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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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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
Sat 18 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.

Scott Bridges
Fri 24 Apr 2009Link

I am about to do a doc in Mexico. Any ideas of a good point person or company to help insurance against local hassles?

Diane Johnson
Thu 30 Apr 2009Link

Hello – I have a silly question can u all tell me if in the film world is the word "narrative" just used for fiction films?

Ive heard the word thrown around for both documentaries and fiction long form. I always though that the word 'narrative' just meant 'story' example: what is the narrative? (to me means what is the story)

Christopher Wong
Thu 30 Apr 2009Link

for better or worse, the term "narrative" is commonly used when referring to fiction films. obviously, we all believe that "narrative" should be able to equally describe a documentary; but in regular industry-speak, TITANIC is a narrative and HOOP DREAMS is simply a doc.

John Burgan
Fri 1 May 2009Link

Narrative documentary – you might like to check out Sheila Curran Bernard's "Documentary Storytelling for Video and Filmmakers", also check out D-Worder Karen Everett's website

Edited Fri 1 May 2009 by John Burgan

Diane Johnson
Fri 1 May 2009Link

Thank u both John and Christopher :)

Rida Solano
Mon 4 May 2009Link

Does anyone know how much a 20-30 clip of a film like "Enchanted" would cost in order to be used for a documentary? I also wanted to use a clip from the show "Roseanne", I love Lucy, Leave it Beaver and other similar shows.

IMDB Pro doesn't have the video stock departments listed for Disney or the 5 major networks.

Also can someone like Disney prohibit the usage or referencing of their company's name or logos in a documentary that depicts them in a bit of an unflattering light? Do I need their approval?

I know the producer/director that did "Supersize Me" was able to shoot inside different McDonalds and use the McDonalds logo and his doc was against McDonalds – so I'm wondering how he got away with that.

John Burgan
Mon 4 May 2009Link

There's a short answer to this: get yourself a lawyer. You can be sure that clearing the legal side of satirical/critical films like "Supersize Me" takes quite a bit of time and money.

Jason Osder
Mon 4 May 2009Link

It's also my understanding that McDonalds made a strategic PR decision not to take legal action against Super Size Me, judging that by giving the film additional publicity through a lawsuit they would do more harm than good for their business.

Shyla Palm
Mon 4 May 2009Link

Looking to start the research process on a documentary should I dive first into the library or is there a tried and true method to scouring through massive amounts of information. If anyone has any tips to share I'm all ears.

Marj Safinia
Mon 4 May 2009Link

Shyla, diving in in the only method I know of. Of course you might find Google more fruitful than the library to get a grounding in the topic.

Susan Falzone
Mon 4 May 2009Link

Hi, I am new to The D-word community. A teacher recommended I join. I am a Photojournalism student and am working with nursing homes for my student project. I am trying to find a model release that is basic, but covers the consent of caregivers. If anyone has any recommendations I would greatly appreciate it!


Dustan Lewis McBain
Thu 7 May 2009Link

so ive finished up my doc, and i need a score for it, its a doc on social workers dealing with children in grade school, any musical advise?

Dustan Lewis McBain
Sun 10 May 2009Link

tell me what you guys think of my first draft,

(make sure to press the HQ button!)

Sahand Sahebdivani
Sun 10 May 2009Link

Hi Dustan, your draft makes it very clear for me what the programme is about and what it aims to achieve.

I have three issues (all audio).

1) The music you chose for the draft gives it a bit of a "infomercial" kind of feel. I was not charmed by it, but wouldn't know immediately what other music to recommend.

2) the part where the voice of the main character overlaps with another scene of him talking confuses me as it seems that he's out of sync with the audio. It was great seeing him (not talking but doing the excersize with the string) and hearing his voice, but the shot immediately after it makes for a weird effect.

3) Do you think you can get rid of the audio overdrive (or whatever it's called), there's a few ugly bumps in sound.

Dustan Lewis McBain
Sun 10 May 2009Link

Hey Sahand,

you right, however choosing music has been one of the hardest things for me. Its hard to choose something that fits perfectly? not too cheesy but not to controlling over the video. Ill fix it up and bring it back up to this site, cheers,

Diane Johnson
Wed 13 May 2009Link

Can someone explain what the Fernanda Rossi – aka The Documentary Doctor ad on d-word is all about? and is it free?

