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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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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

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