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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
Wed 30 Sep 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
Mon 12 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 Mon 12 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
Thu 29 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
Thu 29 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
Thu 29 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
Thu 29 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
Thu 29 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
Mon 2 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
Tue 10 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
Tue 10 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
Wed 11 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
Wed 11 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
Wed 11 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
Wed 11 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
Wed 11 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!


Ginger Rose Lee
Wed 11 Nov 2009Link

wow, incredibly fast responses! you know what, they dont even have to be students – i'll just post on mandy, but selling project on merits & for their film reel is a good idea. so is renting from dctc, thanks! so no one will notice quality difference between dv and hd camera? i know nothing! thanks


Ted Fisher
Wed 11 Nov 2009Link

In reply to Ginger Rose Lee's post on Wed 11 Nov 2009 :

Hi Ginger,

I do have one recommendation: when you set up the interviews, consider what sort of shot you can gather that could be used to cut away to or to otherwise allow your editor to break up long sections of the interview. There are many possibilities: b-roll shot outside the interview, or detail shots taken at the time of the interview, for example. But definitely find something that will give your editor reasonable options when they are editing the interview. Ideally, you'd like to have the option of shortening, clarifying or repairing parts of the interview, so get those shots that will allow you to "cover" the editing.

Edited Wed 11 Nov 2009 by Ted Fisher

Joanna Arnow
Wed 11 Nov 2009Link

Okay, and now my own question. I've been doing a lot of handheld camera and my wrist starts hurting soon into shooting. It didn't used to do this, and I've been wondering if people wear wrist braces during or after shooting? It feels strained.


Ginger Rose Lee
Wed 11 Nov 2009Link

also is there a program where i could get an actual mentor, like an old documentary pro, to help me? it's a real do-gooder project. i dont know if ifp and similar organizations offer stuff like that...i just want to make sure i do this right!


Ginger Rose Lee
Wed 11 Nov 2009Link

thanks ted! GREAT suggestion. is there a place to get free b roll? god you guys are awesome!


Ginger Rose Lee
Wed 11 Nov 2009Link

i meant b-roll – not the type you mention of things happening during or immediately preceding interview, but like b-roll of related actions that the subject is talking about...


Ginger Rose Lee
Wed 11 Nov 2009Link

oh, another thing – compensation for subjects. this section of the series i'm asking about is the interview section (not really a documentary sectopm). let's say i'm interviewing a famous woodworker who is also going to spend a large portion doing a demo of his work to show you how to do it. he gets to publicize his own site and name in agreeing to be interviewed – but is it standard to offer these people compensation? my site will be ad supported, i dont think i will charge people to use it, but it will be a for profit company. thanks so much for your help!


Christopher Wong
Wed 11 Nov 2009Link

ginger, it sounds like you are really starting from the beginning on this... i would recommend that you do a quick read of Michael Rabiger's book called "Directing the Documentary". it will get you up to speed very quickly. also, it wouldn't hurt to watch a few docs from the library: Hoop Dreams, Fog of War, Salesman, Capturing the Friedmans, etc.


Doug Block
Wed 11 Nov 2009Link

Joanna, given that you're a Member, no need for you to ask questions here. This is for newbies like Ginger. And nice to see you taking advantage, Ginger.

Arjuna, you're a Member, as well, so you should take your question to the Teaching Docs topic. Believe me, many more folks here will see it there.


Joanna Arnow
Wed 11 Nov 2009Link

ah, I thought I'd better ask here because the working pros sound like they have wrists of steel, but I'll try a different topic...


Doug Block
Wed 11 Nov 2009Link

Naaahh, we're all softies here. Try us.


Tony Mohareb
Thu 12 Nov 2009Link

In general, do the docs we see nominated for Oscars have distributors prior to festival attendance or are they picked up at the festival?


Nicholas Varga
Tue 17 Nov 2009Link

Does anyone know of an online hosting site where you can upload what you have edited thus far to attract funding for completion? I have gone as far as I can go without money, and the film needs money to be finished...i simply need the forum where someone may wish to contribute to see it completed!!!

