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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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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?

Evan Thomas
Thu 17 Jan 2008Link

I sympathise (never with a Z!) with Dale Archibald and his thoughts about access to the forums for non-professionals. Although i would say that it seems like the pros regularly post advice and responses in the mentoring room and also access at least at some level is free. Somebody put in the hours to spruce up this site and they did a good job and didn't bill me for it so i am grateful for that. I have been a member on other forums that charge annually.

I haven't applied for professional status myself but i might. Can't believe there isn't a box to check for Production Manager or Coordinator when applying for pro status. We do a lot of work
even if it isn't necessarily editorial. Although i guess everyone doesn't have the luxury of larger factual production teams??? Do i have to be an "other"?

Dale Archibald
Thu 17 Jan 2008Link

Evan, it is a fascinating site, and I do appreciate the work put into it. And, as I said, I suppose I could use the tags to work my way through everything.
I could probably fudge and say I'm a writer (which I have been since 1970), but I have had little documentary or video experience (if you don't count a stint doing puppets for a local cable TV show).
Last night I took the Introductory course to the Minneapolis Telecomm Network, so I'm on the path to enlightenment.
I simply think it would be helpful to look through the seminars in a more organized manner, and you can't do that if you're an enthusiast.
On another note, I noticed the lists on one of the bookseller sites for video and filmmaking. Interesting, what with the books on various aspects of the craft, lighting kits and all.

Jo-Anne Velin
Thu 17 Jan 2008Link

Evan and Dale, I am just a 5-year member of D-Word, not one of the three hosts/monitors, but recall that one of the concerns when putting the revamped D-Word together this past year was how to offer anyone at all who is interested in documentary some sort of platform so people with some experience in documentary can share their support, solutions, and other help with those who are new to it. Or who want to discuss whatever they like. The public/private division has nothing to do with fees; it's more about protecting privacy and some of the personal information that members exchange. While it might never be perfect, it's a fix.

D-Word doesn't charge fees and nor does it raise money with advertising, but the hosts did initiate a voluntary fundraising exercise a while ago to help pay for the intense programming needed to make all the bits flow together better. This included a much easier to use public zone. Enjoy the freebie!

Dale, I have often consulted titles published by CMP Books. Their publications on digital video sound and lighting were recommended to me – probably all updated since I read them.

Dale Archibald
Thu 17 Jan 2008Link

Thanks, Jo-Anne. I'll take a look at them.

I do enjoy the site, and appreciate the work and care that goes into it. I shall continue to graze around the edges.

Erica Ginsberg
Thu 17 Jan 2008Link

To all who have expressed comments about access to the member-only areas of this forum, the hosts will hopefully chime in soon. But I can say that I don't think those sections are made private simply to keep the discussion only to professionals or to create a clique. They were separated more to provide a safe space for professionals to share their experiences and challenges with few worries of their comments being seen by anyone (ANYONE, not just enthusiasts). The public forums come up in Google searches while the private forums do not.

That said, I think a great solution would be for the hosts to send out a monthly or even quarterly e-mail message to all D-Word members with some highlights of discussions held in the private forums which could be beneficial to all without compromising privacy. For example, right now there is an interesting discussion going on in one of the member-only topics about house parties as a fundraising tool and it would be great for some of the highlighted recommendations to be shared with the enthusiasts who could benefit by this information for their first project.

P.S. Not trying to be too self-promotional here, but can't help myself. I am the co-founder of a doc organization called Docs In Progress. While some people know us for putting on work-in-progress screening programs in the Washington DC area, we also have two initiatives which may benefit doc filmmakers based anywhere and with ANY degree of experience. One is a quarterly e-newsletter we publish. It's free and you can sign up for it on our website at (next issue to come out before the end of January will feature articles on rights and clearance issues and a story about a unique approach to online fundraising). The other is a work in progress screening we are coordinating in collaboration with NomadsLand on February 17 where the filmmaker will participate via Skype. More info on how to submit is here:

