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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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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
Sat 4 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 Sat 4 Apr 2009 by Regan Brashear

Yixi Villar
Sat 4 Apr 2009Link

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. (

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)
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:


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.


Claire Forgie
Sun 12 Apr 2009Link

I have just put up a documentary on funeral directing i made a couple of years ago.
I am looking for some feedback or ideas on where to go from here, possibly make an extended version.
Ideas and feedback all appreciated!
Thanks, claire


Evan Thomas
Wed 15 Apr 2009Link

Apologies as i know this isn't the place for this post but i haven't applied for full membership yet! I'll do it, i promise i will!

And this is a loooong shot I expect but i am scouring LA for Office space, nothing huge just somewhere downtown that is secure and has a few desks, power points etc.

Oh and cheap as possible!

Evan Thomas
Fri 17 Apr 2009Link

In reply to Claire Forgie's post on Sun 12 Apr 2009 :

Hi Claire – Just watched it, it's pretty good so far, i enjoyed it. In the opening scene with the guy taking the call in bed, that deep, donnie darko-esque ambient sound, did you create that? Or did i imagine it?

If you were thinking of making an extended version here are a few thoughts..

If you can do more filming It would be interesting to see some of the different funerals that people have whether religious or especially not so. What kind of unusual requests do people make? Items in coffins for example, the red wine bottle and the football scarf that are mentioned. If you could get permission it would be nice to see some of these things to get a visual. I guess access to actual funerals could be key, to see real people grieving death and celebrating life is usually powerful.

There is a mention of "the history of funerals" maybe that's an avenue to explore a little? Along with the change in law regards cremations? What about the guys that work there? What are they like when they're not at work? What kind of houses do they live in? Do they go for drinks after work? Christmas parties etc?

Oh also you show a framed portrait of an ancestor? Can you scan this and use in the film that way? If it's a family business are there photos of fathers or grandfathers that could be shown and talked about?

I found it pretty engrossing generally. I mean to see deceased human beings – i find it quite affecting, most of us have no experience of such things. I notice there's no music but maybe it doesn't need any...

Shakai Shepard
Sat 18 Apr 2009Link

Hi all, I am new here and have not yet gotten to introduce myself. I am an anthro/film student at Columbia University in NYC and currently tossing ideas, scribbling in my journal and generally obsessing in thought around ideas for my first film. I was wondering if any one would suggest a good small handheld and would also not mind telling me what their choices pro's are, why they like their suggestion.

I have a PD 150 and still love it, but I was thinking of something much smaller...

Thank you!

Carlos Gomez
Sun 19 Apr 2009Link

panasonic's hmc-150 may be too big, the vixia might work for you.

Katinka Kraft
Wed 22 Apr 2009Link

I am feeling tongue tied. Every distribution workshop I have taken thus far has suggested that you call the programmer of the film festival that you have submitted to and strike up a conversation/introduce yourself. I keep picking up the phone and drawing a blank on what will be important for me to say, what will not seem redundant and irritating to someone who might get these calls all day long. Any suggestions?

Doug Block
Wed 22 Apr 2009Link

I think that advice may be overrated, Katinka. Personally, I've never done it without a specific question. You might, for instance, call to say you have an updated sample and is it too late to swap it for the one you submitted. Or even a new synopsis. And it is a way for to get your film on their radar. But I'd only do that if you actually have an updated sample or synopsis that's significantly better.

Matthieu Lietaert
Thu 23 Apr 2009Link Tag

Hi all,
any one knows where are the pitching forum for CROSS MEDIA or 360 degree projects in Europe? any help appreciated!
good work,

Andrew Dupont
Thu 23 Apr 2009Link

Can someone link me to a good legal refresher on filming in the US and, if possible, Massachusetts? I'm about to embark on a large scale project here and I don't want to get unreasonably hassled by the man. Thanks!

James Longley
Thu 23 Apr 2009Link

What do you need to know? An hour with a good entertainment lawyer – one specializing in documentaries – would probably be as good as any course.

Basically, you want releases for everything – if you're filming in the US. Individuals, locations, etc.

If you're signing a contract of any kind, you want a lawyer.

Andrew Dupont
Fri 24 Apr 2009Link

Where would I get a good draft of a legal release to use people/places in my films?

Thanks already for your help!

Tom Dziedzic
Fri 24 Apr 2009Link

Andrew, I would highly recommend you get the book Clearance and Copyright by Michael Donaldson. It's geared toward the independent filmmaker.

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