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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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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.

Alain Martin
Mon 13 Aug 2007Link
Guys,

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
Mon 13 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.

Michael Lieberman
Sat 25 Aug 2007Link
Hello,
My name is Michael Lieberman. I posted here a year or two ago when I
was in production of my documentary film "The Drift." At the time, I
posted fundraising and budget concerns/thoughts, which were quite
helpful.

I thoroughly enjoyed the Fair Use discussion, issues of which I am
currently dealing with and worried about. In "The Drift", many times I
interviewed the subject, an Iraq War veteran, as he was in transit (in
a car) or near his computer playing music. I never wanted to use the
music, but the interviews literally hold the film together. The Center
for Social Media PDF file was very helpful, but then I read
contradictory reports about other films where directors had to secure
rights for cell phone ring tones in the background. Where does the
truth lie about this? The total budget for this film was about as much
as it costs for a teenager's used car. What to do?

Another separate thought: In one scene, the Iraq vet made a video for
a class of his, using music from "The Simpsons" soundtrack and a
speech from Oppenheimer. Would using this, where the intent by the
subject of my film used it to further his ideas, count as me capturing
copyrighted media contact in the process of filming something else,
i.e. the reactions to his project?

I must add that this community is invaluable. Without it, I'd really
have nowhere to go for concerns I've had as a documentary filmmaker.

Much thanks,
ML

Efren Gonzalez
Tue 28 Aug 2007Link
Hello Dear Friends and Family of the Documentary community,

First of all I got a question. Any one familiar and or have worked
with Current TV?

We are an upcomming documentary production company/collective called
Transnational Productions based in Europe (at the moment London, and
South Germany). Our main goal is to make films concerning diaspora
and culture, eventhough we are developing new ideas as we go along on
a daily basis.

We also will like to approach filmmakers interested in contacting us
for possible working together etc... as we are open to
suggestions/share cooperation and already have a few contacts world
wide, which by the way it is the main reason why we appreciate this
site.

For example, one of our friends currently went to Thailand and Burma
to shoot a documentary and we provide her with contact information to
rent some equipment she needed for her to shoot there. We also need
some support in logistics as we can offer filmmakers our logistic
contacts.

We are developing different kinds of contacts from production to
commissioning editors. We will like to develop a contact list as we
go along so we can exchange our experience/expertise equally.

We are also in the process of contacting European networks
Commissioning Editors, a difficult task but non the less exciting and
very productive.

For more information and or comments, please feel free to contact us.

Efren Gonzalez
Transnational Productions

P.S. By the way, I hope this is the right place to write this email.

Doug Block
Fri 31 Aug 2007Link
Efren, it's only open to individuals, not companies, but you're
welcome to join our professional community: www.d-
word.com/community/join. Michael, you seem far enough along with your
experience to be eligible, too. You're far more likely to get answers
to your questions there.

Vincent Keith Lim Aquino
Mon 10 Sep 2007Link

Hey guys, kinda new here. Lol I'll just post the email question to save the flavor of the question:

Hi there,

I'm a high school student in the Philippines making a documentary on
the value of teenage love and the value of chastity. I would like to
ask for some basic advice on making a documentary. I'd be glad to
credit you for the advice in the end. =)

There's five people to interview, and I have couple of 1 CCD cameras.
The documentary can't exceed 12 minutes. Do you think it's a good idea
to make the documentary an entire interview? What about reenactments?
Do you have other ideas on how to make the documentary more
interesting?

Thanks for your time reading this,
Keith

P.S. Sorry for the informality of the letter, I happen to be very candid!


Christopher Wong
Mon 10 Sep 2007Link

Vincent,
The answer to your question is, as always, "it depends". If you have five people who give wonderfully poignant interviews with strong sound bites, they yes, you can probably go ahead and make the entire project nothing more than talking heads (e.g. Errol Morris' FOG OF WAR). However, if you have a character actually going through the struggle of remaining chaste, it might be more compelling to film him/her in the moment. I generally frown upon reenactments b/c they are so rarely done well (especially by first-time filmmakers) and they usually look terribly fake. Animation is something that's becoming a lot more prevalent and an interesting way of presenting an event that's already happened. Try looking at a bunch of different documentaries -- then pick and choose from certain styles you like that would best fit your film. Ultimately, the film has to be a reflection of what is most significant and striking to you.


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