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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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Randolfe Wicker
Mon 15 Aug 2005Link
No problem. Just as long as things are fixed now, everything is
fine.

Tim Pearce
Thu 1 Sep 2005Link
Hi,

I'm a newbie Canadian filmmaker living for a while in Osaka, Japan. I
am shooting a no-budget documentary about my time in Japan (and then
India as well for an additional 8 months). My project in self-financed
(so far) and I hope to join with the National Film Board beginner
filmmaker programme for them to act as producers and possible
distributors after I return to Canada. This is my first production and
I don't know what to expect in terms of final use but I'm hoping for
at least some small festivals and maybe some very small canadian
release of some sort. I am the only crew member and I am in the midst
of contacting the Osaka city government for permission to shoot in the
streets, and also a train company about trains/subways. I send a DVD
copy of my footage that I want to use off the the city Film Council
and was told today that most companies or buildings would want a usage
fee for me to use my footage in my doc. I was told that at least 2
places would want 60000 Yen (about 550$ U.S.) each! This is way out of
my non-existant budget which for the most part has been used to buy a
camera and editing setup. My budget so far (mostly on equipment) has
been about 9000$US. Seeing as I have 6-7 locations like that, I'm not
sure what to do. Are usage fees standard for location shoots? Any
suggestions from people who have dealt with this issue? Thanks!!

Doug Block
Thu 1 Sep 2005Link
ahem, i'm no lawyer and, ahem, OF COURSE you should consult a
lawyer... but no, they're not standard. i've never paid a location
fee. just be as unobtrusive as you can and shoot it.

Randolfe Wicker
Thu 1 Sep 2005Link
It sounds like a rip off to me. I'm no expert. However, I've read
a lot of discussions and have had experiences with several
documentary makers.

From what they say, you run into all these "release" problems when
you try to get your final product broadcast on television. I gather
that "release" problems are not nearly such a problem when it comes
to getting film festivals to show your work.

I gather you are not in a position to "give" your work away. I
personally am going to try vlogging segments (five minute sections)
of a documentary I am working on to create interest and gather a
following. You can check out vlogging by looking at tutorials on
www.freevlog.org There is a great Yahoo Videobloggers Group.
However, you'll be buried in a hundred emails daily if you get them
delivered individually.

Maureen Futtner
Fri 9 Sep 2005Link
I imagine if I want to use stills of stories from a newspaper or
magazine, I certainly have to get permission to license rights to
that, right? Whom, or what department, would I contact at a
newspaper or periodical?

Thanks, as always, for being here.

Maureen

Doug Block
Sat 10 Sep 2005Link
In short... yes, you do. They may have a legal dept. or you could
try the editor in chief. Doesn't really matter. Just explain what
you're doing and ask for whoever it is you'd need to talk to.

Steve Holmes
Sat 1 Oct 2005Link
Michael posted: <<I am currently working on a documentary about an
Iraq war veteran, who shot his own video footage in Iraq, and has
since been speaking out against the war, including in the local
Binghamton, NY area, Crawford, TX for Camp Casey, etc.

Are there any grants or film financers interested in the current
political climate?>>

Probably so, but the potential for controversy might scare off a lot
of groups. I wonder if I heard right, that Michael Moore provides
funding for "leftie" kinds of shows.

One group that controversy won't scare off is ITVS
(http://www.itvs.org/), a funding arm of the Corporation for Public
Broadcasting. You can apply for a production contract (they don't
like the term "grant") on your own or join forces with a PBS
affiliate and go through the LInCS program.

You might try the Foundation Center's database search
(http://fdncenter.org/funders/grantmaker/index.html). Enter a
relevant keyword. The Center has donated copies of its core
collection of grantwriting books to libraries around the country.
Check the website (http://fdncenter.org/collections/) for the
collection nearest you.


<<I have a good fifty hours shot.>>

Have you put a trailer together, a three- to five-minute piece that
features your best bang-up, rockum-sockum material? That's your best
bet for funding: show 'em the story you have so far.

Michael Lieberman
Tue 18 Oct 2005Link
Thanks for those tips.

I'm kind of struggling with this political mess. I am indeed to the
left, but I'm doing my best to understand this individual from a
non-political standpoint.

In my opinion, the problem with the recent leftist films is that they
are not terribly cinematic. Perhaps not even films, but essays or tv
programs in a different medium.

