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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
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

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
Fri 22 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?

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