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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
Thu 4 Jan 2007Link
I would write a letter that states pretty much what you described in
your post, Don. And I'd let them know that if they don't appear on
camera to defend their position, you'll be left only having the other
side represented. I see nothing wrong with telling them where your
sympathies lie, but emphasize that you want to be fair, not have the
film be a Michael Moore-like screed.

Gary Parker
Fri 5 Jan 2007Link
Hello Doug and Erica,
First of all, thanks for all the advice you so freely give. Thanks
to Erica for the info on the Garrett Scott Documentary Grant. I will
be applying for the grant.
I have been away, in Ohio, for a few months. I am working on the
aviation documentary about Charlie Taylor. He was the man who built
the engine that made it possible for the Wright brothers to fly. I
am also planning a video shoot with Wright State University sometime
in February or April. This video is separate from the documentary.
We will be taping in HDV. It will be an period piece interview
taking place in 1948. The author/historian of the Taylor book will
portray Charlie Taylor and I will be the reporter. I discussed the
editing process with a university media producer and he stated that
they have Final Cut and Adobe Illustrator. Which do you prefer or
what other editing program do you use.

Doug Block
Sat 6 Jan 2007Link
I use FCP, and a lot of filmmakers still use Avids. It's usually one
or the other.

Gary Parker
Sat 6 Jan 2007Link
Thanks Doug, I'll take a look at both products. I believe that
Wright State uses FCP for most of their work.

How have the screenings for 51 Birch Street been going?
Successfully, I hope. I sent an e-mail to Copacetic about getting
information for showing 51 Birch Street here in Sacramento, but
never received a response. What kind of information do I need from
you to have 51 Birch Street shown in Sacramento, Ca. They have two
theaters here that show documentaries, The Crest and Tower theaters.
If you can send me some information, I can contact both theaters to
see if they will be interested in showing it. I have also been in
contact with another producer here who will be showing his first
documentary film in Davis, which is just up the Interstate from
Sacramento. His film is about recovering MIA flyers from WWII. Check
out the trailer at http://www.BentStarProject.org/.

Doug Block
Sat 6 Jan 2007Link
Gary, sorry about not responding - I travelled a lot in Decmember and
have gotten ridiculously behind in answering email.

It would be great if you could contact those theaters. Would be
easiest to direct the programmers there to our website, which has a
trailer, reviews and all sorts of info about the film:
www.51birchstreet.com

Screenings for 51 Birch Street have gone great. We're still showing
in New York City, 11 weeks after opening there, and the NY Times lead
critic, A.O. Scott, named it one of his top ten films of the year.
We've already shown in about a dozen cities and have at least another
dozen lined up and counting.

Gary Parker
Sat 6 Jan 2007Link
That is fantastic news. I'm really happy for you. 11 weeks!! Even
the big money pictures don't last that long. I'll contact the
theaters and get the information to them. I've told everyone that I
come in contact with about 51 Birch Street. Hopefully, we can get a
buzz going here and have a showing in Sacramento or Davis. If you
are not familiar with the area, Davis is a college town (University
of Davis). I'll see what I can do to stir something up.

Steve Holmes
Sat 6 Jan 2007Link
Don:

I agree with Doug's suggested approach to the people responsible for
the theater's destruction. There is no statement more damning to
them than "no comment."

As a fan of drive-in theaters, I share your pain. Your town's
experience is far from unique.

Gary Parker
Sat 6 Jan 2007Link
Hi Don,
I'd do what Doug suggests. Give them the opportunity to tell their
side. If they give the "no comment", you can mention that in the
documentary. Steve is right. Check out http://www.16right.com/. It
is a site for a documentary about the closing of small airports
around the country. This one in particular is about Van Nuys airport
in California. Click on "One Six Right the Movie", and then click
on "Video". You can see the "opening sequence", "flight", and "Look
Ma - No Hands!". This might give you some ideas on what you want to
show in your doc. We are about to lose our last drive-in complex
here in Sacramento. They plan to put an indoor multi-screen building
in its place. Good luck with your project.

