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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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Lisa Salem
Sat 8 Dec 2007Link

Hey Evan – I kinda realised that after I posted.... It might also be useful to check out the videoblogging Yahoo group – at the least it'll lead you to great info about optimum compression settings etc... – just type in videoblogging on the Yahoo Groups homepage and you'll find it – but I realise that's not really what you're after...

And cheers Doug – I just did the formal introduction and will get onto the member/bio stuff too... :)

Brian Boyko
Tue 11 Dec 2007Link

I've got a problem. A key person in my documentary on New Zealand politics sat down to do the interview but refused to sign the release form. We did the interview anyway. On camera, he gave us permission to use the interview in New Zealand's Film Archive and for Online Streaming – unedited – but would not sign the contract.

He's a public figure and it shouldn't be a problem – I don't he'd sue us, but I can see how this can scare off distributors.

Here's what I'm thinking about doing. The problem is not permission to use his words. It's journalism – and so long as he is quoted accurately, it's not a problem. The problem is using his voice and image- the talent release, as it were.

That says to me that my best option, if I want to use him (and he's so key I kinda have to), is to buy a Getty Images picture of him, dump that on the screen, and hire a voice actor to say the exact same thing he said the same way he did during the interview. Because I have permision to use the unedited material online, people can see that the quotes are accurate.

The way I think this would work, artistically in the film, would be to shoot footage of a NZ flag, and have a scrolling screen with a stentorian voice reading:

"Mr [...] was willing to sit down with us for an on-camera interview but was not willing to sign a release so that we could use his voice and likeness in this movie. Because of that, his voice has been reenacted in this documentary.

Those interested in seeing the original footage can go to the New Zealand Film Archives Reference # "X", or go to "" – both of which Mr. X has given permission for."

What do you think?

Joe Moulins
Tue 11 Dec 2007Link

You'll be able to use the interview. If it happened as you describe it, he very obviously consented to be interviewed.

He's a public figure. And a dick, by the sound of it.

Make him look bad.

Brian Boyko
Tue 11 Dec 2007Link

He is... a man used to getting his way.

I'll do the rough cut with the full video interview. If a distributor balks, I can tell them what happened and offer the voice recreation option.

– Brian.

Jo-Anne Velin
Tue 11 Dec 2007Link

When working in news for (Australian) ABC in Europe, I was told on-camera consent is adequate. Did he specifically say no to the images? If not, check with legal eagles but I think you're covered.

Wolfgang Achtner
Wed 12 Dec 2007Link


You write that this man is a "public figure." Do you mean that he is a politician or a member of a local/national government? I'm just trying to figure out what you mean by "public."

By definition, if a given person is a public figure and they have agreed to an interview, everything they say is on the record and can be used.

In most countries, the only restriction that I can think of would be filming someone inside their homes without consent.

Brian Boyko
Thu 13 Dec 2007Link

This man is a politician. He holds a ministerial position in the national government of New Zealand. He has obviously agreed to the interview.

There are two complications. 1) The interview took place in his party's caucus room, and we do not have a location release. It's not his home or personal office, but it is an area not open to the general public. 2) The man is VERY well known in New Zealand. He is a famous and very controversial figure here. He holds high national office. But if people in the U.S. don't know who he is, would he be considered a private figure in the U.S. market?

Joe Moulins
Thu 13 Dec 2007Link

I don't claim to be an expert on ...anything, really, but I do suspect you are overthinking this, Brian. This sounds like a cut and dried case of a Big Swinging Dick messing with you.

If you ask this question in the legal forum you may get a more nuanced response, but I don't think you have anything to worry about in this case.

Brian Boyko
Thu 13 Dec 2007Link

Thanks – yeah. When we go over the raw footage, we'll see what we have him on tape saying. :)

Wolfgang Achtner
Thu 13 Dec 2007Link


This is really a no brainer.

A Minister is a public figure. He agreed to go on camera (this is proven by the fact that you have the recording). You can use video. End of subject.

Marianne Shaneen
Fri 14 Dec 2007Link

Hi Doug and D-word folks, thanks so much for this awesome resource!

I'm currently in post on a feature documentary. I've been in discussions with a producer and funders who I will probably be partnering with. In looking through older posts I saw that you recommended your lawyer Richard Freedman, highly. I don't know if you're into making public endoresements or renouncements, but that post was in 2003. : )
Just wondering if you would still recommend him and/or if you might recommend another trustworthy entertainment attorney that works with indie directors, and perhaps is not incredibly expensive, in NY?

Or if anyone else might chime in with a recommendation (if such recommendations are allowed)?

Thanks so much!
And major congrats to Doug on A Walk Into the Sea!!!!!!

Marianne Shaneen
Fri 14 Dec 2007Link

Hi again,
another question. Could anyone lay out a basic idea of forming an LLC? Specifically: if I've been making a film and it's in post, and I bring on a producer and funders, and that producer's lawyer draws up the LLC and operating agreement, ...this is where I get a bit confused. If the producer's lawyer draws up the operating agreement and represents the film, is it any conflict of interest or am I at a disadvantage because he's also the producer's lawyer?

Wouldn't I instead set up my own LLC, and from there enter into an agreement between my LLC and their corporation? Or is it standard practice to form an LLC with all the parties involved? I want to retain ownership of my film, so I'm not sure how that works.

I don't mistrust any of these people, I just have no idea how these things work. (obviously why I'm asking for attorney recommendations). Thanks!!

