before and, if so, how was that
handled?

Robert Goodman
Thu 27 Jan 2005Link
finder's fee - worth 5-10%.
which 24P package - a DVX100A? a SDX900? a VariCam? a Cinealta? 16mm?
35MM? If the answer is DVX100a, I'd suggest unless you don't get
your 500K, moving up the production scale.

Doug Block
Thu 27 Jan 2005Link
hey, you're talking to a guy who had a film shown on hbo, at sundance
and many other fests, and even limited theatrical that was shot on
good ol' hi-8! so a dvx100a seems perfectly tasty to me.

Robert Goodman
Fri 28 Jan 2005Link
doug - not what I meant. If the budget is $500K think the
expectation is that you will shoot on something better than Hi8. Now
if you're talking Pixelvision I could understand. And was I talking
to you?

Robert Goodman
Fri 28 Jan 2005Link
re-read the posts. Doug you didn't ask the question. Richard did. If
I were the investor, I'd opt for better quality for my $500,000.
Just my 2 cents.

Doug Block
Fri 28 Jan 2005Link
assuming richard raises 500k, as opposed to 2 cents ;-) given that
he may well need to shoot in stages, should add that nobody's ever
been arrested for upgrading camera quality mid-stream. or mixing
looks.

Karen Loeb
Fri 28 Jan 2005Link
I'm wondering if anyone out there has some advice about how to get
advice on writing a budget for a full-length documentary film. Are
there any online mentorship programs? I'm in Canada, by the way....

Doug Block
Sat 29 Jan 2005Link
I've always liked the Michael Weise book on Film and Video Budgets:

http://shop.store.yahoo.com/cinemasupplies/filvidbudmic.html

Robert Goodman
Sat 29 Jan 2005Link
I'd second Doug's suggestion and also suggest you look at the CBC's
website. There's a wealth of info there and I believe at the Film
Board website.

Christopher Gallant
Tue 1 Feb 2005Link
Hello all,
I'm starting taping on a documentary concerning my father and a
boyhood story. I've watched Alan Berliner's "Nobody's Business". Any
other suggestions on material to watch, books, etc? Any advice
appreciated!

Doug Block
Tue 1 Feb 2005Link
"my architect" and "capturing the friedmans" are the most obvious
recent choices. i'm doing a similar film and i think the main
question is can you treat your own role in the film with the necessary
objectivity and distance? in other words, can you treat yourself as a
character in a movie? other than that, my own rule of thumb is that
no one in the film can come off looking worse than me. a sense of
humor about oneself never hurts, either.

but my best advice is find a great editor. or, if you can't afford
one, find one to be a consulting editor.

Erica Ginsberg
Tue 1 Feb 2005Link
Also POP AND ME in addition to Doug's recommendations above.

Maureen Futtner
Tue 1 Feb 2005Link
I am mailing a letter requesting an interview with a gentleman named
Ernest Callenbach - known mostly for his visionary 70's sci-fi
novel "Ecotopia".
Frankly, I'm a novice filmmaker and am wondering if established
people like Mr. Callenbach would want to be offered, from the get-
go, an honorarium? I have no budget and little money, but if that
might help me get an interview w/him, I might be able to up front
offer $75-100.

ANy thoughts on this? Is that simply insultingly low? Should I not
offer at first and see what happens?

Doug Block
Wed 2 Feb 2005Link
maureen, i've been involved with many docs and have never paid for an
interview, never offered pay, never been asked for pay. more than
likely he'll be more than happy that a filmmaker knows who he is and
appreciates his work, and wants to put him in her film. if he's so
inclined, offer to take him out to lunch or dinner, instead. and
shoot a really terrific interview.

Richard Davis
Sun 6 Feb 2005Link
Could anyone suggest a source(s) one could refer to in order to
attempt to forecast potential revenues from televised doc's in the US
and Canada? I'm budgeting and need to ball park potentials and wish
to provide precendence for support of proforma. Thanks.

Doug Block
Mon 7 Feb 2005Link
richard, read jan rofekamp's archived conference here on "selling in
the international marketplace."

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