I am literally starving and need to finish the project! Thanks in advance!


moloy chakraborty
Tue 17 Nov 2009Link

Hi; every body ;
i 'm moloy from INDIA;very glad to meet you here.
I'm now working as an assistant film director with the most eminent indian film maker; BUDDHADEB DASGUPTA. But you all know that in INDIA its very difficult to be an independent film maker . i've completed the research work for two of my ducomentaries .
my first project is about the children who lived on footpath of calcutta;but they all have a very pain full history; and the causes are very socio-economical.........
and my second project is on MEDICINE;how the people of INDIA are cheated by those multinational medicinal companies.......
i've approach to many people and tried to make my dream true' but i faild. so i'm requesting you to give me some suggestions for it (i.e:how do i find producers.....). thanking you; moloy


Martin Touhey
Wed 18 Nov 2009Link

In reply to Nicholas Varga's post on Tue 17 Nov 2009 :

Nicholas,
Reelchanges.org is a great place to post your project and collect donations. indiegogo.con is also another good fundraising site.


Nicholas Varga
Wed 18 Nov 2009Link

Thanks Martin!

I actually found that website and was fortunate enough to have them accept my piece as an addition to their site. There aren't many films on there nor was there contact info other than an email, so I am wondering how wide of an audience they actually have. Time will tell. I will try indiegogo as an additional forum to display what we have edited thus far. Have you had any luck with Reelchanges? I only need $95K to finish and am positive this thing is going to make money. I just need one person to step up to the plate without having to jump through all the hoops and wait 6 months for Sundance and organizations like those to dispense money if they do decide the film is worthy. I HATE how money stops change even though it's probably the biggest catalyst when evoking change! UGGH! The system SUCKS!


Peter Brauer
Fri 20 Nov 2009Link

In reply to Nicholas Varga's post on Tue 17 Nov 2009 :

you could also look into http://www.kickstarter.com/ I haven't used it, but it appears lots is being funded through it. 95K might be too much for them, but maybe you could split it up into smaller pieces.


Nicholas Varga
Sat 21 Nov 2009Link

Thanks Pete.

I will try kickstarter as well. I don't mind breaking it up at all.


Martin Touhey
Tue 24 Nov 2009Link

In reply to Nicholas Varga's post on Wed 18 Nov 2009 :

I've had very little luck in collecting funds ($70 on reelchanges, $50 on indiegogo), but I keep them there in case some bigwig comes along and decides to drop a ton of loot in my lap. You need $95k to finish, I need $25k to start. I'm gonna check kickstarter to see what it's about. Good luck.


Nicholas Varga
Tue 24 Nov 2009Link

HAHA! We have the same exact expectation/motive for keeping our projects on those websites. My problem is that even the people I know who are business owners, and are able to donate money through a 501c3 and write it off, don't have profits this year to be able to justify doing it for me. I am taking a beating every which way I turn. It's frustrating more than anything because I can sit and edit for 16 hours straight and do not hesitate to come in the next day because I love to do it. However, my hands are tied because I need the money to do narration and can't go any further until it's done so $$$ is what's holding me up. This is for the very same reason why I HATE the industry. You work on any fictional film or tv show and there are 10 people there to do a 3 person job, all getting paid union rates. I want to blow my brains out because I HATE sitting around and am the only person who actually wants to work and it pisses people off! Oh well, gotta love creating change rather than getting rich!!!


Nigel Walker
Wed 25 Nov 2009Link

Nicholas, So you will let a funder decide whether you continue or not? Turn a closet in your house into a sound room (blankets and foam), buy a digital recorder and mic (Zoom H4 or better), post on Craigslist for VO talent and learn how to record narration yourself. The internet is full of tutorials to do every one of these things.


Scott P. Harris
Thu 26 Nov 2009Link

Hello, I made my first short, a nine minute piece about a very unique high school physics teacher, that recently premiered at the San Francisco Doc Fest. I was contacted this week by a woman who represents the feature that I was paired with. She said that their film was finishing it's festival run (it opened at Silverdocs) and they are starting to take it to colleges for screenings and putting together a dvd. The director liked my film, and he wanted to use it as an opener when he does the college screenings, and he wanted to put it on his dvd. That's great news for me, and I'm happy to have my work seen by more people, but when the issue of compensation came up, she offered $200. That seems a bit low to me. Do you have any idea what I should be asking for?


Christopher Wong
Thu 26 Nov 2009Link

that's stunningly low, even for a short. if she just happens to be taking your film on a tour, it might be almost worth it. but if she's actually packaging your film in a DVD, i think you should probably negotiate for a share of the DVD revenues. maybe something like a $1.00 per DVD? under such an arrangement, you might not even make $200 total, but at least it will be a fair deal...


