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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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Megan Conkey
Sat 29 Sep 2007Link

Hello! Does anybody have any suggestions on how to break into documentary? I'd love to be a part of one. Thanks!


John Burgan
Sat 29 Sep 2007Link

No need to double post, Megan. Have you ever tried to make a small doc yourself? It's pretty easy to get hold of a DV camera these days.


Doug Block
Sat 29 Sep 2007Link

Megan, John doesn't quite go far enough. Yes, grab a camera. Find a compelling subject. Follow him or her (or it) for, oh, 3, 4, 5 years while something interesting happens. Tap out all your money, friends money, relatives money, while you edit for another, oh, 2 or 3 years. Get into Sundance. Win a major prize.

It's pretty simple, actually.

Edited Sat 29 Sep 2007 by Doug Block

Eli Brown
Sat 29 Sep 2007Link

Hey Megan,

I think the largest problem here is that you're in Los Angeles. You can't go an hour or two without someone looking for an intern for their documentary on any of the east coast (or, hell, San Francisco) craigslist tv/flim/video posts. Los Angeles... well, not so much. So, unlike show business, you don't really break into documentary. You can find a company that produces documentary programming and try to work with them for free and try to get a sense of what they're doing. Or more probably, you can hone the various skills that make up a good documentarian - storytelling, attention to detail, fundraising, stupid tenacity in the face of overwhelming odds, good editorial skills, and how to use a camera under less than ideal circumstances - all of which are skills which can be picked up either (as John notes) by grabbing a camera and exploring your own ideas... or, quite frankly, in the service of any aspect of production in whatever your area might give as an opportunity (and LA has its fair share, to be sure). And if you happen to spy someone posting on craigslist or mandy.com looking for an intern for their documentary, you'll be able to apply to that with some amount of skill that you've been working on developing. It's not a great answer, but perseverance is probably the biggest chunk of the recipe. But that's kind of true for anything worth doing...


Joe Moulins
Sat 29 Sep 2007Link

Megan, I'm writing this 11 hours after your post, so we have some history and I feel I can be frank with you.

I remember being in your position, wanting to "break into" documentary. I beat my head against the wall for years. Finally, I gave up and made my own damn documentary. Suddenly, doors began to open. I went from being a wannabe to being a filmmaker.

When I sold that first film to a broadcaster I suddenly became an "insider", and began hearing from people looking for the secret. I was always being invited to go for a coffee, and listening to stories about how "I've wanted to do this all my life". Many of these people were/are former colleagues from my time working in public radio. They offer to work for free, swear up and down that they're committed, that they want to make the world a better place, that documentary film is the only pure film, blah, blah, blah, blah......

Out of the 50 or 60 people I've had this conversation with over the years, I can think of one who actually followed up, fought her way into a position and is now working in the field.

My advice to people starting out now is to beg, borrow, or steal a video camera and make a short documentary. Really short. Do everything yourself if you like, or convince friends to help shoot, edit, write or direct it.

Then, instead of asking "How can I live my dream of making documentary films" you can say "I've just finished my first film. It's short. Would you mind taking a look?"

I could go on and on...but you get the drift.

I wish you the best of luck, Megan. Really.


Brian Boyko
Tue 2 Oct 2007Link

E&O insurance? What is it, how much does it cost, and should I get it?


Christopher Wong
Tue 2 Oct 2007Link

you only need E&O ("Errors & Omissions") insurance once you've finished your film. It's a guarantee to broadcasters, distributors, film festivals that you have all the necessary permissions and releases -- the E&O insurance comes in handy should anyone decide to sue you.


Robert Goodman
Wed 3 Oct 2007Link

Actually it's insurance that you should buy during production - cheaper that way and when questions come up you can ask your insurer how it might be treated by the insurer. And it does what it says helps protect you from law suits claiming that you made harmful errors or omissions of facts that libel, cause damage to someone's property or reputation, etc.

Whether or not you need it depends often on the type of film you are making. The more controversial the subject the more impetus there is to purchase it early.


Joe Moulins
Wed 3 Oct 2007Link

If you have a broadcaster you'll need E&O, at least in Canada.


Katinka Kraft
Wed 3 Oct 2007Link

I am just about to complete my first documentary film. I have been working on it for 3.5 years. I am looking for a few more stock images to complete my B-roll segments. Images such as german soccer fans, pictures of Kristalnacht, pics of Germany 1930s-1940s. I have been searching on the Library of Congress site and it has been quite difficult. I would love any advice someone might have about a great place to find public domain stock photos. Thank you so much in advance. Katinka


Ben Kempas
Wed 3 Oct 2007Link

Katinka,
Try the Bundesarchiv in Koblenz, Germany.

Edited Wed 3 Oct 2007 by Ben Kempas

Darla Bruno
Wed 3 Oct 2007Link

Hi,

Newbie here. I just introduced myself in Introductions, but started asking some questions there that are probably better asked here.

I'm doing my first doc film in Italy next year. I have no budget or schedule. To be honest, I'm just kind of jumping in. Got some advice from some doc. film friends and will be buying a camera in a couple months, also doing research and interviews right now.

A few questions. Since this is an international film (will be shot in Italy) . . .

1) How should I handle the language barrier. I speak conversational Italian, but this might involve dialect, and I certainly won't rely on my own language skills to do the interpreting. I'm imagining lots of subtitles and voice overs. Though some of the people I interview will probably be able to speak English, the subjects of the film pretty much won't.

I was advised by two doc film friends to do my own camera work. Yikes! When I first imagined this, I thought I'd hire someone with some experience. Me? I have none.

So, question #2) Do you agree that I should do my own camera work? Do you recommend shooting some practice scenes first? Shadowing another filmmaker? Any other ideas? Is it fairly easy to learn about lighting and audio (I'll be in tiny dark Italian homes made of stone built into hillsides and I want good detail).

3) At this point, If I plan to start filming summer 2008, is there a schedule I can follow? I'm literally following About.com's "10 steps to making a doc. film" (!) Good grief.

4) Is it true that your story comes out of the footage? I don't know my angle/story yet, but I've got plenty of material I know will be good.

