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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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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:
good luck with the film: "moving but also humorous" is always a great

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

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

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:

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,

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 for the michael weise

Kyoko Yokoma
Fri 11 Mar 2005Link

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

Any suggestions will be appreciated.

Ross Williams
Fri 11 Mar 2005Link

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:

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 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."

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

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
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?

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