The Mentoring Room - Ask the Working Pros

Mentoring Room

  • Public

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.

Mike Bell
Fan

I'm working on a documentary where I'd like to use some old TV footage that says "public domain". But I don't really know for sure.  How can I investigate?  The footage is from a show from the defunct DuMont Network from the U.S.

Heather Hutson
Pro

This week my first film -- Hotel Clermont -- screened at the Atlanta Film Festival. It was a wonderful (and nerve racking!) experience. I'm writing in this section on the site because I thoroughly believe in the power of mentorship and am glad that I, as a first-time filmmakers, teamed up with experienced filmmakers. I'm incredibly grateful to D-Worders Danielle Beverly and Eli Brown for all of their guidance and support on this project! (And am happy to share that Tuesday's World Premiere sold out :).)

Erica Ginsberg
Host

Yay Heather! I remember hearing about this when I met you at Full Frame a year or two ago. Hope we get to see the film in DC real soon. Congrats on the sell-out crowd!

Lev Deych
Pro

I am trying to produce my first documentary feature about a brilliant composer who was forced to flee Germany by the Nazis when his career just started picking up, and spent the rest of his life trying to revive it and find his new cultural identity at his new home in New York. I know the story and how I want to tell it, access to the archive materials and witnesses, I have a director (even two co-directors who are also new to doc film making), most of the cast, which includes some luminaries of classical music world (I would not want to name names here), partners in Europe. I do not have the most important thing - financing. I believe that this being my first film I would need to partner with a more experience producer if I have any hopes of finding any money for the film. I made a few attempts approaching some pretty big names who produced films related to my theme, but was essentially laughed at. So, here is my question: Is it too naive of me to hope that I could find a co-producing partner who would agree to help me raise the funds with the promise of an equity in the film and deferred payments, which will be made as soon as funds a raised? I also expect this partner not to try to take over the control over the project, while allowing for some degree of creative control within well defined boundaries. Is it even possible? I really appreciate an honest answer, and maybe someone would suggest whom I could contact with such an offer? Thanks a lot for your time. 

Doug Block
Host

Lev, the Mentoring Room is for members on the Fan level without professional documentary experience.  Being as you're a Pro member, you might want to post this again in the Production topic where it will be read much more widely.  Normally we discourage double posting, but in this case it's quite alright.

The short answer is: yes, it's possible. Longer answer to come once you re-post it. 

Christopher Carl
Fan

Hello everyone,  I am making my first documentary film and I have some questions regarding some legal aspects to making films.   Advice would be appreciated.

1- If I am shooting a documentary about say Gone with the Wind or the Martix am I allowed to snip some clips of those films into my film?  

2-If I am using a popular song as background music in my documentary do I have to get permission to use the song?

If the answer to either of these questions is yes would someone elaborate on how to go about getting permission and let me know  if there are fees involved?  Thank you! 

Christopher Carl
Fan

Thank you John and Tom. I read through the links and it seems to settle all the questions I have concerning copyright law in regards to print and digital media. Does anyone know about using popular music?

Christopher Wong
Pro

When using anyone else's music -- not just "popular music" -- you almost always have to get permission.  Of course, there can be exceptions (e.g. Fair Use), but not so much when you are employing the music just for background ambience/effect.

If you know how to contact the performer/writer, you can just send them an email and ask them how much they would charge for you to use the music in your film.  The price will be depend on how much of their music you use, and how popular their music is.

Sometimes, getting permission can be complicated, and it helps to employ a professional music supervisor who can help you with everything from contacting the artist's agent to negotiating the price to ensuring you have all the right signatures.

Christopher Carl
Fan

All, I am producing this film and I have written the script. The budget is rather large, 300K, which includes advertising. I am thinking that it might be useful to hire someone part time to manage the project. Someone that knows how to find the best director, find screenwriters if needs be, and just altogether act as the navigator to the project while I steer the ship. Any thoughts on how I could find such a person? Are there firms that have such people available for hire?

Doug Block
Host

In reply to Christopher Carl's post on Mon 9 May 2016:

Sounds like a producer or co-producer you're talking about.  And for docs, especially those made by a first-timer, they're hard to come by.  It's a good reason to go to industry events, festivals that have markets (like Hot Docs), and other places where producers hang out.  

 

Ken Kenderson
Fan

Good evening,

 

I'm about to embark on a complete career change and move into the world of documentary making.

I don't have any related qualifications or experience but am extremely hard-working and have no ego.

Would anybody be able to recommend any suitable starting points for me? I've started recording a very short documentary on my iphone using imovie to edit in order to just get started but feel I need more direction.

Can anybody suggest any good resources or does anybody need an extra pair of hands with a project?

Thanks for your time

 

Mahmood H. Hussein
Pro

Hello, 

Dear senior documentary filmmakers I hope all are doing fine. 

After a thorough and extensive research, I have what I highly believe to be a great and a very promising documentary idea . However, I need to know some of the steps that I need to go through in order to make this idea a living and a breathing entity?

Any suggestions or suggestions from senior members?

Thanks

 

Doug Block
Host

In reply to Ken Kenderson's post on Fri 13 May 2016:

Ken, being based in London, you may want to look into Shooting People and find some help there. 

In reply to Mahmood H. Hussein 's post on Sun 22 May 2016:

Mahmood, that's way too general a question to be addressed in a helpful way.  Since you're now a "professional" member here, you might post that question in the Works in Progress topic. But be as specific as you can about your idea and what stage you're at with it.

Daniel McGuire
Pro

This is a pretty basic question so I am putting it here instead of on the cinematography forum - Would a 4k camera allow one to shoot this scene with one camera in a master shot, and then allow you to push in for singles or 2 shots in the edit? This scene was shot with 2 or 3 cameras - I wonder if it could be done with one camera if you had 4k.

Tim Givens
Fan

  Hi question to everyone:

 

When making a documentary, is it wrong for your narration to be your point of view with assumptions, generalizations?  

