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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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Brian Boyko
Tue 14 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
Tue 21 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
Sun 26 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
Thu 6 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
Mon 17 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?


jane taylor
Thu 20 Aug 2009Link

Hello D-word

I'm Jane Taylor and currently studying an MA at the University of Salford, Manchester, UK in Television Documentary Production.

I am at the stage now where I am conquering my dissertation. I got extremely inspired by the Documentary Campus event at the Manchester Town hall – Leaner Meaner and Keener, and have based my dissertation on the effect the internet has on documentary.

I would really appreciate some opinions, experiences and professional advice on this subject. How the internet plays a part in documentary distribution in a good way and bad way? advantages and disadvantages? What's the future? How it has helped you business or film? Everything and anything would be highly appreciated.

Many Thanks,


Doug Block
Thu 20 Aug 2009Link

Jane, the short answer is that the internet has been a great boon for marketing and promoting your docs, and hasn't nearly reached its promise as a serious distribution platform, especially for long-form docs. Whether it ever will is the (multi) million dollar question.


Jaty MacMillan
Fri 21 Aug 2009Link

Hello All,
I've just joined and was wondering if there were any posts about copyright violation on torrents sites. They're offering my film on free downloads and i need to find out how to have it removed


Susheel Kurien
Fri 21 Aug 2009Link

Hi all
I am shooting a film that has extensive performance of jazz standards. The musicians have given us releases for their peformance but I need to understand a) how to get performance rights from the publisher b)what these rights would cost.. I am trying to budget this and appreciate any help ..FYI examples: Green Dolphin St, Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White, At Last, Moanin' etc

thanks


Mark Barroso
Fri 21 Aug 2009Link

In reply to Jaty MacMillan's post on Fri 21 Aug 2009 :

I can't help you, but I'm curious how you found out. I'd like to check for my own work.


stephen watson
Wed 26 Aug 2009Link

In reply to Doug Block's post on Sat 12 Mar 2005 :

Hi Doug
I have a similar question and the weblink for that article is no longer available. Do you have any other suggestions on obtaining synch licenses?


stephen watson
Wed 26 Aug 2009Link

In reply to Kyoko Yokoma's post on Fri 11 Mar 2005 :
Hi
What was the outcome relating to the licenses for the songs u needed?


Doug Block
Wed 26 Aug 2009Link

Stephen, I'd simply do a Google search: "sync licenses for film". I'm sure it'll turn up something useful.


alix de roten
Tue 1 Sep 2009Link

PAl/NTSC in HD?

Hello everybody! I'm new there but it seems this is the place to ask a technical question.
I'm going to shoot in Latin America for a documentary that will be edited here in Spain. I will do it with a Panasonic HD, AG-HVX200, so recording on P2 card. As it is the first time I shoot in HD, I don't know if we still have the PAL/NTSC problem.
I have a good oportunity to rent the Panasonic in Latin america, but I need to know for sure that it will be no problem.

Someone can help me about this?

thank you a lot


Robert Goodman
Tue 1 Sep 2009Link

Countries that are on the PAL standard for SD have HD cameras that record at 25 and 50 frames per second. Panasonic cameras from NTSC countries (US/Japan)record at 24 and 30 frames per second. Editing is not a problem though best not to mix 24 fps and 25 fps material unless you really have to.


alix de roten
Wed 2 Sep 2009Link

Thank you Robert. I understand from you answer that, when you record in HD on P2, the only difference bw PAL and NTSC is about frames por second.
So I have another question, as it is the first time I will be editing in Final Cut (changing from AVID), does Final Cut allow you to import material recorded at 30 fps, and change it into 25 fps?
And another question (sorry but nobody is able to tell me that in Barcelona). The P2 card for the camera are the same for PAL / NTSC cameras? (means I can buy the cards here (europe) and use them for the NTSC camera I will rent there (america).
thank you very much