Ryan Ferguson
Thu 17 Jan 2008Link

Erica – I think that's a great idea, but it also sounds pretty time consuming for whoever has to compile that newsletter. Maybe another, more user based, solution might be to add another button by the tag,edit,help, etc. that basically makes your post available to enthusiasts. There could just be one public thread that is a 'members selects' compilation thread. That way it would be up to the actual author of the comment (or a moderator, I guess) to decide whether the post should be available to the world (of course the default would still be that every post is private). While I realize most members would still hesitate to ever do this, a good way of alleviating that would be to automatically make those posts anonymous in the public forum. Yeah, it's out of context for enthusiasts, but they would just have to take the info or leave it and know it's coming from pros. This may be enough to appease everyone (except the poor web designer who would have to implement these changes). Just a thought. I think it's definitely valuable to take measures to keep the public D-Word vibrant.

Chris Hinrichs
Thu 17 Jan 2008Link

Thanks Jo-Anne, Erica, and Ryan for your clarifications and comments. I'm a curious guy in general (probably why I enjoy docs so much), so I'm interested in what you all are discussing. However, if there is sensitive stuff in there, I will be content with the areas of the site that are available to me. I'm sure that a ton of work goes into maintaining this site while at the same time keeping it free, and for that I thank the hosts.

Monica Williams
Fri 18 Jan 2008Link

Thanks so much to Riley and Jo-Anne for the wonderful advice! Both of you are always very helpful to me.

Matthew Hickney
Fri 18 Jan 2008Link

hey guys, I have a quick legal question. If I shot a sporting competition (such as an MMA fight) , what type of legal document must I attain from the promoters of the competition to have the right to use it in my film?

I have release forms for individual participants, but is there a separate form for business, locations, ect?

and legally speaking, do I need to worry about locations like suburban streets and intersections, small chain stores like bi-mart (small chain in eastern Washington and parts of Oregon), and things like gas stations?

if there is a separate type of release I need to get, links to the documents I can download would be awesome...

thanks guys, I really appreciate it!

Dale Archibald
Fri 18 Jan 2008Link

Sorry to act the role of a gadfly, but I guess I just don't see what sort of secret rites and protocols could cause "Let's show this to other adults, but don't let the kids see it." I understand there might be a reluctance to have everything on the site (e-mail addresses, etc.) available to search engines and spammers, but if forums are archived without editing the info is outed anyway.
So, as part of my learning curve, could someone explain to me what shouldn't be shown to enthusiasts? Without a complete description, of course? Or have a set of clear guidelines posted? I'd like a guideline as to whether I can put a website name down as a resource. I avoided doing so in an earlier post because I didn't know the guideline.
This is a marvelous site, one I came across by reading Wikipedia, and I've been looking for info on documentary filmmaking for some time now. I'd like to help it be better.

Doug Block
Fri 18 Jan 2008Link

Dale (and others), as The D-Word's founder, let me jump in here with a brief policy explanation. The D-Word has always been an online discussion forum for documentary professionals worldwide. We make no apologies for the fact that we're somewhat "exclusive" or "clubby". We want a place where we can converse with our professional colleagues rather than be bombarded by basic questions from students and beginners.

In recognition that we all have to start somewhere, we've always had a public area of The D-Word, where Enthusiasts, as we now call them, can read the many guest conferences we've done over the years, and to ask questions in the Mentoring Room topic. We definitely plan to expand the public area of The D-Word in the coming years, particularly as we start to implement video hosting on the site.

As far as determining if someone qualifies as a pro, it's somewhat subjective as one of the co-hosts goes through every registration for membership. If there's any question, he either brings in the other co-hosts for their opinion or asks the registrant for more info. And if we do wind up rejecting an applicant for the professional area, we always allow them to either make a stronger case for themselves or re-apply at a later date when they presumably do have more experience.

As for making Members posts available for non-members to read, it would greatly curtail the freedom we feel to post our opinions. Especially since posts in the public area can be googled by the general public. But we're very open to new ideas of how to make the public area more vibrant, as Ryan puts it. So it's good to get everyone's thoughts and suggestions.

