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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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Monica Williams
Sun 13 Jan 2008Link

Hello everyone,

There is a segment in my film where I will need to use many paintings from the 18th and 19th century. I plan to travel to Europe seeking images to use in museums etc. I have a DP that I will be working with soon, so he'll probably have some ideas – but I would appreciate all the advice I could get before speaking with him. How does this process work – obtaining images that are past their copyright from museums. Can I take the photographs myself, and rely on my DP to make them look interesting in post, or will I need a professional photographer with me at all times? If I can acquire the images myself, what camera is best? Do the museums have a special way of making these images available? Will I need to speak with someone at each museum in advance and have special forms? Any other advice I'm not asking for will be much appreciated as well.

Thanks so much!

David Blumenfeld
Sun 13 Jan 2008Link

Hi...Can anyone recommend any good Film Workshops for Directing, Writing, etc. in London England?

Darla Bruno
Sun 13 Jan 2008Link

So, thinking ahead . . . now that I have my PAL and sound stuff straightened out . . . I finish shooting in mid-February, and I'm entering a contest with a deadline of mid-April. My DP can edit with PAL (he's in Milan). So, I have the choice of coming back to the States with PAL footage and finding an editor and cutting a trailer (my DP and I may log , but not sure yet). And then trying to get it in in time for this contest. Or, I can try to stay in Italy longer, and work with my DP to edit our footage/cut a trailer. I'd have to pay him something like 375 a day, but it may only take 2 days. . . he'll know the footage. He'll have the software and what we need to edit. (I won't need to rent a PAL deck here or whatever).

Does this sound wise? Moreso then coming back to the US with the footage?

Just running this by you guys.

Christopher Wong
Mon 14 Jan 2008Link

unless you absolutely have the EXACT vision for what your trailer is going to be – and you are 100% confident you can get the interview subjects to say what you've envisioned – i have to tell you that it's going to take a lot longer than 2 days to cut a trailer. (i once thought the same thing, but 2 days goes so fast...)

theoretically, it really doesn't seem like it should take that long, but it always does. sure, you could cut a quick 2-minute trailer in two days but i guarantee you won't be happy with it. 5 days sounds like a much better estimation. if you are entering this contest because you actually want to win it, it's probably better to bring all the footage home and find an editor in NY or NJ.

Start looking now for the editor so that you can begin editing as soon as you return from Italy. Honestly, you probably aren't going to attract a top-flight experienced editor with your budget and project. but you can actually attract a decent (though inexperienced) editor for $200/day. 4-5 days editing with him/her will be roughly equivalent to what you would have spend with your Italian DP. If your editor is technically proficient, and you are very clear about what you want, you'll have a good chance at success.

Evan Thomas
Mon 14 Jan 2008Link

David hi,

I attended the Panico Film Course a few years back. It depends what you are looking for. The Panico Course is introductory and it ran on Sundays for 6 weeks. It cost me 800 quid back then. Like i said it's more introductory in nature and each week you do a litle bit of this and that. Super 8, script writing, visualising shots etc...and it culminated in shooting a little short in groups of 2-3 on 16mm. It was set-up in the 1980s i believe by a British group who have worked with Terry Gilliam. We had a talk one week from a guy who worked on "Brazil" and another week from Toni Grisoni who wrote Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas.

I don't live in London but for those that do once you have completed the course you can join the "club" for about 40 pounds a year and they meet once a week socially and you get access to a jobs list.

They offer weekend courses too that are more specialised.

John Burgan
Mon 14 Jan 2008Link

David – check out the training programme of the Documentary Filmmakers Group

Darla Bruno
Mon 14 Jan 2008Link

Thanks, Christopher –

So any ideas what I should look for in an editor. Someone who has the software, can edit in PAL, has experience with cinema verite, and whose work I like, obviously . . . but should I look on Craigslist? Obviously, too, it's better to find someone local, right? So I can sit with them...

Robert Goodman
Mon 14 Jan 2008Link

What you need from an editor is experience and aesthetic judgment. A track record of excellence in cutting docs. Whether or not they have the software program or not. Editing in PAL is no different than editing in NTSC. The best place to find doc editors is to talk to doc filmmakers and get recommendations.

Darla Bruno
Mon 14 Jan 2008Link

Okay, Robert. Sounds good! Thank you!