Thanks!


Ben Kempas
Wed 3 Oct 2007Link

(1) Sounds like don't really have any other option than to do it in Italian. So why worry about it?

(2) I don't agree. You can't just learn all this within a few months. Work with an experienced camera person (many are willing to work for little or deferred pay if the project is attractive). You should really focus on your story and your characters.

(3) There is no recipe, every project is different. Make sure to read our archived topics, for example the one called Shooting The Documentary

(4) There's always a story in your footage, and it's never the story you had planned to capture.


Reed Thompson
Wed 3 Oct 2007Link

Hi Darla. I don't think the 10 Steps from about.com will cut it. I would suggest purchasing the book, "Directing the Documentary" by Michael Rabiger. I've had my copy since 1994 and still have not found a better book for newbie doc makers. In fact, if you do a search for the book here on d-word you will find that many others would recommend it as well.


Doug Block
Wed 3 Oct 2007Link

Darla, always best to ask one question at a time. Some will inevitably get lost in the flow of discussion. If so, bring them back later.

I'll only address two questions, since the other two are more complicated:

1) Yes, sub-titles and voice-overs seem like they'll be necessary, which may limit sales in English language countries. But what can you do, other than make the most compelling film you can and overcome those kinds of obstacles?

4) Yes. Doesn't mean you don't do a lot of research and planning, though. I generally like to start with interviews to get a feel for the subject matter and who's good on camera. But there are no rules.

Edited Wed 3 Oct 2007 by Doug Block

Darla Bruno
Wed 3 Oct 2007Link

Hey everyone,

Sorry to break some rules here already! One question at a time then, but thanks to those who answered. I'm just a sponge at this point.

So I will get that book, Reed. Absolutely.

My most important question remains, then.

Do I do the camera work myself or do I work with someone? My inclination is to work with someone. Remember, I have no previous experience. I'm only a film theory student (from long ago) and currently a book writer/editor. No technical experience.


Erica Ginsberg
Wed 3 Oct 2007Link

Darla, ditto on the book recommendation. There's supposed to be a new edition out soon, but even an older edition will work for you (the main changes will probably be the examples Rabiger uses)

Would not recommend you do your own camerawork the first time out. As Ben said, you may be able to find a professional who would work for lower than normal prices if they are intrigued by the idea or at least by the prospect of getting to spend some time in the Italian countryside. You will have enough else to worry about than dealing with the camera too.

And you should probably get an interpreter as well, especially if you are dealing with a dialect. If (reading between the lines) part of your goal is to showcase a local culture, you don't want to force those folks to talk in broken English or even in whatever the equivalent is of the "Queen's Italian". You want them to feel totally comfortable in what is most comfortable to them.


Doug Block
Wed 3 Oct 2007Link

No real rules here, Darla (other than be courteous). Just suggestions.


Darla Bruno
Wed 3 Oct 2007Link

Great advice, Erica. Thank you! I'm feeling really relieved at the thought of not doing the camera work myself. The money I'd spend on buying one and time it would take for me to learn it could be better spent on hiring someone.

And, Doug, thanks for letting me know! :)


Christopher Wong
Wed 3 Oct 2007Link

Probably the only reasons for a "total newbie" to operate the camera herself would be if: 1) you can't find anyone to do it for you; 2) your access to the subject requires that you work alone; or 3) the very structure of your film depends upon your POV as cameraperson. Other than that, you are not going to be successful, especially in the tougher lighting situations you are talking about. That being said, even if you do have a camera operator on board, you should still get used to whatever camera you do buy -- do shoot practice scenes, and try to shadow an experienced filmmaker first.

Assuming that you are "doing" and "practicing", I heartily agree with others' suggestion to read Michael Rabiger's book. Definitely the best.

While much of the story can be found later on in the edit, you have to have SOME idea of why you are shooting this doc. (I'm sure you do, but you probably don't want to reveal all the details now.) It often helps to write out a short treatment or synopsis of what you envision for the film -- the process of writing sometimes fleshes out the WHY of your film.

Finally, watch a doc every day, and see which styles you appreciate and which ones fit more of the mood and tone you envision for your project. You might decide on the "direct cinema" style of the Maysles Brothers, or the "man behind camera" style of Ross McElwee, or (god forbid) the "pan 'n scan" style of Ken Burns...


Doug Block
Wed 3 Oct 2007Link

Yeah, God forbid your doc should be popular with the masses ;-)


Adrianne Anderson
Wed 3 Oct 2007Link

Hello, I've been working in the documentary field for two and a half years now, mainly editing and learning from others. At this point, I need to learn how to become a producer, starting with knowing the right way to fund my projects. Currently, I'm working on a single project (and the production 'company' has no plans to commit long-term as everyone is balancing other jobs). We're trying to decide whether to funnel the money we fundraise into a fiscal sponsor organization, or start our own LLC. My impression is that to get started, a fiscal sponsorhip makes more sense. There's no money required up front, and you have legal and accounting support in place already. Whereas it seems an LLC requires lots of Fed/State paperwork, filing fees, lawyers, and a licensing fee of $800 for the privilege of doing business in California! That is too much for us newbies to commit out of pocket right now.
My biggest concern is the after-math of fiscal sponsorship. What if you want to distribute your film, or try selling it at one of the big markets? What happens to any profits your film acquires? Are they sent back to the fiscal sponsor, and you can take them out for future productions? Or can you create a nonprofit after and then channel the funds out then? Or can you even sell the film, as many sponsors require the film remain 'noncommercial'? (Though I realize the term is ambiguous as many nonprofits sell their films to distributors).
Anyway by now it's clear I have lots of questions and would hugely appreciate any suggestions you have!! I have left messages with local fiscal sponsors, but am waiting for a returned call. Thought I would explore other resources as well, especially other filmmakers!


