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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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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?

Steve Holmes
Sun 11 Mar 2007Link
DP in Tokyo was $1900 for three half days, I believe. My records
aren't in front of me. The rest was airfare, lodging, meals, the
regular travel expenses. I agree with Robert that if you can do HD,
do HD. Have you priced out the difference?

Robert Goodman
Sun 11 Mar 2007Link
2000 for a week's rental of an HVX200 is way too high.
Any rental house in NY or LA would rent it to you for 900 for a week.

Steve Holmes
Mon 12 Mar 2007Link
Sorry if I made it sound as if it was just camera rental. It was not
just the camera, but a two-man crew with audio and lights package
and a vehicle. Still wish I could have done better, but I didn't
know the language or have any contacts besides the crew recommended
by a D-Worder.

Alisa Katz
Mon 12 Mar 2007Link
Thank you both again. I am rethinking my plan as this will be my first
trip of what I deem to be at least 1 or 2 more in depth ones. And
being my first time as a director, I will try to coordinate a local dp
with an HD package to be on standby out there, and save myself the
cash for when I know exactly what I need. Rather than having a pricey
dp the whole week that I will be anxious about getting my money's
worth from. In the meantime I was thinking about purchasing the new
Canon HV20 HDV (for about 1K) to bring with me as a 'back-up' for
research, which I hope will relieve that 'wish I had my camera'
feeling on the days that I am dp-less, realizing it wont be the best
for the major interviews as it is only 1 CMOS, but could be great for
some research and filler shots that I wont require matching. Does
that sound like a good plan in your professional opinions?

Steve Holmes
Tue 13 Mar 2007Link
Alisa: Robert is the camera expert. I'd listen seriously to anything
he says.

Jennifer Ryan
Sun 25 Mar 2007Link
Hi, I'm looking for any and all advice about getting practical advice
& experience making docs. I've got 9 years experience as a journalist
(am in London now) and while I'm a total beginner as far as docs go,
I'd rather just get thrown in at the deep end rather than take a
course (is a course going to tell me that I'd love or hate this kind
of work? I think not.) Any thoughts would be most welcome. Thanks!

Doug Block
Sun 25 Mar 2007Link
J, with your background in journalism, you have a big head start.
Might help to read a good book in the basics of documentary
storytelling, so you begin thinking about telling stories in images
and sounds instead of just words. Directing the Documentary by
Michael Rabinger is considered one of the best:

<http://www.amazon.com/Directing-Documentary-Fourth-Michael-
Rabiger/dp/0240806085
>

Would do you some good to read the conferences here, too.

Jennifer Ryan
Mon 26 Mar 2007Link
Genius, thank you very much! Jennifer

Doug Block
Mon 26 Mar 2007Link
Genius, yes. Glad someone finally noticed ;-)

Michaela Manson
Wed 2 May 2007Link
Hi,
I'm making a documentary film about an accordian festival and i've
contacted the co-ordinator about permission to film....do i need to
get permission from every individual who will be in attendance at
the festival or is there some sort of blanket permission form for
everything that i can get the organizer to sign?


it's basically just entirely DIY/Indie doc so what else should i be
aware of when making it? tips and tricks would help!

Thanks in advance!

John Burgan
Thu 3 May 2007Link
Assuming it's in a private location, post large signs at the entrance
(with the organiser's permission) stating that the festival is being
filmed for a documentary, not forgetting your company name & contact
details. Wording should include something like "Entrants consent to
being filmed and recorded by (****company name) for possible inclusion
in the documentary film (**** title)".

If in any doubt, consult a lawyer (especially if you're in the US)

Ross Williams
Thu 10 May 2007Link
Hi guys, I finished my documentary The Turning Point early this year and have since been trying get it into the festival circuit, but have been completely unsuccesful. I started by trying to get into the bigger festivals; Sundance, Slamdance, SXSW & Tribeca and wasn't too surprised by getting my extremely tiny film rejected by these, but now I'm also getting rejected by all the documentary and smaller festivals I've been entering as well. I've been rejected by about a dozen festivals now.

