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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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Tina Flemmerer
Tue 3 Mar 2009Link

Hello everyone,

I am really excited about this portal and all the helpful information you people share. Now I am hoping that someone can help me with my question.

This summer I am planning on going to Germany and then Poland to work on a piece about my mother who is searching for her birth house in Poland. I am planning on brining my own equipment, (camera, mic, tripod & laptop) into Europe, but I am not sure if I have to declare my camera with German customs.

From what I have heard German customs is really cracking down on people coming from America who bought electronics there so I don't want to get into trouble. I'd appreciate any advice. Thank you.


Tina Flemmerer
Tue 3 Mar 2009Link

In reply to dustan lewis mcbain's post on Mon 2 Mar 2009 :

Dustan,

I would not advise you to stay wide for most of the shots. You will regret it later in editing.

The people who hired you are looking to promote themselves to schools with this video. Your customer wants the schools to be engaged in their presentation, they need to draw them in to get hired, so that should be your motivation too. The closer you are to your subject the more your audience will identify with them and like them. So I would go with an array of medium to close shots if I was you.

This is about working with children, right? So get lot's of close ups of the children, their eyes, a smile, a raised hand, and of course lot's of interaction between the social worker and the children. Once children are engaged in some sort of activity they are so natural on camera, and that will make you look good.

If you are nervous about your shooting skills you should go out and practice. I like to practice at the Union Square Farmers Market here in New York. You have a lot of people that are busy shopping and most likely they won't mind to be videotaped. Also, they are not going to stay at a fruit stand until you have found your perfect shot, so it's a perfect way to train yourself to make rapid decisions and get a full array of shots withing a limited time.

And definitely use Mark's advice; you have the camera, so you are the boss!!!

It sounds like an exciting project, I wish you good luck with it.


John Burgan
Wed 4 Mar 2009Link

Tina – there are no restrictions on bringing camera, mic, tripod & laptop for your personal use, so it's mainly a question whether this is clearly pro equipment or more prosumer. If it's new gear, it might help to have some proof of ownership with you.


Tina Flemmerer
Wed 4 Mar 2009Link

In reply to John Burgan's post on Wed 4 Mar 2009 :

John,

thank you for your advice. Well, it is a Panasonic HVX200 camera, so I would say it's more on the pro than on the prosumer end, right? And you are sure that I don't have to declare it even if I should decide to stay in Germany? Do I have to tell the customs people about it though?


Wang Fu
Wed 4 Mar 2009Link

To Give a name of my documentary do I need to register name and get copyright or something like this ? Or just I can name documentary as I want?


Mark Barroso
Wed 4 Mar 2009Link

Just name it whatever you want.


Christopher Wong
Wed 4 Mar 2009Link

name the documentary whatever you want... but i would not worry about that right now. you can decide on the title when you are done (or nearly done) with the film – right now, just concentrate on making it good.


John Burgan
Wed 4 Mar 2009Link

In reply to tina flemmerer's post on Wed 4 Mar 2009 :

Hmm, well you're right, the HVX200 is more on the pro end. Have you looked into getting a journalist visa? That's what we do when we work officially in the US. Then at least you'd have no worries.


Ben Kempas
Wed 4 Mar 2009Link

Visas are about people and passport controls. This is about equipment and customs. If you travel with professional equipment, you'll need an A.T.A. Carnet issued by your chamber of commerce. Pretty much a standard procedure.

Start here: http://www.uscib.org/index.asp?DocumentID=1843


Tina Flemmerer
Wed 4 Mar 2009Link

John, Ben,
thank you for your responses, they were very helpful.

But I think I might end up staying in Germany for a while which makes things easier. I just read that you don't have to pay taxes for your personal and professional household goods if you intend to move to Germany. So we'll see. Thanks again.


Wang Fu
Thu 5 Mar 2009Link

Before 3 years I shoot some important video from camera SONY DCR-HC26 . Now I want to use this 5 minutes video which I shoot from this simple camera.
All other video which I shoot is in good quality from good camera and I am using for my documentary.
Can I mix this five minutes video which I shoot from SONY DCR-HC26? Is this will affect bad in whole documentary? Actually what footage from (SONY DCR-HC26 ) I want to use it can not shoot again…
Thanks if anyone advice I should use or not.


John Burgan
Thu 5 Mar 2009Link

It depends very much on the film you are making. Some combine material from a wide variety of sources – archive, home movies, news, high-medium-low quality – whereas with others the visual continuity is of prime importance.

The question is – what do you want to achieve with your project?


