The Mentoring Room - Ask the Working Pros

Mentoring Room

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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.

Doug Block

Travis, for what it's worth I never write treatments ahead of time.  I'm in the *semi-fortunate position of being a single-person crew, which means I can shoot most if not all of my films before I begin fundraising.  Thus, any treatments are based on footage I've already shot.  If you don't have a good deal of footage shot, you might write one based on what you're hoping will happen.  In that case, however, I wouldn't go into great detail, or pretend you have dialogue or sound bites that you haven't actually shot.

Semi-fortunate in that I have no one to help me carry equipment, which seems to get heavier and more cumbersome every year.  Or someone to distract the subject while I set up, especially if I have to put up a light for an interview.  Or someone to share the driving on long trips. Fortunate in almost every other respect.

Katherine Acosta

Does anyone’s expertise extend to archival research for doc films?  I’m working on a film about the 2011 Uprising here in Madison, WI and want to use archival news footage and campaign commercials.  The Living Room Candidate has presidential candidate commercials, but I want Scott Walker’s gubernatorial commercials.  Do I have to approach the groups that made those commercials to get them?  Or are there other public sources of that information?

Also, the Vanderbilt archive is pretty good for national TV news, but how do I find local TV news archives?  Do I need to approach the local TV stations individually?

Any tips would be greatly appreciated.  Thanks in advance!


Erica Ginsberg

Local TV can be trickier, especially for older footage since they tended to just reuse tapes and not really have an archives. While I am sure our resident archival goddess Rosemary Rotondi might have some words of wisdom, I'd also recommend getting in touch with Brad Lichtenstein from 371 Productions in Milwaukee since I know he used Scott Walker footage for AS GOES JANESVILLE. I don't recall if he used any commercials, I think just news footage, but he might know where the local sources might be for that footage.

Joel Wanek

In reply to Katherine Acosta's post on Tue 4 Aug 2015:

 Hi Katherine. You might check with local and state universities to see if they have any archives. Here in the Bay Area, San Francisco State University has an impressive television archive. I just worked for KQED here as well and they don't even own much of their own material any longer - they've donated it to SFSU and therefore have to ask to gain access to it when needed. I think it became very expensive for these stations to hang onto all of these tapes for so long and many of them have simply dumped their archives. As a result of it being at a public institution, though, much of the archives are free to access and use.


Also, perhaps the folks at SFSU's archive know of people in Wisconsin.

Adjul Gardner

I'm about to add a secondary layer to my doc that includes narration and sound effects.  I've read some great books on story (Sheilla Curran Bernard) and of course cinematography...does anybody have a recommendation of material for self-teaching sound effects?  Either written or examples films that use it tastefully.  I'm using it as a comical but metaphorical accent on a certain character and theme and I'm worried about overdoing it.

Kunle Ekunkonye

I have a rough cut of my first documentary film that I've been working on for 3  years.  How would I go about getting some critical feedback from people at D-Word?

Doug Block

As a "Fan" you can't, Kunle.  From your member profile it's impossible to know the level of your professional experience.  But if you register as a Pro and fill in the form thoroughly we'll certainly take it under serious consideration.

Siddharth Sawhney

Hi all. New member on-board. Really nice work done on the site.

The question I had was in regards to distribution of documentaries. I am an Indian national who's made a feature length documentary on the issue of Honor Killing and want to distribute it outside India like in US,UK. Is there any resource, website or list of TV channels that I could look up and go about approaching them.





Doug Block

Welcome, Siddarth.  The EDN Guide, put out by the European Documentary Network, would be a great starting point for you.  You might also want to register here as a Pro member rather than just a Fan, which will give you access to many more discussion topics (like Marketing and Distribution).  Make sure to complete your registration form and tell us more about your professional documentary experience.