Christopher Wong
Wed 3 Oct 2007Link

adrianne,
as far as i know, fiscal sponsors are only involved to serve as a "pass-through" for donations and grants. you want to have a fiscal sponsor so that individuals can get tax-deductible receipts, and so that foundations have a non-profit organization to write a check to -- foundations almost never give money straight to individuals. the fiscal sponsor simply takes the money, subtracts about 5% for their own administrative costs, and passes the other 95% to you.

unless you have some other written arrangement that involves profit-sharing and distribution, there should be absolutely no restriction on what you can do with the film. good places to look into for fiscal sponsorship are: Women Make Movies, IDA, and Public Media Inc. These orgs are all specifically set up with a filmmaker in mind.

eventually, you can indeed set up an LLC too. yes, the startup costs are expensive but you can't open a business bank account without having some sort of corporation. and keeping track of business expenses mixed in with your own personal expenses gets real old real fast. good luck!


Robert Goodman
Thu 4 Oct 2007Link

I wish there was a right way to how to fund docs. There isn't. As to becoming a producer - just be organized and ask lots of questions. Most producers - fiction or nonfiction - are learning as they go because the landscape changes from week to week.


Katinka Kraft
Thu 4 Oct 2007Link

Thank you Ben for that tip! Anyone have any ideas about how to get images from 2000-2006 Worldcup. I am particularly looking for images of german soccer fans. How do media sources usually respond about offering images? What is the best way to approach them?
Thanks so much.
Katinka


Rhonda Moskowitz
Thu 4 Oct 2007Link Tag

You don't need to form an LLC to open a business bank account. You just need a DBA (Doing Business As) certificate from your local city or town hall, which costs about $35. Just give that to the bank. The account will have your name dba _____(name of company). Checks can be made out to the name of your company. Some banks offer free business accounts where you have a personal checking acount. (Oh, and if the name of your company has your last name in it, you don't even need to shell out the $35 for a dba certificate.) I've been looking into this recently.

Edited Fri 5 Oct 2007 by Rhonda Moskowitz

Darla Bruno
Sat 6 Oct 2007Link

Okay, I'm back. I read "shooting the doc", ordered the textbooks everyone recommends, watched some docs and have more coming, and tomorrow I'm going to shadow some doc filmmakers.

Basically, I have an idea, a location, interview subjects, and my research. What do I need now?

A budget? (And what if I have none?) A camera person? A classified ad?

I'll try to keep my questions simple here.

Edited Sat 6 Oct 2007 by Darla Bruno

John Burgan
Sat 6 Oct 2007Link

Practice? It's a good idea to make some small projects just for yourself to gain experience before you leap into a major doc.


Poppy Shmith
Sun 7 Oct 2007Link

Hi There,

I'd be grateful if someone could steer me in the right direction in deciding which camera to buy. I'm almost done studying doco, and really want to buy my own camera. We've been using the PD150 & 170 and a chunkier DVC Pro. I'm really comfortable using the PD, but uncertain about the lack of native 16:9. I know it's an enormous question, but which cameras would you recommend? Is it intergal to shoot 16:9? many thanks -
Poppy


Eli Brown
Sun 7 Oct 2007Link

As someone who actually bought a camera recently (an HVX200, for the record), it's a really difficult decision to make - especially if you're just starting out and (presumably) don't have a lot of capital to begin with. You may want to find local rental houses and see if you can look over their selection to see the pros and cons of the cameras that they offer. My knee jerk reaction to the 150 & 170 is that they're a bit dated technologically speaking these days. Sony's HDV offerings have usurped them in a lot of respects and gives a bit wider possibilities in terms of producing for future distribution. Canon, JVC, and others have some interesting models, and Sony has some HDV cameras that are much cheaper than a 150 or 170 and might be able to do what you need (or might not; hard to say without knowing more about your intent). Having used a 150 (6 years ago, now), I'd be a little hesitant about buying a unit that hasn't had any real upgrades in nearly half a decade. But that's the technologist in me talking.

From the strict "producer" point of view, I'd also note that "owning" a camera is actually not necessarily a great investment, largely since the minute you buy it, it loses value (and continues to do so) and also establishes a fair amount of risk (This changes if your project is one of those 200 days of shooting/personal travelogue type of projects, at which point, owning a camera is a far better deal). If you know that you're going to be getting the return on the investment (or don't mind thinking of it as a luxury expense), then that seems reasonable. Alternately, though, I might encourage you to think about renting for the first few projects - both to get a sense of what cameras/formats will work well with what you end up producing, as well as to limit your initial expenses in regards to starting out. Also, working without a camera can truly hone one's ability to know what to shoot (when you do finally rent the camera, for instance). Sometimes limitation is a great creativity booster. Hope some of that is helpful...


Christopher Wong
Mon 8 Oct 2007Link

poppy, if you want to stay in the SD realm, i really recommend the Panasonic DVX100A/B camera. shooting in 24p, the look from this camera so far exceeds that of the PD150/170 units. all of the functions are really well thought out and it's a camera that is tried and true in the doc world, especially among us D-worders. in addition, you should be able to find DVX100's at some really good prices now - probably around $2000-$2500 now. The B version is slightly better, but the A version is definitely good enough and will be significantly cheaper.

Edited Mon 8 Oct 2007 by Christopher Wong

Brian Boyko
Mon 8 Oct 2007Link

One quick question: for shooting a documentary, should I be going with 24p or 60i? 24p looks more film-like... but 60i looks "realer" - and considering that I'm making a documentary...

Complicating this fact is that I'm hoping to release in theatres, NTSC, and PAL regions.

Edited Mon 8 Oct 2007 by Brian Boyko

Christopher Wong
Mon 8 Oct 2007Link

brian,
by "realer", i think you really mean "amateurish". there are certainly times when 60i is preferable, but unless you are shooting something like "Cops" or "Jackass", where you want the feel of the piece to reflect the fact that you are not using pro camera ops, then I would shoot 24p. it's just as "real" and a whole lot more beautiful. there are numerous docs that have been shot well in 60i too, but they would have been just as good if not better in 24p. lastly, if you decide to go with 24p and you want to go to theatres eventually, shoot in 24pAdvanced mode (not "Standard" mode).


Steven Krasnopolsky
Mon 8 Oct 2007Link

One of my school assignments is to interview three different documentary filmmakers. If you would like to volunteer your help will be greatly appreciated. The interview should run by phone or in person. No e-mails or IM. You should allow me about 30-45 minutes of your time.
Thank you.


