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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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Matt Bengston
Fri 18 Jun 2010Link

I'm currently working on a series of small segments for my website, all of which are documentary-style segments that have to do with cars and motoring. During some of the filming, we will be on a race track that a friend of mine manages, and some of the other filming will be done on the road leading to the track. It's a very remote road that not that many people go on, but what I'm worried about is if someone does drive down the road when we are filming. I'll have basically myself along with a camera car, and two people setup on tripods along the road. How worried should I be about if someone drives by when we are filming, or something like that? It would be quite difficult to chase them down and ask them for a release, obviously..


Doug Block
Sat 19 Jun 2010Link

Wouldn't worry a bit about that, Matt. If they don't speak on camera, or featured prominently, I don't go after them with releases.


Beat Oswald
Sat 19 Jun 2010Link

an art school (that i am not a member from) is interested in giving me financial support for a documentary about a new school classical music concert from one of their students. they were very vague about the amount of money they wont to spend on my film.

so my question is: do you think it is more clever to get there with a detailed and rather expensive budget or should i go and propose a small budget?

its my first business talk like that and i would be thankful for some directions in the policy of such meetings..

thanks for the help,

beat


John Burgan
Sat 19 Jun 2010Link

They probably have no idea of the amount of work this can entail – have they said, for instance, how long they want the finished film to be? Also a "new school classical music concert" is not necessarily even a film.

The bottom line is to decide what is in it for you – a calling card, for instance or because you like the music student? Either way, it's unlikely you will make much money from this. Try and draw up a ball-park figure of the projected number of shooting days.


Beat Oswald
Sat 19 Jun 2010Link

thanks john

yes, it is because the student is a good friend of mine.. and i am definitely not doing it to make much money, but of course, i'd like to get the most from them, also to get the best result out of it.

since they leave me a lot of freedom in deciding how the final film is gonna look like, i think i'll go in there and draw up three different possibilities, a cheap, a middle and an expensive one.. and i will take it from there and see how they react.

but thanks for the hint with the shooting days,, i think thats a good approach to the discussion.. and i will definitely do that..


Cecilia Rinn
Mon 21 Jun 2010Link

I am starting on my second documentary, and running into some difficulties that I didn’t come up against on my first one. I have been in preproduction for a documentary about this monument in the Nevada desert. The man who made the place-it was his home and somewhat of a commune in the 1970s, died in the late 80s and willed the place to his son. His son has made it into a park for people to visit while traveling by. I want to make a documentary about how the place affected the people, who lived there, help build it, and traveled by. The son and I have been talking for a year, and we finally met last weekend for a video tour of the place and an interview with him. He wouldn’t sign the release, and sent me a release he would be willing to sign. The altered release he sent me said that he would only allow me to do the documentary if I only covered certain things. It was very limited to me as the filmmaker. I traveled there 24 years ago and spoke with his father, the artist, and he let me take pictures, while he told my father his story. The artist had 16 children, 5 of which, wear raised at the monument.

My question is, do I need the owner to sign the release? What rights does he need to give me (if any) to use the place and his fathers history in my documentary?

I would think that his siblings stories are just as valid as his, and I have the right to tell their story if the share it with me. Also I have experience with the place, so can’t I be telling my story and reference the place?

Thanks for any help you want to offer 


Doug Bocaz-Larson
Fri 25 Jun 2010Link

My wife and I are working on our first full length documentary and would love your feedback. We've been successful with short documentaries so we're trying our hand at a longer project http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rZf5WMplJhQ


Boyd McCollum
Sat 26 Jun 2010Link

Hey Doug, I'm not sure what kind of feedback you're really looking for. It'd also depend on how you define documentary film and who your target audience is. Perhaps you should have a showing with some people in your target audience and get feedback from them. Right now the film feels like a marketing piece for the Out of Africa Wildlife Park. Even from that perspective, the film feels much too long. Part of the problem, for me, is that it's really unstructured, repetitive in what is being talked about and the images you're showing, and takes a long time to present any new information--and the information that is presented is insufficient to sustain a 1hr20 film. You may also want to place the park in a larger context. Anyway, just some thoughts. Good luck with your project.


