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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
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

Skip Hobbie
Tue 19 Apr 2005Link
I'm only a student with a few films to my belt, but I'll chime in anyway. I've worked with
Xpress Pro and Final Cut HD, and I have to say that Xpress Pro is still my preference. I see
the trend amongst fellow students moving more and more towards final cut. With apple's
shake, motion and DVD Studio Pro programs all getting better and better, I think the way
FCP fits into that work flow is pretty appealling, but it probably comes down more and
more to personal preference. Avid is probably more intuitive to someone learning who
has an editing background, but FCP is more natural for people used to working with
computers. An example of this would be Avid's "bins" a film term, versus "folders" in final
cut.

Doug Block
Tue 19 Apr 2005Link
From what I've heard, their are passionate defenders of both systems,
so you certainly didn't go wrong, ron.

Laura Mchugh
Thu 21 Apr 2005Link
Hello,

At the moment I am completing my Dissertation which is researching
how well documentaries can be used as historical documents. I was
wondering if you would be able to tell me a bit about yourself and
the films you have worked on, and if you believe they are valid
representations of the subject matter. Also if you personally
believe they could be used as historical sources in the future.

I look forwarding to hearing your responses and your co-operation
would be much appreciated.

Thanks

Laura

P.S I’m a student at the University College Winchester, UK.

Erica Ginsberg
Thu 21 Apr 2005Link
Laura,

Others here may disagree but I generally draw a distinction between
documentation and documentary. Both can certainly be used as
historical resources, but the distinction is like the distinction
between a primary source and a book by a historian. The historian's
book and the documentary will always have a point of view, even if it
is representing a historical event or figure and captures all the
facts accurately. Because it is not just about the facts, but
how/when/where/who presents them. I produced a film called Crucible
of War which looks at postwar life in former Yugoslavia from the
perspectives of ordinary citizens. We aimed to get a good cross-
section of society in terms of nationality, gender, age, class,
profession, and life experiences. But no matter what, the film still
had a point of view by the very fact of the characters we chose to
keep, the interviews we chose to use, and our interest in documenting
their personal realities more than factchecking whether their stated
beliefs, memories, and experiences were accurate. Truth is elusive
in the Balkans anyway. No matter how balanced we tried to make the
film, in the end, the viewer will choose to see the film from his/her
own perceptions, experiences, beliefs, trusts, and distrusts. So all
this to say that a documentary, like a historian's book, can be
viewed as a valid historical source, but not necessarily in isolation
because it represents one point of view and cannot be objective.

Ron Rice
Thu 21 Apr 2005Link
Laura,

My two cents... as far as subject matter is concerned, documentaries
are secondary resources and should be treated like all other secondary
resources: books, journal articles, etc. One should not think of the
documentary film as a primary historical resource just because it
seems somehow more "direct". All documentaries are subjective.

HOWEVER, documentaries ARE a primary source in one respect. They
record the dynamic processes of reportage, storytelling, sense-making,
etc. It's important to study not just the content of documentaries,
but also how documentaries express that content, and how these
expressions are fundamentally linked to the socio-political conditions
in which they were formed.

-Ron

Skip Hobbie
Thu 21 Apr 2005Link
I agree with the above postings. You can look at a doc as a secondary source on whatever
its subject matter might be. OR you can look at a doc as a primary source about the
context in which it was made. Not a real michael moore fan, but for an easy example.
Farenheit 911 can't be taken as more than a very biased secondary source about 911 and
the bush administration, however it can become a primary source for the context in which
it was made. By examining Moore, his slant on things, how he was funded, why he reacts
the way he does, what was going on at that time, you can use the film as a window for
looking at the political climate of that time period. Thus the doc isn't a great historical
source about the events of 911, it is a great primary source about a school of politcal
thought and dissent that arose during that time period.

Maureen Futtner
Thu 21 Apr 2005Link
Hi, Documentary Mentors.

I have nearly all the footage for my doc, minus about 3 more
segments. I am at a stage where I'd like to cut a trailer (or at
least begin to think about it) - potentially to be used for funding. I
understand 3-5 mins. is the target length.
Can anyone give me some more tips on what to think about/look
for as I begin thinking about the trailer? Maybe that's too broad a
question, but I guess I'm trying to figure out to highlight all the
characters or highlight the plot or simply the theme.

