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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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Christopher Wong
Tue 3 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


Mike Flounlacker
Mon 16 Mar 2009Link

I have recently been asked to secure a distribution agreement by a client for a completed documentary. How/where can I submit content for consideration?

Is there a place to go where a person with no history in this industry will be taken seriously?


Joe Moulins
Mon 16 Mar 2009Link

In reply to Michael Fagans's post on Mon 9 Mar 2009 :

Don't waste your money on "HDV quality" tapes. I use Sony DVC Premium tapes in a Z1U and an A1U. I rarely see dropouts...maybe one in every 20 tapes.


Jordan Older
Tue 17 Mar 2009Link

Ventura Film Festival

The Ventura Film Festival, which was started in 2004 by Jordan Older and his father, has recently concluded its

first event of 2009 at the Majestic Ventura Theater in Ventura, California with the Ventura Film Festival "Fun Day"

on February 16, 2009 at 2pm.

The Ventura Film Festival is a combination online and traditional film festival requiring all submissions to be

uploaded online and submitted via traditional means. The Ventura Film Festival has maintained that one of it's main

goals is to give a large part of any proceeds to forest and ocean preservation efforts. The Ventura Film Festival

features independent films from around the world and from local film makers focusing on environmental issues such as

forest and ocean preservation, humanitarian issues, surf, skate, extreme/action sports, sports, martial arts, and

music films.

The Ventura Film Festival opened it’s 2009 events on Monday February 16, 2009 at the Majestic Ventura Theater in

Ventura, California with a “fun day”. The event marked the 6th anniversary of the Ventura Film Festival which was

started by Jordan Older and his father in 2004. The Ventura Film Festival board of directors were present to show

their selection of currently received entries for the 2009 Ventura Film Festival. The festival board includes

Hollywood film makers Dustin Dean and U.S. Olympian John Godina who is the most decorated shot putter in U.S.

athletics history. Ventura Film Festival is a green organization and accepts entries and submissions online at the

festival’s official web site, http://venturafilmfestival.org. Part of the profits from the Ventura Film Festival

will go directly towards environmental issues such as forest and ocean preservation. The “fun day” served as a warm

up for the main event of the 2009 Ventura Film Festival which takes place on July 5th.

The Ventura Film Festival gives out no awards. We prefer not to have competition and to simply celibrate great

films as works of art and enjoy a fun event that provides support for environmental issues such as forest and ocean

preservation. From time to time we may give notice of special recognition to certain films.

The Ventura Film Festival has become a partner with the world's biggest film festival marketing organization

Withoutabox. The partnership was on request of Withoutabox executive Sara Nixon-Kershner on Feburary 18, 2008.

Withoutabox provides submission and marketing service to over 200,000 filmmakers in 200 countries as well as manage

submission receiving, judging, and notification, schedule publishing, and the ability to sell tickets using targeted

ads on well known film site IMDB.

Submitting to the Ventura Film Festival is a two step process. BOTH STEPS ARE REQUIRED!!!

1) upload your submission to http://venturafilmfestival.net (REQUIRED)

2) Submit via Withoutabox using this link: http://www.withoutabox.com/login/7761 (REQUIRED)
withoutabox-logo

Submissions that are not uploaded to http://venturafilmfestival.net will not be considered.


Mark Barroso
Tue 17 Mar 2009Link

In reply to Mike Flounlacker's post on Mon 16 Mar 2009 :

I'm guessing the military is asking for this so you can shoot on base. No?


Rick Minnich
Tue 17 Mar 2009Link

Hi, this is Rick Minnich in Berlin, Germany. I'm a US-born doc filmmaker who's been based in Berlin since 1990. I've made a number of shorts and feature-length docs, most recently FORGETTING DAD about my father's bizarre and inexplicable case of amnesia, which has haunted my family for the past nineteen years. Some of you might have caught the film at its premiere at IDFA last November. This spring it will also be playing at It's All True, Belfast, Full Frame, HotDocs, and Planete Doc Review in Warsaw, and I would love to meet other D-Worders at one of these festivals, here in Berlin or elsewhere. I can be reached at rick@rickfilms.de. Cheers!


John Burgan
Tue 17 Mar 2009Link

Hi Rick – welcome aboard (it's been a long while, but you're here at last).

Not sure you need any mentoring with your track record (hint – this post would have been more appropriate in Introduce Yourself but hey, what the heck). Your email and contact details are available to other members on your profile.

To everyone else: do yourself a favour and check out Forgetting Dad – you'll be glad you did.


