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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.

Jacob Brady
Wed 18 Jan 2012Link

Hi all, I'm currently trying to raise funding for a documentary about a network of controversial adolescent drug abuse programs that I was a member of for five years. We just released a pitch trailer and launched an IndieGoGo campaign.

I would love to get some feedback from professionals on what we are doing right and what we could be doing better. This is my first time trying to do something like this and I could use all the help you can offer.

The trailer and IndieGoGo page are here. http://www.indiegogo.com/thegroup

Not asking for donations here, just looking for feedback. Thanks in advance.


Jill Morley
Thu 19 Jan 2012Link

Hi Jacob,

This looks like a really interesting story, especially since you have the inside scoop.

I am wondering if you have any other footage besides the talking heads and pictures. Are there scenes you can shoot? Or can you come up with some creative B-Roll that relates to the feelings that everyone is talking about? I know you are just beginning with telling your story, but I think it is always good to think in these terms. Best of luck!


Jacob Brady
Thu 19 Jan 2012Link

Hi Jill,

Thanks for checking it out.

Right now, we have about 13 hours worth of video footage that was shot by members of The Group and more coming. We didn't use any in the trailer because we are still working out the legalities of using it, but we intend to use some of it in the film.

As for B-roll, we plan to get footage of our interview subjects in their daily lives, plus just shooting anything interesting that comes up when we are on location.


Jill Woodward
Thu 19 Jan 2012Link

Subject looks compelling so far. I have heard of extreme drug programs (like the right wing christian ones that periodically get shut down by a state gov and then pop up elsewhere under a different name) but this is the first I heard about one totally run by kids. Lots of parallels though in terms of the brainwashing, peer pressure and torture lite techniques. Was there money involved? Anyone profiting?


Jacob Brady
Fri 20 Jan 2012Link

In reply to Jill Woodward's post on Fri 20 Jan 2012 :

Hi Jill. There is definitely a profit being made. My family, for example, which is a working-class family, spent around $70,000 in the five years that I was involved. The money is from treatment programs (in-patient and out-patient). They convince parents that without the treatment their child will literally die.

We were very limited in what we could go into with the teaser trailer, but we plan to explore the whole history of the organization in the final film.

The entire operation was founded by one man who is a convicted-felony, former heroin addict and self-professed murderer. There has been a lot written about the organization going back to the 1970s. Here's a link to a little background information, if you're curious.

Thanks for checking it out. If you have any advice, I sure could use it.


Jill Woodward
Fri 20 Jan 2012Link

sounds very similar to Kids of Bergen County, where my friend was incarcerated, it changed names and moved around a lot to avoid regulation. From your trailer I almost thought it was the kids organizing themselves, but it sounds very much like there is an adult orchestrating and profiting. Good luck!


Jacob Brady
Fri 20 Jan 2012Link

In reply to Jill Woodward's post on Fri 20 Jan 2012 :

It's very similar to the Kids of Bergen County and the Straight program.


Reid B. Kimball
Fri 20 Jan 2012Link

Jacob, nice job on your first film so far, but I do see a couple areas to work on.

Sound quality is inconsistent, some sounded echo-y while others sounded high quality but too soft and quiet, I'm hard of hearing. I like to make sure the sound is loud but not too loud. People can always turn their sound down, but I had maxed the sound on my sys and headphone and still had a hard time hearing a lot of what was said.

Also, be more conscious of where your key lights are falling on the interview subject's face and which direction they are looking in. In one scene, in the bedroom, the key light was behind the person, not in front. So, we see most of their face being dark with the back side of the face lit. Other scenes the subject is to one side of the frame (rule of thirds) but is looking towards the short side, not the long side.

I've made all these mistakes myself. It's a challenge to keep all this conscious when you are trying to setup equipment and think about the interview questions, etc.


Jacob Brady
Sun 22 Jan 2012Link

In reply to Reid B. Kimball's post on Sat 21 Jan 2012 :

Reid, thanks for the feedback. We had a lot of difficulties with light in one of the interviews. We were using natural light and had issues with the sun moving behind clouds and also getting dark early. We tried out best to fix it with some color correction, but there was only so much we could do.