John Burgan
Host

Firstly, a binary right/wrong is not really helpful in creative work. Secondly, there is a distinction to be made between news/journalism (which may at least subscribe to the notion of "impartiality") and the long history of documentary which can indeed express a point of view. It is wise however to examine your assumptions and avoid generalisations, unless these are being used deliberately or ironically in order to interrogate them.

You might find this book of great interest: Documentary Film: A Very Short Introduction by Pat Aufderheide

 

Maria Covell
Fan

Hey everyone! So I plan to start shooting with my NIkon D7100 and have been doing quite a bit of research for the best lenses to shoot with. I do not care about the brand but am looking for lenses that are preferably under $400 and of course compatible with the D7100. So far from what I can tell having a small variety of prime lenses is the way to go. 

Can anyone recommend options for a wide angle lens, macro, fish eye and 50mm?? 

Also do you all suggest looking for lenses with constant aperture?

Aleks Martray
Pro

Just successfully funded a Kickstarter Campaign to continue production on my documentary Bangkukuk about the indigenous struggle against the Nicaraguan Canal. Traveling this summer with lots of gear. Any suggestions/recommendations for international equipment insurance??

thx!

John Burgan
Host

As the description above spells out, this topic is for beginners, Aleks. As a Pro member this is much better placed in Production 

Nigel Walker
Pro

In reply to Maria Covell's post on Fri 10 Jun 2016:

If this is your first foray into documentary shooting and you are planning some handheld filming I'd go with a zoom lens thats wide, fast and stabilised. This Sigma looks decent for the money or if you want a little better build quality I'd go for this Nikkor. The D7100 is a APS-C sensor so finding something wide enough will be a challenge. The above lenses would be equivalent to around 25mm.

I'd also recommend, actually insist :) you purchase a variable ND filter so you can shoot at low fstops during midday. This one would work for either lens, there are also cheaper options.

Start off with a lens like the ones above and then invest in primes. However it will be challenging to find wide primes with that camera.

Rafael De La Uz
Pro

In reply to Maria Covell's post on Fri 10 Jun 2016 (http://d-word.com/topics/98?post=338787):

Hi Maria, you can save money and get better lenses if you rethink a bit your lens package. In my opinion few good lenses are a better choice than a bunch of crappy ones.
Do you really need to own a fish eye? Those lenses don't get a lot of use, and you can always rent one for a couple of days, shoot and send it back.
Can you shoot with a 50mm macro? The 50 mm macro is a bit slower but the bill or one is a fantastic quality, so if you can manage to work at 2.8 a 50mm macro can double duty very well.
No everybody is comfortable shooting with primes lenses, I'm the anti zoom guy in D-word, but I still own a couple of them and I use them. Nikon makes very good zooms and you can save a lot of money with one good zoom, build your kit and later on start adding primes.
Don't be afraid to buy used lenses. You can save a lot and buy better lenses. KEH is a great place to buy used lenses and Nikon old lenses are pretty good.

Russell Hawkins
Pro

Hi Maria, I agree with Nigel about the necessity of an ND filter and with Rafael's take on the fisheye and primes. If you are following fast moving events with no assistance your primes are unlikely to make it out of the bag. On the other hand a nice wide prime and a macro lens may be useful for specific purposes, like landscapes or in a car, and in more controlled circumstances. Your dollar will go further buying high quality and lightly used lenses.

You probably already know that APS-C sensor has a crop factor of 1.5x compared to a full frame sensor.  Meaning that a 50mm lens is considered to have a 'standard' field of view on a full frame sensor and a slightly telephoto field of view on your APS-C sensor (50mm x 1.5 = equivalent to a 75mm lens on a full frame sensor).  That works out well enough for telephoto work but as Nigel pointed out there are fewer options to achieve a wide angle.  So a wide zoom starting at 17mm or 18mm lens is a good solution.

This field of view comparator may be helpful. In your case select A. Canon 7D & Nikon D3100  and B. Canon 5D/1DC HD/1DX and then select a lens using the arrows in the centre.  You may not intend to shoot the Manhattan skyline, but at least it is a good visual indicator of the type of framing you will expect from different focal lengths. (You can also compare the difference in field of view caused by sensor size).

If none of this makes sense, just take heed of Nigel and Rafael!

Ben Crosbie
Pro

In reply to Maria Covell's post on Fri 10 Jun 2016 (http://d-word.com/topics/98?post=338787):

The Rokinon Cine Primes are excellent for the price. If you want something better, get the Zeiss ZF primes. Those are built amazingly well and have great glass. I have the 50mm Macro and the 25mm, and pretty much use those two 75% of time. I have a Rokinon 12mm for when I need a really wide angle shot.

Susan Cosgrove
Pro

Hi All - I am looking for a little advice for budgeting for post production. I am creating a budget for a 60 minute doc and have a few questions, as I have really only dealt with post timelines and schedules for commercials, feature films are altogether different:

  • Edit time - for a 60 min doc, how many hours of edit time should I be allotting for? If I am presented with a day rate - should I plan for 8, 10 or 12 hour days in post?
  • Sound / Mix time - same questions as above. This film will have a lot of music in camera, so there might be a fair amount of work involved.
  • GFX / Credits - Also not sure how much time I should allot for. There may be some subtitles, and of course, opening / closing credits.

 

Any helpful hints would be great! Hoping to apply for fiscal sponsorship by the end of the summer.

-Suzy

 

 

Christopher Wong
Pro

Susan, I'll just chime in on the areas that I know about...

As far as edit time, the answer is always "it depends".  But for an hour-long piece, it would be very wise to budget in at least 12 months of editing just to get to picture lock.  That time period includes all logging, capturing, initial viewing, and then editing.  If you have 60 hours of footage (i.e., a shooting ratio of 60:1), then I think 12 months of editing is a decent estimate.  If you have less, and are super-organized, then it is within the realm of possibility to get to picture lock in 9-10 months.  If you have 100+ hours of footage, I think you'd be well-advised to plan on 15-18 months of editing.

A lot of the schedule also hinges on the type of footage you have.  If it's all observational cinema verite moments, then that usually takes longer.  If your documentary is 100% interviews with b-roll laid over the top, then that generally takes a shorter amount of time because you can script out your scenes much more easily.  Since you said that you have a lot of music in-camera, it sounds like you may have a mixture of observational and interviews, with a lot of live performances mixed in.

