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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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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?


Jill Kelly
Thu 11 Jun 2009Link

hello, i have a question about which way to direct my focus within my indie film making career.This would all be under the assumption that the films are of good quality,well shot,directed and edited.

what would be the pro's and cons of two directions?
one being funding the doc's ourselves completely, then once completed pitching them to television broadcasters.
Two being to search for funding,and/or produce in cooperation with a broadcaster.
I have the general ability to go either way, neither is really very easy alas my inquiry, Thanks


Marshall Burgtorf
Sat 13 Jun 2009Link

In reply to Marshall Burrgtorf's post on Thu 11 Jun 2009 :

I guess I should posted this in the archives topic. Sorry gang, I haven't been around for awhile. I got it straightened out though.


Doug Block
Sat 13 Jun 2009Link

No worries, Marshall, you'll get the hang of it. The important thing is you're posting again.


Monica Williams
Sun 14 Jun 2009Link

I have a question about independent educational distribution. I have a copies ready to go of a 1 &1/2 hour film of an interview I did with Susan Neiman on her book Evil in Modern Thought. I'm very happy with it and it is in demand with a certain group of professors and philosophy students.

I'm building a website for it, but I'm clueless about the appropriate & practical steps to independently distribute something like this to universities and conferences. I have an endorsement from a professor who used the film at Loyola and I have been receiving requests for the film. I don't see the need to look for a distributor, but I may be wrong.

I have an idea about a price structure. For educational purposes, $1000 and individual copies at $30. Are there legal papers that someone paying the higher price to show in front of an audience will have to sign? Should I sell the personal copies for the much lower price, through my website? Does this lower my chances of receiving the proper payment from professors looking to use my film?

Any advice is so appreciated – Thanks


Elan Frank
Mon 15 Jun 2009Link

Hi,
My name is Elan Frank; I am a documentary film maker residing in LA.
I am now in the process of developing a documentary film on the co-existence between Jews and Muslims in Morocco and got to the sage of presenting investors with a business plan and production package, including a proposed budget.
I was wondering if anyone could refer me to samples of such packages/forms, what is essential to have in them, and a one-page budget sample form that is satisfactory to investors (I have my budget format, but it is in excel and very details, not something you provide investors. I am looking for a designed one page with the essentials.
Thanks you. I am glad to be part of this documentary family here in D-word!
Elan


Monica Williams
Tue 16 Jun 2009Link

In reply to Monica Williams's post on Sun 14 Jun 2009 :

I just needed to do more homework – never mind my question – I realize there are no clear answers though I wish there were.


Robert Shore
Wed 17 Jun 2009Link

Hi all- I haven't posted in a while. I've got a new series that I am writing up for the August deadline for the National Endowment for the humanities. Does anyone have any advice, specific or general, about NEH-specific grant-writing? Thanks, Rob.


Dustan Lewis McBain
Thu 18 Jun 2009Link

Hey guys, quick questions, im shooting a high school reunion with 300 people, and im using a panasonic dvx 100b. Firstly, what mic should i use? and secondly, what preferences should i shoot under? Maybe i could shoot with a slow shutter speed? idn any ideas?


Sudeshna Chowdhury
Sat 27 Jun 2009Link

Hi this is Sudeshna here. I want to be a filmmaker and really keen on making documentaries. RIght now am working for a news channel. could you plaese tell me how do I start. Yes, I was told that I should start making videos and post it on websites. Could you please let me know how do i begin and which are the potential websites i should send my work to?


John Burgan
Sat 27 Jun 2009Link

It depends very much on you, Sudeshna: what interests you? What's going on in your area? What stories do you want to tell? The website part is easy (you can use Youtube or Vimeo), but it's the work that counts. Are there any films which have inspired you?

Edited Sat 27 Jun 2009 by John Burgan

Sudeshna Chowdhury
Mon 29 Jun 2009Link

Hello John
Yes films that mostly deal with social and religious issues interest me. I have watched a couple of documentaries by Satyajit Ray whicb have insppired me a lot. Also this film called La Americana have motivated me to further explore subjects. I have also watched a copule of documentaries on Maoists in India. Well these are teh kind of stories that I intend to tell. Am making short videos( which i shoot with my handy cam and right now cany afford one due to financial constraints)but what i am looking at is to become part of an organisation that will give me good exposure. These of course are my views but i don't know how it actually works. Your seggestions please??


David W Grant
Tue 30 Jun 2009Link

ABOUT VIDEO ESSAYS that use docu-drama – Where do 'documentaries of the future' exist? A film that posits a possible future? Such a film obviously could be declared 'fiction'. Is there a genre of this type?
Thanks.