Jenny Rustemeyer

In reply to Travis Hawkins's post on Sun 2 Aug 2015:

Maybe you don't know exactly what's going to happen, but you do know why you think it's worth making a film of, so maybe start by picturing a scene that would tell that part of the story and work out from there. The treatment isn't just about events; it also illustrates the tone for the film. Will it be funny? Dramatic? Sad? The language you use in the treatment will let the reader know. Will you use a specific type of shooting? Verite? Reinactments? Archive footage? You probably have an idea of that already, but whomever you are pitching to doesn't know until you tell them.

matt hardy

Anyone here have experience creating films aboard sailboats? I will be shooting a 90-day docu-series on an 112 foot sailboat traveling over 6,500 nautical miles and would love any advice you might have. Planning on shooting GH4 (Acam) and 6D (Bcam). Besides creative, and logistical help, I'm looking for input regarding how to deal with gear surviving the corrosive nature of the sea (use an underwater housing for stormy days or is there a better way?), best way to capture audio, and gear I can't live without, etc. Your help is greatly appreciated! Thanks,

Bret Bernhoft

Hello all,

I recently released a simple informational documentary about a particular New Age figure named Teal Swan and I would enjoy any feedback that you may have. Here is a link to the video -

Thank you for your time and looking forward to your input.


Rebecca Romani

Hi All,

I am applying to the California Humanities (CAH) documentary fund for R&D funds for a broadcast hour doc on the Civil Rights movement, more specifically about a group from a California valley town who chartered a bus to joint the March in Selma (65). I am looking for some humanities experts who might be interested in the project. I have one specialist in Civil Rights movements from UC Davis (the town in question), and am looking for two more- possibly in documentary film itself- preferably Civil Rights-based work and someone who studies community activism. Any suggestions would be welcome! Deadline 10/15/15

Jonathan Craig

In reply to Rebecca Romani's post on Sat 26 Sep 2015:

 Hi Rebecca,

I recommend reaching out to the professors in the Ethnic Studies Department at San Francisco State University. Many of them were a part of the 1968 San Francisco Student Strike, the longest student strike in American history, which was rooted in the Civil Rights Movement. I interviewed many of them for my documentary on that very strike and they were incredibly knowledgeable and helpful. If they can't answer your questions, I am confident that they can point you in the direction of many who can.

Best of luck!


Doug Block


Rebecca, this topic is for Fans who don't have professional documentary experience to ask questions of the Pros.  You're  a Pro member and you'll usually get a better response if you ask questions in the appropriate Pro topic.  In this case, Funding.   Luckily, Jonathan came in with an answer, but for next time...

Rebecca Romani

Hi Doug,


Sorry! Thanks for the heads up! Will post in the right spot.


Nico Edwards

In reply to matt hardy's post on Tue 1 Sep 2015:

 Hi Matt, just did a 10 month trek on a boat with some canon gear. Can't recommend enough getting some great pelican cases and stuffing them with dehumidifying silica canisters that you refresh in the oven. Keep your gear in there when not being used. Much of your stuff will be ruined after the trip no matter what you do, even if you can't see the damage with the naked eye, but should last 3 months. Having L lenses or similarly weather sealed lenses will also help a lot. Lots of backup peripheral equipment helps as well (card readers, etc) no B&H nearby. 

Pia Brar

Hello everyone!

New member here. I am currently working on a documentary on the art-activism ("artivism") movement unfolding across India right now. We are following the political unrest through the eyes of different artists - film, dance, music, street performance, etc. - and how the communities they work in receive them and their work. We have been to 4 different states thus far and are exploring the issues of caste, gender violence, police brutality and censorship (internal and external) through the film. However, though we have finished shooting, we are currently on hold as we need funding for postproduction. And as expected, with the rising censorship and intolerance in our country, we are wary of putting our project on public crowdfunding campaigns. 

We would like to get onto postproduction as soon as possible as this is a time sensitive topic. Does anybody know of upcoming grants we could apply to? Plus, any advice/tips on making documentaries on sensitive topics in sensitive countries would be great!

Thanks for your help,




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