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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 20 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.

James River Martin
Mon 20 Jun 2005Link
"If so, how will your project be different?"

The docs I am aware of, and which are similar are either differently
or more narrowly focussed. There are one or two docs on Critical
Mass, there are docs which are critical of automobile saturarated
suburbia, and so on. I'd tell a similar story from a much different
angle and approach, the story of "the resistance" in the form of many
and diverse demonstrations and protests world-wide. To my knowledge,
it hasn't been done.


more in a moment.

James River Martin
Mon 20 Jun 2005Link
"Do you plan to include new interview footage?"

Probably. Almost certainly. But perhaps not.

"I expect you'd want that to provide a frame for the story."

I think you are most likely right about that. Nevertheless, I *might*
do something closer to a "Baraka" (Fricke) or "Koyaanisqatsi"
(Reggio) --- Not exactly, but closer(?).

One possible alternative way to handle it is to publish a booklet of
the same dimensions as the DVD, and that booklet could tell the story
in words while allowing the imagery and sound to stand independent.

I'm leaving a door like this open until I've lived intimately with
the footage and played with some editing and what not. I am both a
scholar and an artist, and if the artist takes the lead ... well, he
might want to go elsewhere than the direction the scholar might
prefer.

In any case, it is perhaps too soon to lock in a plan ... If I'm
going to be editing and all. I can work intimately with the material
and follow it where it wants to go, this way. The Big Idea requires a
pretty focussed script which is also flexible. But I think I'll do
something small before I try to do a half million dollar blockbuster.

Steve Holmes
Mon 20 Jun 2005Link
I dunno, James. If I see a bunch of people jumping up and down being
passionate about something, I want to know more about *them.* Their
issue becomes secondary. What drives, er, buses people to get worked
up enough to be part of the "resistance"? Why not sit home and watch
videos, or better yet, take a drive in the country? Programs with no
narration or interviews work only when the subjects can't talk. When
they can, I want them to do so.

As to your Big Idea, half a million is a lot to spend on any doc.
Unless it's one of the well-publicized exceptions, you'll never come
close to making back a tenth of that. With DV and editing on home
computers, shows can be done for far less.

James River Martin
Mon 20 Jun 2005Link
Your paragraph 1.

Well said, and good point.


Your paragraph 2.

I'm very much inspired by two wonderful docs called (a) Manufacturing
Consent, and (b) The Corporation. I've watched both many times,
making a study of them. And I've watched the Additional Features, or
whatever they are called, on the DVDs--The parts not shown in the
theatre. These were huge projects, with lots of people working on 'em
over a long span of time. I never did learn how much they cost to
produce, but I did learn that they were partly funded by grants from
the Canadian government! Those Canadians!

I wouldn't be surprised to learn that "The Corporation" had a half
mil or more budget, especially including promotion.

Of course, I can remain inspired by these films and shoot a little
lower. ;)


James River Martin
Mon 20 Jun 2005Link
What drew you into the world of documentary filmmaking, Steve?

Steve Holmes
Tue 21 Jun 2005Link
I lost a bet.

No, I went to journalism school at Missouri with emphasis on
broadcast journalism, worked in public television for a local
station in Kansas City and started my own company, which is always
on life support.

James River Martin
Fri 24 Jun 2005Link
I tell ya, there are some zippy images in my story!

"http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/06/0617_050617_nakedbike
rs.html
"

Kathryn Burg
Fri 1 Jul 2005Link
Does anyone have information on what sort of guidelines one should
follow when drawing up consent forms? I'm going to be shooting a
choir that's going on tour to England and Italy this summer. I
want to shoot mostly outside and inside the churches where they'll
be singing, although I will also be shooting the choir as they
take hikes and tour around the cities as a group. I know where
they'll be singing and where they'll be staying, but the tourist
spots will be on the fly. My crew consists of me (the recording
crew has requested separate informal permission from the
churches).

I was planning to send forms to the known locations in advance and
bring extras for the tourist spots. I've been told by the
directors of the tour that the churches might shy away from
signing official consent forms prior to filming (they may even bar
me from shooting at all), but they may be more open to it after
seeing the final cut. I'm planning to enter the final product into
film festivals, so I don't want to prevent myself from doing that,
but I don't want to scare anyone off, either. Any thoughts? Any
advice you could give or resources you could point me to would be
much appreciated. I leave in just under a month.