Craig Schneider
Wed 1 Jul 2009Link

Hi all,
Does anyone have any advice/experience shooting Sweet 16 videos? I'm shooting one this Friday documentary style, so i won't be directing so much as just capturing the moments (and there's plenty of dance numbers and such to capture), but it's my first paid job as a documentary videographer and my first Sweet 16, and I know the family, so I want to do this right. I have experience shooting formal events with my cousin's wedding and a friend's wedding. However, I'm shooting this on my own, with a Panasonic DVX100a, and my journalistic instincts. Would you recommend a lav mic on the birthday girl if she would have it? I wasn't going to bother just to simplify. If i do direct at all, is there anything fun you'd recommend shooting with her and her "court" or her court alone? I can let the photographer take the lead on this stuff of course during the photo shoot, but I think it may also be good to have her close friends and family say/do something. Would you recommend I use a separate mic during the party for that? I have a RES50B. This is really a big deal for her and her family, and they trust me to do an amazing job. I know what they have planned for the day and night, and i plan to capture some behind the scenes, getting ready moments, and the excitement and fun. I also posted in the legal section to ask about a contract template just to protect myself (I've only done pro bono before). Other than charge my batteries and get close with the camera and shotgun mic, work my angles, am I forgetting anything? I also do mostly handheld so i'm thinking that a monopod vs. a tripod would be better. Lastly, if anyone can recommend a place in NYC to pick up a spare and relatively inexpensive DVX100a battery, let me know. It's going to be a long day.
Thanks.


Doug Block
Wed 1 Jul 2009Link

Craig, as someone who's shot well over a hundred weddings, I say don't fret too much. Unless you're a hopeless incompetent (which you're not), they're gonna love what you shoot, I guarantee it. Normal people aren't used to seeing themselves captured verite-style and it's always a hoot for them.

Technically speaking, I'd simply use a good directional mic on the camera (like a Sennheiser 416), get in fairly close as much as you can, and definitely shoot handheld. Screw the tripod. And I'd set up as little as possible, just be a total fly on the wall. But that's me.

Have fun and lotsa luck.


Craig Schneider
Wed 1 Jul 2009Link

A few other related questions to my previous Sweet 16 post that i forgot to ask: I normally shoot my documentary footage in 24P on the DVX100a in squeeze mode. Do you see any issues with using that format for the Sweet 16 video? Do videographers at the formal events normally just wear a black button down shirt and slacks? When i was i shot weddings, i was actually in the wedding party so i wore a suit. And I am renting one of those light panels for the top of my camera for low light situations, but i haven't tested one out. Advice? Thanks again.


Craig Schneider
Wed 1 Jul 2009Link

Thanks, Doug. I was hoping you would post. Now I'll stop my fretting. Thanks for the sage advice.


Craig Schneider
Thu 2 Jul 2009Link

Doug, I didn't get very far in "legal" on my contract template request. Can I ask how you handle getting stuff in writing? All I have now is a verbal agreement on the price. I feel like it would be good business practice to protect myself, on this job or when i don't know the family. Have a great July 4th weekend.


Doug Block
Fri 3 Jul 2009Link

Craig, just emailed you my standard, one-page wedding agreement. Hope it helps. BTW, the Mentoring Room is for Enthusiasts, not Members, so keep stuff like this in the Legal topic in the future.

Edited Fri 3 Jul 2009 by Doug Block

Brian Boyko
Mon 13 Jul 2009Link

Short question with a complicated answer: Have any of you guys ever filmed in Cuba? I figure before I start doing research about how to get permission to go to Cuba as a journalist from the State Dept., I could ask here, and see if anyone's got any experience with it.


John Burgan
Tue 14 Jul 2009Link

As you're already a Member, Brian, you can pose this question in the Production Topic. There are several colleagues who I'm sure will be able to ask your question.


Mark Barroso
Tue 14 Jul 2009Link

In reply to Brian Boyko's post on Tue 14 Jul 2009 :

Brian: you can email me off list and I'll give you my phone number, but the short answer is unless you have a letter from an accredited news organization that's recognized by the State Dept., you will not qualify for a journalist exemption to the travel ban.

Assuming you do not have relatives there, that leaves you the option of going illegally, or under the license of a humanitarian group. I can advise you on that, too. Depending on what you want to do, you will also have to fly under the radar of the Cuban govt.


Brian Boyko
Tue 14 Jul 2009Link

In reply to Mark Barroso's post on Tue 14 Jul 2009 :

We considered that possibility, but isn't there an application process for freelance journalists?

http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1097.html
"Free-Lance Journalism – Persons with a suitable record of publication who are traveling to Cuba to do research for a free-lance article. Licenses authorizing transactions for multiple trips over an extended period of time are available for applicants demonstrating a significant record of free-lance journalism."

If we can't get special permission, we're considering contacting BBC, Reuters, AFP, EFE, CNN, etc., to see if they could use some stringers in Cuba, work under their aegis, and film the doc in-between assignments.

