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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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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
Thu 6 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
Thu 13 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
Wed 26 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
Fri 28 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
Mon 31 Jan 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
Mon 31 Jan 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
Tue 1 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
Sun 6 Feb 2005Link
richard, read jan rofekamp's archived conference here on "selling in
the international marketplace."

Tim Pope
Wed 9 Feb 2005Link
Hello everyone. I am venturing into my 1st documentary and I was
wondering what kind of inexpensive choices I had for recording
dialogue. I will be interviewing subjects at their homes and
dictating from notes to use as narrative. I was told that minidisc
recorders such as the Sony MZ-B10 were good and inexpensive ways to
go, any advice?

David Randle
Fri 11 Feb 2005Link
Just came into the forum from cafe Utne what a tresure chest of minds. Great
forum

Ben Kempas
Sat 12 Feb 2005Link
Thanks, David. So why don't you tell us a bit more about yourself in
the Introduce Yourself topic {LINK NOT IMPORTED}?

Christian Saladores
Tue 15 Feb 2005Link
hey all, im very new at filming anything. i've done most of my
research from the net, but if anybody can lead me to a site or book
perhaps on how to come up with a good line of questions... i only have
one day of shooting and i've never done anything like this... but i
know i have to be prepared.

the topic is mostly concerned on the elements of hip hop and most of
the potential interviewees are teenagers who have there own
distinctive lingo...

cheers, any help will be most appreciated

Doug Block
Wed 16 Feb 2005Link
there's a great book on interviewing that i've noted here before (you
can check back posts), i think called "the craft of the interview" by
a guy named brady. do a search on amazon and i'm sure you'll turn it
up.

Tim Pope
Sun 20 Feb 2005Link
I guess everyone is too busy to help the "newbie", guess everyone
here was born a professional and never needed help from their peers.

Doug Block
Mon 21 Feb 2005Link
calm down, tim, everyone IS busy, and i'm simply no sound expert. i
generally use a senheisser directional mike as an auxillary mike
plugged into the camera. works for me but it'll cost you at least a
few hundred dollars. the most inexpensive way, of course, is to use
the built-in camera mike, but i don't recommend it. nor do i
recommend cheap mikes. sound is too important.

Tim Pope
Thu 24 Feb 2005Link
Sorry about the rant, plan "A" wasn't working and this project is
looming closer, so I resorted to plan "B". I appreciate the response
and the advice is well taken. Thank you

Kyoko Yokoma
Fri 25 Feb 2005Link
Hi all

I just posted in intro-section, but this is probably the place. I am
trying to finish my first doc. It's about a New York- based Japanese
dancer who lost her whole family in earthquake in 1995, and later
marry with a son of Holocaust survivors. The film is 80min. long, and
moving but also humorous. I started filming in 1995 with a little hi-
8, and finished filming with DV in 2004. The editing is almost all
done with my pocket money, but need funding for some rights
clearance, lawyer, insurance and so on. Because I am basaed in
Toronto, but the story has nothing to do with Canada, it has been
hard to find suitable funders. National Film Board threw me a small
grant though. I am wondering what's the choices for funding for an
almost-finished doc?

Doug Block
Fri 25 Feb 2005Link
lots of choices, kyoko. i highly recommend you read two forums here:
selling in the international marketplace and fundraising for docs. you
should also join the d-word community: www.d-word.com/community/join.
good luck with the film: "moving but also humorous" is always a great
combination!

Richard Davis
Fri 25 Feb 2005Link
Thanks Doug for your referal to, conference "Selling in the
International Marketplace". I think I need to join the D-Word
Community.

Nathan Scholtens
Mon 28 Feb 2005Link
Hi Tim, I know I'm late in posting this, but it has been a wild few weeks.

I use minidiscs frequently, both for recording sound in the field and for
conveniently transfering audio from place to place (i.e. from my home
computer to the video editing house where I work). The encoding is
mp2, I believe, it IS compressed audio; but you should be fine using
minidisc recorders in place of a NagraIV.

When I worked in fiction, a lot of low budget shoots would employ
separate minidisc recorders for each character in a scene, using
omnidirectional lavalier mics. At the end of the shoot, the producer
would just sell all the minidisc recorders (sometimes numbering 6+) on
ebay and the total sound line in the film's budget would come out
pretty close to $0. One producer I know profited on the reselling of her
minidisc recorders! Also note that minidiscs can be overwritten, so you
can get by with little expense in media.

A good minidisc recorder will allow you to set recording levels. (Check
this on the MZ-B10, I am not familiar with model numbers).

Jan Cohen
Tue 1 Mar 2005Link
Hi everyone. I am at the very beginnin stages of working on my first
documentary film project and would like to know if anyone could
suggest a source to find out if my particular idea has been filmed
before.
Thanks.

Doug Block
Tue 1 Mar 2005Link
good question, jan. i'd start by calling a couple of documentary
distributors and asking them. aivf has information about distributors
and great reference books, too: www.aivf.org

Jan Cohen
Tue 1 Mar 2005Link
Thank you Doug for your response.

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