The film did play at my local festival, the Ashland Independent Film Festival, and was received very well. The reviewers that have seen the film have given it A to B grades. Other filmmakers that have seen the film all seem to like it. It's not a perfect film by any means, but I know that it is a good film.

I've seen so many terrible films, narrative and documentaries, at the same festivals that I'm entering, that I just can't believe that my film isn't considered at or above the same level. I think we're getting rejected because the film is so personal, while also not having anyone even slightly famous involved. (I feel like if Gus Van Sant stuck name on there, it'd be accepted into any festival in half a second.)

So I guess I'm asking for advice how to get into these festivals? Is there a trick I'm missing? Should I just give up and start trying to distribute it on DVD myself? (The entry fees are quickly adding up.)

Anything will help... I spent three years of my life putting this film together and the fact that nobody wants to show it is killing me.


Joe Scherrman
Thu 10 May 2007Link
I just watched part of your trailer. It looks very interesting. I
would like to see more. For some reason my laptop loads the first part
then seems to stop. It’s not just yours it happens all the time.
Pisses me off.
Are you selling the doc?

Erica Ginsberg
Fri 11 May 2007Link
Ross, not every film is a festival film, but that doesn't mean it's
not a worthwhile film. Festivals are not the be all, end all of a
film's life. They have numerous reasons for accepting or not
accepting films -- length issues, other films on similar topics
playing the circuit at the same time as yours, not thinking the topic
is sexy enough, or simply not getting the film. Rather than waste
lots of dollars continuing to apply, target your festival strategy at
festivals that have shown films in the same vein as yours. Heartland
Film Festival comes to mind since their focus is on films about
positive life values.

Whether or not you get into festivals, it appears you have started to
build an audience for your film through your MySpace page and other
outreach. So think about other ways to generate screenings -
microcinemas, academic conferences, public libraries, birthing
classes at hospitals, etc. It's a lot of work to do on your own, so
you may want to re-read the D-Word Conference on Outreach with Robert
West from a few years back, but it seems like there is a definite
audience for your film out there. It just may not be a festival
audience.

Ross Williams
Fri 11 May 2007Link
Joe,

I'm not officially selling the film yet. But if you're interested I
could send you a screener copy. If you want to send me $5 for DVD
cover, disc and shipping, I'd love to send you a copy. I'd just ask
for your opinions on the film in return. Email me at:
ross@eraticate.com if you're interested. (That goes for anybody else
as well.)

Erica,

Thanks for the encouraging words. My first short film was accepted
into over 50% of the festivals I entered and won a few awards, so I
guess I was just expecting the same this time around. I'll look
into Heartland Festival and start doing more research on the
festivals I do enter. Being a film about pregnancy and parenthood,
I'm definitely planning on looking further into those avenues. I
actually had a nurse from the pregnancy ward at our local hospital
tell me they'd love to get a copy for their new parents to watch.
So I'm hoping to get it seen that way.

I was just having a bad day yesterday, so I needed to vent a
little. I plan to read more about alternate ways of distribution,
but I'd love to get more advice if anybody has any.

Thanks!

Jennifer Jajeh
Mon 21 May 2007Link
{erased by jenjajeh Thu, 21 Jun 2007 05:41:26 GMT}

Doug Block
Mon 21 May 2007Link
Hmm, there's really no standard rate, Jennifer, given that it's
really unusual to have a doc financed beforehand. I'd ask why, if he
has full funding, you're not getting a full salary and he's asking you
to defer part. I'd be curious how much he's asking you to defer (as a
percentage of what he's paying, that is).

Dan Woolsey
Thu 7 Jun 2007Link
I'm wrapping up my first feature-length doc and am wondering if there
is any specific protocol about which credits are opening credits and
which are end credits andin what order for a non-union project.
Different films I've referenced seem to do different things.

-D

Doug Block
Thu 7 Jun 2007Link
no protocol, dan. but usually "directed by comes first", copyright
comes last and most important to least important in between.

Dori Smith
Sat 30 Jun 2007Link
I'm working on learning how to tranfer audio reporting into visual and to use some of the video I've been taking at events to create short features for news.

Where does one turn if he/she is an idea person and wants to team up with film makers to share the idea and develop it?