As far as each editor's dayrate, most of the people that I've worked with operate on a 10-hour day.  Of course, a longer day can be negotiated (or you can be overtime), but on such a long-term project, I don't think you want to burn your editor out by insisting on 12-hour days.  (And eight hours is barely enough time to get started...)

Regarding GFX/Credits, that depends on how complicated a sequence you want to make.  For simple opening and closing credits though, I wouldn't budget out more than 3-5 days.  A lot of that will simply be you as the producer/director tracking down the correct spelling of all the names of your subjects, donors, crew, and technical team.  The actual editing time is quite minimal, and just involves making adjustments here and there to make a crawl smoother, or add in more names to the credit roll.

Hope that helps!

Eli Brown
Pro

I'll add that sound mix should be budgeted for something "somewhat complex" somewhere in the $10-20k range, though you can negotiate that rate considerably depending on what your deliverable list is, how complex it is, and how experienced your sound designer/editor might be (i.e. if they're looking for a feature doc credit, they'll be more willing to negotiate, for instance). For a complex title sequence or anything resembling higher-end motion graphics type of stuff, the lowest I've seen is $10k for 30 seconds of animation (this includes 3D, 2.5D with a lot of elements, typography and a high degree of design complexity). You might be able to work out a package deal with an animation house, though, where you can get them to throw in some other graphic templates on top of that, to save you some. As with all line items, most things have a range of negotiation depending on the vendor. The subtitling is probably something that can/should be handled within the edit at some level and usually doesn't require a graphics company to create the output for. Although it's a few years out of date, a really great template for a documentary budget was created by the D-word's Robert Bahar and is still available online, which you might find helpful at this stage.

Russell Hawkins
Pro

In reply to Susan Cosgrove's post on Tue 14 Jun 2016:

Christopher and Eli certainly have more experience of editing and schedules than I do.  If your budget is likely to be modest, you can achieve a lot before you sit down with your editor by becoming familiar with your footage, logging material and transcribing key sections.  Logs and transcriptions are really useful to keep track of footage and find that exact phrase when your brain has been fried by months of editing. 

I cut a 52 minute verite documentary with an editor and around 80-100 hours of footage in 5 or 6 months, including finding the structure, and that was after at least a year of me watching everything, logging and transcribing.   I learned a lot sitting with the editor, get someone who has done work you respect.  Chris's edit schedules are probably correct, I'm just clarifying that you may only need to pay an editor for a portion of that 12 month period.

Likewise, simple motion graphics probably wouldn't cost that much if you can find someone proficient in After Effects (or whatever motion graphics software kids are into these days.)  I am not an advocate though for skimping on a smart editor who you get along with, a great sound mixer who can hear all the pops and squeaks that you no longer notice, and a good color grader.

Maria Covell
Fan

In reply to Rafael De La Uz's post on Tue 14 Jun 2016:

 

In reply to Russell Hawkins's post on Tue 14 Jun 2016:

 

In reply to Ben Crosbie's post on Tue 14 Jun 2016:

 Thank you all very much for your advice and recommendations! All of this information is very helpful to me and I feel that I have a much better idea of where to start! Also didn't even think about shopping used so I am definitely going to be checking that out, as well as considering rental options for those lenses that I do not plan to use as often but want to add in for artistic touch, especially with the fish eye. I plan on shooting different animals so this is where I was going to get creative with the fish eye. Thank you all so much again!

Maria Covell
Fan

Do you guys think it's necessary to take any classes if you are inexperienced? I know it's beneficial but do you think the same film quality can be produced by someone who is for the most part self taught?

Erica Ginsberg
Host

I think it depends on you. Some people use their first project as a class, of sorts, to try things out by trial and error. Others prefer to have the security of an educational environment to be able to learn by making mistakes on class exercises as opposed to their own project.

While I don't think everyone needs to go to film school, I do think the other advantage of taking classes - even at a local community media center or public access station -- is that you may meet other people who are interested in the same thing, and form potential collaborations or, at least, folks to bounce ideas off of. D-Word is such a space too, but sometimes it's good to have a peer group in person - especially if you live outside of major film centers.

Maria Covell
Fan

In reply to Erica Ginsberg's post on Fri 17 Jun 2016 (http://d-word.com/topics/98?post=339075):

That makes sense Erica, thank you! There are so many different aspects of this whole thing so I am really glad I am taking my time with research and discovery.

I am a Maryland native who bounces back and forth from there and Charleston, SC. I am wishing I was in my home state currently while figuring all his out because there seems to be a lot of folks from the MD/DC area, as well as educational opportunities.

I suppose I will continue to follow my gut instinct. It's funny because I actually never went to school for my current occupation. I am an on the job trained ER vet tech with a major in Sociology and minor in Biology.

Seriously grateful for all of you in this supportive community! Cheers!

Doug Block
Host

Glad to help out, Maria.  We have a weak spot for those who care for animals. Keep up the great work!

Erica Ginsberg
Host

I'm sure both sociology and biology are super helpful being a vet tech since you have to deal with animals and their human companions at their most vulnerable.

Anyway if you do bounce back to Maryland, let me know.

Vivian Kleiman
Pro

In reply to Maria Covell's post on Thu 16 Jun 2016:

It's not difficult to teach yourself how to use a camera and how to edit.  But what's not easy to learn is how to tell a story. 

If you take a good class on storytelling, or bite the bullet and go to a good film program, you will be exposed to rigorous review  -- both by instructors and fellow students -- that you cannot get from friends and family.  Some people are natural born storytellers.  But most self-taught filmmakers need the help of a more experienced filmmaker.  And a class is a great way to get that training. 

If you have the resources, it can be helpful to hire someone like myself (a brief moment of self-promotion here!) as a storytelling consultant or consulting producer to get feedback and guidance.

