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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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John Burgan
Sat 9 Aug 2008Link

Darla – for a DV project you can't go wrong with Final Cut Express which is cheaper than, yet fully compatible with its more powerful sibling.


Doug Block
Sat 9 Aug 2008Link

Gita, generally showing the film to your main characters before the public sees it is better and more considerate. They'll probably need the first screening just to absorb it. It's not an across-the-board rule, but if they're even somewhat exposed or vulnerable in the film it's good to let them have their own private reactions first.

Edited Sat 9 Aug 2008 by Doug Block

Wolfgang Achtner
Sun 10 Aug 2008Link

Hiya Gita,

Doug has given you good advice.

On the other hand, there is no simple answer to your question.

Many different factors may came into play. Just to mention one or two: what kind of story you've told, what kind of relationship you have with your subject, what role your subject has in the documentary, the way you've told their story, etc., etc.

In some cases I'd say it would be best NOT to show it to them before your film comes out (goes to a festival, airs on tv, is released in the theaters, on DVD, etc.), in others, there wouldn't be any valid reason not to show it to them privately.

Unless you give us some additional details about your film and your relationship with your main character, it's almost impossible to say what might be best or more appropriate in this particular case.

Edited Sun 10 Aug 2008 by Wolfgang Achtner

Roderick Taylor
Sun 10 Aug 2008Link

I work as a clinical counsellor for children and youth. As a volunteer project I help youth make their own documentary films. Our current film is about the perception of female body image and its correlation with eating disorders. For our b-roll, we added motion to images that we downloaded from the internet and scanned from magazines. These images are often advertisements or pictures from fashion magazines. In addition, we have included clips from movies and music videos as part of our b-roll. For example, a kid is talking about the stupidity and sexism in music videos while we show a clip from a 'Girlicious' video.

Question:

1) Is my use of these copyrighted images and sources of media legal seening how I am making an educational/research based film.

2)If I am allowed to use the aforementioned images in my film, am I allowed to alter them in any way. For example, I took a photo from the internet of a best buy advertisement which showed a skanky looking model. I used the image of the model as part of my b-roll but, in doing so, I used adobe after affects to delete part of the ad(words and other pictures}?


Paul Miil
Mon 11 Aug 2008Link

Is it possible to make a biography on a famous musician without their permission?

If so, can I use their name in the title?

I have intentions of distributing to Canada & USA.

I contacted their management and this was their reply--I removed their identity.

"xxxx is a very private person and isn't looking for this type of recognition.
In view of how xxxx would feel about the whole thing, we would not be allowed to license any music nor would the band be available for interviews."


Ramona Diaz
Mon 11 Aug 2008Link

Well you could argue that the musician is famous and therefore you can make this film about the public persona. BUT how can you make a film about a musician without access to his/her work – i.e. the music? If management and the band are unwilling to give you permission to use the music, you can't use it. What would be the point of the film?


Paul Miil
Mon 11 Aug 2008Link

So, simply because someone is famous I can make a doc about them without their permission?

Would I be able to show the inside of previous homes and schools that he mentioned in his books or is that too private? Where is the line?

They say he is a private person and yet he's a celebrity who has written several books with intimate details about his private life.


Christopher Wong
Mon 11 Aug 2008Link

paul, for an example of how to profile a musician without using ANY of their music, check out AJ Schnack's Kurt Cobain About a Son

however, the above doc did primarily utilize the artist's recorded tapes from an interview for a book. so, you will somehow have to access something which gives the artist a voice. i'm sure you'll think of something creative...


Neil Garrett
Mon 11 Aug 2008Link

Hi all,
I'm filming a low budget community project (uk) over the next couple of weeks some of which will involve shooting teenagers (sadly only with a camera) at a club they attend. As most of them will be under 16, this puts me on tricky ground with the release forms. I need parental consent, but it's unlikely any of the parents will come to the club during filming. I'm a bit nervous at the prospect of say, giving each kid a release form and self addressed envelope and relying on them to return them, and there's no way of knowing or finding out who'll be attending in advance.
Should I be worried about this or just go ahead and shoot? Do I have to get release forms even for kids who'll just be wallpaper?


