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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
Wed 14 Nov 2007Link

Brian, since you are in Austin, recommend you join the Austin Film Society if you are not already a member. There have a healthy doc membership and it would be a great way to network and potentially find a more experienced producer who's interested in your project. As far as the Writer's Strike, not sure I see how you would be crossing the picket line to pitch. Unless you already have a lead, there's relatively little development money from networks or cable entities for first-time filmmakers. You'd probably be better to go the grant route. Like John, we'd want to know more about your film to advise further.


Erica Ginsberg
Wed 14 Nov 2007Link

Monica, D-Worder Robert Richter's last film was about the A-bomb in Japan. If he doesn't answer here first, suggest you look him up in the People link above and e-mail him about his experiences finding archival from Nagasaki and Hiroshima. For Auschwitz, recommend trying the National Archives and the U.S. Holocaust Museum.

Edited Wed 14 Nov 2007 by Erica Ginsberg

Monica Williams
Wed 14 Nov 2007Link

In reply to Danielle Fautrat's post on Wed 14 Nov 2007 :

Thank you very much Danielle for your great advice - this is just what I needed.


Monica Williams
Wed 14 Nov 2007Link

In reply to Erica Ginsberg's post on Wed 14 Nov 2007 :

Thanks for the great tip Erica - I will be sure to look him up.


Brian Boyko
Wed 14 Nov 2007Link

John and Erica - The documentary is called "Makers."

If you'll recall, I'm doing the feature-length documentary interviewing Prime Ministers and such in New Zealand. I know I'm in over my head so I thought I'd get some experience by filming events at an event in Austin - the Maker Faire, and turn it into a 28 minute piece. I mean, I thought, it's a bunch of cool looking stuff that is strange and the people who build it, right?

But there's also an additional issue that came up - the entire thing looked like it was a countercultural movement - like Burning Man. And I wanted to examine that more, so after I got all my footage (shot in a weekend - the event was only two days long) I started working with the idea that trends in our current society are forcing what was once considered "American Ingenuity" into a counter-culture.

I got the participation of Mark Frauenfelder (editor of Make Magazine - I interview him this Friday), Bruce Schneier (Security consultant), and Adam Savage (Mythbuster) to talk about the DIY Counterculture.

(Savage takes the point of view that eventually the DIY counterculture will, like rock and roll enthusiasts, become the culture, while Schneier takes the point of view that since 9/11, underqualified security personel are treating "different as a stand-in for dangerous because no one knows what dangerous actually looks like."

They're all willing to let me film them, but without development funds I can't afford to fly out to them, so the rough cut I want to shop around to grant-making solutions will simply have their voices recorded on the phone. Additionally, I've got some pretty unique stuff - for example, the Star Wheel, a pedal-powered moving ferris wheel. Sure, other cameramen were there filming it, but I don't think they got the moment that the thing ran into a powerline. (No one was hurt.)

I've put up a couple of promotional preview clips - one of them has already gotten 5000 views due mainly to a link from Fark.com. You can view them all here in 720p H.264 streaming.

http://www.vimeo.com/channel1257


Brian Boyko
Wed 14 Nov 2007Link

Oh, and as for progress - the event's over so I can't go back and film more footage. I think I have enough for 57 minutes, but I can always scale back to 28 if I don't. (Truth be told, I think this would probably fit best in 45...)

So: Structure:

Intro - 2 min. ROUGH CUT COMPLETE

"The Counterculture Becomes the Culture" - 8 minutes (Adam Savage talks about curiosity and the DIY culture, robot builders show off computer technology) ROUGH CUT COMPLETE

"A Bigger, Better Mousetrap" - 4 minutes (Footage of a Life Sized Mousetrap Game) ROUGH CUT COMPLETE

"Who but a Subversive would Make something?" - 8 minutes (Bruce Schneier talks about fear, security, and the danger of being different - some of the more dangerous exhibits are shown)ROUGH CUT COMPLETE

"The Ferris Wheel that Got Away" - 4 minutes The Star Wheel is a fun-looking contraption that accidentally runs into a powerline when the cameras are rolling. ROUGH CUT COMPLETE

"Ain't Those Freaks Just Grand?" - 8 minutes - Talking about the relationship between performance art and invention. ROUGH CUT COMPLETE

"These are our people" - 4 minutes - EepyBird talks about the science of the "Diet Coke and Mentos Experiments," followed by a live recreation. ROUGH CUT COMPLETE

"[Quote to be determined]" - 8 minutes - Mark Frauenfelder on running Make Magazine and devoting his life to the subculture. NEEDS MORE FILMING

"[Quote to be determined]" - 4 minutes on hybrid car conversion. FILMING COMPLETE

"Everything is Miscellaneous" - 7 minutes - an unapologetic break from the narrative to look at all the strange things that didn't really fit in with the narrative but which are interesting enough in their own right to be included. (for example, case modders, craft makers, model rockets, musical tesla coils, self-replicating robots...) FILMING COMPLETE

Conclusion - 2 minutes recapping the lessons learned and what I took away from it. FILMING COMPLETE


John Burgan
Wed 14 Nov 2007Link

Monica - check out D-Worder Denise Ohio's advice on music clearance

Brian - it's very unclear (to me at least) what the above description has to do with "interviewing Prime Ministers and such in New Zealand".