Rene Mayo
Fan

In reply to Daniel McGuire's post on Tue 7 Jun 2016:

Hi Daniel, I'm no master, but the answer to your question is yes, but it is also yes if you don't have 4k. Many things are shot with one camera, but with multiple takes to get the shots needed. The reason for this is that the lighting for each subject (and cheating backgrounds to make shots pretty :)) should be different to highlight certain characteristics or to communicate a certain mood or idea with each shot. However, if you don't care about any of that you can shoot one shot with 4k and you essentially have 4-1080HD shots (actually more depending on where  you choose to crop) based on the fact that you can fit 4-1080 shots in one 4k image. I hope that makes sense.

Jesse Zook Mann
Pro

In reply to deleted post on Thu 30 Jun 2016:

Documentary cinematography is a lot like a sport, so there is a lot to the advice "keep doing it." Muscle memory is huge, and nothing quite teaches you what to shoot after you mess something up royally. I do think people who keep doing it under some kind higher stress environment... be it a local news network, or cable tv, or weddings do get better faster than someone who keeps doing it on their own.

I think you could learn a years worth of practice in isolation in two weeks on a news/ doc show. If you mess up there are consequences, and there are lots of people who can show you how to work. Online resources can be great for some things. I love them for motion graphics and color. But for longer edits it hard to teach effectively imho. However for story, I think the Save the Cat podcast is stellar. I study from there all the time. That will get you on the path of thinking like a great editor, not just a button pusher. That you can learn the functions of Adobe Premiere on Youtube in a few days.

Russell Hawkins
Pro

In reply to deleted post on Fri 1 Jul 2016:

I second Jesse's point that you can learn a lot from working with other people, working in a team environment, or assisting a cinematographer or editor exposes you to proven techniques, workflows and equipment . 

There is a lot of great technical information out there in online forums, but also a lot of misinformation and gear fetishisation.  They each have their own focus and culture, some are good for solving technical problems, others for researching equipment or for tutorials. 

cinema5d

cinematography.net

creativecow.net

digital photgraphy review

dvxuser.com

eoshd

nofilmschool.com

personal-view

philip bloom

xdcam-user

Daniel McGuire
Pro

In reply to Rene Mayo's post on Sat 25 Jun 2016:

I guess I wasn't clear in my question. I was talking about a verite situation - something that only happened once, while you happened to be there. My question was about shooting wide and positioning the (handheld) camera  in relation to 2-4 subjects, who hopefully have some space between them. I wondered if, by shooting with 4k, you could freely crop this wide master shot into multiple singles and medium close-ups in the edit room. Also curious if anyone has done this, or seen it in a doc film. 

Nigel Walker
Pro

Lenses are designed to optimally capture the full frame so there could be issues with focus and distortion on the glass edges. This would be a bad idea unless an experimental project.

Doug Block
Host

I plan, likewise.  The race is on to see who gets there first.

alexander palmer
Pro

Hey Community

I have a question regarding my Canon XA 20

I have only recently starting shooting with it action from a distance 50+ metres

It is terrible and can not focus clearly beyond 50 metres.  It is a fixed lens and f 3.67-73.44 mm ..  20 x optical zoom and 35mm equivalent of 26.8 - 576 mm

Under the specs you would expect it to achieve a decent clarity of focus over 50 metres ( 70 odd yards )  ?  

Any clear feedback would be much appreciated 

Am thinking that maybe the internal lens may hv been damaged ?

thanks in advance

Alexander

Doug Block
Host

Alexander, this topic is pretty much just for Fans to get advice from our Pro members.  As a Pro, you're much better off asking this in the Cinematography topic where more folks will see it.  We don't usually encourage members to double post, but in this case go right ahead.

chung winner
Fan

TROUBLE FINDING DOCUMENTARY SUBJECTS

Hi all. I'm creating a series of short profiles of people living life's extremes. It's very difficult to find quality subjects, especially without a casting director. Any suggestions from more experienced documentary filmmakers?

Thanks!

Chung

Howard Weinberg
Pro

If you do the reporting, you'll find the people who can help you find your subjects -- the one person you need is YOU!  You should speculate about the characteristics of each subject, but be open to the realities of whom you find in your search process.  Each subject should contribute to and advance your general theme, not just be a variation on it.   To offer more advice, I'd need to know more about your constraints.  I have produced profiles throughout my television journalism career and taught a course in same.  Good luck. 

Christopher Wong
Pro

In reply to chung winner's post on Sun 7 Aug 2016:

chung, half the battle of making any film is finding the right subjects. they are not just there waiting to be asked! for your particular project, you need to get much more specific about exactly what kinds of "extremes" you are looking for. you should have an idea in your head what you want, e.g., BASE jumpers, ice climbers, or people living off-the-grid. simply putting an ad out there on CraigsList for people who are "living life's extremes" is not going to be helpful to you.

even after you find a few prospects, it will still be difficult because many of them will not be camera-ready, so to speak. they may be too shy, they may not be able to clearly express their thoughts, or their life may simply not be dramatic enough for you. Or, at the last minute, they may decide that they don't want to give you approval to tell their story. You have to earn their trust by being genuine, and showing them that you actually care about them, not just their story.

so, yes, this is extremely hard. but it's supposed to be, so don't get discouraged. get specific about what you want, search the internet for communities that cater to those lifestyles, and start making contact through emails, phone calls, and events. one person will lead you to another person, and pretty soon, you'll be properly connected. just make sure you have a clear vision for the film you want to create, and make sure that you know how to passionately explain that to your potential subjects.  good luck!

Daniel McGuire
Pro

Is there any documentary script format/WP program that folks are in love with? I've been with Scrivener for a while, which has many great features, but the documentary template there isn't very good. I like 3 columns and use them for Image/narration/sound but they are terrible for formatting purposes. Does anyone have a Google Doc template or other alternative? Thanks.

Damian Kudelka
Fan

Hi.  I'm seeking guidance about what information to include in introductory interview request letters/emails to potential interviewees?  Thanks for your help!

Niam Itani
Host

Welcome to The D-Word, Damian. In your introductory emails you would want to introduce yourself, what you're working on (Film, web video, series, etc...) and a brief synopsis. You then have to mention why you are writing to this specific individual and ask if you can have a conversation with them. 

If you can start a conversation based on the first email, you would have achieved progress. 