Mark Barroso
Tue 12 Aug 2008Link

Neil:
Laws are country-specific, so us Yanks can't tell you squat. That said, I'll tell you my thoughts anyway (us Yanks are like that).

I'm assuming you can't contact parents ahead of time and are shooting kids who just happen to show up. If it were me, I would demand from the kids the phone number of their guardian and call them on the spot. After getting a verbal release from mum, I'd tell her you need to get all this in writing and that she will have to sign a release and get her address.

Know going into it that x percent of the kids you shoot will be unusable because their parent never followed up by mailing you the release.


Andrew David Watson
Tue 12 Aug 2008Link

What type of club is this? A chess club? A music Club? Will the kids be getting picked up by their parents at the end? Will you be interviewing the kids or will they just be background? Thats a tough situation.


Neil Garrett
Wed 13 Aug 2008Link

It's a computer game tournament organised by a local library. I think the age range is gonna be quite broad so I'm assuming a fair number of kids will be making their own way there and back. The sequence ain't gonna live or die on whether I get interviews with them, but it would be nice to get some reaction – only with kids who I've got cast iron consent to use though!

-And Mark, thanks for the advice about getting verbal releases. I think thats probably a good place to start!

Cheers


Roderick Taylor
Wed 13 Aug 2008Link

Hey Neil,

I'm not sure how it works in the UK, nor am I really sure how it works in my own country (Canada), as the lawyers like to debate these issues to the end of time. That said, my understanding of it is this. Anyone can film anything in a public forum. Where you may be sued is if you use that public footage in a manner that could be construed as defamation of character. For example, if I'm making a video about prostitution and I videotape women waiting for the bus or teenage males cruising in their cars on main street, and I use that footage as b-roll in my film, but in such a way that those persons are depicted as prostitutes or 'john's', it would be pretty good grounds for a defamation of character lawsuit laid against me. If I was actually filming prostitutes and 'john's' cruising around the red light area of my city, and I disguised their faces in final production, I'd be minimizing the chances of a lawsuit, as I've eliminated a great deal of possibility for someone's character to be defamated.

At the end of the day however, anyone can sue anyone for anything. All you have to do is file a writ in a civil court. So, there is no 100% protection from a law suit. What you can protect yourself from is the credibility of the plaintiff's lawsuit.

If you are filming people in a private setting, such as a library, you will likely need permission from the library to do so. The library will then probably put up a poster that warns people of the shooting and gives them the option to inform you if they don't want to be captured in your film.

As for the 16-year-olds and their consent. I think it depends on two factors; the age of majority in the UK, and wheter or not you have something like an Infants Act in the UK. The Infants Act in Canada allows counsellors to provide their services to children under the age of majority, without consent from their parents, provided that the counsellor considers the child to be old enough to fully understand the consequences of such services. Maybe the UK has a law like that but pertaining to the rights of a child to access any kind of service.

Those are just my thoughts

Take Care,


Neil Garrett
Thu 14 Aug 2008Link

Well just got back from the filming and wouldn't you know it, the God of Production was smiling down on me. All but one of the kids had parents drifting in and out, all perfectly happy to have the kiddywinks on camera. Even the mum who wasn't there gave verbal consent over the phone and has agreed to sign the release I'm sending her.

Now I just need to know whether I can use cutaways of the TV screen showing the computer games being played, or whether that breaches uk copyright. Anyone?


Mike Mossey
Fri 15 Aug 2008Link

Do most people start their own company as a documentary filmmaker or can you just do business as yourself?
Does anyone know of any resources that outline the steps for creating a small-scale Doc-film business?
I am new to this. Thanks.