I'll e-mail you off-list, Mark.


Brian Boyko
Tue 14 Jul 2009Link

In reply to John Burgan's post on Tue 14 Jul 2009 :

Cool – I didn't notice I was promoted in my absence!


Brian Boyko
Sun 19 Jul 2009Link

Just a quick update: We had our meeting this afternoon with everyone on board. The producers didn't consider all the problems that we might have, and when I spelled them out, they realized that there was no way that they could pull off the movie with a reasonable chance of success at this time.

However, we quickly moved onto our secondary project, which will likely be an examination of Tango in Argentina.


Mark Barroso
Mon 20 Jul 2009Link

I would love to meet the performers who pass the examination. Take me with you.


George Bahash
Wed 22 Jul 2009Link

I am wondering about the best way to approach people or organizations I want to interview. what are the pros and cons of showing unannounced versus trying to get an appointment. my questions are not intended to be confrontational. thanks.


Mark Barroso
Sat 25 Jul 2009Link

Unannounced is synonymous with ambush interviews. News people do this when they intentionally want to make people look bad. Making appointments is considered civilized and professional.


J. Christian Jensen
Tue 28 Jul 2009Link

COMPARABLE FILMS DATA

Hey folks, I'm a young producer in the development stage of a documentary and I'm trying to get some data on comparable films for budget projection (DVD sales, Rentals, Negative Costs, P&A Costs, Domestic and Foreign TV, etc.) Are there any places that have this kind of information at a reasonable price? Anywhere that specializes in the more obscure documentary titles?


James Longley
Tue 28 Jul 2009Link

You're asking about a wide range of data that is unlikely to be covered by a single source.
On the one hand you have production and post production costs, on the other you have projected revenue streams. Very different stuff.
About costs of filmmaking – these are roughly quantifiable. About revenues – these are much harder to know and depend very much on your film and all sorts of variables in the way it's made and released that you can't easily predict.
Suffice it to say that if you structure the project around the distinct possibility that your film will never be profitable, you are unlikely to be disappointed.


J. Christian Jensen
Tue 28 Jul 2009Link

Thanks James,

Ha ha, yeah we're well prepared for that un-profitability possibility, but the donors/investors would like to at least see what's been achieved with other similar films.

Obviously there's BoxOfficeMojo for theatrical grosses. I know that Baseline Research (http://www.blssresearch.com/) sells other data:

- $20 a title (negative costs, P&A, rentals, & video units and gross)
- $50 a title (for expanded domestic and foreign TV)
- $70 for ROI reports

They have a pretty sparse selection of documentaries though. I just wondered if some company specialized in this kind of data for documentaries or smaller indie pics, but I guess not.

Fortunately, my particular film has some elements of marketability as well as some social objectives that might make it more interesting to donors interested in mideast peace and not in profit.

On that note, have any of you social issues filmmakers heard of L3C legal status?


Laura Moire Paglin
Tue 28 Jul 2009Link

Unless you're proposing a reality TV like scenario (eg Supersize Me), I don't suggest going the investor route. You'll have to pay an attorney just to draw up the LLC and PPM – unless you already have an investor ready to throw in $100,000. Even if your film has some marketable elements, that by no means, indicates that it will be commercially profitable.


Doug Block
Tue 28 Jul 2009Link

In reply to J. Christian Jensen's post on Tue 28 Jul 2009 :

Once again, please don't double post, as you asked this in the Legal topic, so any additional answers should go there. Not to mention, this is a topic for Enthusiasts, not Members.


J. Christian Jensen
Tue 28 Jul 2009Link

Sorry Doug,

I'm still getting used to the lay of the land here. :|


J. Christian Jensen
Tue 4 Aug 2009Link

POST GRADUATE DOCUMENTARY DEGREE

What are the best MFA programs specializing in documentary film out there (both in and out of the U.S.)?

I'm considering applying to some MFA programs specializing in documentary film either this fall or next fall. I have a pretty good academic record, strong writing abilities and a respectable resumé of non-fiction film experience.

I'm very serious about increasing my diversity as a documentary filmmaker but most of the programs that I have heard about structure their curriculum around narrative/fiction films.

Any suggestions on schools I should look into?


Michael Wolcott
Tue 4 Aug 2009Link

In reply to J. Christian Jensen's post on Tue 4 Aug 2009 :

I did a Master's (not MFA) in Australia and had a great experience and hopefully came back a much better filmmaker, my problems were I came back to the US with no contacts and no real idea of how to get funding in the US. Still though, my degree is what landed me my current job.


J. Christian Jensen
Tue 4 Aug 2009Link

In reply to Michael Wolcott's post on Tue 4 Aug 2009 :

Thanks Michael,

What school did you attend? In my particular case, I'm not pursuing the degree necessarily to try and land a job. I already have several options for jobs but I want to attend a school that has the alumni network and the curriculum that is on the cutting edge of what's happening in the documentary world.