Don't make the first email too long. At the same time, don't make it too short or too vague. 

Damian Kudelka
Fan

Thanks! Do you have any suggestions how to convey professionalism? I'm anticipating surprise emails may be considered spam by recipients and would be immediately deleted. Are there common industry phrases I should use indicating I'm a legitimate filmmaker?

Christopher Wong
Pro

damian, i can understand your hesitation to dive right in, but you are definitely overthinking the process. it's just like meeting anyone new -- make a good impression by being polite, direct, and warm. be clear about your request (e.g. "I'm looking to film for a few days with someone who makes their life as a circus performer...), and then see if your subjects respond. if they don't, just move on. if they do -- and people often do -- then continue to move forward as professionally as you can: show up on time, take care of your subject's expenses, do your research and ask good questions. in the end, it really is that simple.  (later on, the editing and fundraising can get complicated!)

Niam Itani
Host

"Dear Damian, 

I read your profile on The D-Word and was really impressed with your biography as an aspiring filmmaker. 

I am currently working on a documentary about aspiring filmmakers and was wondering if we can have a conversation some time later this week. 

I look forward to hearing from you,

Niam

Mobile# 111-111-1111

Email

Something along those lines almost always warrants a response :)

Frank Herr
Fan

Hi all,

I'm a molecular biologist with absolutely no film experience whatsoever. None.

However, I have (what I feel to be) the premise of a great short film/doc. Are there any resources/forums/groups geared towards folks like myself?

Thanks for any insight (here or via email).

Appreciatively,

Frank 

Christopher Wong
Pro

Frank, we all started at one point with absolutely no experience, so welcome to the club. (Personally, I started out in the financial world as a bank officer...)  In any case, here are three great starting points for you:

1) Watch a bunch of good doc films, both old and new (e.g. SALESMAN, HOOP DREAMS, BROTHER'S KEEPER, HARLAN COUNTY USA, IRAQ IN FRAGMENTS, CARTEL LAND, THE LOOK OF SILENCE, etc.)

2) Read Michael Rabiger's book "Directing the Documentary" (it's an oldie but goodie, and still regarded as the best one out there)

3) Take an introductory class on production at your local community college -- learn the basics of camera operation and editing

As with molecular biology, documentary filmmaking is not easy and requires a whole set of skills that can only be learned over a period of years (not weeks). But this site -- and the steps listed above -- will get you a long way towards developing the necessary fluency and competency so that when you are ready to embark on your own project, you will actually be able to make something both beautiful and meaningful.

Nigel Noriega
Pro

Dear D-word,

This is my first post. I’m attempting to compile info and responses from more than a dozen conversations. I’m posting to ask about mentorship for “next steps” as a first time filmmaker with no budget or recognition, but a project with “reach” on a lot of topics. Thank you to all the people who were so helpful to me at the IDA conference “Getting real”. This post is in response to some of the feedback I received regarding my first-time film project. Two trailers intended to represent different ends of the spectrum are included in this post as follows:

 

1) Recent “movie” version

https://theaudienceawards.com/films/home-85369

 

2) An older “ask for support” version, aimed at ecosystem support communities as well as film funders. I present this older trailer here to show the original intent of highlighting people in the story.

http://www.sii-inc.org/research_trailer2/

 

A bit more about me can be found here:

http://www.audnews.com/ introducing-filmmaker-nigel- noriega-competing-reelpitch- challenge/

 

A summary of feedback from Getting real (my first film conference) is tallied in categories as follows

 

A) You need to get a producer/Who is your producer? (more than 10)

B) This is a documentary conference, but you need to go to one that focuses on science (3 comments)

C) We'd like a human story to follow (4 comments)

D) You are very competent (3 comments)

E) This looks like a scientist trying to promote his work (1 comment)

F) This is extremely interesting, let's talk more (5comments)

G) You really need to talk to "X" (more than 10 comments)

 

It seems the overwhelming consensus is to get a producer and talk to suggested people.  Talking to the recommended people (filmmakers as well as “higher ups” at film festivals and networks) is what produced the comment list above.

 

There is more that I’d like to film to flesh out the story, but it seems like some people want to see a rough cut of what I already have (complete enough to be informative, but requiring key footage to be entertaining).  Is this a good use of effort?  Or would it be better to develop the story coverage more fully so that people take me more seriously? 

I’ve asked to speak to several producers. Hopefully I’ll hear back from them soon.

Thank you for your time. If I posted in the wrong section of D-word, might you kindly direct me to the most appropriate spot? 

Warmest regards,

 

Nigel

 

 

 

Erica Ginsberg
Host

Nigel, glad to see you've found your way here to The D-Word and been so forthcoming with the feedback you got at Getting Real. I will try to take a look at your links soon when I am on a real computer.

Margo Precht Speciale
Pro

Dear D-Word - My co-producer and I are currently in the development stage of our doc and we are both newbies to documentary filmmaking.  We need to get input on what order to do the following:

1) start interviewing - especially those older people who might be facing declining health

2) create budget 

3) create treatment

4) hire director and director of photography - how do we do interviews and maintain a certain aesthetic without at least a dp in place?

Any advice, guidance or recommendations would be apprecaited!

Niam Itani
Host

Margo, if you and your co-producer are newbies and will need financiers for your film (Or you are not self financing it) you will need to hire an experienced director with a well known name to those who finance documentaries. To do that, you will need to have a fantastic story because that is what attracts filmmakers (and financiers). Once you do that, you will probably have to trust the director with who to choose as a DP and/or to maintain the directorial vision. 

You should definitely start putting together a rough budget and a rough treatment (These will always be changing as time goes by) and try to improve them and edit them as you learn more from The D-Word and other resources online and offline. 

Christopher Wong
Pro

Margo, Niam's advice is very good if you absolutely don't want to direct the piece yourself. However, whoever originated the idea is probably the best candidate to actually be the director. A director-for-hire (big name or not) may not have that enduring vision that you will personally bring to your film.

Hiring a DP is obviously a very necessary step, but not one of the first you should take, unless your film is primarily concerned with visuals. Of much greater initial importance is the budget and treatment.

