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.

Michael Oko
Mike Green, thanks for your input... I will check out those sites.
Anyone else care to weigh in (see above). Thanks!
Stephen Goldberg
Erica and John:
The question of whether a church is legally a public or private
space for the purposes of determining whether a release is necessary
has probably been addressed by some court somewhere. My guess is
that the stronger argument is that worshippers have a reasonable
expectation of privacy in the interior of a church which cant be
seen from outside and that their permission to be filmed should be
secured. But pretty much anything done in public or which can be
seen from the outside ie through a window is fair game.
Blake Barratt
Hi guys i have a lsight tech question.
I shot some bmx guys in a skate hall last night and
it all came out great except it was fluro lighting and
my new mx500 doesnt seem to like low light situations a whole lot.
I got the cam because it is really small and inconspicuous
for the kind of doco stuff at festivals and the like i wanted
to shoot now i am worried that all my lower light stuff will
be excessively grainy.
Maybe this becomes an aesthetic i can use.
I am reading lots of stuff now about the gl1 being better in
low light etc.
the shutter speed doesnt go below 1/50 but it does have gain
up settings and manual whitbalance.
Any comments would be cool. I just didnt really have the budget
for another grand for the gl2 .
Doug Block
Blake, I have the Canon GL-1, and it's pretty good in low light but
not what I'd call fantastic. I haven't shot enough with other cameras
to make a comparison. If it has a gain up setting, I'm not aware (and
I shoot a lot with it), but cameras that effectively give you a gain
up effect with a shutter speed give you that pixellated look when you
move the camera (which is sometimes nice, but not always). As for
manual whitebalance, it has no affect on low light shooting.

Anyway, my gut reaction is you take your own advice and use the
excessive grain as an aesthetic. Could work very well.
Blake Barratt
Thanks Doug I have since the last post reviewd the footage on a television monitor instead of the lcd screen of the laptop and realise that the quality is not too bad and the grain from a bout a metre and a half from the tv isnt bad and the shots are not too dark so i am happy again. Just read a lot of stuff about the gl2, xl1s etc seems everyone has one of these and i feel a bit inferior with only the mx. It shoots great in normal light and what i have read is that it beats a lot of these for image quality too. Well who really knows i may have access to an xl1 for doing some of the more set up night shots of shows and stuff but if i really think about it all the night stuff will be suited to a diary style look anyway. I get comfort from the fact that there is a lot of interesting stuff to shoot and if i can get my camera skills up to scratch then the interest will be in whats in the shots and not a bit of grain here and there. I just really want to make this film and keep trying to learn lots about the techy stuff as well and get bummed out by all this what cam is best stuff. I have made a descision and well i think it will work out ok in the end. The mx is great for being inconspicuous and i dont want to distract from whats going on around me by having a hi there i am making a film camera. Neway thanks for the post I think I was just having an oh my god i spent the wrong 2000 euros moment. There are always lights as well :) cheers Blake

Deleted User
My partner and I have spent the past year writing a proposal and
refining our concept, approach and goals for a documentary
we've become obsessed with making. Probably not the best
idea to put all our eggs in one basket, but we've learned a lot and
hopefully we'll find ourselves able to be flexible if the need

The project involves a pretty big, but not neccessarily
controversial (i.e. Walmart) corporation as the setting and the
vehicle to understanding people within the environment and
ultimately ouselves as a whole. I suppose similar to Neiman
Marcus in Fred Wiseman's film. We have finally made contact
with them and are sending them information on the idea. They
were abrupt and skeptical, although polite in our phone

Our approach to the film is one of personal, intimate
open-mindedness and we believe the film will be a celebration
of the place and certainly not critical or exposing in style. What
tone should we use in our letter and correspondence? For
example: sheer desperation, PR-style convincing,
sentimentality? I know that sounds false, but as I write the info
sheet out I can't help but fear that one step in the wrong direction
could blow everything. Also, the advice we were initally following
was to just send a letter of introduction but our telephone
conversation was so abrupt and marred with miscommunication
that we feel we should provide enough info to prevent any
misunderstandings. What we really want is to meet with this
person face to face, in the hope that our honesty and passion
will prevail. In moments of fear, I feel why in the world would they
care enough about us and honest personal filmmaking to say
yes. Any ideas?