Rick Minnich
Tue 17 Mar 2009Link

Hey, give me a break! I'm still learning the ropes. Thanks for plugging FORGETTING DAD though.


Doug Block
Wed 18 Mar 2009Link

Welcome, Rick, great to have you here. And best of luck with Forgetting Dad.


Rick Minnich
Wed 18 Mar 2009Link

Hi Doug, Thanks for the welcome. Jan Rofekamp is repping Forgetting Dad. 51 Birch Street came up in one of our first conversations. FD has been drawing lots of comparisons to your film. I hope you can see FD at Full Frame or HotDocs. It would be nice to meet you in person as well!


Doug Block
Wed 18 Mar 2009Link

No plans to attend either, alas, as I'm in the middle of editing the new film. Will you be passing through NYC? And send my regards to Jan next time you speak, he's the best.


Jo-Anne Velin
Wed 18 Mar 2009Link

Rick, show it in berlin please – we met for a nanosecond in IDFA, but I was there only about 36 hrs, and didn't see FD.


Rick Minnich
Wed 18 Mar 2009Link

In reply to Jo-Anne Velin's post on Wed 18 Mar 2009 :
Hi Jo-Anne, We'll be showing FD at Babylon Mitte as part of the Achtung Berlin-New Berlin Film Award festival in mid-April. Please come and introduce yourself!


Rick Minnich
Wed 18 Mar 2009Link

In reply to Doug Block's post on Wed 18 Mar 2009 :
I suppose we'll have a screening in NYC at some point, but no concrete plans yet. The good folks at Tribeca didn't want the film, breaking my heart forever ...
Yes, Jan is the best. I'm very happy he took on the film. He's been making a lot of TV sales around the world, much to my delight!


Doug Block
Wed 18 Mar 2009Link

Rick, now that you're a member, and since you hardly need mentoring, let's continue these various conversations in their proper topics (Festivals, Shameless Self-Promotion, etc.).


Graeme Orr
Wed 1 Apr 2009Link

Hi, I am a first time filmmaker who has been shooting a doc for the past 2 years all over the world but I didn't got clearance from any of the countries I was shooting in. The film is about a humanitarian building schools and bringing aid to children in impoverished regions. We shot in Kenya, Egypt, India, Nepal and Sudan. I didn't get any clearance because he has always taken people along to document the work he does and I was taking over that roll. Now however I want to use the footage in a feature length documentary about him, with ambitions of getting it broadcast and in festivals. Is this possible. Do all filmmakers get clearance from the countries they shoot in if they are hoping to get them broadcast or shown at festivals. Also the organization is a non-profit and all profits from the film are going back to the charity – if that makes any difference. Any help or even a point in the right direction of where to get advice would be great. Thank you.


Regan Brashear
Thu 2 Apr 2009Link

Hi all,
I am looking for input on acquiring archival rights, specifically when do you need to do so. I have about twenty different clips of archival footage (from old science reels I found at the Nat'l Archives to clips from news reports to bytes from two popular films) in my film that I don't currently have rights to. I have been assuming that I need to track down and try to get rights for all of this before I can take my film to festivals or think about any other forms of distribution. A friend recently said that might not be the case since they are all under 30 seconds and I am using them all as part of my critique/argument that they might fall under the Fair Use parameters.

I would love any advice on this.

Also would love to hear how folks actually go about securing rights,i.e. do you need it in writing from wherever it came from? Is there a specific legal document that you need to have them sign?
What would you expect to pay for say 30 seconds from FOX news?
How do the Fair Use guidelines work in reality? Does POV allow for them, for instance?


Doug Block
Thu 2 Apr 2009Link

Regan, your questions really belong in the Research and Archives topic. Graeme, yours go in the Legal Corner. We like to keep discussions in their proper topics so that we can find the info later more easily. This topic is really for Enthusiasts who don't have access to the other topics.


Regan Brashear
Thu 2 Apr 2009Link

ah, got it. i'll repost there. thx!


Doug Block
Thu 2 Apr 2009Link

and never ever double-post again ;-)


Graeme Orr
Fri 3 Apr 2009Link

Sorry Doug. I was only an enthusiast at the time I posted. I was unsure if I would qualify as a member. I did re-post in Legal after becoming a Member. I won't do it again.


