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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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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
Tue 13 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
Tue 13 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
Tue 13 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
Tue 13 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
Tue 13 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 Tue 13 Nov 2007 by John Burgan

Danielle Fautrat
Wed 14 Nov 2007Link Tag

Monica - Re archive footage, you'll pay an awful lot if you go the traditional route of archive libraries/banks. Your best bet is to either find private collectors who own the rights to the footage and would be happy to let you use them for free or a small discreet donation. Other than that, you can also try to approach small local museums/trusts/organisations/TV stations that would not be as greedy as big commercial cos.

Music - check this D.I.Y guide: http://www.clearance.com/get_yourself.htm

Alternatively, you could get someone (friend/student in need of portfolio) to create something for you that sounds "similar" for your film, and sign the rights off to you.

In any way, budget constraints always send you on long and tortuous roads.


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