Lisa Whitmer
Wed 30 Jun 2010Link

I am working on a documentary that will be using a lot of archival footage from other video producers and organizations (magazines etc.). Does anyone have a release form they use to obtain permission to use other people's footage? Thanks!


Phoebe Brown
Mon 5 Jul 2010Link

In reply to Cecilia Rinn's post on Mon 21 Jun 2010 :

Cecilia--you could make the story about the father and the history of the place without the son's permission. But-if the son is the new owner and the heir of the estate you are going to need a release from him for any current footage or family owned archival material (including brochures, etc) since it doesn't sound like you had any written agreement with the father.
You could get creative and try to track down people who stayed there and use their photos and interviews but it seems like it would be worth another try at working out some kind of agreement with the son since he is the more intimate link to the Dad.
Maybe you can find a middle ground between what he wants and what you need. If you can get him to understand you need creative freedom to get a really strong story--but be open to what he wants included maybe he'll come around. If he wants a more promotional story for himself you could always offer to make him something he could use for his personal needs in exchange for a more open agreement about the doc you really want to make.


Manoj Raj Pandey
Tue 6 Jul 2010Link

I am a film maker in Nepal.Now am working on a documentary about LGBTI.I don't know how can i search the market outside Nepal. Especially in USA and Europe.I am waiting the your suggestion.


Andy Schocken
Thu 8 Jul 2010Link

Hi Manoj. Are you looking for existing LGBT documentaries? I did a quick google search and found these links:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category%3ALGBT-related_documentary_films
http://www.rainbowsauce.com/dvd/docodvd2.html


Manoj Raj Pandey
Sun 11 Jul 2010Link

Andy thanks.I am just looking the future possible market for my film, like LGBTI film distributer,TV station,Buyer etc.


Amish Nishawala
Sun 11 Jul 2010Link

Hello D-Word! I'm going to India for 3 wks to interview my father's friends and relatives to make into a documentary. I have no experience with filming, but do have some experience with DSLRs for still photography. My filmmaker friend recommends the Sony ex 1, but I want something more portable, but still shoot in a resolution good enough for theatrical release (I can dream!).
I'm thinking about the Canon 7D for all the interviews and the Panasonic HDC-700K for hand held shots. I'm not planning to use any steadicams or dollys, just external mics. The guy at B & H said this would be fine but I should record with a Nano Flash. (Which I found out costs more than either camera I was considering!)
I was blown away by City of Lakes which was entirely shot w/ DSLRs.
Thanks!


Phoebe Brown
Mon 12 Jul 2010Link

In reply to Amish Nishawala's post on Sun 11 Jul 2010 :

If you search posts for "7D" you'll get lots of technical advice from this board. You might also want to look at the Canon T2i which is less money for the body and pretty much the same video quality. It is a lighter camera body but in your case that might be a plus. It does shoot absolutely beautiful footage but do your research before you commit--the biggest issue is that 12 minutes is the longest single take you can shoot. The camera reboots pretty quickly but you'll have to restart the camera frequently.
But again--search this board and the web and you'll get all kinds of technical feedback.

When and where will you be in India? Me and my small crew leave on Tuesday--also for a doc shoot in India. Maybe we'll cross paths.


Amish Nishawala
Mon 12 Jul 2010Link

In reply to Phoebe Brown's post on Mon 12 Jul 2010 : Thanks for the quick reply and info. Yeah, I'm not sure how the City of Lakes guys got around the 12 min limit issue. We'll be in Mumbai this December. Good luck on your shoot!