Doug Block
Sun 1 Jul 2007Link
dori, pretty sure most tv news is produced by staffers. are you
looking to put together a few sample news stories for a reel?

Robert Goodman
Sun 1 Jul 2007Link
except for all the video news releases run as news....smile.

Daniel Burns
Tue 3 Jul 2007Link
Subject: Start a non-profit, but what happens when we're done?

Through research on the internet, it looks like many documentarians
start a non-profit company for their film. Why is that? I assume it is
for getting grants, yes?

And what happens when they are done with the film and want to sell it?
Are they limited in any way under a 501(c)3?

Thanks!

Robert Goodman
Wed 4 Jul 2007Link
only if lightning strikes...

Erica Ginsberg
Thu 5 Jul 2007Link
Daniel, non-profit doesn't mean you are not allowed to make money.
It just means that anything above the cost of expenses has to be put
back into the non-profit. While the non-profit model can work for
some filmmakers, it is not a necessity. You do need non-profit
status for most grants, but you can do this through a fiscal sponsor.

And I am guessing that Mr. Goodman's comment relates to the fact that
very few doc films turn a profit anyway.

Robert Goodman
Thu 5 Jul 2007Link
yup. if you have the problem great. The real issue is that the set up
time for a 501c3 and the costs are major.

Eamon Ronan
Thu 5 Jul 2007Link
Hey all. I'm new to this forum thing so forgive me if my questions
seem a bit juvenille. I am creating a documentary for National
History Day, a nation-wide contests where students in grades 6-12
research a specific topic that relates to the annual theme and present
it. I'm not the best with technology, so here is my question for you:

What editing software should I use? I have both a PC and a mac at my
house, so I can use all different types of software. Do you think that
final cut express will be sufficient for this project? That's what I
was planning on using, since final cut pro is a completely out of my
price range.

Any thoughts?

Erica Ginsberg
Thu 5 Jul 2007Link
For what you are doing, Eamon, Final Cut Express should be completely
sufficient. In the case of most software, you can also probably get
an educational discount. You may also want to ask some of the
students - I'd be willing to bet some of them have some sort of low-
cost editing software on their home computers and are already pretty
adept at using it. The key thing you want is something that you can
edit nonlinear and can output to whatever media you to have to
present for the contest (I'm guessing a DVD).

John Burgan
Mon 16 Jul 2007Link
Agree with all that Erica says. There's a forum at 2-pop you may also wish to check out: DV for Teachers.


Ken Schreiner
Wed 18 Jul 2007Link
Howdy from smokin' Utah! I've tried several times to get going at D- Word since I moved here a year ago but something new always comes up. Good for business but bad for social networking. I've just finished a doc on Tibet- "Kora: Tibet and the Trail of Truth"- which premieres at the Action on Film Festival in Long Beach CA July 28. http://www.aoffest.com/show.html I've been doing this professionally for four years after 30 years in the TV news biz. I'm always open to advice and suggestions. And I'd like to help anyone any way I can and let everyone here know it's a great thing you're doing and we're all doing. This time, I mean it!


Dustin Ogdin
Tue 31 Jul 2007Link
Hi, I have a question about fiscal sponsorship. I actually have a fiscal sponsor for a film in production, ("shielded brutality"), but my question regards what happens once the film is distributed? While I'm not naive enough to think any big money will be made, what happens to whatever small revenue might be generated?

Suppose I were extremely lucky and got a television deal overseas or even through PBS. What happens to that money? Do I pay a percentage of "earnings" to my non-profit sponsor? Or, the more likely scenario... I sell the DVD's myself through my website and so forth. What happens to that money? What are my obligations? Does the fiscal sponsorship "end" once the project is finished? Thanks for any help, guys!

--------


Doug Block
Tue 31 Jul 2007Link
dustin, the fiscal sponsor typically gets 5 to 7% of whatever funds
come in to your project through them - ie. grants they apply for in
your name (such as NYSCA in New York State) or contributions that are
filtered through them for tax purposes. a fiscal sponsor gets not one
bloody cent of any other monies you raise apart from them or any
revenue you generate, unless you have a specific (much more atypical)
deal where they are helping you to raise money and take a percentage
of revenue in return. and, yes, your obligation to them ends when the
project is finished.