Poppy Shmith
Tue 9 Oct 2007Link

Thanks so much Eli and Christopher. Really good advice from both of you. I really appreciate your help. I am going to head down to my local camera shop to have a bit of a browse...


Leah Cameron
Wed 10 Oct 2007Link

Hi Everyone,

What a great community you have going. Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Leah Cameron. I just signed up and I had a big question, so I thought I'd jump right into the forum.

I'm currently directing my first doc and I received two small government grants for the project. We've begun shooting on DVCPro HD. Now I'm looking to secure a broadcaster and get further funding.

Two broadcasters have expressed interest in seeing footage, so I figure it's best to show them a trailer. While I've studied story structure, I'm not as familiar with the elements that make a good trailer. Does anyone have any suggestions?

Oh. I should also mention that the film is a personal point of view documentary. My father is learning to fly airplanes again after 40 years and I'm following him to understand the battle he faced with mental illness and his life-long love affair with flight. For as long as I can remember, he's been obsessed with flying, but he hasn't been able to fly.

A little backstory: He lost his father in a plane crash in the RAF when he was six and his fiance in a plane crash in his late 20s. He got his license in the early 60s to get over his fear, but soon suffered an emotional and mental breakdown because of the grief. He was rehabilitated, but because he was on medication, he was barred from flying.

Until now that is. Now 70 and drug-free, he's passed his medical and he's learning to fly again. For him I think this is a journey about feeling in control again. For me, it's an attempt to try to understand my father and what he went through.

Any help is much appreciated.

Thank you!

Leah


Tanya Coovadia
Wed 10 Oct 2007Link

Contract help, anyone?

Hi, all,

My embryonic production company has been approached to work on the pilot for a series that has attracted the attention of a television channel. Not having anticipated the need for a lawyer (and certainly not having the budget for it), we don't even know where to begin. Are there any sites that might contain information or templates or even some hints as to the types of items that are covered in a contract of this nature?

Thanks in advance.


Christopher Wong
Wed 10 Oct 2007Link

leah, sounds like an amazing project. and i think by your very description of it in your last posting, you already might have the structure for your trailer.

essentially, it could go like this:
1) Start out with some scene about your father preparing to fly again. This could be anything from reading a flight manual to laying out his flying clothes (whatever that might be) on the bed. This could be a strictly observational scene where the audience doesn't really know what's going on, but is intrigued; or you could put a VO underneath with your father talking about what flying means to him.
2) Cut to a still photo (or old 8mm film?) of either his father or his former fiancee. Using old newspaper clippings or something else (VO again), communicate the tragedy of what happened.
3) Cut to interview of Dad explaining medications he used to take (perhaps holding an old medicine bottle) and the details of his emotional breakdown
4) Close with shot of him walking towards an airplane (as if he were about to enter it for his first flight...) Fade to black.

Obviously, I have no idea what footage you have, so some of those suggestions might not be viable. But that kind of structure lays out the man, the history, what's at stake, and the drama -- all within a tidy 2-3 minutes.

If you're looking for theory into what makes a good trailer, hopefully someone else will jump in. (I know nothing about that.) Good luck and count yourself lucky to be shooting your first doc on DVCPro HD!


Doug Block
Thu 11 Oct 2007Link

Leah, you might want to check out D-Word member Fernanda Rossi's book Trailer Mechanics: A Guide to Making Your Documentary Fundraising Trailer


Leah Cameron
Thu 11 Oct 2007Link

Thanks Chris and Doug. It's always useful to get an outside perspective. And I'd like to check out Fernanda's book.

Your advice is really appreciated.

Leah


Leah Cameron
Thu 11 Oct 2007Link

And, Doug, at risk of turning this thread into a 51 Birch Street love-in, I wanted to express how much I liked your film. A friend sent it my way after hearing about my project. I couldn't get it out of my head for weeks. Seriously.


Doug Block
Thu 11 Oct 2007Link

Thanks, Leah. Appreciate that. I gave a talk to a documentary class last night about personal docmaking and it really gave me the chance to think through some of my beliefs about the genre. Maybe we can open up a special topic here about it.

By the way, you certainly would qualify for Member status here, so I recommend that you apply . You also should fill out your user profile more extensively.


Jamila Gaskins
Mon 15 Oct 2007Link

In reply to Megan Conkey's post on Sat 29 Sep 2007 :

Megan, I'm producing a documentary right now about AIDS and Women in America. Write me at jkgaskins@yahoo.com. I'll give you more details.


Doug Block
Mon 15 Oct 2007Link

Leah, I took my thoughts one step further and have started to list "ten rules" about personal docmaking on my blog . (Sorry for the double post, folks, but Enthusiasts can't see the Directing topic.)


Titania Veda
Thu 18 Oct 2007Link

Hi everyone,

Am a newbie and loving the D-word already =)
I had a question about finding stories. I am interested in working with refugees and immigrants but these are sensitive topics. And since I just moved to NY, I do not have an inside person who could get me great access to these people. I tried going through the non-profit organizations route but they are very protective and usually do not want to get involved.
Could you give me advice on how you would go about getting the great access that doco filmmakers seem to be able to get? Especially if you are not local?
Any advice would be appreciated.

T.


John Burgan
Thu 18 Oct 2007Link

Time and patience are the tools of the doc filmmaker. Journalists don't usually have much of the former, which is why they tend to parachute in, look for their "story" and disappear just as quickly.

Take for instance a doc filmmaker like Kim Longinotto: whether she's shooting in Japan, Iran or Africa, she usually collaborates with a local who knows about the culture & language. James Longley lived for two years in Iraq to make "Iraq in Fragments", he gained the trust of his subjects over the many months he spent with them. You need to find a way to spend time with refugees, maybe you can even offer them something in return - language skills, whatever. If they get to know you as a person rather than someone who just wants something quickly, doors will open.


Titania Veda
Thu 18 Oct 2007Link

Thanks for that John. I know what you mean. I love the way Kim makes her films. They are beautiful and intimate and subtle. Sometimes it is hard to know, do you bring your camera with you all the time, from the very first day so your subjects can be accustomed to it or do you hold off until they trust you?