Steve Holmes
Sat 2 Jul 2005Link
Welcome, Kathryn! Not sure about sending the forms. It gives the
more paranoid recipients time to worry and stew. Forms can look
intimidating when people don't know what's going to happen during
the taping. Gut feeling is I'd send them in advance only if someone
requests them.

Why might the churches bar you from taping? Image concerns?
Preserving the sanctity of the concert? I saw a doc of a choral
concert tour which includes the concerts. Your best selling point is
you and your sensitivity to their concerns and the promise of a
credit and festival exposure.

As to the on-the-fly tourist spots, can you find out a few minutes
in advance where the group will be going, then go in and ask
permission first? Be sure to promise a "Thanks to" credit.

Will you have a release form in Italian?

Kathryn Burg
Tue 5 Jul 2005Link
Thanks for your thoughts, Steve! I get your gut feeling to not
send them in advance. Do you then think it's more appropriate to
ask them to sign the forms once I'm there in place or after I have
a cut to show?

Apparently, the churches sometimes take issue with the presence of
"equipment" during a solemn service. They have a legacy of
tradition backing them up (one is the staunchly traditional chapel
at Windsor Castle). I'll suggest tucking me and my camera out of
the way, but not too out of the way, if that's necessary. The
rehearsals are often a bit more interesting anyway, so as long as
I can convince them to let me shoot during those times, and at
services for at least some locations, I will live with it. And is
it true that I can use footage from a location without permission
as long as it's not recognizable?

For most of the tourist spots, I will know a bit in advance, so
I'll be sure to speed myself ahead of the group with form in hand
-- and polished sweet talking skills.

Luckily I speak Italian, so I'll be able to create a form for
those spots. I have a few English examples to work with, but if
you have any suggestions, or any links that might be good
reference, please pass them on. Thanks, again!

Steve Holmes
Tue 5 Jul 2005Link
Kathryn:

I would have them sign the releases at the taping site. If you wait
until you show them a rough cut of the show, some of them might balk
because of how they feel they're being portrayed. It might not have
anything to do with the content or tone, but perhaps as trivial a
concern as someone's Bad Hair Day.

<<And is it true that I can use footage from a location without
permission as long as it's not recognizable?>>

Under American law, you don't need a personal release if a person is
not recognizable. I have no clue about how Britain and Italy view
such things. It's a good idea to have a location release.

Maureen Futtner
Wed 6 Jul 2005Link
Hi, Documentary Mentors:

As always, I am grateful you folks are out here.

I am nearly done with production on my project, and even nearly done
logging, and am embarking on making a sample tape, then it's onto my
first assembly.

I am wondering at what point do I begin inquiring about licensing
rights for photos, music, footage I MIGHT want to use? Does one
simply wait until fine cut, or is it best to start putting feelers
out there now?

I don't plan to use a TON of non-original material, but there are a
few things out there that I definitely would love - including an R&B
song from the 60s, pages from an article which appeared in GQ
magazine, a clip or two from a FoxNews Talk show ... any wisdom as to
where, how and when I might begin inquiring about using this stuff?
I realize I could be way outta my league financially, but I'd like to
know just how far out I am. More specifically -
1. Do I go straight to the artist regarding the pop song? (if I can
find her)
2. Do I go straight to GQ and FoxNews? if so, which dept. do I
contact?
Thanks, in advance, for your help.
Maureen

Steve Holmes
Wed 6 Jul 2005Link
Maureen:

When you start asking about licencing rights depends on how much
material you have and how vital it is. The more important it is, the
earlier I'd ask. For the more marginal stuff, I'd wait until I had a
good idea that I'd be using it. No use spending a lot of time
inquiring about material that won't make the final cut.

Some of the material might be covered under "fair use," but it can
be a grey area. Not sure whom to contact at GQ or Fox. You might
check their websites. I suppose I'd go to the artist about the pop
song, but I'd look into fair use, too.

Christina Frederick
Fri 8 Jul 2005Link
Hi! I'm going to be travelling with a group of about 15 students from
a Caribbean island to NYC. We're shooting video of them (and they'll
be shooting video of each other) for a community-based documentary.
They are talented teen performers who have raised the money to travel
to NY to perform a show on Broadway that they have written and created
with Broadway professionals who are volunteering their time to the
project. We've been shooting their rehearsals and local performances
for months, and the kids will be filming each other's home lives and
families. Eventually we'll assist the kids in editing their own
full-length documentary of the experience and plan to market it to CPB
etc.