Doug Block
Fri 15 Aug 2008Link

Mike, I did business as myself (using a DBA) for quite a while. Once I started raising significant money for my first doc I incorporated. I think that's a pretty common way to go.


Skyler Buffmeyer
Sun 17 Aug 2008Link

hi!
i am interested in making my own doc and was wondering if there was a good editing program out there that is somewhat reasonable in the price and is not to complicated.
thank you :)


Christopher Wong
Sun 17 Aug 2008Link

welcome skyler...

there are a few decent editing programs out there, but the most common one is Final Cut Pro (FCP). A cheaper version of the same thing is Final Cut Express (FCE). But both of these programs only work with a Mac. (Speaking of which, iMovie comes absolutely free of charge with the Mac, and is a very handy program for beginners.)

if you have a PC, there are a myriad of options, the most popular of which are Avid and Adobe Premiere. unless you are wanting to be a professional editor, Avid is probably too expensive for you and requires too much of a learning curve. Adobe Premiere is easy to learn and widely used but not so much by documentary filmmakers.

all in all, if you can afford it, get the cheapest new Mac you can get, and start editing with iMovie. after a month or so of practice, then shell out the few hundred bucks for FCE. when you have a project that's actually fit for broadcast, upgrade to FCP.


Joe Moulins
Sun 17 Aug 2008Link

It's been a long time since I checked, but doesn't Avid have a free version for Windows and Mac?

(three minute later)

I guess not

Edited Sun 17 Aug 2008 by Joe Moulins

Skyler Buffmeyer
Sun 17 Aug 2008Link

Hey! thanks for the advice about the editing thing :)
Sadly, I have a PC and the FCE looks realllly good.
I have a few more questions and will probably have a lot more in the future....lol.
I will be interviewing random people on the street AND set up interviews. I was wondering what kind of release forms I would need. Can I make one up myself? I would really rather not see a lawyer or anything like that.
Also, for the filming I will be using a camcorder (Canon ZR850). I was wondering what advice you would give for sound? Could I use a simple boom?
Thanks again, this website is a great resource and, I will definitely take advantage of it. :)


Robert Goodman
Sun 17 Aug 2008Link

Pinnacle Studio 12 is a good program. A lot of features for $79. Remember you don't need much. For 90 years every Hollywood feature film was edited with a viewer and scotch tape. It used to be that you'd find less than 10 dissolves and all the other edits would be cuts.

If you want to go up the scale – Sony's Vegas Video is a good program and then head to Adobe Premiere CS3. All available for far less than Avid and other professional programs.


Paul Kloeden
Mon 18 Aug 2008Link

A quick google search will lead you to a lot of release forms. A quick cut and paste will get you what you need. As for interviews, especially set up ones, I would be tempted to buy a cheap lapel mic – simple one with cable to your camcorder.


Jason Caminiti
Mon 18 Aug 2008Link

Skyler,

There are a number of PC editing programs. Last year when I dove back into Non-Linear Editing, I started using Adobe Premiere Elements. It is surprisingly good for a program that costs about $99. Elements is a pro-ish program dumbed down quite a bit for newbies. Though, it has some features that Premiere Pro doesn't have, like the ability to make a DVD with titles and all. Also, if you find yourself getting serious, the learning curve to Premiere Pro will be almost nothing. In fact, you will start to see many of the quirkyness that is somehow built into Elements dissapear, and it is a slick program.

I'm not a fan of the Pinnacle software at all. I have it just to import VHS and it seems amateurish.

(Ducks flames from Mac users)

Edited Mon 18 Aug 2008 by Jason Caminiti

Skyler Buffmeyer
Mon 18 Aug 2008Link

Hi again!
Thank you so much for the great feedback! It is so appreciated!!!! I just love this website :)
I have another question:
What recommendations would you make for finding subjects to be in your doc? I was thinking maybe flyers around town or an article in the newspaper...anymore tips?
Thank you again.


Robert Goodman
Mon 18 Aug 2008Link

it's not amateurish it's simple for amateurs on purpose.


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