Doug Block
Thu 18 Oct 2007Link

So, Ms. Veda, any particular reason why you changed your screen name to T?


Don Levine
Thu 18 Oct 2007Link

Ciao all from caput mundi-home of cinecittà. Dr. Don Levine


Doug Block
Thu 18 Oct 2007Link

Ciao, Don. We actually have another topic to say hi and introduce ourselves. Feel free to post any doc questions here.


Titania Veda
Fri 19 Oct 2007Link

I'm more a T and no one can pronounce it correctly to save their lives! Plus who can forget a letter of the alphabet =) Btw, Doug, are you doing another talk in NY anytime soon?


John Burgan
Fri 19 Oct 2007Link

I know a bank whereon the wild thyme blows, where oxlips and the nodding violets grows quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine, with sweet muck- roses, and with eglantine: there sleeps Titania some time of the night lull'd in these flowers with dances and delight


Doug Block
Fri 19 Oct 2007Link

Titanic (that's easier to pronounce), I'm speaking at the New School on Nov 19. Also doing a Q&A after a 51 Birch screening at the Rutgers Jewish Film Festival on Nov 4. Or else just come to Sheffield.


Titania Veda
Fri 19 Oct 2007Link

Well John, I see you have a poet in you just waiting to burst out =) I'm actually going to be one of the volunteers at Sheffield so I'll see you then Doug!

Quick question though, anyone ever had the dilemma of when to turn the camera on a subject? Some say you should do it from the first day so that they get used to it but other filmmakers disagree and say wait until they are comfortable with you and then bring the camera or just bring the camera but don't turn it on. Is there a right or wrong or just a judgement call?


Doug Block
Fri 19 Oct 2007Link

Great that you'll be there, Titania. Look forward to meeting you and let's try to carve out a bit of time to talk when you're off the clock. And now get your butt out of the Mentoring Room because you're a Member and don't need to be here to post questions.


John Burgan
Fri 19 Oct 2007Link

I'm a poet? W. Shakespeare don't know it...


Titania Veda
Fri 19 Oct 2007Link

where do members post their questions? I had posted a question about whether or not to bring the camera on the very first day of meeting subjects and when to turn it on? Should I post that elsewhere than the mentoring room?


Eli Brown
Fri 19 Oct 2007Link

I'd try creative topics>directing for that one...


Monica Williams
Wed 31 Oct 2007Link

Hello D-Word community,

I'm new to this and very excited to have found such a great resource. Here's my deal. I'm a first time filmmaker, I'm overwhelmed and I am looking for a co-director or co-applicant for some of the grants that I am applying for. I have a letter of support from my local PBS station and I'm considering a co-production with them - but I'm still unsure. I have adapted the book Evil in Modern Thought, by Susan Neiman into a documentary film. I have produced a wonderful interview with her and have a good idea of how the structure will fall together and I have a rough outline for the script. I used all of the money raised to produce the interview and I'm now starting the process of grant-writing, but many of the grants that fund my area of interest, require previous experience. I'm feeling very discouraged with fundraising and so much more is needed to finish making this dream of mine.

My website is www.knowingevil.com. This is an amazingly relevant and beautiful film. I will truly appreciate any advice I can get on finding a co-director or on finding help with fundraising and upping my chances for grants. I have clips to show that are quite good and will be on my website soon.

Thank you

Monica


Robert Goodman
Wed 31 Oct 2007Link

Monica - I would avoid complicating things by doing a co-pro with your local station. I looked at your website and I have some questions for you.

Why is this a film? What is your connection to the subject? How will you visualize a book of philosophy? Is this really a biopic?


Paul Hayes
Wed 31 Oct 2007Link

Hey everyone. I started reading through old posts in this thread, but thought it might be easier to just ask for the info I need. I am lookig to break into documentary filmmaking, and wanted recommendations for moderately priced equipment, in particular a digital video camera, computer and editing equipment. Thanks for any help you can provide. - Paul

Edited Wed 31 Oct 2007 by Paul Hayes

Niam Itani
Thu 1 Nov 2007Link

Paul, the first question would be how much are you willing to spend on the equipment? :)


Paul Hayes
Fri 2 Nov 2007Link

Well, I don't want to limit my options to what I can afford now. I'd rather get some price ranges from y'all, and then plan accordingly. No info yet on cameras, but so far people I have talked to have recommended going with Macs equipped with Final Cut Pro.

Edited Fri 2 Nov 2007 by Paul Hayes

Christopher Wong
Fri 2 Nov 2007Link

make sure you get a two-monitor setup. makes a big difference when editing...


Niam Itani
Fri 2 Nov 2007Link

In this part of the world we prefer PCs but, yes, Macs with Final Cut Pro are the trend where you are :)
You definitely need a two monitor set-up no matter what the system is.


Monica Williams
Fri 2 Nov 2007Link

Robert,

Thank you for your response. When I read the book I could see it visually. I had been entertaining the idea of a documentary film that would explore the work of Hannah Arendt and when I read Evil in Modern Thought and saw Neiman's interview with Bill Moyers' I had an aha moment and haven't quit obsessing since, as I was convinced that I could adapt this book as a documentary film (I wonder sometimes at my naivete!) I have succeeded in the writing and my proposal and treatment explain the techniques I want to use. The theme is centered on how 4 catastrophic events in western history have shaped the way we think about and approach the world, and is not a biopic. The Philosophers and their work surrounding the problem of evil will add to the structure, only as their work relates to the events i.e. Voltaire's coming of age novella Candide will be animated as he is naively headed to the Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 (which was the symbol for evil at this time period, as nothing else could kill so many people at once.) There are many engravings and paintings from this era. I have many more visuals but I don't want to take up this space! My connection to this subject is a long story - basically I've been concerned about the problem of evil in philosophy, most of my conscious life - without knowing that this was what I was concerned with until my last couple of years of college. I've since come to realize that most of us are, though we may not frame our concerns in this way and I want to connect an audience to the great philosophers and writers of the modern world as a way of validating our human experience against the overwhelming insanities of history.