Le Sheng Liu
Mon 14 Jan 2008Link

So I might be helping someone produce a series of art/music videos and he wants to know what are some features on FinalCutPro 4, 5, 6, etc. that aren't in FCP 3 which is what I have. At the present moment, he is curious about what can be done with titles (these will be karaoke videos with lyrics) and after-effects. So are there any major differences between FCP 3 and beyond that he and I should be aware of? Thank you!!!

Le Sheng Liu
Mon 14 Jan 2008Link

And while we're on this subject, someone remind me of the difference between PAL and NTSC. What do they mean and stand for?

Marianne Shaneen
Mon 14 Jan 2008Link

Hi and thanks in advance for your help!
I'm in post production on a documentary and most interviewees have signed release forms but a few gave on-camera permission. Is on-camera permission sufficient, in terms of getting E&O insurance, broadcast, distribution, etc.? Are there cases where that is not enough? Many thanks!!

Riley Morton
Mon 14 Jan 2008Link

not sure why you didn't get more response. maybe because no one knows the best way to approach it. if it was me, and i was SURE that there weren't copyright problems using those photos, then i would shoot the stills myself. i'd use a DSLR with 8+ megapixels, but in truth you don't need that kind of resolution for even HD video unless you are doing a lot of zooming.

the museums would probably prefer that you went through them, and maybe their photos are a little better, but i'm sure that there is a hassle factor that is worth considering....

Matthew Hickney
Mon 14 Jan 2008Link

Hey all! I have been shooting a project for over a year and a half. Currently it is at it's first watch able cut, I had a test screening, and word has been very positive, and I am excited about taking this project as far as it can go.

please check out the trailer on my myspace page:

once concern that I have however, is that this whole time, I have not collected release forms, but merely on camera verbal releases which, I was told, would do just as well as a consent form. Recently I have come to find otherwise. My question is, will verbal releases work? and also, if I must collect written releases, do they need to be for each and every person in the film?

for example: I am shooting a fight, the entire time the focus is one the two men fighting in the ring, but there are various faces around the ring and in the audience that can be made out...

I am perfectly capable to get the release forms from any individuals who speak, or play any kind of role. But for these others, do I really need to hunt down EVERY SINGLE ONE of these people, and get them to sign a release form?

or is there a line that is drawn about who I have to get releases from, and who I do not?

even if they are in the film for a few seconds watching a fight, and say nothing, and play no kind of role in the narrative of the film?

also, in the first cut, I use alot of 3rd party footage i.e; PRIDE, UFC, IFL, fights, as well as clips from Enter the Dragon, and Bloodsport...

is there any easy way to maintain the presence of these clips in the film?

I assume not, and I will need to take them out.

This film was shot for next to nothing, and I certainly do not have the money to do a legal battle over the use of clips...

any advice is welcome.



Edited Mon 14 Jan 2008 by Matthew Hickney

Le Sheng Liu
Mon 14 Jan 2008Link

MAtthew, how far do you want to take this project? Basically anywhere you show this, you will need to get clearances for most of what you mentioned. But especially if you want this to appear on television or at a film festival or even any legitimate distribution website, you should get written releases for your subjects. As for the folks who don't speak but whose faces appear, that is kinda tricky cuz I've seen documentaries (such as Super Size Me) where such individuals' faces were blurred out, so I'm guessing they did not ask for permission for those people and didn't want to bother. And the non-original footage, you HAVE to get permission to include those clips, and (assuming you even get permission) you will often get charged to use it, which can get really expensive depending on the source of the footage. If you've got clips from major studio flicks, then it won't be cheap. If you can't afford to keep these clips in there, then I would suggest using your creativity to tell your story in alternative ways. This is certainly a challenge I will have to deal with, since I am a sucker for using news and stock footage in my documentaries, but that is so costly.

Edited Mon 14 Jan 2008 by Le Sheng Liu

Le Sheng Liu
Mon 14 Jan 2008Link Tag

Also, I found this site which has free sample release forms and other film-making freebies.

Wolfgang Achtner
Mon 14 Jan 2008Link

Hey Darla,

logging on for a few secs in the US.

In your next-to-last postyouwrote:

"So, I have the choice of coming back to the States with PAL footage and finding an editor and cutting a trailer (my DP and I may log , but not sure yet)."

regardless whether it's for the trailer or later (to do your documentary) it makes NO sense at all to log with someone unless you are going to edit the trailer – and more so – the documentary with that same person.