Doug Block
Wed 13 May 2009Link

It's an announcement not an ad, Diane. Fernanda is our guest expert for a special 5-Day topic on the subject of story structure for documentaries. It will start on Monday and be open to the general public (aka Enthusiasts), as well as to all D-Word members, and will be archived after the week is over. And, yes, it's free.

Edited Wed 13 May 2009 by Doug Block

Diane Johnson
Wed 13 May 2009Link

that sounds fantastic

Yixi Villar
Wed 20 May 2009Link

Hi hi hi.. i was wondering if anyone has any feedback on FRACTURED ATLAS fiscal sponsorship program?

Jennifer MacDonald
Thu 21 May 2009Link

Hi! I'm trying to break into the business working on documentary films. I currently work as a TV reporter so I have background in shooting, writing, interviewing , editing, ect but want to change career paths. How do I get a paid position working on films? I've gone through craigslist but haven't had much luck. Any tips?

Edited Thu 21 May 2009 by Jennifer MacDonald

Doug Block
Thu 21 May 2009Link

What is it you want to do in documentaries, Jennifer? Produce? Direct? Most folks just start out by making a film themselves. Another option is to try and find Associate Producing or editing gigs. It's actually pretty hard to answer that question.

Kaoru Wang
Thu 21 May 2009Link

I'm having issues putting together a budget. I'm shooting with miniDV and editing with FCP and all the sample budgets I found have have a lot of things on the budget pertaining to film and renting avid equipment and such. Plus I don't understand some of the categories such as beta tapes, video 1' stock, video dubs ect...Help!

Jennifer MacDonald
Thu 21 May 2009Link

Yeah.. I was thinking about making one while keeping my day job. I would want to do the writting, researching and setting up interviews and shots. I think that would be more the producer side? I think I understand that there isn't just a company that churns out films.. it's more a labor of love with money making jobs on the side?

Georgi James
Sun 24 May 2009Link

I've enjoyed this week so much. Thanks.

I would like to use a 70s theme song for my film. Do you know how I go about getting permission to use the song.


David Mcilvride
Sun 24 May 2009Link

There's quite a few companies (and freelance individuals) who specifically work on music clearances .. they're the best resource for clearing music.

Andy Schocken
Sun 24 May 2009Link

In reply to Jennifer MacDonald's post on Thu 21 May 2009 :

I think the best way to go about making a living with documentaries is to target one specific role, and hone your craft. You'll rarely make much money directing or producing docs, but you can do fine earning a day-rate as an editor/sound recordist/cinematographer... So I would focus on that, and make your own films on the side. Eventually, that part of your work will start taking precedence.

John Burgan
Sun 24 May 2009Link Tag

In reply to Georgi James's post on Sun 24 May 2009 :

Be prepared how expensive this can be, especially for well-known hits. Check out this BBC guide to clearing music rights

Steven Dhoedt
Tue 26 May 2009Link

I would like to know a bit more about release forms for documentaries, for locations and for people.

To what extend are they really necessary?
I have tons of interviews with people who all agreed in advance (generally by email or over the phone) to participate in my film. They have a clear understanding of what the film is about. The fact that they do a one hour interview with me already proves that they are willing to participate, right? Some of them have signed release forms, other ones haven't (yet), simply because we didnt have any at hand at the time. should i contact all these people again and get them sign this paper?

Also, what about people who are in the shot (e.g. street shots, shots on know, b-roll footage that establishes a location etc. surely it would be impossible to go up to every single one of them in the shot and get them sign a paper?

For you documentary makers out there, what's your views on release forms? I often find it rather threatening to the subject I am interviewing, to do an interview and then shove a paper under their nose with lots of legal terms. I think it can frighten a lot of people, even if you tell them it's just a pro forma document.

And what about logo's and advertisements that are in the frame, even in the background? does all these have to be cleared as well? Is this only needed for the US, or do European and Asian distributors and broadcasters also demand this?

looking forward to hear your views on this

Tom Dziedzic
Tue 26 May 2009Link

Stephan, I try to get written releases from everyone I interview and who may be in the film. Or if it's a quick spontaneous interview or scene, I get a verbal agreement while the camera is rolling before or after the interview.

I can't recommend this book enough, it has helped me tremendously: Clearance & Copyright: Everything You Need to Know for Film and Television by Michael C. Donaldson. It's an essential reference book to have around.

Peter Brauer
Tue 26 May 2009Link

If you want your movie to end up on television or in theaters, you generally need to have a release from basically everyone in the film. You can use a very simply worded release that people will understand. So yes, I think you should get releases from everyone in the film. That is unless you don't intend on buying E and O insurance to show it publicly.