Thank you Robert!


Robert Goodman
Fri 2 Nov 2007Link

You need to explain how this film plays on screen because to a professional it seems better suited to a dissertation or magazine article. and it's always necessary to explain your connection to the story so people understand why you are willing to spend the next 7 years of your life making this film.

Edited Fri 2 Nov 2007 by Robert Goodman

Peter Brauer
Fri 2 Nov 2007Link

A vote for adobe. In terms of editing systems there can be no doubt that final cut has become the standard. But if you are looking to save money PC editing is the way to go in my opinion. A comparably powered PC is normally half as much as its mac counter part. I use the adobe suite. This includes premier, after effects, photoshop, and encore. They all work well together and can create just as good a final product as final cut. In most ways premier and aftereffects are very similar. Premier just has a much more narrow group of users. This can be an issue when bringing in an outside editor. I can run premier perfectly well on a 575 dollar HP desk top I bought at best buy. Just make sure not to use windows vista, as it uses way to much of your computer's ram and slows everything do. Windows XP still works great.

As for cameras, I highly recommend the panasonic dvx100b. it creates beautiful images and is moderately priced. If this is beyond your range a lot of consumer cameras can do. I have seen stuff shot on 400 dollar cameras that looks just fine in a gritty lo-fi type of way. Just make sure to get a 3 CCD camera. Also Audio is really important, so make sure what even you get has the ability to control audio levels, take a mic input, and have a head phone jack. Any camera looks as good as the lighting allows it. Its just that better cameras look better in worse shooting conditions.


Monica Williams
Sat 3 Nov 2007Link

Thank you for the advice Robert. I think I do get ahead of myself when explaining it. It's basically a historical documentary, told through the lens of philosophy and the classical problem of evil. Susan Neiman is my star and I have 8 hours of footage already shot with her. I will be interviewing other literary and political analysts about the historical events that have shaped the world in order to find new perspectives. We will look at four major historical events that have had a lasting impact on modern social and political consciousness. I do have a strong structure - the trials of Adolf Eichmann will be used as we consider Auschwitz, the book Black Rain will narrate Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and Israeli and Arab writers will be interviewed from the Middle East as the film looks at the war of Good v. Evil that is raging today. As for my connection to the film, I'm convinced that Susan Neiman's book will soon be considered a classic and it has been called "the book for this world political hour." I'm very nervous for the world right now for various reasons and I'm committed to bringing her work to a wider audience. I have tons of other personal reasons.


Neil Garrett
Mon 5 Nov 2007Link

Hi guys, another new member, so hallo to all...
I'm glad my first question is such a doozer. This has been keeping me awake at night. I'm currently producing a doco I hope will eventually be shown on British TV. I came across an author who's book dovetails very neatly with the theme of my film. I contacted him with a view to him contributing to the film, which he was very happy to do. He then contacted me asking if, in return for a credit (such as Associate Producer) in the titles, he could help produce the film. On the one hand, I could really use his help - he is an expert in his field and has contacts in his industry who could also be very useful. On the other, is there an ethical issue having one of your contributors also be a credited producer - could the documentary be open to accusations of simply being a platform for his views? He wants no money for his work and has agreed that creative control and copyright will remain with me.
What do you think?


Friederike Freier
Mon 5 Nov 2007Link

Hi Neil, standards vary by country so please UK-based producers contribute -- but the bottom line is: your author is the author of a book and will act as an advisor who may open doors. The job of an associate producer is something quite different.

Also, you want to retain the freedom to add other advisors later on without even feeling awkward about it. You need to protect your editorial control. Bringing him aboard as a partner is liable to make this more difficult. If you feel like all you need for your film is his book, without a great deal of other research, you could make it a doc based on his book, but it seems to me this is not what you are striving for as it would potentially compromise your editorial control. Whatever you do -- make sure to have a contract that clearly defines his role (whether he ends up getting a fee or not).

In general, you want to be careful with promising credits that are not absolutely bog standard like camera or editor etc. Credits are ususally subject to the approval of the broadcaster. All international contracts I have handled say something along the lines that the distributor tries to ensure credits are shown by their buyers but they can't promise anything. I.e. if your broadcaster thinks your credits are too long or not in line with their credit standards they will demand the right to edit them at their sole discretion.


Doug Block
Tue 6 Nov 2007Link

Friederike, it might be different in Germany for you but I've been a producer on 3 different ZDF/Arte co-productions and never once been questioned about the credits. Or by any other broadcaster, for that matter. Not saying it never happens. Just not in my experience.

Edited Tue 6 Nov 2007 by Doug Block

Monica Williams
Tue 6 Nov 2007Link

Does anyone have any books they would recommend on the art of interviewing? I'm producing a narrative historical documentary using the disciplines of literature and philosophy and want to perfect my ability to get the right pieces to my puzzle. Thanks!


Jo-Anne Velin
Tue 6 Nov 2007Link

Books? The Craft of Interviewing, by John Brady, a classic journalism school selection of approaches.


Doug Block
Tue 6 Nov 2007Link

I'll vouch for that one, too. It's terrific.


Friederike Freier
Tue 6 Nov 2007Link

Doug, arte is more relaxed about credits. Especially La Lucarne. With ARD member stations or ZDF's main programme it is very often an issue. Most of the time the complaint is that credits run for too long.


Erica Ginsberg
Wed 7 Nov 2007Link

Monica, check out Directing the Documentary by Michael Rabiger. It's not exclusively about interviewing, but he does give some very good tips.


Monica Williams
Wed 7 Nov 2007Link

Thanks for the advice on interviewing! One more question - What is the best way to approach and engage advisors? I know who I would like to ask, I'm just concerned about their workload. What is the relationship like between filmmaker and advisor? What can I ask them to expect? They will most likely be interviewed for the film, but I can't promise anything.


Katya Myer
Mon 12 Nov 2007Link

Dear Monica,

I have three advisors for my film, all professors whose field of inquiry is relevant to my subject matter. Usually, all you have to do is just ask, and if the person is interested, they'll be happy to help. In my experience, a professor who's accumulated a lot of knowledge in the area your asking for advice in will usually be glad to get involved and share their expertise.