Do you have a 100 word description of your project? A sentence?

Edited Wed 14 Nov 2007 by John Burgan

Brian Boyko
Wed 14 Nov 2007Link

Oh, no, it doesn't have anything to do with that. That's a separate project.

"Following Alexis West" is the "real deal." It's the movie I really want to make and it's the movie I'm spending my life savings on.

"Makers" is the project I'm cutting my teeth and making my mistakes on - a project that I took on mainly to familiarize myself with the equipment I'd be using on FAW, and figure out what I need to do. It was chosen as a subject because it was only 3 days of filming at most.

As for the 100 word summary:

Makers is a 2007 short-subject documentary directed by Brian Boyko about the "do-it-yourself counterculture." With interviews from Mark Frauenfelder (editor of "Make:" magazine,) Bruce Schneier (Security consultant,) and Adam Savage (Co-Host of "Mythbusters,") Boyko asks what the emergence of this counterculture of "making" says about our mainstream culture of "consuming." Are the “makers” on the bleeding edge of the future? Or are they being pushed to the fringes of society because of post-9/11 fear of the unusual? The interviews range from people who build musical Tesla coils, two-story-tall robots, pedal-powered amusement park rides, a giant game of Mousetrap, and more.

Edited Wed 14 Nov 2007 by Brian Boyko

John Burgan
Wed 14 Nov 2007Link

Aha. Do you have a short description of either project?


Brian Boyko
Wed 14 Nov 2007Link

In the spirit of Alexis de Tocqueville, the Frenchman who examined American democracy in the 19th century, American director Brian Boyko travels to New Zealand to examine its democratic system. “Following Alexis West” examines the unprecedented peaceful change of New Zealand's American-style two-party system to a European-style proportional representation system in 1993 - and the effects of that change 15 years later. Through interviews with former Prime Ministers and current party leaders, it will show how New Zealand’s “MMP” system prevents problems that we have in the United States, including gerrymandering, negative campaigning, civic disengagement, and undue influence of powerful lobbies.


Leah Cameron
Thu 15 Nov 2007Link

In reply to Doug Block's post on Tue 13 Nov 2007 :

Ya, point well taken. I was kind of kidding about the how-hard-it-is-to-make-a-doc-about-your-family angle. I've decided that the best thing for right now is just to follow the story and see where it leads. I'm curious what the NYU student response was to your talk on Personal Docs. It's a genre that really seems to divide audiences.

Leah


Doug Block
Thu 15 Nov 2007Link

The response was really enthusiastic, Leah. There was clearly a lot of interest. I've actually talked at a few other schools recently and it was similarly great. Doing another NYU class on personal docs tonight (subbing for Thom Powers) and one at the New School on Monday.


John Burgan
Thu 15 Nov 2007Link

Sounds like a really complex subject, Brian. How is the project being funded? And why the title?


Brian Boyko
Thu 15 Nov 2007Link

John: The project is /not/ funded in it's production stages. I'm paying for everything out of pocket so far. Everything.

I actually brought this up with one of the Prime Ministers I'm interviewing - he taught law in the U.S. at one point and, before I told him it was self-funded, expressed complete surprise that there was any interest in the United States in funding the project, because there's absolutely no interest here in changing the electoral systems here. Everyone here thinks we're the best damn democracy on earth and that there can be no better system, even though they haven't looked at any of the others.

So it's a bit complex - there's absolutely no way this movie would get funded in it's production stages - especially with an untested director. Yet, I don't think a "tested" director would handle the topic, nor do I believe that anyone would believe that a movie about electoral reform would be interesting enough to sit through.

So paradoxically, the fact that no one would possibly fund it and no one would possibly make it is one of the reasons that I feel so strongly that I have to do it. It may be Don Quixote (and my production manager, Pancho) tilting at windmills.

There's other reasons that I feel risking $10000 of my own money on this is a good idea even if it's an abject failure. First of all, I'm considering a major life change by moving to New Zealand permanently. This project will give me contacts and experience in the country so it will be easier to find journalism work. And hey - it's a tough market for reporters - how many of them have interviewed heads of government before they were 30?

But as I said, I can handle the production costs, and I can smush out a rough-cut that looks sloppy but serviceable. It's post-production that gets me - I'd like the thing to look better than an amateur production.

One of the big problems is that, if it wasn't for Makers coming along and providing me with the opportunity for a short-subject, I'd be having the same problem with Following Alexis West as I would for Makers - that is, you need funding to produce a documentary, you need a produced documentary in order to get funding.