Robert Goodman
Wed 2 Sep 2009Link

P2 cards are the same everywhere. Yes you can change the frame rate in FCP. And HD is HD despite the frame rate changes.


alix de roten
Thu 3 Sep 2009Link

Ok great! thanks a lot for your help Robert.
For those who needs to understand the basic issue PAL/NTSC in HD, here is a very didactic article.
http://www.sharbor.com/tutorials/1674.html
Hope it can help others.


nick toscano
Mon 7 Sep 2009Link

new to this and figured someone here could answer questions. I'm filming a female boxer whos trying to make it to the next olympics. The backround music at the gym brought up some copy right issues and wasnt sure if i need to try and edit the backround music. This is my first film so not sure how the legalities work.


Robert Goodman
Tue 8 Sep 2009Link

if you don't edit a visual sequence to the background music, and it is in the background, it should fall into the fair use category. Read up on the rules for claiming fair use.


Andy Schocken
Tue 8 Sep 2009Link

and it depends where you plan to exhibit it. for background music, i wouldn't worry about online or festival usage- it's only likely to be an issue for broadcast or theatrical. not that the other uses are necessarily legal, but it's very unlikely that anyone will do anything about it.


Shelly Helgeson
Thu 10 Sep 2009Link

Hi Everyone! This started on the introduce yourself forum, but was told it would do to move it over here. Any help would be greatly, GREATLY appreciated. Thx – S

Now for a question: The doc I'm currently working needs a male actor to mimic the voice of one of our subjects for use as scratch narration. We'd like to get some one who can come very close to the person's real voice as we may use a cut with this narration to send into festival applications, etc. Does anyone know the best way to go about finding and hiring voice talent or actors? Our budget is small, so I'm sure we couldn't pay too competitively but, would try to offer a decent wage. I've posted on Backstage but was hoping for more suggestions. Does anyone know anything about contacting talent agencies or casting directors? Any advice would greatly help as I am totally inexperienced in dealing with actors. Thanks!


Michelle Ferrari
Fri 11 Sep 2009Link

It's been a long time since I worked with an actor I didn't already know, so I apologize in advance if this method proves outdated. That said, it used to be that talent agencies had CD compilations of their voice-over talent, which can help a lot in narrowing down the field. (SAG can provide a list of agencies. The commercial or voice-over division of a given agency is the one you'll want to contact.) Depending on the talent, their level of interest in the project, and your ability to negotiate with their representation, you can sometimes get voice-over talent for well below scale. The trick is to get around the agent. You might try writing a letter (sent to the agent, but addressed to the actor) that really talks up your project and states in no uncertain terms how vital the actor's participation is to its success, but does not mention pay. Try to get him/her interested first. In my experience, if an actor wants to do something, he does it, regardless of whether or not his agent thinks it's a good idea. Say in the letter (in a p.s., so it's the last thing he reads) that you'll be following up with his agent, and then do that. With any luck, the actor will have told his agent he wants in on the project and the money will be less of an issue.

All that said, if you're only planning to use the actor for scratch, you may be facing an uphill battle – when an actor forgoes money, it's usually in exchange for exposure. If you're not offering exposure, you'll definitely want to focus your energies on smaller agencies and lesser-known talent.


J. Christian Jensen
Wed 23 Sep 2009Link

STANFORD MFA IN DOCUMENTARY FILM

I'm in the process of selecting post-graduate documentary film schools. Is there anyone who has graduated from Stanford's MFA program that could make yourself known? Or is anyone in contact with other filmmakers who are significantly familiar with the program. I'd love to ask some questions.

Is this the best place to post such a question?


Marj Safinia
Wed 23 Sep 2009Link

Christian, since you're a member you'll get more response posting maybe here: Teaching Docs


Ted Fisher
Wed 23 Sep 2009Link

In reply to J. Christian Jensen's post on Wed 23 Sep 2009 :

I believe Michael Attie just joined after completing that program. He can probably give you some useful info. He posted recently in the Introductions forum.


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