My question is about permits. The kids and I will be running around
the city for one week next month, doing touristy things, meeting
showbiz professionals, rehearsing and then performing. I'll be taping
on a Canon GL1 or a palmcorder, and the kids will also be taping each
other using small palmcorder units. I might have a light tripod with
me but that's the extent of the equipment we have. Do we need to apply
for insurance and NYC filming permits? I know we'll need releases from
recognizable people and interviewees, but -- will we need special
permission to film at city landmarks and in the theater where they're
performing?

Thanks so much. I did search the forum and the web but didn't find out
much about this topic as it relates to doc filming. Maybe no news is
good news?

Doug Block
Fri 8 Jul 2005Link
my feeling is... for the city streets, just go ahead and shoot. if
you're stopped, just say you're a film teacher and this is a class
exercise. worst that will happen is they tell you to move on.

landmarks and the theater are a different matter. if you want your
film broadcast, you'll need a release.

Christina Frederick
Fri 8 Jul 2005Link
Doug,

Thanks. The research I've done indicates that any recognizable
storefront or business would need a release. As for being a film
teacher, I guess I could stop in Chinatown and get a fake ID! ;-)

I'll check with the mayor's office about landmarks. Maybe they'll have
some leads on who to contact for things like the Empire State Building
, Rockefeller or Lincoln Center... or department stores etc...

Another related question - I wonder in general if it is advisable - or
more disarming - to have the teens ask business owners for releases,
or if it's a better idea to have an adult (me) make the request. And
when asking a business owner, is it a good idea to describe where the
film will be shown? In general, are people more apt to sign releases
when they get the impression the film is going to be shown once at 3am
on cable access in a foreign country, or when they think they might
appear in the next Farenheit 911?

Doug, enjoyed your weddings website by the way. I liked those clips of
the photo session in central park, where you're following the couple
from a distance but hear family members chatting in the foreground.
Did you mix that audio in or was that ambient sound from the shot?
Really nice, really feels like being there, adds a lot of depth and
character to the scene. Inspiring, as I have raw footage of my own
wedding that I'll someday look at and edit...

Mandeep Sandhu
Fri 8 Jul 2005Link
Hi,
I am an aspiring documentary maker. I have the idea and a rough plan
about the structure of the documentary itself. This documentary will
involve interviewing subjects as well as footage of locations
relevant to the subject. I have a sony trv33 digital camcorder.
1. Should I go start shooting footage and interviewing people with it
or do I need a professional quality digital video camera.

2 For sound I have a wireless mike that I can attach to camcorder
and a lapel mike clipped on the subject. I think the make is
lavalier. Will this suffice.

3. DO I need to register a non profit company for this project.
I plan to use footage to apply for funding later on. Also are there
any advantages froma tax point of view.

4. I could use some help with this. Ideally I would like a film
student, or someone in similar capacity, to work with me on this
project. Where can I scout for people like that.

I did try to read previous posts for answers to my questions but
could not find any. If answers to these questions have been posted
elsewhere please post a link and my apologies to repeat the question.

Mandeep

Doug Block
Sat 9 Jul 2005Link
Christina, I think it depends on the owner, you try to feel it out
when you talk to them, but I generally low key it. Try to make it
seem like it's no big deal, and the release is just for in case it
happens to ever get on tv. And I'd ask myself, not have the teens do
it.

Thanks for your compliments about my wedding clips (for those who
don't know, I shoot about a dozen weddings a year to support my doc
work). The audio in my wedding shoots is all done via a Sennheiser ME
63 mike mounted on top of my camera. I actually edit in the camera as
I shoot, and do it all as a one-man crew. For examples:
<www.dougblockweddings.com/video_clips.htm

Mandeep, in brief:

1. Don't know that camera well but you might want to start on it and
use your initial interviews to make a work sample to help you raise
money (to afford a better camera). In general, if it's not considered
broadcast quality, I'd wait, unless circumstances require you to shoot
an interview sooner than later.

2. lavaliers are ok for interviews but not for the audio for verite
footage. Look into a better directional mike.

3. No.

4. Put up an ad on Craig's List or Shooting People or some other list
serve.

Good luck!

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