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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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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
Thu 19 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. 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

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

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:

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

Alain Martin
Mon 13 Aug 2007Link

Got another question. I followed Erica's advice and made me a little
list of producers who has made films like the one I'm looking to
make. Now my question is how do I approach these producers? Because
there was a time when I used to send e-mails to producers who never
heard of me from a scratch on the wall and they never answered.

-Alain Martin

Doug Block
Mon 13 Aug 2007Link
email is still best, i think. short and sweet with a link to your
website, if you have one. if they don't reply within a few days, then
a phone call is fine. another possibility is a card. no one gets
mail these days, so it might well stand out.

Alain Martin
Mon 13 Aug 2007Link
D-block, thanks.

Doug Block
Tue 14 Aug 2007Link
that's d-b-block, alain ;-) free year of d-word usage for anyone who
guesses what the middle b stands for.

John Burgan
Tue 14 Aug 2007Link
I know. am I allowed to win?

Alain Martin
Tue 14 Aug 2007Link
B...Brother?! I hope you know there's a rap group that goes by the
name D-Block, Doug.

Doug Block
Tue 14 Aug 2007Link
really? didn't know how cool i am, alain.

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