Hopefully, if we are able to raise the money, we will be able to budget for lights and have much more control over the finished product.

As for the sound, I confess I don't know much about it, but I did notice that it jumps around from interview to interview.

Thanks for all the feedback. I really appreciate it.


Kevin Spahr
Thu 26 Jan 2012Link

I'm purchasing E&O for my first doc deal. I have no idea of what this should cost. I have a quote for a 10K deduct on a 1M/3M policy for 3 years for $5500. Is this in the range of what you guys have paid?

This doc is pretty safe – no digging up dirt, no famous people, not based on other works, etc, – it has a happy and positive message. I know that doesn't really mean much in today's world.

thanks


Doug Block
Fri 27 Jan 2012Link

It means right around $5500 for 3 years. A pretty accurate quote.


Mike Lynch
Sun 29 Jan 2012Link

I recently paddled the 740-mile Northern Forest Canoe Trail and took video along the way. I conducted interviews, got action footage, scenic shots, etc. The one thing I didn't do was get location releases. My footage was filmed on public waterways, public streets and a few private campgrounds. Will this be a problem if I try to distribute the film or show it publicly. Which locations would require release? It's my understanding that the footage on public lakes, rivers and streams, I'd be allowed to use. What's the consequence of not having a location release and then showing the film?


Arv Acharya
Sat 4 Feb 2012Link

Hello, I just joined D-Word. I have a question. Does anyone know of footage of Nice, France in the mid- to late-1920s? Also, footage of the Ottoman Empire in the early 1920s? I am looking for these to incorporate into a planned documentary on the life of the Ottoman Royalty when they went into exile. I can be reached at arvindach[at]gmail[dot]com. Thanks in advance. This looks like a very supportive community, judging from the answers to various questions asked by others.


Lillian Baulding
Sun 19 Feb 2012Link

Hello All: Can anyone recommend a good, inexpensive video stabilizer for my Canon t3i? I've been looking at the Dot Line DL-0370 Hands-free Video Stabilizer but don't know anyone who has one. Thanks!


Yacine Helali
Mon 20 Feb 2012Link

Lillian, you'll find this and a lot more in this article from Chris Jones, 'The Perfect Guerilla Film Makers Camera Kit For Under £1k':

http://www.chrisjonesblog.com/2012/02/the-perfect-guerilla-film-makers-camera-kit-for-under-1k.html

Hope this helps,

Yacine Helali
www.vetofilms.com


Lillian Baulding
Mon 20 Feb 2012Link

Thank you very much Yacine!

Best,
Lillian Baulding


Jesse Zook Mann
Tue 21 Feb 2012Link

In reply to Arv Acharya's post on Sun 5 Feb 2012 :

i was just watching the bbc doc the first world war. lots of stuff from the ottoman empire – might want to see their sources and see what else you can dig up.

http://www.amazon.com/First-World-War-Complete/dp/B0009S2K9C/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top

the episode is jihad – its also on youtube


Damien Pollard
Tue 28 Feb 2012Link

Hi Everyone,

I'm in a very similar situation to Mike above. I recently filmed a short doc about a small-time rock band in the UK, the first half of which was filmed in a rehearsal studio that they frequently use. I phoned the managers of the studio prior to filming and they said that they were happy for me to film there and take shots of their building.

However, during the first day of shooting there, they refused to sign a location release. They said that they were still very happy for me to film there and that I could film what I wanted and do what I liked with the final film. They didn't want to sign anything however, as they felt this would, potentially, leave them exposed to me later using the footage in a way that was damaging to them. I've spoken to them a couple of times since filming, as have the band, but they're sticking to this line. Apparently bands film at their studio quite frequently and this is the stance they take in all cases. I'm a stickler for crossing t's and dotting i's legally, so am not comfortable accepting verbal consent alone.

I'm planning on putting the film up on Youtube and Vimeo. I have no current plans to send it to festivals or secure broadcast distribution. Is this lack of a written location release something I should be worried about? My specific questions are:

Could the studio hypothetically take legal action simply because I have filmed on their premises, or would they need to show that I have damaged their reputation in doing so etc?