Willemijn Cerutti
Thu 26 Nov 2009Link

Hello cameraman or woman, I need you to make a shot at DESIGN MIAMI the 5th of December for a documentary. Can I hire you? Please email me soon at willemijn@zeppers.nl Our company is based in the netherlands. Please mail me soon!


Christophe Cousin
Thu 26 Nov 2009Link

In reply to Jessamy Meyer's post on Sun 12 Oct 2008 :

Hello, I am now looking for a fixer in Laos for a french program if you might be able to help.

Thanks in advance.

Chris


Nicholas Varga
Fri 27 Nov 2009Link

Nigel,

Please don't get me wrong...I work forward everyday on the project whether there is money available or not. As an editor, as the film is already in the can, EVERYTHING left to do is up to me to accomplish or oversee getting done being that the others involved know nothing about production. We do need narration, the film needs to be scored, GFX...there is a TON of post to be done. The point I am at now, after sifting through 1000 hours of footage, capturing what I know I need, organizing and beginning post...it is VERY hard to move forward to make the project the quality I envision it with 0 dollars. I am a firm believer in doing things the "right" way, the first time without cutting corners. So for me to hire craigslist talent when I know "who" I want to narrate it is working backwards in my opinion. I will never "throw in the towel" but am committed to accomplishing what I deem necessary without too much compensation of quality for the project. Do you know what I mean...


Nigel Walker
Fri 27 Nov 2009Link

I do and I respect the amount of work you have put in already and the commitment to your project.

My point is you will be surprised at what you can accomplish on your own and given the choice of not moving forward because you don’t have the money to get specific narration or getting narration that is good enough, which are you going to choose?

If your goal is make more films then the most important thing is completing this one as quickly as possible and taking what you have learnt to the next project so that one is better.

I looked at your project online. You have an interesting topic, character (likable?) and good access but you need to think about putting a shorter fundraising trailer together. The work by Fernanda Rossi is a good place to start.

Good luck with your project.


Nicholas Varga
Fri 27 Nov 2009Link

Nigel, thanks for looking online at the topic...

I agree a short TRAILER for the film needs to be cut. It is the next in line. Essentially what you saw was me putting the RAW footage into "buckets" so that an investor can see how high impact the reality footage is and who it involves. Needless to say, in moving forward, a TRAILER is the NEXT thing I plan on doing.

As far as the character being likable, you and I both agree that the audience is more than likely NOT going to be sympathetic with him...which sucks because of his image! What I want to do is find a woman who has been a true victim of domestic violence to narrate "on camera" her own experience and then furthermore tell Ben's story of how he is inevitably a "victim" from false allegations of abuse so that the audience sympathizes with him. Ben by himself telling the story isn't as powerful as someone else telling it for him.

Custody is HUGE right now and his case is HISTORICAL by having the first woman ever in the US convicted of perjury on the stand in a custody case. This film has to be done right so that it is "THE" Custody film of its kind. I know where I want to go with it, I simply need the resources...

You rock for taking the time bro! I will let you know when the trailer is complete!!!


Lenville O'Donnell
Wed 2 Dec 2009Link

Nicholas:
My advice would be to finish your film, by hook or by crook, as polished as you can make it, THEN approach the narrator of your dreams. I have some experience in this. If you want an A-list or otherwise very successful or well known narrator, they will not agree to narrate your film until they have seen your final cut, with sound design and final score. Big names need to be assured, by seeing the finished product (with everything except the VO), that the work is of the highest quality, and that they will be proud to have their name associated with it FOREVER, which is what you are asking. It is a big ask. But you can be successful with it if you make a fine film with excellent (scratch) VO that is well-written, and approach a potential narrator who has a connection with the subject matter in some way.


Tailinh Agoyo
Wed 2 Dec 2009Link

In reply to Nicholas Varga's post on Tue 17 Nov 2009 :

try indiegogo.com


Tailinh Agoyo
Wed 2 Dec 2009Link

In reply to Nicholas Varga's post on Sat 28 Nov 2009 :

also DocuMentors is doing a free teleseminar tomorrow about getting funding from ITVS.
http://documentaryhowto.com/free-documentary-teleseminar-registration


Nicholas Varga
Fri 4 Dec 2009Link

Thank you all! Great advice and much appreciated!


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