They also don't look at the subjects and/or subject matter from a
"foreign" point of view, and by that I mean from the point of view an
outsider, not in the loop. Of course anyone in the left (or right) can
identify with some filmic gestures on the part of whomever is behind a
camera, as their political cinema eye and ear makes these notations.

I'm seriously trying to shed as much slant as I can, but not my identity.

And I will put a five minute piece together. I think a visual
explanation is far better than my huffy-puffy way of doing so verbally.

Again, thanks again for those tips. I will look into all of them.

Laura Harvey
Wed 26 Oct 2005Link
Hi I have been in video production/media services long time. Now I
want to start my own business and want to produce several
documentary videos and selling to schools and individuals. I am
not sure how to produce documentary, legal issues. Is there a book
or a place that I can read and understand the process? In my
hopefully documentary that actress in movies and TVs and i would
like to use some clips. How can I get them? fee? who right person
to contact about it? Thanks

Maria Vougioukalaki
Wed 26 Oct 2005Link
i think this is the right post to ask you guys(sorry if its a stupid
question...)
ok so i have to do my dissertation and i was thinking music
documentary..I looked up a lot and pa pennebaker seems to be the guy
for the job:p
what do u think ???Im not really fond of bob dylan or rolling stones
(sorry dont yell:p)but i do love the beatles and also monterey pop
looks interesting..Apart from that im a HUGE fan of electro pop any
suggestions for documentaries on that?Pennebaker's film on (my fave
group of ALL time)depeche mode though i havent watched seems more
like "greatest hits moments on a tour" than real documentary, what do
u think?
thx anyway:)

Doug Block
Wed 26 Oct 2005Link
it's actually d.a. pennebaker, maria (although i saw him the other
day and found out he's got 8 kids, so i guess he is a pa). anyway,
he'd be fantastic for your dissertation, imho.

Maria Vougioukalaki
Thu 27 Oct 2005Link
hey there doug!!
jesus im so ashamed of that(which makes really not informed on the
subject:(...)..thanx a lot!!!!
ps1:u actually know the guy???Could it be possible(maybe im too
optimistic) to contact him somehow??(wow 8 kids!!!)
ps2)what did u think about the depeche mode film???

Doug Block
Thu 27 Oct 2005Link
yes, you could contact him - do a google search, but i think there's
hegedus/pennabaker film company. he's a sweet guy, very approachable.
haven't seen the depeche mode film, alas.

Maria Vougioukalaki
Fri 28 Oct 2005Link
thanks again!!he must be sweet hes into music docs plus a father of
8!!!!
i have to rent it ha??maybe ill just buy it when/if i get paid...:(

Wilson Santos
Wed 9 Nov 2005Link
hi

i just joined this forum and found a lot of good info from reading
through the site. i have a couple of questions i'm hoping some one
here can help me with. i've never shot a doc before but have ideas
for several. i'd like to start asap but have no funds. no experience
with video as my background is film school.

questions
1. would it be best to buy a camera or rent for a first time outing?
if i buy, is the panasonic dvx-100a a good choice? is there anything
a little cheaper that can get the job done?

2. since i have no funds, but might be able to scrape up enough for
the camera, should i begin shooting in the hopes that more funds will
come my way? i have ideas for fund raising but i need to start
shooting my subjects asap.

3. is it difficult to acquire archived news footage from some of the
top networks? if not, is it expensive?

4. i'll have a very small crew of myself, a camera guy and a sound
guy. i don't have to pay either of them and i won't have to pay any
of the subject i'm interviewing. i don't think i'll be paying for
locations either. where will my expenses come from? what is it that
will cost me the most? is there an easy way to estimate the cost? i
will probably have to pay an editor unless i try and learn the
software on my own. i can provide my own original music no problem.

5. is there a standard release form for interviewees? if so, where
can i get a copy of it? if not, what should i include when i draft a
release form?

i know this is a big load. any tips would be greatly appreciated.
great forum btw

Robert Goodman
Wed 9 Nov 2005Link
1. Find a camera operator who owns equipment and convince her/him that
your project is worth doing.