Christopher Wong
Thu 5 Mar 2009Link

In reply to Wang Fu's post on Thu 5 Mar 2009 :

the simple answer is YES. you can always combine footage from many different sources. the result may or may not be visually pleasing, but if you can't reshoot something, you have to just use what you have.


Esther Pimentel
Fri 6 Mar 2009Link

My name is Maria Esther Pimentel. I´m a high school student in Los Angeles, interested in documentary projects. Can you please help me with the following questions?

1. What is the average range Budget in Documentary Films? The estimated dollar budget amount for my first-possible/future documentary is $450,084. For a documentary, the mentioned budget amount would be law, normal, or high? Keeping in mind that it will be film in Latin America.

2. Can you guide me to a link/site where I can see a sample of a professional business proposal for a documentary package, before presenting it to a possible investor?

3. Can you guide me to a link/site where I can see a copy of a professional sample budget?

Thank you.

Sincerely,

Esther Pimentel


Erica Ginsberg
Fri 6 Mar 2009Link

Esther, it's great that you are thinking about such things as a professional proposal and budget this early in your career. While the budget you mention is not unheard of, especially for a project involving travel, it might be a bit high if this is going to be your first feature film. It would be hard to offer more specific advice without knowing more about the project (i.e., one country or several, how long the finished film will be, what you plan to shoot on, will you have to hire interpreters and do subtitles after shooting, etc.). My recommendation would be to join a free documentary filmmakers' listserv called Doculink which is headquarted right there in L.A. Its co-founder Robert Bahar also authored a very useful article on budgeting and an Excel Template Budget which you may find useful.

Although I am sure you've already thought of this (and maybe have already done it), if you haven't made a documentary before, you may want to try doing something short and local first to test the waters. You may also want to see if there are some youth media programs in LA or any kind of training at a public access TV station or community college which would be open to high school students.


Esther Pimentel
Fri 6 Mar 2009Link

Dera Erica:

Thank you for your help.

Maria Esther


Nicholas Wiesnet
Fri 6 Mar 2009Link

Hi all! My name is Nicholas Wiesnet and I'm an undergraduate cinematographer at Chapman University in Southern California from Seattle, WA. I'm looking for a fixer in Cameroon – Anyone have any contacts? A friend recommended I check out this site when she heard that I was shooting a doc there. Any suggestions or contacts would be MUCH appreciated!

Cheers, Nicholas


William Gazecki
Sat 7 Mar 2009Link Tag

In reply to tina flemmerer's post on Wed 4 Mar 2009 : I've heard the ATA Carnets can be expensive, and an easier route is to have a U.S. Customs Declaration of all your gear as you leave the U.S. Apparently for personal gear it's just as good as a Carnet in establishing proof of ownership and origin of goods.


Ben Kempas
Sun 8 Mar 2009Link

That's good enough for an easy return to the U.S., but it doesn't guarantee you hassle-free entry into the country you're visiting.


Casey Crowdis
Tue 10 Mar 2009Link

Greetings,
I am working on a documentary in Canada, though I am US based. Are there any considerations for working with a fiscal sponsor in another country? Most of the donors for the film will likely be Canadian.

Related to that issue, if I don't use a fiscal sponsor, is there any benefit to a person donating to my film? Thanks! –c


Marj Safinia
Tue 10 Mar 2009Link

A US fiscal sponsor will only be able to offer the tax incentive to US taxpayers, so you'd have to seek out a similar thing in Canada if you want to appeal primarily to Canadian taxpayers. However, if you're seeking US foundation $$, you won't be able to get them (usually) unless you have a US fiscal sponsor. Sounds like you might want to have both?

Generally speaking, a donor will give money to your film because they care about the subject matter, because they care about you or because they care about documentary. Ideally all three. It's very rare that someone will give you money just for the tax incentive. That's a sweetener, for sure, but the real reason anyone will give you money is because you're passionate, dedicated and trying to tell a story for important reasons.


Casey Crowdis
Tue 10 Mar 2009Link

Very helpful answer, Marj! I'm considering partnering with a local museum in Canada since it is relevant to the documentary and is a beloved attraction in the town. I will keep my antenna up in case there is interest on the US side to consider getting a sponsor here. Thanks for the advice. –c


Michael Fagans
Tue 10 Mar 2009Link

Wondering if there are good or recommended choices for choosing mini-DV tape brands and quality for shooting an HDV doc? Thanks.


Dustan Lewis McBain
Wed 11 Mar 2009Link

any opinions on the Canon XH-A1 HDV?
or JVC GY-HM100U?


Dustan Lewis McBain
Thu 12 Mar 2009Link

In reply to tina flemmerer's post on Tue 3 Mar 2009 :

Btw thx tina for the advice i've been practicing in public places, works great


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