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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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Peter Brauer
Fri 20 Nov 2009Link

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

you could also look into 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
Wed 25 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 Our company is based in the netherlands. Please mail me soon!

Christophe Cousin
Fri 27 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.


Nicholas Varga
Fri 27 Nov 2009Link


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 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
Sat 28 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

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
Thu 3 Dec 2009Link

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


Tailinh Agoyo
Thu 3 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.

Nicholas Varga
Fri 4 Dec 2009Link

Thank you all! Great advice and much appreciated!

Diane Johnson
Wed 9 Dec 2009Link

Hello I have a question about what is needed to be handed over to a network in order to qualify for distribution. Is it true that you have to give proof of E&O insurance? What else is needed?

Has anyone here worked for a production company who has a first look deal with a major network or someone here who is a UPM and can help me out?


Lenville O'Donnell
Wed 9 Dec 2009Link

Many networks have their "deliverables" posted online in a "producers" or "filmmakers" section. The required deliverables vary from network to network. Google the networks you think might be a home for your film and see if they have that stuff online. PBS does. Happy Hunting.

Robert MacDonald
Mon 21 Dec 2009Link

Hi, I am about to film my first documentary on the difficulties that face young disabled people in Glasgow and to portray the extreme difficulty in accessing the services they need to live even a modestly fulfilling existence. I just need info on the correct standard procedures to do this. This is very low budget so it's just me and my equipment.
Many thanks.

Doug Block
Mon 21 Dec 2009Link

Not quite sure what you mean by "correct standard procedures", Robert. Do you mean filming your subjects publicly? Would help if you can give a bit more info.

Robert MacDonald
Mon 21 Dec 2009Link

How would you start to organise a low budget documentary? You've been approached by a disabled person who wants to interview 4 other disabled people and follow them for a day each to highlight the difficulties they face. This is intended to be a hard hitting DVD to target various government bodies, ie NHS.

Mark Barroso
Wed 23 Dec 2009Link

There's no standard way of shooting. I would suggest you do several inventories:

1. What can I record with the equipment I have? Work with those limitations. If you only have the microphone on the camera, for instance, you need to shoot wide and close. If you try to shoot from a distance your sound will be horrible. Another example would be low light – some cameras don't do well so count on shooting in well lit places or out of doors.

2. Who, when and where can I shoot? Who's in the movie and who's not? The more focused you are in the beginning will translate into less work sorting everything out in the edit room. Sounds like you want to confront a government official. If so, figure out how you're going to do this. Ask for an interview? Ambush outside the office?

3. What am I not good at? If I can't shoot or edit or anything related to the process then I need to get help. (Have you taken a class in filmmaking?)

These are some ideas to get you started. Good luck.

Faraz Mohammad
Wed 20 Jan 2010Link

I am starting to shoot my first documentary soon in NYC and I am currently looking for some advice:
1) I am looking for camcorder to shoot the movie, I cant afford anyting expensive but would appreciate some advice on which camcorder to buy. I went to B&H and the salesman recomended Canon HV40.
2) I need someone to help me edit the footage as I have no experience in that area. As I am paying for everything from my own pocket I wont be able to pay for the job but I will def put their name in credits.

Edited Wed 20 Jan 2010 by Faraz Mohammad

Sahand Sahebdivani
Thu 21 Jan 2010Link

Dear Faraz, as in most other businesses, freelancers like editors are overworked and underpaid, desperate for the next gig to come to pay the bills. An experienced editor would have a hard time working just for the credits, even if it was a high profile project with good quality material to work with and most likely to help advance his/her career.

Why not try 1st-2nd years editors in film school? They might be inspired by the subject of your doc and want the experience. While you wait for someone to reply to the notes your sticking up, also start messing around with all the good semi-pro editing software out there.

Hashin Hassan
Thu 21 Jan 2010Link


I'm currently working on a written assignment based on new media technology and its impact on documentary film and its makers. I would really appreciate it if you could answer one or two of my questions based on your own experience.

Have you experienced the shift from analogue to digital? If so, what has changed in your work routine? How different do you work now?

What equipment do you use (currently)?

Do you choose equipment that you are comfortable with and meet the standards of broadcast? Or are they determined by the nature of the documentary you are making?

Do you feel it is necessary to be constantly aware of new technology or do you think that current standards are sufficient for you?


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