You CAN'T log your footage with person A and edit with person B.

You and your editor (whomever this may be) need to log the video TOGETHER.

Also, as I've tried to explain to you previously, the editing phase is NOT a phase where you can attempt to save money. You need the best and most competent editor you can find.

If you don't have enough money now, wait and save until you do and then edit it with a good editor.

Le Sheng Liu
Tue 15 Jan 2008Link

Does anyone else feel that the editing stage is in some ways more crucial than the shooting stage? That's the way I feel about documentaries.

Robert Goodman
Tue 15 Jan 2008Link

It depends on the film. Cinema verite style films – certainly. Others not so.

Christopher Wong
Tue 15 Jan 2008Link

for me, it's hard to say which stage is more crucial. sure, you can always save something in the edit, but if you've shot it well, it makes the whole edit much easier. for instance, there are a few scenes in my documentary where the shooter got VERY little coverage and so we are left with absolutely zero choices in the edit room for those scenes.

good shooters AND good editors are worth their weight in gold. having said that, just because you pay someone their weight in gold, doesn't mean that they are the right fit for your project.

Jo-Anne Velin
Tue 15 Jan 2008Link

Monica – usually you can have some luck if you contact the press person in-house and tell them this is editorial, not commercial, if this is the case: Europe generally views access to old pictures differently than in the US (sweeping but I'll get shot down by other d-worders here if I am really off the mark), so you may find access has to be controlled but will not be costly. They have credible security concerns, but some of the best collections are in small institutions that are not hard to deal with (Brugges is cool). The Louvre gets bombarded and I was told by someone there that many professional news crews, for example, behave very badly – bulls in china shops. Our cameraman's behaviour was complimented, though to my eye he was conducting himself with normal courtesy and respect for the other people visiting. apparently not the norm...

Explore also the images that they can make available to you without you having to go and shoot yourself. Several collections are slowly being digitised, though this may be limited to stills...

Dale Archibald
Wed 16 Jan 2008Link

H'm. It only took me two days to start complaining.
The reading restriction (i.e., not being able to read certain professional sections unless you're a member) strikes me as the same sort of glass ceiling I ran into when I wanted to start technical writing. That is, I couldn't become a tech writer unless I was already a "tech writer". Even though I had written about technology for periodicals for 20 years. Luckily, the head of the department looked at my resume and allowed me to try out eight years ago, and I've done it since (increasing my annual income by several times).
Now I want to learn how to become a documentarian (documentiste?), but it appears most of the information categories are only available to those who are already professionals. Same sort of glass ceiling.
Isn't it possible to allow enthusiasts to at least read through the posts, just to gain insight? Just don't allow them to make comments until they've won their spurs? Yes, I have been using tags, but those don't appear complete.
Sorry if I'm missing something, and the info is really available to all. I really do like the site, btw.

Chris Hinrichs
Wed 16 Jan 2008Link

I think Dale makes an interesting point. While I completely understand the rationale behind the professional forum being "by professionals, for professionals", is what's being discussed so esoteric that the rest of us, who are either aspiring or just fascinated by the documentary film process, can't at least eavesdrop? The last thing I want is to seem ungrateful because I think this site is great and the advice I've read to others is thoughtful and constructive. I just think the secrecy of the members forums is unnecessary. Is there a way to do what Dale suggests, where somehow we could read posts, but not comment? I have no sense of the technical side of this, so maybe it's too complicated to institute. Any explanation would be appreciated.

Edited Wed 16 Jan 2008 by Chris Hinrichs

Vicki Vasilopoulos
Wed 16 Jan 2008Link

I'm working on clearing all the photos for my first film, most of which are old family snapshots taken in Italy. Apart from getting a materials release from the owners of the photos,I understand that the conservative approach is to clear every individual pictured in those photos – a monumental task given that everyone is abroad and scattered about. But what if you can't locate everyone? From a practical standpoint, I was wondering how others have approached this for their films.

Matthew Hickney
Wed 16 Jan 2008Link

thanks, sheng liu. Ideally I'd like a theatrical run, with a DVD distribution plan. But I am not done shooting yet, I figured I would just go for broke initially with my first cut, and then poke around and see what any advice I can get in terms of what I can and cannot do.

getting the release forms will not be a problem (I have access to, and see the subjects on a semi-regular basis) the clips I use however, will most likely be removed. But it's worth it to try right?

what would be my first step in clearing these third party clips?

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