Also, the info sheet we're writing is a page and a half bulleted
with headings, etc. Does that sound right? What other materials
or ideas should we include?

Whoever's out there, thank you very much for all your help.

Heather & Margaret
Doug Block
H & M, if I were a big corporation like Walmart, I'd be skeptical,
too. What could they possibly gain from having two unknown, indie doc
makers probing around with their video camera? These companies spend
millions in advertising and take their branding and corporate image
very very seriously.

If I were you, I'd think long and hard from their point of view about
what you could offer them by doing this doc. What promotional value
could it have for them? How will it enhance their image? My guess is
that the doc you wish to make isn't alligned with the public image
they wish to convey.

I assume you want total editorial control, so there is probably zero
chance they'll go for it. However, given that, you have nothing to
lose. My approach would be as honest as possible (it's almost always
the best approach in trying to get access, anyway). Explain what
you're attempting to do and convey your passion for your project as
best as you can. You never know.

Lotsa luck.
Deleted User
Hi, all. Um, there's a good chance I'll be commissioned to make a doc
for a production company. Problem is (and it's not, really), I'm a
movie guy and think in 'cinematic' terms. So I was wondering if
anyone could, and would, be kind enough to post a link to ANY online
web tutorial or article that covers the basic outline (subject
approach, research, blah blah blah) of Documentary film
writing/directing. I don't really need this information but an
objective (i.e. theoretical) perspective might prove a great time
saver in organizing my thoughts & actions.

Muchos gracias.
Erica Ginsberg
Heather, it sounds like a great idea for a project but I would have
to agree with Doug's comments. Also I wouldn't be too quick to say
Walmart does not involve controversy. Michael Moore made them look
pretty bad in "Bowling for Columbine" (if you haven't yet seen his
film, he takes WalMart and K-Mart to task for selling firearms and/or
ammunition in their stores. K-Mart changed its policy as a result of
his film, but now Moore is campaigning vigorously on his website
against Walmart). I'd be very surprised if Walmart would agree to
any filmmaker doing an observational doc about them.

Space, docs can be every bit as "cinematic" as fiction films -- with
a storyline, a protagonist/antagonist, a climax, a conclusion, etc.
The main difference is that most documentaries (barring those dull
historical films with only a narrator and archival footage) are not
scripted in advance of the shoot (though, of course, the director may
have an outline and a fairly good idea of what he/she is looking for)
and you have more leeway in structuring than you do if you come from
the Syd Field school. Sometimes the footage is just given to an
editor who re-constructs it. Sometimes it is tightly scripted. Even
when scripted, the format may look considerably different than what
you would be accustomed to with a fiction script. Others here may
disagree, but I find the 2 column approach works best, especially for
films that use a lot of voiceover over visuals.

I would recommend two books to you: "Directing the Documentary" by
Michael Rabiger (excellent overview of the process)
and "Scriptwriting for High Impact Videos" (covers industrials as
much as docs, but gives some suggested guidelines as far as script
Deleted User

Thanks for the info. I am well aware that a doc can (and
should) be cinematic, but I always feel that some kind of 'outline'
of objectives is always a great way of aligning ones thought process
before starting any kind of project (cinematic or not). I have heard
about "Directing the Documentary" and I'll probably buy a copy as it
seems to be very highly regarded by those in the doc circle. Anyhoot
thanks again. Also, any additional info (or links?) to the '2 column
approach' would be welcome.


Space Ludwig

P.S. FYI, I can't stand that insufferable, patronizing Syd Field. I've
bought and read three of his books which I've given away.