As for the b-roll question, you don't need releases for crowd shots. However if one person is singled out on screen for any significant amount of time you need a release.

As for logo's in the background of the frame, so long as you didn't put them there, you are good. Incidentally shot logos are generally covered by fair use, which means you don't need clearance. However if you intentionally put a logo in frame, that is another story.

Tsvetina Kamenova
Fri 29 May 2009Link


Hello all,

I am in the process of drafting various funding applications for a feature-length documentary currently in production and firstly I want to thank you for the amazing wealth of information you have all helped to create on the d-word. I have a few questions, however, that I have not been able to answer by looking at past posts.

1. Is it a good idea to reference other films in the proposal as a way to describe intended style, structure etc?

2. I know that some funders say they like pictures in the proposal, but is it ever not a good idea to put pictures? If you do have pictures, how do you usually use them?

3. Does anyone have experience with the Sundance Documentary Fund application? I am looking through their guidelines and they specify that they want a summary and then a synopsis. Do you know if by synopsis they are really looking for a treatment? (Is it ok to contact them and ask?)

I would really appreciate any input you might have.

Thanks a lot.

Doug Block
Fri 29 May 2009Link

Hi, Tsvetina.

1. Yes

2. Use photos if they're very strong and support and enhance what you're saying in the text. I'd wrap the text around them, but you can also put it at the top of your synopsis or treatment.

3. By all means you should call them. They're very nice and helpful and speaking to them will give you an opportunity to get your film on their radar (especially if you've found a good way to describe it in a sentence or two). Wait until you have a couple of questions, though.

Christopher Wong
Fri 29 May 2009Link

call Kristin Feeley or Win-Sie Tow. both of them (women) are extremely nice, and will answer any question you have about the application.

i was lucky enough to get a grant from them back in 2007, but when i applied, there was only a request for a "Statement of Objective" and a "Narrative Summary". there was no mention of a synopsis, which i basically folded into the Narrative Summary.

Tsvetina Kamenova
Fri 29 May 2009Link

Hi Doug and Christopher,

Thanks a lot for your responses. It helps to know that I am on the right track generally with the film references and the pictures. I was a bit confused before since, although in interviews representatives of the funds would say they like pictures for example, I never saw any in the "Example" proposals on the websites nor do any of them reference other films.

And Chris, thanks for letting me know who to speak to.

Good luck to both of you with your projects and I hope I can be helpful in return in the future.

Many greetings from Beijing,


Doug Block
Sat 30 May 2009Link

From Beijing, huh? Well, maybe you can become Skype buddies with the Sundance folks ;-)

Nicole Bracy
Fri 5 Jun 2009Link

Next week, I will be in Washington, D.C. at a national conference where we have the exclusive rights to videotape the entire conference. Big names will be presenting, Ted Kennedy will be accepting a Legacy Award. In addition to taping the conference, we are hoping to get exclusive interviews. The problem is we're working with a broad release. We were informed by our lawyer that the language was so broad that no one of that stature would sign the release. Could you point me in the right direction as far as language used in such a release?

Gregory Rossi
Mon 8 Jun 2009Link

I'm moving onto a new phase for CONNECT USA, my Connect Four doc. I'll be interviewing media analysts, think tankers, talking heads and news types to discuss/investigate the notion of the USA being a nation politically divided. I can find contact information for many people but some celebrities are more elusive like Janeane Garofalo. Are there any suggestions for getting a hold of someone like her?

we live in the same neighborhood but I just can't roam these streets forever...

Andrew David Watson
Wed 10 Jun 2009Link

Tsvetina do you live in Beijing? I may end up in Beijing the first week of September and may have some questions.

Marshall Burgtorf
Thu 11 Jun 2009Link

I've got a copyright question. I've found a a couple videos on youtube that I am wanting to use in my project on violence in youth sports. One of the videos was posted on a California newspaper youtube page. I contacted them to get permission to use it. Unfortunately they no longer know who the original owner of the video is. It is a video of parents going crazy at a football game.

The other videos are of the same subject matter but went viral years ago and it seems impossible to track down the original owner of the content.

I've read through The Code for Best Practices in Fair Use and it would appear that I can use it. I want to make sure everything we do is legal and I also want to give credit where credit is due.

Any ideas from the most knowledgeable keepers of all things documentary?

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