Margo Precht Speciale
Pro

In reply to Niam Itani's post on Sun 16 Oct 2016:

 Thank you, Niam and Christopher.  Great advice!  What are your thoughts about when we should start interviews? We feel pressed to get some interviews done now for some older performers, but we have not raised money yet to bring on a well know DP. Any suggestions on how to tackle this part?

 

Margo Precht Speciale
Pro

I would like to add one more question to what I asked above.  Niam, you recommend putting together a rough treatment.  The problem I see with that approach is that treatments I have read and samples I have seen include visuals.  We have a fantastic story right now but without a DP or Director, our treatment would lack that visual piece that draws the reader in.  Is there away around that in the interim?  

Niam Itani
Host

In reply to Margo Precht Speciale's post on Mon 17 Oct 2016:

There is indeed :) 

You can certainly include images of places / locations where the shoots will be happening and people who look similar to your potential interviewees and includes them as "samples".  Exterior and Interior images, color palette that you think the film will be gearing towards, and faces of senior citizens as I am assuming you will be focusing on them. 

If your story is about a specific senior citizen then it is very important that you decide on your treatment and figure out your DP or Director quickly. However, if it is about senior citizens (in general) then you can develop it and proceed to production afterwards. 

However, you can always proceed with interviews. Even in the worst case that you can't use them in the final film, they are important for development & research, you can use them to show funders what type of story this is, and you can most certainly use the audio from these interviews even if the video doesn't make it to the final cut. Make sure the audio is good :) 

Margo Precht Speciale
Pro

Thanks again, Niam.  I keep thinking to myself - what comes first the chicken or the egg.  Our story will be told through archival footage with interviews from performers, some who are now in their late 80s.  Their are a few that we feel will be especially important. Glad to hear you are encouraging us to move forward with those.  You are absolutely right about audio!  

Doug Block
Host

Especially since your subjects aren't getting any younger, Margo.  There seems to be a real urgency about shooting them sooner than later.

Marco de Mooy
Fan

In reply to Ken Kenderson's post on Fri 13 May 2016 (http://d-word.com/topics/98?post=338083):

Hey Ken! You wanted to have a project to work on, i got one that needs help to get finished within a certain deadline. Also have enough different things that need to get done and so i offer u choices aswell regarding the work u maybe can do. Let me know if your still available and interested m8. Here is my email for direct contact possibly : basho_yokozuna@hotmail.com

peter olsen
Fan

Hi.

I am making research for, hopefully, my 1st documentary. I have trouble to find scripts of previous documentaries as to make my mind regarding their "codification". I mean: I have worked previously in fiction screenwritting and I know their codes, but as for documentaries I am in the need of taking a look to already finished documentaries in order to get more examples.

By the way, I am already familiar with common issues (people who dont work with script at all; people who write it after shooting it; people who write it previous to the shoot; etc)

Thanks. Regards.

Merav Klein
Fan

Hi, I am working in Tali - The Collecting Society of Film and Television Creators in Israel.

Lately We have been trying to accurate our doc-press/doc- investigation definition in our repertoire rules document. we are trying do find definition that distinguish a documentary film from a 'light' documentary film that mainly engaged in specific news event (most brodcast in a magazin shows).

I would appreciate any help in that matter.

 

Niam Itani
Host

In reply to Merav Klein's post on Wed 26 Oct 2016:

Hello Merav, you are probably looking to differentiate between a current affairs program (sort of a longer news report) and a proper cinematic / in-depth documentary film. I am not sure there are definitions set in stone, because -as you know- the lines blur in the arts. 

Meredith Lobsinger
Pro

Hello All! This is my first post here. I'm thankful to have been introduced to this community. 

I still find hesitancy in proclaiming myself as a filmmaker. I attended one glorious year at Emerson College's MFA Media Art program with a focus in documentary, but decided to step away upon fully realizing the weight of school costs. I will indeed one day finish that degree, hopefully with a few more credits and a greater chance at some scholarship funding (if higher education doesn't crumble in the distant future.) 

In my short student career, I edited two films, both of which made festival rounds and won some awards (not THE awards, but they're good films). I have since moved to NY and am without my Boston community of filmmakers. How do I put myself in a position to start working on a team again as an editor? Should I start reaching out to student productions to begin? I'm  very hungry to be playing the game again and figured honesty was the best way to start. 

Thanks for listening. 

Erica Ginsberg
Host

Welcome Meredith. Sounds like you are a filmmaker to us, degree or no degree.

Aside from The D-Word (which has many NY-based members), seems like you should also check out other face-to-face professional development gatherings there. I keep seeing posts on FB that the Karen Schmeer Editing Fellowship folks are having a get-together during DOC NYCon Tuesday, November 15 at 7:30 pm at Vol De Nuit Belgian Beer Bar (148 West 4th St., near 6th Ave.). RSVP to info AT karenschmeer DOT com = seems like that would be good for you to attend. Thew New Yorkers among us can suggest other things.

Judith Steele Parolini
Pro

In reply to Frank Herr's post on Tue 4 Oct 2016:

 Frank, Agree with all of Christopher's suggestion's. One more is to go to the location (?) and take a few on the run pics- with you i-phone so that you do not look professional. Bring the image in early in the process is a golden rule- you will be surprised at how inspiring that is.!

Daniel McGuire
Pro

In reply to Nigel Noriega's post on Wed 5 Oct 2016:

 I think your film looks excellent. I'm impressed by the editing, shooting, and your narration. Have you found a producer yet? I'm not the person, but I know people in the Boston area (associated with MIT and Harvard) who specialize in science films.

David C Jones
Pro

Greetings! I have a question about logging: I'm currently shooting/directing a film in which much of the footage consists of long takes following my main 'character' around. I'm use to logging interviews in the usual way, and b-roll footage describing the shot with the location, framing (WS/CU, etc.) and what's in it. But not sure the best way to log long, capture-what's-happening-type takes. Any advice would be great!

John Burgan
Host

Framing is obviously redundant, so keywords relating to the content that you will remember - character, location, "what's happening" or what's being discussed (Jim-School-looks for dog).

