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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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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
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
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
Thu 10 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
Mon 21 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.

Ross Williams
Thu 10 Mar 2005Link
Hey all. I just made my first post in the introduction section. Now it's time
for some questions. :-)

I'm in the post production phase of my first feature length documentary. I plan on
editing it all myself, but I'd like to have an estimate on what it'd cost to finish the
film right. I want to give the film the slickest feel possible on a minimal budget.
So I need good sound design and professional color correcting. Can anybody
give me a sort of round figure on what I'd be looking to pay for each of those?
Also what other services am I going to need to finish the film right?

I'm trying to put together a budget, so I can start looking for potential investors.

I've got more questions, but I'll save those for later.

Thanks in advance,
Ross

Doug Block
Thu 10 Mar 2005Link
budget for sound design - 0 to 10k, depending on the level of
experience you need (okay, i exagerate to make a point - figure a few
thou, minimally). but then again you don't distinguish between sound
design (which most docs don't have much of) and sound cleaning/repair,
which most docs need a lot of because their original sound sucks.

budget for color correcting - $150-300/hr (don't know what city
you're in)

btw, good luck finding investors for a first doc. if you find any,
please report back. i'd be very curious.

as for other post costs, there are a number of good books on
budgeting. try googling or check on amazon.com for the michael weise
books.

Kyoko Yokoma
Fri 11 Mar 2005Link
Hello,

My question is about licenses fee for music scores to be included in my first low
budget doc.

I want to use two jazz standard songs for about 1 minute each performed by my
friend in a party. So, I only need publishing right. They are owned by big publishers in
New York. Because I do not have any broadcasters on board yet, I would like to get
festival rights first with options for limited theatre run (Japan, US and Europe) and
DVD/North America and Japan. I am trying to use Canada's clearing system that starts
with an users' offer. I have no budget, but rather, I will have to raise budget according
to the cost, and I have no idea if it's gonna be hundreds or thousands or tens of
thousand. If it's astronomical figures, I will have to give up. How should I start ? What
is a good strategy?


By the way, I do have another music from a CD published in Germany. The score is
public domain classic. So, I need only master right for this. It's about 2 and half
minutes.

Any suggestions will be appreciated.

Ross Williams
Fri 11 Mar 2005Link
Doug,

Thanks for your answer. By "budget for color correcting - $150-300/hr" -
You mean for the hrs that the color corrector works, not the length of the
film, correct? What would your estimated time involved be for a 90 min film?

I'm working with a producer in Seattle right now. We'll see how the fundraising
goes, I'm sure it won't be easy. I'll keep everyone updated. And definitely let
people know what worked and maybe what didn't.

Doug Block
Fri 11 Mar 2005Link
kyoko, publishing rights can run from the hundreds to generally the
low thousands, but you should be able to clear it for festivals on the
lower side, i'd think. here's a great article (by a d-word member) on
music clearances:

www.holytoledo.com/clear_music.htm

ross, i meant hours the corrector works. and the hours it will take
for a 90 min film will vary according to how much correction you feel
you need (funny how the less money you have the less correction you
tend to think it needs). my film "home page" was 117 minutes when we
corrected it (later cut down to 102) and i seem to remember it took us
about 12 hours. hard to be precise because we were doing things like
titles at the same time.

Melissa Dopp
Sun 13 Mar 2005Link
Hi Tim,

You might want to look under the TOOLS section of Transom.org. Transom.org is an experiment in channeling new work and voices to public radio through the Internet. The TOOLS section includes info and guides covering the technical aspects of recording/ interviewing. There is a "Mini-Disc Guide" guide as well as "Remote Recording Survival Guide."

http://www.transom.org/tools/index.html


Kyoko Yokoma
Mon 14 Mar 2005Link
Hi, Doug,

Thank you very much for your information and the related article. It was the most
helpful and practical info I have received till now. I have read a number of music
rights related articles and some books and talked to researchers, all of which
explain the same things over and over, but none of them explain the real
procedures or actual $ amount. Thanks again.

Doug Block
Mon 14 Mar 2005Link
welcome, kyoko. denise ohio is a longtime d-word community member
and i agree it's a great article.

Sam Chance
Wed 16 Mar 2005Link
Hi all, err. I'm sam chance, struggling media student type in ol'
england and i am looking for opinions basically on the state of
documentary production at the moment in relation to digital tech.
From what i can tell so far people think that the market is gonna
become pretty flooded with all the new makers appearing through the
cheapness of broadcast quality equipment. Sorry could have worded a
lot better. I am also looking into how this is going to effect the
ethics of the documentary, e.g. how flaherty restaged a lot of nanook
of the north and if you kind find any examples of this nowadays

Well, that was a mouth full

Erica Ginsberg
Wed 16 Mar 2005Link
hey sam, we understand you just fine. yes the market is flooded and
this is both a good and bad thing - anyone can make a doc. not
everything is of good quality. but there are some very well made
docs made by lone filmmakers and edited in basements that couldn't
have been done years ago when the equipment was too expensive. not
sure that cheap equipment affects the ethics in and of itself (beyond
the ease of including downloaded elements in films).
restaging/reenactments/docudrama is neither new nor old -- will
always be an element in docs. one recent example you may want to
look at is story of the weeping camel.

Sam Chance
Fri 18 Mar 2005Link
So are they trying to do it like flaherty did in the 20's? I thought
he staged most of that?