Doug Block
Fri 3 Apr 2009Link

No worries, Graeme. That definitely happens. Regan, on the other hand, needed a good thrashing ;-)


Regan Brashear
Fri 3 Apr 2009Link

hah! i got it, i got it...i've been "schooled" properly now, i do believe. no double (god forbid triple!) posts. be sure to read back in the threads. don't show excessive enthusiasm. don't praise Doug for fear of losing your mouth literally. if you feel the urge to curse, head to the PISS room or the Parking lot. Anything else I/we newbies should know? ;-)

Edited Fri 3 Apr 2009 by Regan Brashear

Yixi Villar
Sat 4 Apr 2009Link

Hi,
how are you? I'm in the process of trying to find funding for my documentary. Since my company is an LLC I was told i needed a fiscal sponsor if i wanted to receive nonprofit grants. I live in NYC and was wondering which fiscal sponsor was best with the least hidden fees. And also if anyone knew how i could find grants.. there are so many shady companies out there... Thanks!!


Tina Flemmerer
Sat 4 Apr 2009Link

In reply to Yixi Villar's post on Sat 4 Apr 2009 :

Yixi, try Arts Engine, they are the fiscal sponsor of the production company that I work for at the moment and we are really happy with them. (http://www.artsengine.net/fiscal_sponsorship)


Erica Ginsberg
Sat 4 Apr 2009Link Tag

In addition to Arts Engine, other reputable fiscal sponsors for film include:
International Documentary Association
Filmmakers Collaborative
San Francisco Film Foundation (formerly Film Arts)
IFP
Documentary Educational Resources
and probably two or three others whose names I have inadvertently omitted

All fiscal sponsors will charge you fees, but they are not hidden. For some, you may need to be a member of the organization. Some may also have an application fee (and possibly a maintenance fee for year to year). And most will charge between 5-10% as an administrative fee for funds which come in to the organization. You do not generally need to live in the same state as your fiscal sponsor, but, if you are planning on applying for state grants, you very well may need a fiscal sponsor based in that state.


Yixi Villar
Sun 5 Apr 2009Link

Thank you Thank you thank you...I was looking at IFP and NYFA. NYFA charges a higher percentage but seems to provide more services ...and their in NYC where I am.


Doug Block
Sun 5 Apr 2009Link

The IFP is close enough, Yixi. They're in Dumbo (right down the block from my office), and it's just a short subway ride from midtown Manhattan. It was a while back, but I wasn't impressed with NYFA when they sponsored my first film. Wheras I'm very impressed by the IFP as an organization. But you should speak to some producers who've worked with both firsthand.

Edited Sun 5 Apr 2009 by Doug Block

James McNally
Wed 8 Apr 2009Link

I just found out about a programme being offered by Seneca College here in Toronto called the Documentary and Filmmaking Summer Institute. It's an intensive 14 week course in doc filmmaking and the faculty list looks impressive (guest lectures by Alan King, Sturla Gunarsson, Jennifer Baichwal, etc.)

But, does anyone feel that these kinds of short intensive courses can really teach you filmmaking? As someone with a day job, this would require at best an unpaid leave of absence (and at worst, my resignation), so I'm looking for some guidance as to whether the filmmakers here think this would be worthwhile.

More info: http://scaweb.senecac.on.ca/prospective/programs/overview/programCode/DFI

Thanks!

Edited Wed 8 Apr 2009 by James McNally

Robert Goodman
Wed 8 Apr 2009Link

Probably a better solution than a 4-year college program. My feeling in general is that no one can teach you to be a filmmmaker. You can learn techniques and a sense of the job but experience makes a huge difference. Filmmaking is an art form and as such requires process.


Erica Ginsberg
Wed 8 Apr 2009Link

I think a lot depends on you, James. Some people learn best by hearing from experts and having the time and space of a classroom setting to experiment, work on teams with other students, and make mistakes without consequence. Others learn by going out and just start making films, either on their own with the help of a few mentors or by working on others' projects before tackling their own.

The faculty certainly looks impressive and 14 weeks seems more than feasible to work on a student documentary piece. But that said, I don't know if I would recommend quitting your day job to do this. Surely there are other educational programs which you could take at night or on weekends. And especially if your end goal is to become a writer or a publicist, you might be better off just working on somebody's film to get a sense of what's involved. I'm sure you can hear what a lot of these experts have to say on a panel at Hot Docs or elsewhere.


James McNally
Wed 8 Apr 2009Link

Thanks, Robert and Erica, for your wisdom. I think if I wanted to, I could make contact with some filmmakers here and get some work on a film doing something, so maybe it's not so important for someone like me.

I guess the thought of "running off to join the circus" for 14 weeks sounded pretty good.

:)


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