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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
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
Fri 8 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

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