Would it be possible for me to put the video online and ask them to sign a release form just for that edit of that film (ie so that I'm covered, but they are also reassured that I can't then go and re-edit the rushes into something damaging to them).

I am in the UK and the doc was filmed here. I have signed releases for the other locations, all identifiable contributors and all the band's music.

Any thoughts would be hugely appreciated – this issue's held the film up for too long! Thanks a lot!

Damien


Jill Woodward
Tue 28 Feb 2012Link

Personally I'd put it on the web and forget about it. Secondly, I think it's only broadcasters that require such extensive paperwork, not even festivals, generally. However, hypothetically any studio or any person could take legal action at any time for any reason whatsoever.


Doug Block
Tue 28 Feb 2012Link

If it were me, I wouldn't worry about it a bit, Damien. But if it's keeping you up at night, you might want to get something informal with them via an email, even if it's just to explain their rationale as to why they don't want to sign a formal release. At least it's something where they state it's ok for you to film. But it's very unlikely they'll now turn around and sue.

Edited Tue 28 Feb 2012 by Doug Block

Damien Pollard
Tue 28 Feb 2012Link

Thanks a lot Jill and Doug, I really appreciate your thoughts.

I doubt this makes a difference, but I forgot to mention that I did not include the studio's name anywhere (eg interviews, on-screen text or shots of signage). It would be recognisable only to those who are already familiar with it.

That's very useful info (and good to know) about festivals Jill, thank you.

Thanks a lot for that suggestion Doug. I'm planning to email each contributor/location individually as soon as the film is uploaded with a link and message of thanks for their help. With the studio I thought I'd add a note saying that I appreciate their desire to look after their reputation and invite them to watch the film and let me know immediately if they have any objections. If they do not have any then at least I can move forward with evidence that I've taken reasonable steps to consider and account for their interests even without a signed release.

Thanks again both!


Doug Block
Tue 28 Feb 2012Link

With the studio, I wouldn't rush to send them a link. But if you do, I'd absolutely never invite them to raise any objections.


Jill Morley
Tue 28 Feb 2012Link

Damien, you also may want to consider an on camera release where they just tell you on camera that it is cool for you to shoot there. Not sure how that will hold up, but it's something and might make you feel better. Also, if you are worried about legal action, which seems unlikely, you could just take the video down if that happens or put it on a private site with a password. Best of luck!


Damien Pollard
Tue 28 Feb 2012Link

Thanks Doug, I certainly take your point. The studio were friendly and helpful throughout filming, and polite in their refusal to sign, but no need to open the door to problems! Maybe just a general email if any then.

Thanks as well Jill M. Filming is complete (and they're miles away from London!) so I think the window for an on-camera release is unfortunately closed. Thanks for the suggestion – I was actually curious as to whether taking the film down if trouble ever arose would be enough to solve the problem?

Thanks very much again everyone, I appreciate this is a lot of attention to be paying to what is essentially a long Youtube vid, but I can see this being a recurring issue in the future and for others!


Matt Dubuque
Thu 1 Mar 2012Link

Good evening,

I would like to submit my first very short film that I finally completed to my satisfaction yesterday for the comments and hopefully withering criticism of various mentors here.

I have generally found that the harsher the criticism, the more I can learn from it and because I am able to take such criticism with a minimum of disappointment, I have been able to substantially improve this film from the miserable state it was in last year.

This short is entitled "Twitter Time" and it explores possible responses to the exponential acceleration of our experience as discussed in Raymond Kurzweil's book "The Singularity is Near".

Here is a link to the film, best viewed in HD.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_H2xjhOnZIc&feature=plcp&context=C368cc22UDOEgsToPDskLyB6JLNpVhnISV2eeWuqZv

What follows in the next post is my discussion I intend to include in the "Director's Cut" DVD of the film for submittal to film festivals.

I look forward to your comments and criticism and, again, your discussion of the worst aspects of this project are most welcome.


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