Doug Block
Fri 14 Dec 2007Link Tag

Marianne, it's actually Robert Freedman, and, yes, I still highly recommend him. Here's his contact info . I'd also recommend Dan Satorius – he's in Minneapolis but considerably less expensive.

I'd ask these guys about the LLC as I'm not an entertainment lawyer. But if it were me, I'd set up my own LLC and keep ownership and control.

Edited Sat 15 Dec 2007 by Doug Block

Robert Goodman
Sat 15 Dec 2007Link

2nd that thought. Last money in should be treated very differently than the people who walked with you from the first step.

Marianne Shaneen
Sat 15 Dec 2007Link

Thank you so much! I will look into both.
From what I've read it seems that the LLC can be structured (with all partners) in any way, so I could be sole owner and it determines how payments/points/percentages come in and clarifies what everyone's roles and responsibilities are. But yep, I'm not doing anything without consulting an attorney.
I'll keep you posted. :)

Doug Block
Sat 15 Dec 2007Link

good luck, marianne. tell bob and/or dan that i sent you their way. it can't hurt.

Marianne Shaneen
Sun 16 Dec 2007Link

Thanks Doug, will do!

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Malgosia Askanas
Tue 18 Dec 2007Link

Many thanks for the response to my previous question. Now I have another. Could anyone advise me how I could get hold of a copy Jonathan Lewis' documentary "Reputations: Pope Pius XII – the Pope, the Jews and the Nazis", which was made for BBC2 and shown in 1995? I tried contacting BBC about it through their website, but received no response. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Perhaps there is some way to contact Jonathan Lewis directly?

Marianne Shaneen
Tue 18 Dec 2007Link

Hi Doug- I spoke to both attorneys you recommended, they were both really wonderful and both raved about you : ) (really).
One more expensive w/no retainer, one less expensive requiring a retainer, and both seemingly equally great (knowlegable, helpful, cool).
Many thanks again!!

Doug Block
Tue 18 Dec 2007Link

you're welcome, marianne. sorry i gave you a tough choice ;-)

Edited Tue 18 Dec 2007 by Doug Block

Evan Thomas
Wed 19 Dec 2007Link

Hi Malgosia,

I'm assuming it's not available to buy.

It could be expensive to get a copy from the BBC as it's liklely it's sat on a big shelf somewhere and could cost £££ to get a copy from the master tape. Maybe you would have more joy with contacting Jonathan Lewis?? Might be a long shot though...

It's a bit naughty but it might be on a torrent somewhere on the web? Especially since it features Nazis there always seems to be plenty of Nazi related documentaries available for download.

Darla Bruno
Fri 21 Dec 2007Link


Wondering if someone can advise me on sound. I'm going to be working with a dp in January on a shoot in a hilltown in Italy for my first doc. Our sound guy can't do it, and my budget already has me eating beans and rice. So we're going without a boom operator. My dp assures me we'll be fine, but all anyone has ever warned me about (and I'm a TOTAL newbie) is how important sound is.

My dp has done other docs, and I trust his opinion; we have wireless mikes and he's got an awesome camera with a good mike, but again--everyone has always said, don't rely on the camera mike. Most of our work in Jan is going to be interviews and b-roll, but are we screwing ourselves without a boom operator?

Wolfgang Achtner
Fri 21 Dec 2007Link


Have read your previous postings, was under the impression you'd be shooting next summer. You could be fine without a soundman, I have completed several documentaries without one, it really depends on what you're doing.

For interviews and some B-roll you should be fine without one.

I live in Orte, outside Rome and I've worked here zillions of years. if you care to call for a chat, feel free to do so. Remember we're 6 hours ahead of you over here.

E-mail me and I'll send you my phone nr.

Nick Higgins
Fri 21 Dec 2007Link

I concur with Wolfgang that as long as your DP sets up the audio well for the interviews you should be fine.

Doing the one man band thing only really gets tricky when you have multiple people talking at one time eg. a dinner scene with lots of people or a hike in the hills with lots of people etc etc, any of these "verite scenes" with multiple people is when an audio tech with boom/multiple lavs is worth their weight in gold.

The camera mic will be fine for b-roll but for an interview thats more than a few feet away it wont be much good. If you take it off the camera and mount it on a stand close to the subject being interviewed it could be a good addition to the lav mic too.

When you go the one man band route its best to acknowledge that it can be done but if and when something goes wrong it definitely takes one person doing multiple jobs much longer to identify problems and correct them than when you have a dedicated sound person doing nothing else.

I shot one man band in a verite scene last week, a demonstration by workers who met at a parking lot and marched a half mile to their factory. It was sub zero temperatures and all was going well right up til the march got underway. The second they set foot on the road the lav went down. I had to march along and try and fix it on the fly. It didnt happen and we had to go with camera mic only until they arrived on site and we managed to rectify. Thats the downside of one man band cause if we'd have had an audio tech he probably could have fixed the problem while I shot on. With only me I had to choose between fixing it or shooting and after a few fumbly minutes I had to give up.

Edited Fri 21 Dec 2007 by Nick Higgins

Darla Bruno
Fri 21 Dec 2007Link

Wolfgang, you can find me at I am in constant communication with people in Italy, so will respect time difference. My latest thought is that I should find some equipment and do my own sound if a situation requires a boom mic. (I've never even handled one, though-and no offense to an sound people-but desperate times . . . )

So, while I did say this will mostly be interviews and b-roll, I image there might be, say, a farm shot, a pig slaughter, a woman cooking in her kitchen. These are scenarios I imagine that will need additional mic-ing.

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