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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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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!

Christina Frederick
Sun 10 Jul 2005Link
Thanks Doug.

That's impressive that you edit your wedding shoots on the spot. (22
years of experience can't hurt!) Maybe the structured nature of a
wedding day helps, but I find that with most things I've worked on, I
really have to shoot and shoot and shoot to get the few moments that I
need and then really have to review everything at least once or twice
to make edit decisions. I should probably try to shoot a few short
stories in cam like that, what a great way to train yourself to see
the key points plus scene details of the story happening. Do you have
some kind of mental checklist of elements to capture, or discuss it
with your client beforehand? I imagine it's your talent plus
experience that gives you the confidence to make decisions so quickly,
and feel confident that you're capturing the moment even when you're
getting a "b-roll" shot away from the key players...

Also, how do you avoid having people react to the camera on a scene? I
often get people "jokingly" putting their palm up to the lens, or
mugging, or making an "oops" face and running to get out of the way...
do you ask people to ignore the camera?

I'm going to be helping my mother move out of her house where she's
lived for 35 years - was thinking of making that a personal project
this summer, to get her to look at her personal artifacts before she
packs them up, and describe their meaning to her, her history, her
life. Maybe that will be a good opportunity to try this in-cam editing
out!

How exactly do you edit in the camera? Do you take a few moments to
review tape after you shoot a sequence, and cue up to your next cut?
Or do you just edit your trigger finger, collecting all video
snapshots of the action as you go? What kind of cam do you shoot these
with?

I'm really awestruck that you can edit such a long piece on the fly.
Humbly prostrating at your feet! ;-) Thanks for sharing your time and
knowledge with us less experienced folks. This forum is really a godsend.

Doug Block
Mon 11 Jul 2005Link
hey christina, just got back from yet another wedding, so i'm kind of
tired, but if i don't answer now, probably won't get to it once
editing resumes tomorrow on my film (about my father moving from the
house i grew up in after my mother's death a few years ago, so a bit
similar to your idea, but i'm a little further along).

it's hard to advise people how to edit in camera. mainly, you have
to listen real hard, have a sense of editing, and a LOT of camera
experience. but it's also a lot of fun. don't think i could shoot
weddings as a side gig if it weren't for the challenge involved.

i do use my trigger finger as the chopping block. the on/off button
makes the edits as i go. i move around a lot, change angles a lot, do
a lot of combination pans and zooms. it's very zen-like, very
instinctive.

as to how to get people not to wave to the camera, i don't use a
light on my camera if i can possibly avoid it. my camera is a canon
gl-1, so it looks like a camcorder and lots of people bring camcorders
to weddings, so people usually think i'm just a guest. i try to act
really low key, never try to call attention to myself. and if they do
start to notice the camera and wave, i turn and walk away.

hope that helps. practice helps, too ;-)

John Philp
Thu 14 Jul 2005Link
Hi All,
Quick question. I'm making a yoga doc. One of my main characters is a
controversial yogi. I've shot stuff of him hosting a yoga
'championship', giving a lecture, and doing a five-minute interview
with us, all at public events where we were a credited film crew.

Problem; He has not signed a release. And while trying to get a sit-
down interview with him, his people suddenly said he's 'under
contract' to another doc and can't be in mine. Where does this leave
the earlier footage I shot, in your estimation?

John Philp

Doug Block
Fri 15 Jul 2005Link
probably leaves it sitting on your shelf, john. certainly don't know
any broadcasters that would air it without the signed release.

Garry Carter
Wed 3 Aug 2005Link
Anyone know how to get the technical requirements for the Discovery
Channel(s)? There is a login area at
http://producers.discovery.com/pmd/PMDHandbook.nsf/ but this is
for "contract" producers only. The information I seek is benign but
doesn’t appear to be published anywhere. Thanks.

Robert Goodman
Thu 4 Aug 2005Link
you could call them and ask for a copy. Though I would suggest you
really only need the details when you have a deal and a show to deliver.

Randolfe Wicker
Sat 6 Aug 2005Link
I have a question about filming on the street. I've seen
announcements by an MTV crew at a Staten Island Gay Pride Fair in a
public park notifying people that they might be filmed.

I put up such notices while filming at a similar event in Brooklyn.

Somehow, (probably because of my small camera) I managed to shoot some
film (getting verbal and signed releases) at an S&M street fair in
Manhattan.