Now, I think Makers is a good subject in it's own right and deserves a more professional treatment. But if I don't get it - and that's a possibility - I can still do the best I can with it, shop it around, and use THAT as my previously-produced material when applying for funding for Following Alexis West.

The title, "Following Alexis West" is a reference to Alexis de Tocqueville's "Democracy in America" and is a title less dry than "Democracy in New Zealand" and more serious than "Boyko: Cultural Learnings of New Zealand For Make Benefit Glorious Nation Of Bushistan."


Christopher Wong
Thu 15 Nov 2007Link

definitely feel your pain, brian, about the whole catch-22 situation of not being able to get funding b/c you haven't finished a doc yet yourself. but as someone who is only perhaps half a step ahead of you in the process, i think it's best if you approach "Makers" mainly as a place to hone your skills and even make your mistakes, and not so much as a way to have a finished piece that you can then use to get funding for other films.

because if "Makers" is not a standout film, it may not get you much further down the funding line. it will allow you to apply for funds, but you won't get them b/c of the stiff competition. what will really help is to get yourself a producer or Exec Producer on board who will give you (and your future project) the legitimacy it deserves.

i'm not saying that you 100% can't get funding yourself; it's just that it is extremely unlikely, given your subject. so go find some films that you like with similar themes and see who produced those -- then contact them with some good footage and a one-page treatment. best of luck!


Katya Myer
Thu 15 Nov 2007Link

In reply to Monica Williams's post on Wed 14 Nov 2007 :

Monica,

You are very welcome. One more thing that I thought might be useful to you, given your subject matter, even though the connection is not perfectly direct - I have recently seen this documentary called "The Century of Self." It spoke to me very powerfully about the turning wheels of evil in our time, and the documentary itself was fairly well-made. http://imdb.com/title/tt0432232/


David Felix Sutcliffe
Thu 15 Nov 2007Link

In reply to Niam Etany's post on Tue 13 Nov 2007 7:40 UTC :

Niam,
I would love to talk to you more about Muslim associations in the US (or abroad) that would be interested in supporting my project, either financially, or even as partners.


Brian Boyko
Fri 16 Nov 2007Link

Christopher Wong - The trouble is if there were any directors making documentary films like mine, I wouldn't be making documentary films.


John Burgan
Fri 16 Nov 2007Link

Adam Curtis' entire work is an excellent example of how documentary can explore complex ideas with humour and irony, without becoming a dry academic lecture.


Monica Williams
Sat 17 Nov 2007Link

In reply to Katya Myer's post on Thu 15 Nov 2007 :

Katya and John,

Thanks for the recommendation! I have been reading about Adam Curtis but still haven't seen his films as I didn't know how to get them. I just realized that I can buy Century of Self now and I'm so excited. I really want to see The Power of Nightmares too. Thanks for thinking of me and please send any others I should see. I really appreciate the help.


John Burgan
Sat 17 Nov 2007Link

There are some links at the bottom of the Wikipedia article, you can even watch some of his (otherwise unavailable) work online.


Thomas Beach
Sun 18 Nov 2007Link

Hello Folks,

I am beginning the research phase of my first doc and have a question. As my doc will be driven by period still pictures, I'm wondering what you would recommend for scanners in today's market? I need to buy one soon to begin laying down the 3000+ photos (all B&W) as well as newspaper articles and handwritten correspondences. So reliability, speed, and an easy but broad feature set would be most helpful. From my investigations, prices would seem to be all over the place. I expect a driect-to-video release and hopefully broadcast. Any help would be appreciated.

Thanks

Tom Beach


John Burgan
Sun 18 Nov 2007Link

Actually many mid-range scanners will be more than adequate for what you need. The main thing is to be clear about things like resolution and how these images fit into your workflow, technically speaking. What format are you working with? What is your delivery format?

If you're working on Mac, you should check out Scan Guide Pro (available via the LAFCPUG store)


Thomas Beach
Sun 18 Nov 2007Link

Thanks, John. I look forward to checking the link out.

Not sure I understand the thrust of your "workflow" comment. That said, my intent is to scan images and edit them into my project using FCP Studio 2 including both my sound design and DVD authoring. I expect I will need Photoshop or Aperture to manipulate images? I intend shooting with either the P2 or the XL-H1 for interviews. Specific format TBD although I am leaning toward one of the HD formats. I am also still considering shooting GV's and the like with my NPR (I still prefer film where possible). As this is a one-man production, I expect to perform my own final mix (I'm a production recordist by trade) and simply author to DVD and self-distribute. I hope I have answered your questions? Again, any help you can offer is most appreciated.

Tom Beach


John Burgan
Sun 18 Nov 2007Link

Well you should certainly make the decision about what format you are shooting and delivering on. Not sure how the mix of film and video will work.


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