Doug Block
Host

If there are any parts of the take (including framing) that are particularly memorable, I'd surely note them. Otherwise, for me it's a general "track w X down hallway, enters office" kind of thing.

Btw, David, you're a Pro member, so your question is better asked in the Editing topic.  This topic is for Fans not yet qualified for Pro status.

Bernard Bull
Fan

I'm excited to get started on my first documentary that will give people a new perspective on the modern letter grade system in education, its limitations, and alternatives to it. I'm looking forward to offering a deeply thoughtful, provocative, and wonderfully human side to this story; and my hope is that schools and communities will use it as a discussion starter.

With that said, I'm completely new to documentary filmmaking. However, I want to be as hands on as possible as this is a means of storytelling that is an important part of many future projects for me (I already have tentative outlines for the next three). I'm a writer, author, and University professor whose work focuses upon the future of education, educational innovation, and critical issues in education. I've been humbled to give keynotes and invited presentations around the world, well over 150 in the last decade, which has also allowed me to build a solid network in the field. I published three books in 2016 and am on track to publish three a year for at least the next few years. I also have decent and ongoing following through my blog at Etale.org, which I hope gives me a bit of a head start when it comes to a future distribution strategy. In addition to that, many of the themes that I explore are well-suited for the screen, and I believe that the documentary is an excellent venue for telling these important stories in education. I'm also a designer and storyteller at heart (probably more than a traditional academic) and I love the challenge and opportunity to use the documentary as a way to delve into a new form of research, inquiry, and storytelling. To tell the truth, even if people told me that this is a terrible idea and tried to discourage me from it, I would still move ahead. I've an incredibly driven person when it comes to critical issues in education and I am absolutely convinced that the documentary is a near-essential means of expanding the conversation in important ways. This is just too important to me, the well-being of future learners, and the well-being of societies near and far.

I'm sure to have many challenges with this first project, but I started out by reading a half dozen books that seems to be common required reading in film schools. I've also watched and tried to learn from a growing list of about 70 educational documentaries over the years. Actually, I started by doing intensive research on the topic of letter grades for almost four years, running a successful MOOC on the subject, and writing a book on the topic that I hope to release in the next six months. I also enjoyed the Werner Herzog's MasterClass and several other online classes that address various aspects of filmmaking.

I'm deepening my knowledge and comfort with some of the technical elements of lighting, sound, and video; but I am definitely a novice on all fronts. I've acquired some basic equipment to experiment. I have a general outline / storyline for the documentary, although I am excited about how interviews will reshape some of that. I also have an impressive lineup (with more to come) of well-known and provocative interviews for the next five months.

I am taking a sabbatical from January through May of 2017 where I will serve as the Jonathan D. Harber Fellow in Education and Entrepreneurship at Wesleyan University. I will be teaching one class on education as social entrepreneurship, writing two new books, doing research for this documentary, and capturing footage for the documentary. I am not at Wesleyan until the end of the month, but I know that it has an incredible film program, and I hoped to possibly connect with some students who might be interested in helping with the audio and video for my interviews. I would love to a complete first documentary in hand by the end of August. 

So, I'm not leading with a question, but I would love some initial thoughts and tips as I venture into this new and exciting project. 

Doug Block
Host

Welcome, Bernard, and thanks for all the background.  You seem to have done all the preparation you possibly can and at this point I'd simply say it's time to leap in.  If you think you've found a compelling character to follow, you might start there.  I often like to start with a few interviews.  I'm assuming you have the resources to afford to start shooting.  That's a whole other story, of course.  

Best of luck. Tips are all well and good but making documentaries is always a trial by fire endeavor :)

Cody Meirick
Pro

In reply to Bernard Bull's post on Thu 29 Dec 2016:

 I agree with Doug. You'll learn a lot in the first few interviews and learn even more after that. I'm glad to see the research side seems to be your strong point, same here. The topic seems great. I don't know that it has been done before and I'm sure it is interesting enough to fill a documentary. The documentary I've been working on for years is about censorship in schools... luckily I haven't had to worry about consenting or filming kids much, but if you do, I know that can be a tricky area, so good luck. Engaging subjects would be nice, but hearing how much you've been involved, you may immediately have some in mind. I'm sure you have, but looking at comparable docs out there is always important... "Waiting for Superman" is one of the main ones that come to mind, but perhaps you want to purposely take a different direction in how you go about the subject, don't know.

Although outlining is great, I guess I would just make sure you film a lot more than needed and expect it to shift a lot... in many ways the story is told in the edit room... and be prepared to let it shift based on your instincts. Some interviewees could be completely bland and unusable while others could take you into exciting directions. Let interviews go off on tangents... finding a human side to the subject means finding the little worlds that people live in. Why is a letter grade important? It is kind of absurd that it is, IT'S JUST A LETTER, but it actually affects people's lives. 

My 6-year-old is in Catholic school and is subject to a crazy lettering system (besides the fact that he is even getting letter grades at this point)... 90% is like a B- or something. It's been a learning experience for us, but he is sensitive and gets upset about it. So I completely empathize. I work at Erikson Institute in Chicago (look it up) and if you're interested in getting experts to talk about early learning specifically when it comes to letter grades, hit me up... I know a lot of experts in the field.

Paige Landau
Fan

Hello,

My name is Paige Landau and I am an aspiring documentary filmmaker who just moved to Salt Lake City. I am looking for an internship or job that would allow me hands on experience in this field as I want to learn all of the inner workings that go into creating a documentary film. Although I don’t have filmmaking experience, I learn quickly and am hardworking and honest. I have great interpersonal communication and organizational skills, I am very observant, detail-oriented, have high energy and great stamina. Based on these qualities, I feel I could best contribute to a production team as a Runner, Producer’s Assistant, Second Assistant Camera, Third Assistant Director or Grip. In all honesty, I simply want to be part of a production team that’s bringing prominent images of truth to the screen and if given the opportunity know I would be an asset to any team. If you have any fitting job or internship openings I could apply for or know of any you could pass my information along to, I would greatly appreciate it. If you would like some more information about me, please let me know and I would be happy to answer any questions.