Edited Fri 18 Jan 2008 by Doug Block

Christopher Wong
Fri 18 Jan 2008Link

as some encouragement to Dale and other like-minded enthusiasts, you can be a first-time filmmaker and still qualify as a member. i still haven't finished my first film, but when i applied, i had reached a certain level with my doc in terms of funding and some industry recognition (along with my other film/video experience) where the hosts were comfortable that i would add something to the conversation, and not bog down the conversation with questions that were too basic. so when you are at a point that you are ready, apply for the full membership. in the meantime, the members will still be ready and willing to post helpful responses in the Public section.

Dale Archibald
Fri 18 Jan 2008Link

Doug, thanks for taking the time. I'm really not checking out the incisors of a gift equine, just trying to learn as much, as fast, as possible.
It occurs to me that if the enthusiast/member difference must be kept up, perhaps you could offer a "guest member" or "trial member" listing. Have it for a short period of time, e.g., three or six months, and only allow it to those the Hosts approve.
At the end of that time, the person must show they've advanced toward becoming a professional: perhaps they've finished some paid classes, or have created and submitted==at least worked on==a 3-5 minute doc.
You might even put such trial balloons into a special area for viewers to comment on. Sort of myD-wordspace.
Christopher, thanks for the comment. I've been working on a film concept for some time. Since I'm a writer/editor/webmaster of over 30 years, I've been trying to master the storytelling/screenwriting aspects first. By the end of the month I'll start a class in Field Production, learning to use the cameras and mikes, lights, etc.
Since I'm sort of a "braid your own shoestring to start on" kind of independent cuss, I plan to self-finance my low-budget doc(s), although if I can land some funding I will be happy to accept it. I a filmmaker? I've certainly got the inclination.
I suppose I should let this lapse for awhile. I, too, don't want to "bog down the conversation with questions that [are] too basic."

Christopher Wong
Fri 18 Jan 2008Link

dale, don't worry, you aren't bogging anything down. and i admire your perseverance and grit. i spent 7 years just "training" – community college courses, internships, editing awful local car ads – so that i would be confident in my own skill (camera, audio, etc.) when the right documentary idea came along. i'm sure you'll be up to speed MUCH faster than that. until then, keep asking the "basic" questions...

Le Sheng Liu
Fri 18 Jan 2008Link

If I can contribute anything, let me introduce my fellow enthusiasts to another site if you haven't already joined it. features an e-mail group where members have discussions on anything relating to documentary development, production, etc etc etc. It is still meant to be by professionals, for professionals, and they do ask that you don't spam the list. But as a beginner I've found it pretty useful and enlightening and if I've ever posted something too petty or amateur, the worst that has happened is that no one responded. No big deal.

But as part of my efforts to be a member here someday, I am seeking employment and actually wanted to know if anyone can recommend any job sites that specifically feature positions in non-fiction entertainment. This would greatly narrow my search to the kind of work I want to move into. Post any websites you know of here or e-mail me

Thank you!!!!

Edited Fri 18 Jan 2008 by Le Sheng Liu

Dale Archibald
Fri 18 Jan 2008Link

Thanks, guys. I'll check out for sure.

Jason Boritz
Sat 19 Jan 2008Link

Hey Everyone new to this site.
I am needing to create revenue projections for our
investor and our lawyer for a documentary I am producing. I am
relatively new to this process. Was wondering if anybody had samples
or advice on how to properly create revenue projections for a

Thanks ahead of time,
Jason Boritz

Matt Dubuque
Sun 20 Jan 2008Link

Hello everyone-

Does anyone know of online resources (other than Netflix) where I can view older movies and documentaries online for a fee?

I'm particularly looking for access to some of the harder to find, non-mainstream items, older foreign documentaries and films, etc.

No file-sharing recommendations please. These usually don't have the harder to find, less mainstream titles and I also want to respect the rights of the copyright holders.

Thanks so much!


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