Nick Brown
Mon 12 Jul 2010Link

Hello all. I just joined this forum this morning and have been reading up on the last few months of posts. This looks like an awesome venue for newbies like myself to learn from others, so I just wanted to post a general shoutout for feedback and see what comes in. A buddy and I have been shooting a documentary about a local community opera company for the last 5 months and we're just a few weeks away from wrapping up the majority of filming. We had absolutely no idea what we were doing when we started this, and have been learning from a combination of googling stuff and our own mistakes along the way. We've been shooting on 2 DVX-100a's, sennheisier shotgun mics, and using FCP to edit on a suped-up Hackintosh system with about 200 hours of footage (I've been calling it the monkeys-with-type-writers approach). We're at the point now where we've got all this footage: a combination of rehearsals, performances, interviews, production meetings, set-building, etc. (about 40% of it has been ingested and logged into FCP so far) and it's time to start story-boarding the project. I was thinking of budgeting about 8 weeks (80-100 hours of evening/weekend work around the day job) to create the outline/script before we get into the thick of editing, and then 6-9 months of editing before we try submitting to a few film festivals. I figure we have enough material for an 80-90 minute movie about this group of people working to stage an opera that could be compelling – this is a character-driven documentary with some good moments of conflict, funny things, a look into the eccentricities of the opera world as a microcosm for how people work together, that sort of thing. We found some template releases off the web and have adapted those to have everyone sign them (that has been a struggle at times as two folks with career-related concerns have asked to review any footage that includes them). We'll also be looking to obtain rights for some archival footage of Leontyne Price singing at the White House back in 1976 that looks to be owned by PBS, so I imagine that will be an interesting process to go through as well. I do have some Fair Use related concerns as there are some pieces of dialogue we have that took place in a coffee shop with canned pop-music that can be heard in the background, as well as some scenes shot in public with folks walking by in the background. I'd also love general ethical/professional advice people have on portraying the "characters" in a film such as this. We have about 7 individuals who we're focusing on in-depth, and we've obviously had to forge some close relationships with them over the last several months to get them comfortable with revealing those dramatically-compelling parts of themselves on camera. I'm curious how others have worked to do an honest portrayal of their character's strengths and weaknesses under similar circumstances. We've also got some technical hang-ups from our own inexperience, as some of our footage was shot in 29 FPS vs, the 24 FPS we'll be editing in, as well as 4:3 aspect ratio vs. the 16:9 we'll be editing in. I guess just a lot of cropping and rendering work? And though we're likely still closer to the beginning then to the end of this project, any advice on how to submit to festivals and protecting the finished product would be appreciated. So far this project has just been the two of us, and completely self-financed with a budget of about $5k so far (any major unanticipated expenses I should worry about on the horizon?). Also curious to know what should be the most important questions/considerations we should be thinking about at this point in the process, as we've pretty much exhausted the "how to film a documentary" search results. Cheers and thanks.


Jo-Anne Velin
Mon 12 Jul 2010Link

Wow. First, good for you to take this on. You hit on many key issues in documentary filmmaking first time at bat.

My only tiny comment is that people walking past a camera in a public place incidentally are not going to be a concern, especially if the context wasn't controversial. Maybe others will disagree, but another way of looking at it is, will they come after you later? Will they hurt your chances of getting the film insured?


Nick Brown
Mon 12 Jul 2010Link

In reply to Jo-Anne Velin's post on Mon 12 Jul 2010 :

Ah, yes, thanks. No, there's no reason we know of that strangers in the background would have a problem with an incidental appearance. Though during this process, a stage manager at one of the theaters where they were performing mentioned that she had run into a problem once with a film crew coming in and someone they caught on camera was in the witness protection program and it caused all sorts of problems. Obviously we have no control over that, but maybe the best solution is to get a good lawyer on retainer or something (though is that even worth the price?) to deal with any potential issues like that? And that's also a hairy issue I guess: what is the definition of a "public place"? Obviously a park is, but what about a restaraunt? Or a theater? And what's this you say about insurance? That's something I've never read about needing to do so obviously I will... before or after submitting to festivals? Thanks a bunch!


Jo-Anne Velin
Mon 12 Jul 2010Link

The insurance is to cover getting sued due to errors and omissions by the filmmaker/producer. E&O. Google E&O documentary film – there's good starting material on that there.


Nick Brown
Tue 13 Jul 2010Link

In reply to Jo-Anne Velin's post on Mon 12 Jul 2010 :

ah thanks a bunch! that could prove to be very valuable advice.