Don Dobrez Jr.
Thu 11 Jan 2007Link
Hello All,

Thanks for your wonderful comments! I typed up my letters and sent
them all off last week. Needless to say, I haven't heard any
responses yet, but that was to be expected. I am still hopeful that
at least one of them decides to do it.

I do have another question if that's OK. The local (Chicago) news
stations all did extensive coverage of the drive-in fight and I am
dying to get permission from them to include some of their footage
in the documentary (especially since I didn't start work on my film
until AFTER the final vote was taken to kill it). How is it best to
approach them? The only station I tried to email was the local ABC
affilate and I got a curt response "We don't do that" (that is their
direct quote, I swear). Don't most local stations have rights that
can be purchased to use their footage if properly credited? And how
do I go about asking?

Thanks again for the help. For anyone interested you can check out
my website at wondersense.com for more information and updates about
this documentary.

Don

Steve Braker
Thu 11 Jan 2007Link
Don, I would say that if you feel you need their permission you
should make direct contact with somebody in production. You may do
well with their ad or outside production departments, who would have
access to the footage and understand the concept of dealing with the
outside world.

Failing that, there is probably a wayt you can work this in as fair
use. The presentation may not be the way you envisioned it, but there
may be a media-covering angle that will at least get the footage in.

Doug Block
Thu 11 Jan 2007Link
i would speak to an entertainment lawyer about a fair use argument,
and about rights clearances in general. but in persuing permission
from the station i wouldn't talk to people in production but the
general manager or someone who actually has the authority to license
footage.

Maria Yatskova-Ibrahimova
Sat 3 Mar 2007Link
is this thread still open?

Doug Block
Sat 3 Mar 2007Link
only open 24/7, 365 days/year...

Maria Yatskova-Ibrahimova
Sun 4 Mar 2007Link
good, i wanted to ask for some kind of sensitive advice: I feel like
even though my film has already shown in Berlin, it could use more
editing work, however, there aren't really time and resources, and i
don't think i could do it alone. perhaps if i had a really clear
picture of what i needed to do, i could find the time/resources, but
otherwise it seems like a waste. so i guess the question is, since
it seems to be "good enough" should i leave it alone, or should i
find a way to make it better, although, how, i don't know... a new
editor, which will be hard, no one wants to fix other peoples stuff,
or a consultant, which is expensive and not really a sure thing,
it's just one persons opinion, and then what if i start chopping and
i make it worse...does that make any sense?

Doug Block
Sun 4 Mar 2007Link
maria, happy to answer that here, but, being an active d-word member,
odd that you didn't post it in the professional community - this is
the public forum geared for non- filmmakers or those just starting out
in the field.

i would never tell anyone to settle for good enough. the best money
i ever spent on my first film (and second and third) was to pay the
best editor i could find to be a consultant. a really good one will
give you very specific suggestions about how to "fix" your film after
one screening. you'll likely find you're much closer than you thought
and it might only take one or two days of consulting to make the
changes you need.

you might also hold a screening for a few trusted people (not
necessarily filmmakers) and get feedback. again, you'll probably find
you're not far away. it's highly unlikely you'll make it worse. and
if you do for any reason, though, simply go back to what you have now.

but whatever you do, DON'T SETTLE!

Maria Yatskova-Ibrahimova
Sun 4 Mar 2007Link
thanks doug, i couldn't figure out the appropriate place to post -
plus, sometimes i post and i don't get a response, and this was
sensitive so i wanted to be sure i'd get one. and i was here reading
old topics and this place called out to me. :)several trusted people
have seen it, both filmmakers and non-filmmakers, and say the
beginning is a little slow. and i know this. but i'm spent,
creatively speaking, i don't know what else to do with it. and i'm
getting suggestions of things that i've done before and they didn't
work. so, who, doug, who, can i go to? please please recommend. i'm
at my wits end. it really tortures me. especially since i'm not
technically working right now, just doing research and being mommy,
so its constantly buzzing in my brain.

Doug Block
Mon 5 Mar 2007Link
hmmm, where are you based, maria?

Maria Yatskova-Ibrahimova
Mon 5 Mar 2007Link
normally new york, but right now i'm in baku azerbaijan, and i have
two producers in NYC currently...how come? if need be, i'll go
anywhere.

