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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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Michelle Ferrari
Sat 12 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been a long time since I worked with an actor I didn't already know, so I apologize in advance if this method proves outdated.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
Thu 24 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
Thu 24 Sep 2009Link

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


Ted Fisher
Thu 24 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.


J. Christian Jensen
Thu 24 Sep 2009Link

Fantastic. Thank you both.


Julian Samboma
Wed 30 Sep 2009Link

Thanks for the warm welcome, Doug. Nothing less than I expected!;)

Right. My first question. My next project is a 30-45 minute doc on an aspect of the UK economy. This is going to be my first major production, not like the previous two, which were essentially "teeth-cutting" exercises.

They were self-financed and I did everything myself. This time around, I am exploring the possibility of seeking funding from various sources – if for nothing else but for employing a top editor.

My question is how much do i factor into the budget for said editor,and how to find one?
Also, my camera is the pana gs400, an sd camera. Is it a good idea to include the cost of a decent hd cam in the budget?

I hope this is the best place to post this question. Thanks.

Best


Alexandra Branyon
Thu 1 Oct 2009Link

I am about to complete my first documentary. I can't find the original source of some of the photographs, which may have belonged to a person or may have been published in a newspaper, magazine or book. What can I do to protect myself? Any thoughts will be greatly appreciated.


Doug Block
Thu 1 Oct 2009Link

Julian, it's not the best place because you're now a member. Ask fundraising questions in the Fundraising (Europe) topic, camera questions in the Camera topic, etc.


Julian Samboma
Thu 1 Oct 2009Link

Thanks for that, Doug. Just finding my feet, as one does!


Maria Yatskova-Ibrahimova
Tue 13 Oct 2009Link

In reply to Alexandra Branyon's post on Wed 30 Sep 2009 :

I think you have to be a bit more specific for anyone to help answer that... what are the photos of? how did you get them? when were they taken? when and where were they published to the best of your knowledge? how do you intend to use them etc...

Edited Tue 13 Oct 2009 by Maria Yatskova-Ibrahimova

David W Grant
Tue 13 Oct 2009Link

I've completed, to my satisfaction, a speculative video essay, 28:45; edited on Final Cut Express. I want it to be technically as perfect as possible. Does that mean next step is 'audio sweetening' and/or 'color correction'? What are my options? Do I send the DVCAM cassette to a commercial house? Do rates vary widely? Is it best to do it locally?


Magee Clegg
Fri 30 Oct 2009Link

Hello everyone,

I am applying to grad film school and I am interested in schools that have great documentary filmmaking programs. Does anyone have any suggestions? At the moment I am looking at Cal Arts and UCSD. Is there anything else out there?


Ramona Diaz
Fri 30 Oct 2009Link

Stanford – I'm an alum. You can emal me offline and I'll give you the lowdown. Are you from the Philippines? cinediaz2000@gmail.com


Doug Block
Fri 30 Oct 2009Link

Magee, you might want to consider The School of Visual Arts in New York City. They have a new MFA program in documentary that I hear very good things about.


Christopher Wong
Fri 30 Oct 2009Link

stanford and berkeley come to mind as the top grad schools for documentary production. ucla is also quite good, but it provides the extra benefit of giving you exposure to fiction narrative production as well. (if you are a CA resident, ucla would also be substantially cheaper than a program like stanford)


Magee Clegg
Fri 30 Oct 2009Link

Thanks for responding! I will check that out. If anyone else has anymore ideas, I would love to hear from you.


Erica Ginsberg
Fri 30 Oct 2009Link

I'm an alum of American University in Washington DC. It is not specifically a documentary program but, since non-fiction is the bread and butter of the area, the majority of the students are focused on documentary. I can't say how it compares academically or artistically to the other aforementioned universities, but it does position you firmly in the real world of actually finding work in the industry.

Edited Fri 30 Oct 2009 by Erica Ginsberg

Diane Johnson
Tue 3 Nov 2009Link

Is there an experienced line producer that can send me sample budgets of a documentary – I would really appreciate it, I know that budgets vary depending on different elements, but I just need detailed budget to look at.

nycproducer212@gmail.com is my email

Thanks in advance!


Daniel McGuire
Wed 11 Nov 2009Link

In reply to J. Christian Jensen's post on Tue 4 Aug 2009 :
An MA won't help you get much in getting work in academia – A doctorate in Communications or Art Hist Concentration Film Studies would. To teach filmmaking then an MFA is considered the terminal degree – so that is more useful than an MA. That being said, going into debt for 100k or so to get a degree should be questioned in this day and age – better to use that money to make a couple of good films.


Arjuna Krishnaratne
Wed 11 Nov 2009Link

Hi this is Krishna from Sri Lanka. Can some one help me to find out an online course in documentary film making. Please.


Ginger Rose Lee
Thu 12 Nov 2009Link

hi there – i am doing two different series – one is a set of one on one interviews, the other is trailing a team of people for a day. it's for a great idea but i have no documentary filmmaking experience, so i was going to hire film students to do it – or have them do it for deferred pay as i have no money. for the one on one interviews, i dont need anything fancy, right? i just need someone who has shot interviews, with a camera and lighting adn sound kit? these are going to be aired on the web – tey're sort of long. what sort of camera should i ask that they have? i'm clueless, please help! thanks


Ginger Rose Lee
Thu 12 Nov 2009Link

and also for the part where they are trailing a team of people, should i hire more than one camera person? that could get tricky...


Christopher Wong
Thu 12 Nov 2009Link

tackling second question first... if you and your crew have little to no experience with documentary filmmaking, you should definitely limit yourself to one camera only. you don't want to be worrying about shooting from the wrong side (it's called "crossing the line" and results in major difficulties when it comes time to edit), and you also don't want to have to avoid being in the way of the other camera(s).


Christopher Wong
Thu 12 Nov 2009Link

as for the 1-on-1 web interviews, it sounds like you just need basic lighting and framing, nothing tricky or especially artistic about your setup. so, yes, just find someone with a lighting kit (2 or 3 lights should do) and a basic DV camera. you can use HD if you want to, but it's not necessary for the web.

by the way, hiring film students to do work for you on a deferred pay basis is a difficult proposition. film students are not known for being extremely reliable, and if they are not being paid, you never know what you're going to get. if i were you, i wouldn't even promise deferred pay – i would just sell the project on its own merits, and hope that whoever wants to do it just needs the experience. good luck.


Joanna Arnow
Thu 12 Nov 2009Link

Hi Ginger, it might be difficult to find students who have their own cameras, lighting and sound kit so I would start out by seeing what you get. But in terms of cameras try to find someone with a 3ccd camera that has manual modes. Also, try to find someone with a lavalier microphone. And if someone doesn't have lighting or sound you could try renting from DCTV (downtown community television center)--they have pretty reasonable prices. If you're following people for a whole day, I think you'd get a lot of footage with one camera and be able to follow the action but it really depends on how much is going to be happening in your event, and how much material you need for this series. Good luck!


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