Doug Block
Tue 31 Jul 2007Link
jennifer, belatedly erased your promotional post, which belongs in
the classifieds topic, not the mentoring room.

Dustin Ogdin
Tue 31 Jul 2007Link
Thanks for your help, Doug. My sponsor actually is taking a very
modest percentage (4.5%) and has been great to work with (though I've
raised exactly $0.00 thus far). They certainly didn't ask for further
money, I was just wondering before I talk to some potential donors. I
know this is pie-in-the-sky thinking, but it's something I'd like to
know anyway. Let's say I find an individual donor who believes in my
project and decides to DONATE $25,000 (that's not even the
pie-in-the-sky part.) Then, all the stars align, something big
happens in the news regarding my subject and, voila, i've got a hot
property on my hands and make six-figures in revenue from DVD sales
(profoundly, profoundly unlikely, I know.) Now, won't that donor
think "damn, I donated to this guy who's now making real money from my
generous investment?"

Basically, I am just getting a feel for how to answer potential
answers from individual funders should they arise (not grant lenders,
individuals). I have a potential meeting with a business person and I
worry his questions could be of that ilk. It seems odd to ask someone
for a donation and then rattle on about my big distribution plans that
I hope generate some kind of revenue.

(Perhaps I should focus my energy on more likely scenarios than what
to do if I strike it rich making police brutality films, huh...)
Sorry to be overly long-winded.

Doug Block
Tue 31 Jul 2007Link
a donor is different from an investor, dustin. a donor is making a
contribution to help out a cause, and gets a tax break in the process.
an investor expects, or at least hopes for, a healthy return on their
investment.

Dustin Ogdin
Tue 31 Jul 2007Link
I realize that difference completely, doug, though I understand I'm
leaving a confusing impression. In short, I have a friend who will be
introducing me to a potential donor (not investor but donor) and my
friend (who has a background in for-profit video production and no
background in documentaries, non-profits, or philanthropy) was
bringing up all of these issues such as "how can this be a non-profit
endeavor if you'll be selling the DVD's 'for profit' once the film is
completed?" When you take a step back, that's a legitimate question.
Few other endeavors function this way (to my knowledge anyway). Most
endeavors are either non-profit or they aren't, end of story.

Thanks again, Doug. I promise I'm not as dense as things may seem...
I should simply quit while i'm ahead, here. I got an unequivocal
answer to my original question, after all, and I'm doing my best to
complicate things.

Doug Block
Tue 31 Jul 2007Link
your film is not a non-profit endeavor. you're just going through a
non-profit fiscal sponsor for certain kinds of fundraising. you can
easily mix private investment, grants, presales and donations, it's
done all the time.

Doug Block
Tue 31 Jul 2007Link
mind you, i'm not a lawyer. always best to consult with an
entertainment lawyer. you can contact volunteer lawyers for the arts
if you don't have the dough.

Dustin Ogdin
Wed 1 Aug 2007Link
Thanks, Doug. I appreciate your help.

Alain Martin
Tue 7 Aug 2007Link
Hello,

I'm new here and I got the most basic question of all i guess. I am
working on a short documentary. It's about Francois Macandal, a
runaway slave in the 1700's who organized the first major revolt
against the slave owning class in Haiti. The project is not going to
cost more than $5000 dollars(if my budget hits the spot). So that
basic question is where do I look for frunding for such project,
whom can I approach? (I was warned that for rookie filmmakers like
myself with no experience, applying for grants is out).

Thanks to all.

Erica Ginsberg
Tue 7 Aug 2007Link
Applying for grants is not out entirely, Alain, but it would help
your case if you could get a more experienced filmmaker on board as a
co-producer or at least as an advisor. $5,000 does seem a bit low
for a budget though.

In terms of looking for funding, start by looking at other films with
similar topics to see where they got their funding. Then start to
research those funders. You don't say where you are based. If you
are in the United States, you might find these suggestions helpful:
<http://docsinprogress.blogspot.com/2007/01/how-to-find-funding-for-
your.html
>

Alain Martin
Tue 7 Aug 2007Link
Erica, thanks for the advice, and yups, I am based in the United States.

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