I'm particularly interested in building strong networks with filmmakers who are really pushing the limits of the genre. I would also like to give myself the option to teach on a University level at some point later in the future, which requires at least a Masters.


Michael Wolcott
Tue 4 Aug 2009Link

I went to the University of Technology, Sydney. I had a lot of great teachers who were a part of the '70s/'80s Australian film & documentary movement, like Tom Zubrycki & Jeni Thornley (who just released a really interesting looking film Island Home Country). The film dept. is small though so you probably wouldn't get the kind of network that you'd be looking for there.

One of the reasons I went on for a Masters was also for the ability to teach in the future, without an MFA though I think my options are somewhat limited. Until of course my first blockbuster documentary is released.


J. Christian Jensen
Tue 4 Aug 2009Link

Yeah, I'm working on my first blockbuster documentary right now too. ;)


John Burgan
Wed 5 Aug 2009Link

In reply to J. Christian Jensen's post on Tue 4 Aug 2009 :

Check out this list of courses


Yocheved Sidof
Wed 12 Aug 2009Link

Hello fellow filmmakers

Wanted to get some advice here. At a tough spot with my film. Its a character/story driven doc that also has elements of issue- themed doc as well...

Protagnist on quest to find love- adheres to strict Jewish law forbidding touch between opposite genders. Can she find love without touch?

Have tons of compelling footage, lots of opposition from her family, keepng law gets harder as their relationship progressess. They end up getting maried without touching eachother once.

Cut into the story, we also want to tackle the broader isse- what is the law? benefits? why is its observance 'dying out' within observant Jewish circles? is it healthy? what is the best way to learn about sex? How do other cultures view premarital sex? sex ed system, etc..

Question:
Weve spent the past 1.5 yr capturing, cutting scenes, interviews some experts, interviewing other young people about sex, etc. Also tried to edit whole cut of hjust protaganist story without tackoling issue at all... Now we feel stuck. Should we back-track and write a script? Should we figure out the 'issue' stuff and shoot it? Should we hire an outside prof editor at tis point? A doc doctor? Should we be looking for other stories to intertwine with this one?

Need some advice here!

Thanks in advance!!


Marj Safinia
Wed 12 Aug 2009Link

Yocheved, since you already asked this question on the member side, and have already started getting answers there, you should pursue this discussion in the other topic. No double-posting on D-Word. Most people read everything.


Yocheved Sidof
Wed 12 Aug 2009Link

Sorry :( Learning the rules here... ;)


Marj Safinia
Wed 12 Aug 2009Link

no worries :)


Sharon Hewitt
Sun 16 Aug 2009Link

Hello, I just joined, so please let me know if my post does not adhere to the rules of the community. I'm producing my first documentary and plan to shoot in HD and would like to meet broadcast standards. I'm considering purchasing Panasonic's new AG-HMC-40 (H.264 MPEG-4 using 3-1/4.1" CMOS image sensors). Can anyone tell how to be sure the camera I'm considering meets broadcast standards?


Chris Clauson
Sun 16 Aug 2009Link

Sharon,
I just joined too and am planning my first doc with a similar camera. I am not sure what broadcast standards will really be as the web blends with TV in the near future. The camera I plan to get is the Panasonic hdc-tm300, which is a stripped-down version of the one you want. It has very similar specs, though. I am interested to hear about your doc and how you plan to gather the material.


Sharon Hewitt
Sun 16 Aug 2009Link

Chris,
Thanks for the info. I wasn't aware of the camera you mentioned, but I checked it out and it is very similar to the one I'm considering. I plan to cover my topic by recording my subjects in their natural settings as well as through interviews. As of now, there are approximately 25 specific days over a 9 month span that I'd like to cover. I have some flexibility on the number of days I can devote, but not much. If needed, I'll trim some of these days to add other material as it develops. Tell me a little about your doc.


Chris Clauson
Tue 18 Aug 2009Link

Sharon,
I'm just trying to figure out how to do a character-driven doc on a local woman who is on a personal mission to save unwanted pets. I hope to do it in episodes for a start-up web/cable TV station. Then,who knows, maybe there will be enough good stuff for a real doc. As I mentioned before, I plan to shoot most of it on the TM-300, which is really small and lightweight. The interviews can be shot on my JVC hd200. When I picture this story, it vaguely looks like Jon and Kate Plus Eight...that kind of reality. When the episodes run in this two county area, I hope it builds awareness of the plight of the animals and that people will donate and/or adopt. The documentary will have a bigger focus on an over-arching topic when I can get enough material. I am the shooter for this and my husband is the editor. He uses FCP. What is your doc about in general?


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