2. If you are in the US, start shooting. Put together a trailer and
use that to raise money.

3. News footage from the networks is easy to acquire. It is also very
expensive.

4. If you don't pay people you'll need to cover their meals, travel,
hotel, etc. There is no easy way to estimate your costs. Don't learn
software - hire an editor who knows how to tell stories. If that isn't
in your budget - buy a book about how to tell stories - "Editing
Digital Video" (the one I wrote) or Walter Murch's book. Then get one
of the free software programs that does simple cuts and dissolves for
whichever computer platform you like.

5. There are standard release forms available on the web. Search.

Erica Ginsberg
Wed 9 Nov 2005Link
Assuming you don't need to travel for your shoots and you don't have
to pay your crew, your biggest expenses will likely be post-
production (editing, sound mix, color correction, getting rights to
archival, etc.) and outreach (website, postcards, attending
festivals, markets, etc.)

Wilson Santos
Wed 9 Nov 2005Link
thank you robert and erica for your insights. i figured the biggest
expense would be in post production. i am a music producer and work
with logic on the mac, so i can handle that aspect. robert you are
right, i probably wouldn't want to learn the software since i'm
already involved in so much else at the moment. do you know the going
rate for a video editor?

my project would rely mainly on interviews, shooting real time action
and some news archives, so i guess the bulk of the budget will be in
the archives. i'll look into it.

thanks for the advice.

Robert Goodman
Wed 9 Nov 2005Link
again - enlist someone to help you. Doc editors charge from $1500 a
week on up. Figure for every hour of footage, you'll need 2.5 days. A
rough guess.

Jamila Gaskins
Thu 10 Nov 2005Link
I'm sure someone has spoken of this, but I'm wondering about writing
query letter to a production company, the format, etc. I introduced
myself in July. I'm developing a movie about living with HIV/AIDS in
America. I just finished training for and running the Dublin marathon
to raise money for AIDS Project Los Angeles. This is my first movie.
I was wondering if anyone could point me in the right direction.
Thanks in advance.

Doug Block
Thu 10 Nov 2005Link
what is it exactly that you're looking for from this production
company, jamila? and why don't you try to arrange for a meeting in
person? i would think that would be much more effective.

Jamila Gaskins
Thu 10 Nov 2005Link
Doug,

I've never produced a film before so it's all new to me, budgeting,
crew, etc. I've begun my research and have contacts across the
country willing to help with the story, but I am in need of help
putting it all together. The person I spoke with at the company said
I should proceed with a query letter. But I'd love a meeting
instead. I agree it would be much more effective.

Ross Williams
Thu 10 Nov 2005Link
I'm editing a personal documentary right now... when I began shooting
it, I didn't have much plans of trying to get it released or
anything, but as it's coming together I think I'll at least try to
show it at festivals... and if it all works out, I'd love to sell it.

Since I wasn't planning ahead for that I didn't get release forms
from any of the places that I was shooting. (I did get some release
forms from people that I knew I wouldn't be able to track down again.
And plan on getting release forms from my friends and family that
appear in the film.)

My question is, what sort of legalities are behind the places that I
shot. The majority of it takes place in our old apartment?... will I
need to get a release from the owners. My biggest concern is the
hospital where we shot some footage?... If I don't tell the viewer
where we are exactly and never have any identifying features, do I
still need a release form?

Can anybody answer these questions or point me towards a website or
book that'll answer them for me?

I'm a newbie at the legal side of it, been shooting guerilla style
for years.

Thanks!

Doug Block
Thu 10 Nov 2005Link
i'm not a lawyer but... i don't get location releases for my docs,
personal or otherwise, unless it's a really obvious place (say, yankee
stadium, disneyland) that would sue my ass in the blink of an eye. do
get releases from your friends and family. like, right away.

www.marklitwack.com is a good site for legal stuff.

Marc Maurino
Fri 30 Dec 2005Link
hi there, i'm afraid this may have been asked before but after some
fairly extensive searching i can't find if it has or not. i'll be
shooting a short doc that will be some talking heads, some action, not
too much big landscape, some handheld stuff. my ultimate goal is film
festivals and public television, and i'm shooting on one chip mini DV.
do folks have any opinions on shooting 16:9 vs. 4:3? I think
widescreen (16:9) looks so much better, and I imagine it would be more
appropriate for television also. (PS I'll be editing in FCP.) Any
opinions are greatly appreciated. Thanks.

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