Hope this questions makes sense. Thanks, in advance, for your
help. I really appreciate this forum

Maureen

Doug Block
Fri 22 Apr 2005Link
first of all, there is no target length for a sample (and it's a
sample and not a trailer that you're talking about). the most
effective sample i ever saw was 25 min. long, but that's an exception.
i'd say try to keep it under 10 minutes, but if it's compelling than a
longer one is fine.

commissioning editors will mainly want to see that you have
fascinating characters and a great story. if you can show an arc to
the story, better yet. in fact, the more it plays like fiction, the
better they seem to like it, in general. of course, some docs are
issue driven, not story driven, so those just need to be interesting
as hell.

finally, don't waste too much time at the beginning with music
setting a mood. they'll want to know within the first 30 seconds what
your film is about. the first minute of the sample is absolutely
critical. don't fart around with it - get to the point with some of
your strongest material.

Steve Holmes
Sat 23 Apr 2005Link
I wouldn't go as far as to complete the arc. As I recall with one
sample, I showed the beginnings of two or three arcs, took 'em a
ways and left 'em hanging. Goal was to raise more questions than
answers. "Then what happens?" "Fund the show and you'll find out."

Doug Block
Sat 23 Apr 2005Link
totally agree, steve. hint that you have an arc but don't complete
it. many filmmakers haven't shot the ending anyway before making the
sample, so it's not like you could if you wanted ;-)

Laura Scott
Thu 19 May 2005Link
I'm a first time filmmaker looking for a exec. producer/production
partner. I have a short list of broadcaster prospects for my one hour
TV doc on couple who have chosen to remain "childfree"(currently in
production) and I'm wondering if I should pitch this to producers
currently working with the broadcasters, and if they're interested,
let them pitch it to their colleagues or should I find a more
independent producer who doesn't have a stake in whatever broadcaster
we may end up with? Any thoughts, ideas on how I should approach this?

Doug Block
Thu 19 May 2005Link
laura, my guess is most producers working with broadcasters are
either staff, which means they generally don't take on indie projects,
or are working on a specific project of their own with them.
personally, i'd take it to an established producer who's worked with a
variety of broadcasters.

finding them and interesting them is another matter, of course ;-)

Laura Scott
Sat 21 May 2005Link
Yes, that is the trick. I have just begun to pitch it to "supplier"
producers who have worked with a number of broadcasters. It seems they
are pretty open to being pitched on projects that they think might
appeal to the broadcasters that they have relationships with. So far
two of the three I've pitched were interested enough to request
synopsis, tapes, budgets, etc. so we'll see.
For me the biggest challenge is finding someone who understands and
appreciates where you are going, creatively, with the project and is
on the same page with the marketing plan as well. Finding your
soulmate in the classifieds is easier by far ;-)

Doug Block
Sat 21 May 2005Link
that's why networking at festivals, markets and other industry events
is crucial. everyone looks to make contact with the various
commissioning editors but meeting other producers is just as
important, maybe moreso for international co-productions.

James River Martin
Sun 19 Jun 2005Link
{LINK NOT IMPORTED}: Steve Holmes {LINK NOT IMPORTED}:

"We better take this over to "The Mentoring Room." "

,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

I'm now 99% decided to break my initial project into two. The Big Idea
I had in mind was, to be done right, a pretty high budget operation.

I'm thinking of doing a very low to low budget thing, mosly on my own.
It would focus on "the resistance", mostly protests and demonstrations
... and some narration and/or interview material slipped in. The
footage would, theoretically, mostly come from others who were at the
events and happened to be equipped with a video camera. I'd play
writer-director-editor-producer. I'd write a grant proposal and have
it funded as a project of a non-profit org. I have connections there.
Then I'd have a start. A start which will help me to take on the
bigger project. Also, I'd have gotten access to important footage for
the Bit Idea project.

What do you think?

Steve Holmes
Sun 19 Jun 2005Link
Who's your audience? Has anything like this been done before? If so,
how will your project be different? Do you plan to include new
interview footage? I expect you'd want that to provide a frame for
the story.

James River Martin
Mon 20 Jun 2005Link
Who's your audience?

Well, the smaller initial project would have a lot of "the choir" as
an audience. That is, those who are hip with and grooving on the anti-
car culture movement worldwide (mostly English-speaking nations). The
audience would also be their friends and family, and people standing
on the edge looking in from out there: Curious folks.

"Has anything like this been done before?"

Not exactly, to my knowledge. Though other films are sort of similar.

>>> Back in a bit.

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