In building the relationship with an advisor, I assume that the onus of the work and the contact maintenance is on me. Even in some intense research situations, I usually don't need to speak to my advisors more than once/twice a month. In my case, the best value an advisor can provide is an assessment of how valid my research conclusions are and whether my presentation of various topics in the film is consistent with their historical setting, etc. Out of three advisors I have, I only plan to interview one for the film. Hope this helps. Best of luck with your work!


Katya Myer
Mon 12 Nov 2007Link

Dear All,

I am new to this forum and have a few questions to ask. My current project is a full-feature documentary about Israel. I have done my preliminary research, made an 12-minute long promo for fundraising, assembled a crew (a DP and a sound engineer) and will start filming in two weeks. My main camera is HVX200, and here are the questions I have:

1. What is the best way to archive HD footage? Is it possible to burn it on blue-ray or HD-DVD disks and not keep stored on hard drives? I expect to have a lot of footage to store, and carrying around several terabytes of drive space can be daunting.

2. Even though I have a DP, I hope to do some filming work myself. Could you suggest any books, tutorials or other resources to read about camera work?

3. Could you suggest a minimal lighting package that would be portable enough to be carried by one person, along with the camera?

Look forward to your advice!


John Burgan
Mon 12 Nov 2007Link

1) I'll let the HD experts step in here, but I think you'll find that cost-wise hard drives will work out cheaper than burning to disks. Have you actually done a calculation on how much space you will need?

2) Hmmmm. Why not just let your DP get on with their job? Books won't tell you how to shoot, and it doesn't sound like this is meant to be just an exercise.


David Felix Sutcliffe
Mon 12 Nov 2007Link

My film is about Adama Bah, one of two 16-year-old Muslim girls from New York who were arrested by the FBI in 2005 after they were accused of being "potential suicide bombers." The FBI made no attempts to reveal what evidence they had on these girls and only released them after the New York Times published a series of articles about the 2 girls that led to intense scrutiny and public pressure. One girl was deported, and the other-the subject of my film-was allowed to stay, albeit, with an ankle bracelet and a gag order.

For the past two years her life has pretty much unravelled-her father was deported, her mother has suffered several nervous breakdowns, children's services is constantly threatening to place Adama's four younger siblings in foster homes. The government is now also trying to deport her. On top of this, Adama has been forced to become the primary breadwinner for the family. Her friends all graduated last spring and left for college this past fall (her best friend is at Smith right now) as Adama works, what she calls, "immigrant jobs-" babysitting, house-cleaning, etcetera.

I'm looking for an executive producer (as well as editors) and wondering if there's any interested parties out there, or someone who might be willing to pass on contact info of a good EP/editor fit. I've been shooting for almost two years and am ready to begin post-production. As far as fundraising, I have a fiscal sponsor and am preparing my grant applications, but would like to have a partner help me secure a reasonable budget. This is my first-time working on a full-length documentary and although I've been tempted to downsize it and produce it as a 30 minute piece, I think the story demands to be given at least an hour, if not feature length. My editor is based in California and hasn't been able to work much with me, and is eagerly waiting for funding to come through so he can come to New York and get to work. In the meantime, I'm looking for a New York based editor to help me with my sample. (So far, the sample seems to get such a wide range of responses that I think it's time to begin a new approach. Maybe I could post it here and see what people think...)

Anyway, I know this is a lot to put out there but I thought it would be best to put it all in one place rather than attempt to think of all the relevant topics where these issues could be posted. I would be supremely grateful for any advice veteran doc bystanders are willing to sling my way.

Thanks.


Christopher Wong
Mon 12 Nov 2007Link

david, your doc sounds fascinating, and definitely deserving of more than a 30-minute treatment. it really helped me out on my doc to get an executive producer on board... before you proceed, however, have you answered the question of where you want the piece to be broadcast? On PBS? Theatrical? Non-PBS TV? This will dictate what kind of grants you go after, and thus, what kind of EPs will be best for your project. For instance, my EP is Renee Tajima-Pena who has done extensive work with POV, which is exactly the place I want it to air after festivals, theatrical, etc.


Katya Myer
Mon 12 Nov 2007Link

In reply to John Burgan's post on Mon 12 Nov 2007 :

Dear John,

Thank you for your response. You are right, it's definitely not meant to be just an exercise :) I will need approximately 2.5 terabytes of storage space.

With respect to the shooting, I agree too - the only problem is that I want the film to have a very specific visual atmosphere and so far my DP and I haven't reached a complete agreement on it. Also, I won't be able to have the DP with me every day and sometimes I go to places in Israel where one just needs to pick a camera and capture a unique moment. I wanted to try and prepare myself for that as best I can.

Thank you for the advice!


David Felix Sutcliffe
Mon 12 Nov 2007Link

Chris,
I really love the extensive work that PBS has done to create a strong web-partnership with their films, and although it would be great to have a more mainstream tv audience (via HBO, Cinemax, etcetera) I think PBS has such a strong outreach program that the issues I'm addressing in the film will have a real landing pad, and a chance to significantly and substantially affect an audience, rather than briefly triggering a flash of guilt/sympathy/pity in people's frontal lobes, as seems to be the case with mainstream films that make a splash but aren't sustained by any broader effort to create change.
That said, I think I'm aiming for PBS as well after festivals (and, hopefully, theatrical release). How did you make contact with your EP?


Christopher Wong
Tue 13 Nov 2007Link

through a great seminar at the WGBH Producers Academy, i made contact with a really helpful person at PBS (Kathy Lo). When I told Kathy that I was looking for an EP, she then introduced me to a bunch of different people who would make sense for my project (e.g. Freida Lee Mock, Renee Tajima-Peña, Steven Okazaki). After she made the intro, then I made contact with them through email. Renee turned out to be the best fit.

what i might suggest for you is to find a PBS film (or 2 or 3) that you really like, do some research to see how it was funded, and then if it's a good fit, go and track down that person. if you need help, i can always give Kathy Lo a call on your behalf.

lastly, are you applying for Sundance's next funding round? they are really good at giving first time filmmakers a shot at the money. if your footage is really compelling, and you get funding from them, that really makes it easier to get an EP on board.

i'm sure the more experienced vets here have better suggestions than i.