Doug Block
Mon 5 Mar 2007Link
well, if you come back to nyc, i highly recommend mona davis, who was
consulting editor on my last two films (and edited "love and diane",
among many other credits). she was amazing, particularly on "home
page", where she gave very specific last minute notes that were
critical. i'll email you her phone number.

added bonus, when you're back you can get a free cup of hot java and
consult (like, alternative career advice) with yours truly ;-)

Maria Yatskova-Ibrahimova
Mon 5 Mar 2007Link
awwwww shucks! that's really sweet. i would love that! thanks for
contact info on mona davis. i can get the wheels rolling there. what
do people like that charge normally? like a ballpark figure...

Doug Block
Mon 5 Mar 2007Link
top editors start at $2500/wk, so you can figure out the day rate.
and you'll probably need no more than a half-day consult, which is
pro-rated.

Alisa Katz
Sat 10 Mar 2007Link
I'm new to this forum so I'm not sure if this is the right place to ask,
but i am about to embark on my first doc. Heading to europe for 1 week
to research for subjects and to get footage for a marketing trailer so I
can go raise funds. 2 questions: 1) HD or DV? my doc colleagues say HD,
while my pocketbook says DV. 2)I have a dp i like and has tons of doc
experience both directing and shooting and who has an HD package, but he
is asking $2000 for a weeks kit rental (deferring his time costs), plus
I will need to fly and put him up for the week. For that kind of money
should I invest in my own camera, and either shoot myself or hire a
local? Need to decide asap and head is spinning. Thank you.

Steve Holmes
Sat 10 Mar 2007Link
Initial gut feeling: It depends on your finances. Yes, the world is
moving in an HD direction and I sometimes regret not starting my
latest project on HD. But I've come to realize, through hard-won
experience, that it's damn difficult to make any money, to even make
back expenses, doing a doc and that the best way to lose the
smallest amount of money is to keep expenses as low as possible.
Business 101, but I had to learn the hard way. When I'm weighing an
expense, I ask myself how many DVDs I'm going to have to sell to pay
for that budget item. Helps keep me focused.

I just did what you're doing: go overseas to research a doc and
shoot material for a trailer. I hired someone local, based on a D-
Worder's recommendation, and it went well. I've taken my own DP on
long-distance shoots before, but that was when I had a much rosier
and naive view of doc finances. If you have footage already in the
can that matches the style you want to use, bring it and show it to
the local DP so he or she knows what you want. Others may advocate
bringing your own DP, and if you are Bill Gates's heir, I'd agree.
But if you're not, how many DVDs will you have to sell to pay for
the DP's package, airfare, lodging and per diem? Lots.

Robert Goodman
Sat 10 Mar 2007Link
do you have shooting experience? Have you made other films? If not,
you are better off hiring someone to shoot for you. As for HD - what HD?
HDV - if so, don't bother. DVCPROHD? - perhaps you should buy a HVX200
for $10,0000 and pay someone on a deferred basis to shoot for you.
HDCAM/HDCAM SR? - This might be a great deal to gather very high
quality footage for a reel to raise money.

DV - the story had better be so damn good the market won't care 3-8
years from now that you shot it on a dead 4:3 tape format in a world
gone 4K high def in 16:9.

Alisa Katz
Sat 10 Mar 2007Link
Thank you Steve and Robert, ideally I would shoot myself, but dont
trust my shooting skills just yet. I am waiting to hear back from a
production manager oversees to see what is available on the local
front. But I am just torn between comfortably knowing that my DP is
onboard with what I are trying to accomplish and that I know the
footage will be good, especially for a marketing piece, and spending
too much to the point where I set a high priced precedent before I
even get any funding. The DP has a full HVX package, but not sure how
HVX can handle a full day of shooting as I think the drive and cards
he has can only accommodate up to 3 1/2 hours of shooting. You really
think HDV isnt worth it? As an aside, I was offered a free DVX 100b
for the week, but again, there is that DV vs HD question. Steven, Out
of curiosity, how much did you end up spending for your recent trip/
shoot?

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