However, the most fascinating thing I captured was a "public" humorous
"live" mummification. One fellow wrapped a 25-year-old "twinkie" in
saran wrap and shaving cream, then invited onlookers to hug him, cane
him, whatever--for which they would have to make a donation to a group
defending sexual freedom.

Various men and women caned him, hugged him, whipped him--and one even
spit a stream of water into his open mouth. Some of the males were
dressed in leather.

I learned later that MTV and some other video units had "pleaded" to
be allowed to come and film but were refused. The street fair was
technically "public". However, they had an entrance where a
"suggested donation of $5" was collected.

What risk would I take in editing this footage into a freely
distributed vlog?

Doug Block
Sun 7 Aug 2005Link
I'm no lawyer and you should really run that by an entertainment
lawyer specializing in new media. My guess is it's fine, especially
if you're not getting a lot of hits on your vlog. But the more
popular it gets, the more it could become a potential issue.

Randolfe Wicker
Sun 7 Aug 2005Link
Then becoming involved in this new venue of vlogging just might put
you on the "ground floor" mapping out the new legal and social issues
involved.

I can only wonder what those who "work" at making documentaries and
struggle to ear a living doing it think of people who essentially give
their work away through vlogging?

Actually, I see vlogging as a truly democratic playing field when it
comes to video competition. You don't need a lot of financing or
intermediaries to vet your work.

You don't have to package your work to fit certain standard formats.
All you have to do is produce something that attracts an audience
and/or provokes controversy.

For that matter, once you have succeeded in attracting a following and
establishing a name, you should be able to grow from there into
commercial venues if you so wish.

Doug,thanks for the comment. The key words were "entertainment lawyer
specializing in new media".

Doug Block
Mon 8 Aug 2005Link
i think vlogging is pretty exciting, actually. if i had the time and
energy, i definitely do it - don't see the downside at all. but i
think for one to be successful you not only need talent as a filmmaker
but a really keen marketing sense. or agressive linkmaking, at least.

good luck, randolfe.

Jasmine Adams
Mon 8 Aug 2005Link
Legal Issues.

I'm considering a documentary on teenagers who are acting out and
engaging in behaviour that is generally deemed socially unacceptable.
Where so I stand on this leagally? As they children are minors I
assume that the parents will have to sign the release forms...however
I am caught on how, exactly, to represent myself to their parents.
The whole point of the doco is the actions and behaviour of these
children that the parents don't know about.

I know doco makers have been caught on this in the past, so hopefully
someone here may be able to give me a heads up on exactly how to
approach this.

Erica Ginsberg
Mon 8 Aug 2005Link
Would recommend you take Doug's advice given to the vlogging question
above and consult an entertainment lawyer. You might also contact
the filmmakers of several films which have dealt with "minors
behaving badly" to see how they dealt with this slippery slope.

Doug Block
Mon 8 Aug 2005Link
ditto what erica said. you do NOT want to proceed too far without
good legal advice. be very careful with minors (and their possibly
outraged parents)!

Randolfe Wicker
Mon 8 Aug 2005Link
Doug, you suggest "aggressive linking". Are there some good resources
for learning about that.

I have heard that one should link to "anything" or "anyone" who links
back to you. In the past, I was very judicious about whom I linked
to. I felt a link on my site was almost an endorsement.

Is there a particular book or series of articles which lays all of
this out? I have two websites but am unable to do anything with them
since the fellow who used to work with me on the computer left.

Doug Block
Tue 9 Aug 2005Link
just google on "vlogging"...

Randolfe Wicker
Tue 9 Aug 2005Link
I've done that some time ago. I've found helpful tutorials at
freeblog. There seem to be groups of vlogger who link to each other
to build traffic.

I was wondering if there are any specific resources as to "linking
stragedy"--whether selective links are better than unselective ones, etc.

There was a "counter" on a very excellent vlog, "vlog of a faux
journalist", and I was surprised at how little traffic her site received.

You can get a sampling of hilarious comedy with "the message" at
http://www.jonnygoldstein.com/2005/08/06/yanni_goldthtein_holithtic_healer_holithtic_videoblogging.php

Steve Holmes
Tue 9 Aug 2005Link
Randolfe:

Are the people in the footage identifiable? Some folks might not
want the world to know they went to an S&M fair. I'd be very leery
of using footage that features identifiable people unless releases
were signed or faces are obscured just enough to cover you legally.

As to running this by an entertainment lawyer, do a Google search
for "Lawyers for the Creative Arts" to see if it has someone working
in your area.

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