David Felix Sutcliffe
Tue 13 Nov 2007Link

I am planning on applying to Sundance but I thought that Sundance was rolling. is there a deadline coming up?

As far as your other comments, I have been looking at a few PBS films and eyeing the EP credits, although my experiences in the past with cold-calling people has been a bit frustrating. Perhaps I'll update my list of potential EPs and run them by you to see if Kathy would possibly be willing to be a middle-(wo)man. Thanks for your advice Chris.


Christopher Wong
Tue 13 Nov 2007Link

as far as i know, the sundance documentary fund has two funding cycles per year. though they don't have any official deadlines, they usually issue funding announcements around January and in June -- which is obviously around the time they have their committee meetings where they make the decisions. just make sure you have a good 20-30 minutes of continuous edited footage before you apply... if you want, the D-Word is a good place to get some feedback on your work-in-progress.


Niam Itani
Tue 13 Nov 2007Link

David, Chris, I suggest you carry this to the WIPs because many others do not read this thread.
And, David, if you want to try and contact some of the Muslim Associations in America or something of that sort for funding, probably I can link you to a friend who can help.


Jo-Anne Velin
Tue 13 Nov 2007Link

David - bearing Niam's words, meet me in WIP


Leah Cameron
Tue 13 Nov 2007Link

In reply to Doug Block's post on Thu 11 Oct 2007 :
Hi Doug,

So, it's taken me a while (shooting, good old grant apps), but here I am. I like the 10 Rules of personal documentary filmmaking, especially the how-much-to-put-yourself-on-camera debate. Gahd. I'm already in mine more than I had hoped and looking kind of bleary-eyed at that.

Say, Doug, did you or anyone else who has made a personal doc ever feel like the story is really about what goes on when the cameras are off (i.e. how difficult it is to make a doc about your family?)

I'm having a bit of trouble seeing the larger picture with this one. Think I need the help of a good editor!

Sigh,

Leah


Reed Thompson
Tue 13 Nov 2007Link

Hi Leah. Saw your post here and couldn't help but want to respond. I think that "losing site of the big picture" is just a normal part of the process with doc making -- particularly, if you are going it alone and with minimal collaborative feedback. My advice would be to simply put the project away for a period of time (the longer the better). Take an extended break from it. You will be amazed at just how much more of a refreshed perspective you will have (with respect to your story) once you return to working on it. Good luck!


Leah Cameron
Tue 13 Nov 2007Link

Hey Reed,

Good to meet you and thanks for the advice. The trick is, the doc is about my father learning to fly airplanes again after 40 years. He hasn't had his license all this time, there is a long stoy behind why. The idea was that I would follow him until he got his license again and dip back into some of the issues behind why he was barred from flying - encounter with mental illnes, loss of two loved ones in plane crashes. Good idea in theory.

It turns out that he contacted transport Canada and they just reinstated his license. They send it to him in the mail, just like that. Gahd. This despite the fact he told me it would be a long process to get it again. Then I find out today that he's been booking classes behind my back! Sneaky devil. I think he's tired of having film crews around poking into his life. Fair enough.

So the thing is, I do feel a certain pressure to follow the story.

What's keeping you busy right now?


Doug Block
Tue 13 Nov 2007Link

Leah, for sure there's a story about my family's reaction to being filmed, but I don't think it's nearly as interesting or significant as the story at hand. That's why I saved it for the dvd. But nobody wants to hear the filmmaker whining about how hard it all is (other than fellow filmmakers). Because it's a whole lot harder for your family members dealing with a lens in their face.

Edited Tue 13 Nov 2007 by Doug Block

Reed Thompson
Tue 13 Nov 2007Link

Oh, my mistake, Leah. Something about your post caused me to think you were in post-production.

In regards to your circumstance:

I think so much about [verite/direct cinema] doc making is just placing yourself in situations and circumstances where your gut tells you a compelling story might take shape. It certainly seems to me that your idea for this doc was a good one. Obviously, it is difficult (if not impossible) if your subject is reluctant.

As for me, I am patiently chipping away, one tiny little baby step at a time, towards completion of my humble little doc, Blue Devils. Thanks for asking! :)


Brian Boyko
Wed 14 Nov 2007Link

Okay, this is a big one.

I've got enough material together to start cutting together a 6-12 minute promo of a 55-minute piece, and I want to start shopping it around to get development grants for post-production. (I have found that it takes more than final cut pro and hope to master the nuances of video editing, and that I should probably get some help...)

However, even though I'm not a member of the Writer's Guild, AND I only work with unscripted non-fiction, if I'd be crossing the picket line by pitching.

Now, I don't intend to sell the movie until the Writer's strike is resolved, but I don't know if it's okay to move forward with it.


Brian Boyko
Wed 14 Nov 2007Link

One more thing - I'm thinking about applying to ITVS for finishing funds, but this is my first documentary. Where can I find a documentary co-producer that I can apply with in my area?


Monica Williams
Wed 14 Nov 2007Link

I will be starting the dig for archival materials for my historical documentary. I'm noting which archives the historical docs that I love use, but does anyone have any other advice on where to start and how to avoid archives that require a Ken Burns budget? My film looks at four events in modern history - The Lisbon Earthquake of 1755, Auschwitz, Hiroshima and Nagasaki and September 11th.

Thanks Katya for your advice on advisors!


Monica Williams
Wed 14 Nov 2007Link

One more - There are about three songs that I really want for my film. I've seen many documentaries with popular songs and I know that we don't usually have the budgets of hollywood. Are there any tricks to gaining the rights to use these songs without breaking the budget?


John Burgan
Wed 14 Nov 2007Link

Brian - what's your film actually about? Also, what stage are you in now - it sounds as if you have shot already.

Monica - archive and music rights can be very, very expensive - that's exactly why Ken Burns has those $$$$ budgets.

Edited Wed 14 Nov 2007 by John Burgan

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