Christopher Wong
Tue 13 Jul 2010Link Tag

nick, welcome to the d-word. sounds like you and your co-director have an interesting piece. it also sounds like you are in a similar position to many first-time filmmakers – lots of good footage, but not much knowledge about what comes next (other than a lot of editing). the d-word is definitely the right place for you to start learning...

i'll tackle a few of your questions, and let some others handle the rest:

1) regarding the shooting format differential, there's a really great (and inexpensive) piece of software called Nattress which does an awesome job of converting 29.97 footage to 23.98, which is what you want to edit in. for only $100, you get really great looking footage.

2) regarding Fair Use, you don't have anything to worry about regarding pop songs playing in the background of a cafe. as long as you don't use the pop songs in any "creative" way to enhance your scene(s), you are absolutely covered here. no need to buy licenses for the use of such music.

3) i think you have a good estimate for what it will take to finish the film, but you should really budget closer to 9 months of editing than just 6. things ALWAYS take longer than you think. normally, i would actually budget for about a year of editing with that much footage, but since your story is pretty chronological, that removes some of the storytelling hurdles.

4) you didn't mention the extra expenses of color correction, audio mix, and music score. i assume you already know about them, but those will all be fairly expensive items at the end of the game. Color correction averages around $10-12k, audio mix about $8-12k, and original music about $10-15k. and those are the low-to-mid-range estimates. it can be much more expensive depending on whom you use.

anyways, good luck, and feel free to post more questions. you'll get more responses if you just post one query at a time...


Nick Brown
Tue 13 Jul 2010Link

In reply to Christopher Wong's post on Tue 13 Jul 2010 :

wow, thanks Christopher, that's really helpful.
1)awesome. If it comes recommended for only $100, totally worth it.
2)cool. I remembered hearing a story from On the Media where a doc filmmaker got in trouble for using a scene where a character's cell phone went off and it had a pop-song ringtone on it so he got sued. But maybe it was used in some creative context – I can't find the story anymore.
3) cool. yeah, I guess it's just done when it's done....
4) Most helpful. I am embarrasingly naive about this stuff (though that's probably a good thing, because we might not have started it at all if we'd had a realistic view of how much work it would be). I spent some time last night reading about both color correction and audio mixing. I watched a few tutorials about doing all this on your own using the Color and Soundtrack programs in the Final Cut Suite, so I am thinking of trying to go that direction. I figure if we can use YouTube tutorials to teach ourselves FCP we can probably use them for Color and Soundtrack too? Or are they way more complicated to learn? As far as original music I'm actually pretty stoked about that. We have a few friends who do hip-hop mixing or are in local indie bands, so we were gonna try to get them on board to let us use their stuff for free. We've kind of been taking the approach with people that "this will most likely never make money, but if it somehow does, and you help us out, you'll get a cut of it." I know it probably makes lawyers' stomachs churn, but so far people have seemed to be cool with it. Though I do wonder if that may bite us in the ass some day...
Thanks again!


Matt Dubuque
Tue 13 Jul 2010Link

Good morning,

I'm currently outputting video in H.264 format with my Canon 5d Mark II.

I'm informed that if I import the footage into Final Cut Pro it will need to be transcoded. I know there are various transcoders available, including from Canon.

I'm also informed if I import this same footage into Adobe Premiere Pro that zero transcoding will be necessary.

I can use either program. I am comfortable with each.

I just want my end result to be the highest quality image and I don't want to start off on the wrong foot by introducing more distortion and noise into the process than is absolutely necessary.

Isn't it true that every time you introduce transcoding or format conversion into a process that you will harm the image, even if it is in some minor way?

I'm very well aware of the relative merits of FCP and Adobe Premiere. My question is only about this initial transcoding step.

The Apple folks tell me there is zero harm to the image caused by this transcoding.

Must I believe them?

Thanks so much!

Matt Dubuque


Andy Schocken
Tue 13 Jul 2010Link

I don't know anything about premiere, but I wouldn't worry about transcoding to prores for FCP (except how much *%&! time and disk space it will take). If you have FCP7, use prores lt, if you have FCP6, use prores. Nearly everyone using the 5d is doing it this way.


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