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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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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
Wed 14 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
Wed 14 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
Wed 14 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
Thu 15 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
Thu 15 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
Sat 17 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.


Thomas Beach
Sun 18 Nov 2007Link

Agreed. I have some research to do on that yet. I'm beginning project research in December and the aquisition of photos etc. No shooting for some time yet. Film telecined with proper parameters to match project settings should present no issues.


Monica Williams
Tue 20 Nov 2007Link

At what phase of my project will I need to hire an entertainment lawyer? I have an attorney now that has drafted an offering memo for a group of investors interested in my film. They are lawyers and I'm sure they will be asking some legal questions. Will I need an entertainment lawyer throughout the project?


Doug Block
Tue 20 Nov 2007Link

Certainly no harm in finding one you like early on in the process. You only pay them by the hour, as needed, so why not?


Steven Dhoedt
Wed 21 Nov 2007Link

Hi all,

I've got a question concerning a contract between director and production company, more specifically the part which deals with the audiovisual exploitation rights.
What is an acceptable percentage for the director/screenwriter to receive of the gross income for a) cinema release b) dvd release c) tv sceenings, etc... I know this all comes down to what producer and director agree upon, but just wanted to know if there is an average percentage that is usually agreed upon.
As a beginning producer and documentary maker this is all new to me, so just looking for some feedback or online resources that can guide me through the business process of documentary production :)


Doug Block
Wed 21 Nov 2007Link

Stephen, unless you're Spielberg and talking about a big Hollywood movie, directors don't get any percentage of gross income. If they're lucky, they get a percentage of net income. Which, after all the bills are paid off (a BIG if), is known as profit. And how much is pretty much done by negotiation on a case by case basis.


Tony Comstock
Wed 21 Nov 2007Link

Thom,

If you want to shoot film, shoot film. Five years ago we made the move to shooting Super16 for everything except interviews. I think it's helped our projects both commercially and financially.


Steven Dhoedt
Wed 21 Nov 2007Link

Thanks Doug for your answer.
it makes sense that giving a percentage of the gross income is not really done, since the production budgets of most documentaries already include distribution advances, tv presales etc., money that is directly in the actual making of the movie, not raising the director's salary. Correct?
I'd been receiving some standard contracts between director and production company and they all included paragraphs where you should fill in the blank percentages for these exploitation rights.
anyways, thanks a lot for your help


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