Christopher Gallant
Sun 20 Mar 2005Link
About a year ago I started videoing my wife going through surgery for
a cancerous brain tumor. She recovered and has done very well. She's
the one who actually asked me to do the taping, saying that she wanted
it for our future children to see. She also thought it would help to
get me through the experience. I had alot of reservations, but I shot
quite a few things that have happened before her surgery and after,
during recovery. During this timke her father was ill and just died a
month and a half ago. I didn't shoot much of him during the 3 1/2
years I knew him, but there are pics and some footage. I'd like to
produce a documentary about their struggles and my observations of
their and my experiences. I don't want to have the piece be too sad.
There was humor in it all. Have there been other docs on similar
subjects, or is there anything anyone thinks I should read to help me
make some sense of this? I've already watched Judith Helfand's "A
Healthy Baby Girl". There's more but I don't want to make this too
unreadable. Any advice would be appreciated.

Doug Block
Sun 20 Mar 2005Link
sounds like a compelling film to me, christopher. particularly when
you mentioned there's a lot of humor. that makes a huge difference
when you're dealing with a potentially grim subject.

i co-produced a film called "silverlake life" about two gay men dying
of aids who kept a video diary of the last year of their lives. it
was hard to tell at the time what kind of film it would make but it
turned out very successful -- grand jury prize at sundance, premiere
program of that year's p.o.v. program on pbs, theatrical release in 80
u.s. cities, among many other highlights.

so i say... go for it! good luck.

Ray Wood
Tue 5 Apr 2005Link
If you are still around Christopher I would suggest you follow your
heart when it comes to the sturcure of your project. I have learned
in my brief time in this that the details might have to be slightly
over looked, think about how this will be you and your wifes story
the imagery is there already. Be prepared you may not be able to tell
the direction of your piece before hand.

Andrés Livov
Thu 7 Apr 2005Link
Hello,

as i'm starting to schedule the feature doc i'll shoot during this
year (my first one!) I would like to ask if anyone knows approx how
much time it takes to edit a film of the same characteristics
of "etre et avoir" or "story of the weeping camel" or "the chimera of
heroes".
The NFB recommend 10-26 weeks minimum, but i guess they have the
resources for that...

thank you!

Andrés Livov
Thu 7 Apr 2005Link
sorry, I meant 20-26 weeks minimum.

Marj Safinia
Thu 7 Apr 2005Link
Andres. it depends on how much footage you have, how easily and well
your story comes together, and how skilled the editor is. As a rule of
thumb, it usually takes at least twice as long as you would
anticipate. The more homework you can do up from in terms of knowing
your footage really well, having an idea of structure etc, the faster
it should make the first cut go, but after that, it's a process of
refinement and playing to get it right. Also, money is often a hurdle
that causes filmmakers to have to stop and start with editing, which
can drag things out.

I would anticipate nothing less than 6 months, and anything up to
12-14 months, if things go smoothly.

Steve Holmes
Fri 8 Apr 2005Link
Agree with Marj on twice as long as you budget. Also depends on the
style of the piece. Quick cuts = lots of time. I heard that, for a
rough cut, allow 1.5 hours per finished minute. Rarely make that mark
myself. Also, how disciplined are you? Willing to declare victory
when an edit decision is 90% of what it could be or do you have the
time and money to get it as close to perfection as possible?

Christopher Kadish
Fri 8 Apr 2005Link
Dear Filmmakers, (never understood why spell check doesn't like
putting "film" and "makers" together...)

In 5 weeks I leave LA in my little car to travel alone around the
country with a mini DV camera (I still have not purchased on
credit), some camping gear and an ass cushion. I am a man who has
yearned since childhood to make a film, and after 10 years as a
professional actor, I am finally doing it. When asked what my film
will be about, I say I don't know, and I won't know until I have all
of my footage. I will be interviewing people all along the way
asking them to tell me about themselves, their stories, how they
know or don't know what they "should do" with their lives, how they
have been influenced by family and friends and even God, if they
lean that way. This is my coming of age and that is a key to this.
It is my journey seeking my meaning, asking others about theirs'.
I am new at this, and do know I will need an all-inclusive
release form (documentary and feature film together). I am on a
budget of the lowest order right now (Vienna sausage and canned fish
any one?) and can't afford a lawyer's fee to make one. Does anybody
have a resource for such things? My good friend and documentary
filmmaker Jeff Chapman (rape in a small town: HBO) tells me its very
expensive and getting more and more complicated.
Since I don't know what this film will be exactly, I want to
cover my butt for both possibilities. I see it as a documentary,
but it may turn into something else. ie. filmming and recreating
one of the stories I heard or using my own family stories in fiction
form.
Please, if anybody finds it in their heart to share some good
advice, I am so very grateful and willing to hear it.
Thank you!
Christopher K.

Doug Block
Sat 9 Apr 2005Link
Christopher, if you're gonna make docs you gotta learn how to google
:-)

http://www.bus.wisc.edu/acrgender/documents/release.doc

Entertainment lawyer Mark Litwack has a very helpful website:
www.marklitwack.com

Best advice I can give you is to simply follow your heart. And
practice your shooting. Steady, steady, steady. You'll be fine.

Christopher Kadish
Sat 9 Apr 2005Link
thank you, doug. i'm doing oodles of googles. I'll check out your
links.
have a great weekend.

Ron Rice
Tue 19 Apr 2005Link
New to NLE...

Most of my editing experience was on Steinbeck and Moviola flatbeds. I
also spent a couple years cutting commercials on a A/B roll analog
video system. That was back before nonlinear editing took off
(obviously, I haven't been editing for a while).

So here I am, back in the edit room after a long hiatus, getting
started with my first NLE system: Avid XPress Pro. Did I make the
right choice? What NLE's are other documentary filmmakers using? Does
it matter?

-Ron

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