With gratitude and kind regards,

Paige

Doug Block
Host

In reply to Paige Landau's post on Mon 9 Jan 2017:

Welcome to The D-Word, Paige.  Some of the jobs you say you're seeking - runner, second ass't camera, third ass't director and grip - are all jobs for fiction filmmaking, not documentaries, which utilize very small crews.  We have nothing against folks who actually go over to the dark side to work in fictitious films, mind you.  

Paige Landau
Fan

In reply to Doug Block's post on Wed 11 Jan 2017:

 Hi Doug and Vivian,

Thank you so much for writing back! I currently have my Associate's Degree and will be applying to 4-year universities in March to earn my Bachelor's in film. Before I go head-long into the rest of that educational venture, I'd like to get my feet wet in filmmaking through an internship and/or job in the field. The advice I've been given is to be as specific as possible in the type of position I am seeking. Through doing research I found the jobs I mentioned but wasn't able to find documentary specific entry level positions.

Who is on a documentary crew?

Erica Ginsberg
Host

Depends on the documentary. It could be as little as one person or as big as any Hollywood film. The majority of independent producers work in fairly small teams though - likely a crew of 2-5 in the field and/or back at the office. I think, rather than starting from where you want to be, it might be better to flip that on its head and think about the skillsets you already have which would be beneficial to a documentary filmmaker or production company. At the front end, that could mean help with research or setting up interviews or helping to implement a crowdfunding campaign or developing a grant strategy or setting up a website or social media. In production, it could mean helping at a shoot (if you don't have prior filmmaking experience, this may mean grunt work tasks like helping to carry or watch over equipment bags, getting releases signed, or managing media cards, but it would give you valuable observational experience seeing production in progress. In post, there could be a need for help with organizing footage, researching and applying to film festivals. 

So much of our world is word-of-mouth. I would imagine SLC has a small but tight-knit production community and that most of the doc folks make their bread and butter from other work (fiction films, commercials, nonprofit videos, etc.) - if you are not already connected, check Meetup or Facebook for gatherings and start networking.

Wojciech Bobilewicz
Fan

Hello, Everyone, this is Wojtek from Warsaw, Poland.

I am planning to organise an expedition to Cameroon which will be an exploration and research undertaking. I would like to capture the expedition on camera but rather than creating yet another more or less boring (or, perhaps, more or less interesting) video footage that one shows to one's family and friends, I would like to make a "professional" recording that could be shown on some TV or Internet channels.

It is not my intention to create award-winning documentaries tackling serious social, political or humanitarian issues, neither do I aspire to ever shoot such films, especially given that my passions and interests lie elsewhere (i.e. I am interested in different areas of knowledge and emotions, mainly in travel, reserach, and discovery). What I do intend to create is an account of my trip, my relations, conversations and interactions with the locals when interviewing them in relation to my research (and also outside of such interviews), and a trip diary, and, of course - if the object of my quest and research is found indeed - of that object itself. However, I would like it to be as engaging to the potential audience as possible, so even though the subject matter may be less "serious" (but who knows?), and more of the adventure/entertainment type, I would still like it to be as "professional" as possible.

In that connection I have a few questions, and I am sure many more will come in time.

1) As I am a complete beginner, entirely unfamiliar with the topic, and as the expedition - if it does take off - is going to take place in about a year's time, would it be better to film myself, or to hire a filming crew? In both cases, what costs (and I do not just mean the money) would I need to take into account?

2) If, in a situation described above, it is indeed better to hire a film crew, how does one even begin going about it? Where to look for such people, who to contact, what do I need to consider (I am based in Poland, but I believe that certain processes and procedures are universal)?

3) In any case, where and how to look for financing such a project (I mean the filming and subsequent editing etc. rather than the expedition itself, although if I do apply for some grants, sposorships or donations, I may as well include in my submission the amount needed to pay the crew (or to hire the equipment))? How to start doing this? Are there any programs? Is there any listing?

4) I have heard from a number of sources that what is very important when producing a documentary is a carefully outlined plan, or script, before even beginning shooting. However, the environment I am intending to go to changes dynamically and the nature of the expedition is such that we may go to God knows what location, meet all sorts of people, and we won't know our interpreters, guides or porters until we actually arrive; we do not even know where exactly we will arrive (where the "base camp" will be) because that depends largely on information we will only collect at best a few weeks in advance, at worst on the spot. With such changing circumstances, with such dynamic and unpredictable scenario and unfurling of events, how is it possible to even sketch or draft any sensible script? I would very much like to find out your views upon this matter (I've heard from one traveller, who has also made some documentary which was aired on Polish TV, that he didn't bother too much with a script, and instead kept shooting, and shooting, and shooting, and then created the film by carefully editing a selection of thousands of shoots, can this be a solution?).

As I said, I may have some more questions possibly, but the above four are of the most immediate concern to me.

Would you be able to help me? Any assistance, advice, information, resources, contacts etc. will be greatly appreciated. Meanwhile, let me wish you every success and all the best in 2017.

Kindest regards

Wojtek

John Burgan
Host

Welcome to The D-Word, Wojtek. You've asked many important questions about how to get started, and my advice is very simple: learn to walk before you run! Certainly before undertaking any big expedition to foreign shores, start by making a short film in your own backyard, in the district you live in Warsaw. Although you could try the diary format, a documentary portrait of someone else might be good experience. The equipment doesn't have to be fantastic quality as this is meant to be a learning exercise, but do your best to get good sound.

If you're not feeling confident about the technical side, you could always seek collaboration with a film school student - not only Lodz but Katowice and Warsaw have highly rated film programmes. They often have a notice board where you could post a request. Another option - do a short practical filmmaking course. I'm sure there must be several in Warsaw.

I hesitate to recommend books at this stage as learning by doing is by far the best way to get started, but you might find Andy Glynne's "Documentaries: ... and How to Make Them" helpful. It's a simple, uncomplicated introduction, not sure if it's still in print but you can surely find secondhand copies on the internet.

At any rate the actual experience of making several short films (and learning from your mistakes) will be invaluable and start to answer some of the questions you pose above. One step at a time...good luck, and report back.


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