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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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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
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

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 :


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.

Nicholas Varga
Fri 4 Dec 2009Link

Thank you all! Great advice and much appreciated!

Diane Johnson
Tue 8 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
Tue 22 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?


John Burgan
Thu 21 Jan 2010Link

Hashim has just updated his biography to give a bit more of his background. Perhaps it would be easiest to email him directly if you are able to help.

Matt McLaughlin
Thu 21 Jan 2010Link

I just completed a fairly refined 55 minute rough cut of my documentary on men in the pornography industry. I have an inside contact at HBO and currently waiting for it to be screened. But I am also shopping it around at other networks in the hopes to receive finishing funds.

Has anyone been in my position with a rough cut and sold a documentary to HBO, Showtime or any other network? If so, I would love to talk with you further about the business side of a deal like that.

Thanks! Matt

Doug Block
Thu 21 Jan 2010Link

I've worked with HBO on my last 3 films, Matt. Email me with a bit more detail about the project and I'll share some insight. My email address is in my profile (he says, testing your linking acumen).

Edited Thu 21 Jan 2010 by Doug Block

Faraz Mohammad
Tue 26 Jan 2010Link

I am gonna be shooting my documentary using Canon HV 40. What would be the ideal stand to put the camera on to avoid shaking ?
I was thinking of tripod stand but then someone recomended monopod bcz I will be moving around alot following the character at their work place.
Can anyone give better suggetion which stand should i use ?

John Burgan
Thu 28 Jan 2010Link

The BBC is looking for people to tell us the story of their world in a two minute film, with winning films assembled into sequences by leading figures in documentary film.

No-one sees the world the way you do. Make a short film about life from your perspective – and enter in this competition to be judged by professional documentary makers.

Albie Garcia
Sat 30 Jan 2010Link

Only the second time I have posts anything, usually a reader. I am working on a music doc of a small town and have done several intvs and shows. I have two questions not related at all.
1.) When getting clearances in the intv. process. Do I still need to get another clearance from the same band to shoot the performance. Essentially, do I need two clearances one for the show, the other for the intv.
2.) Many co-workers have donated thier time helping me with this project. One in particular is really pressing her ideas. I keep reminding her of the direction that we should be taking. Nine months in she says she is not sure if she can continue, becasue she doesn't believe in the project. I have been the only person who has invested in this project (financially speaking). Trying to keep an open mind.
Ideas? sorry this is so long.

Justine Jacob
Sun 31 Jan 2010Link

In reply to Albie Garcia's post on Sun 31 Jan 2010 :

1 – your release for the interview can include the shows – I would include all the shows in the release for the band and have each band member sign one.

2. Not sure what your question is. Have you done crew deal memos with each person working for you? Even if they work for free, you should have them sign a work-for-hire crew deal memo that says you own everything they do for you. But, again, not sure what your question is.

Edited Sun 31 Jan 2010 by Justine Jacob

Magee Clegg
Tue 2 Feb 2010Link


I have a 22-minute documentary, "A Box with a View" about the influence of cable television in a farming community located in South India. The short has been received well so far. Most recently it was nominated for best international documentary at the Queens International Film Festival in NYC, but now I am in a situation where I do not have enough money to continuing submitting to Festivals. You can watch the full documentary at this link:

Is there anyway to team up with a company that promotes films like mine and the deal would be for them to take a cut if the distribution rights are sold? Any Suggestion would be a great help! Thank you so much.


Kelly Nathe
Tue 2 Feb 2010Link

Does anyone have any experience working with Lombardo Films?

They've expressed interest in distributing a film I'm working on and would love to hear from any of you who have experience with them.


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