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.

Brad Studstrup


I want to travel from the U.S. to Europe for a shoot (first port of entry is actually Morocco) with two checked bags of video equipment – a light and a lens. Do I need a carnet, or is a rental agreement sufficient for customs?


Robert Goodman

checking video equipment with the airlines is a bad idea. Theft rampant. Best to ship it or rent it there. If you do bring it, then you will need a carnet if it's pro gear. If it looks like a tourist camera you can sneak past. However, you should be aware that if you get stopped by customs you will be required to post the full retail value of the equipment in cash to enter the country with it. Negotiating can bring it down somewhat but there's never any guarantee. A carnet is cheap insurance.

Skyler Buffmeyer

i know i already asked this question but....i am totally lost on the whole archive business. I am looking for archives that represent women negatively in the meadia, ie...rap videos, make up ads, models ect. ect. I really need help plus, I don't know any of the rules/laws of archives.
Can someone please help?
Thanks a bunch!

Le Sheng Liu

I'm not new to D-Word. I joined earlier this yr but I am a relatively new transplant to LA (been here since early 07). Anyway, just wanted to introduce myself: My name is Le Liu. My long-term objective is to write, direct, and produce my own feature docs, although as of late I've been thinking about TV and internet distribution a lot more.

My website reel is here if you wanna see my feature doc, my short films, or my speaking engagements :)

And this is the blog I keep for a long-term project I'd like to eventually launch....

I work M-F til about 7pm in Sherman Oaks (for the Emmy-nominated A&E show Intervention). But other than that, I've been wanting to make myself available to doc filmmakers who need help with whatever. I've done PA work, scheduling/coordinating, editing on FCP 3, public relations, film fest submissions, film fest boothing, and lots of other random stuff. At this point, I am mostly interested in development/funding so I can learn how to get my project off the ground (i.e. my blog) and into the real world of production.

In any case, if you're in the LA area and want an assistant (preferably paid, but I'll take whatever), feel free to CONTACT ME OFF-LIST.

Stefan Immler

Sorry if this has been asked a thousand times already, but is there a comprehensive web site that lists all organizations that have development grants for docs? I am starting to shoot my first doc and could use a grant or two ;-)


Christopher Wong

stefan, the grants section of the IDA site is not a bad place to start. it's not absolutely comprehensive but it has a lot of region-specific grants listed...

Emily Meyers

Hello everyone,

I was hoping to learn a little bit more about distribution companies. We currently have a film related to methamphetamine addiction and recovery that has gotten wonderful reviews and won numerous awards, and were looking into signing on with a distributor. What companies jump out at you as either being a good fit or have been a positive experience for you? Thanks for your help!

Laurie Little

Hi, I hope my doubled intro will be deleted by you, the mentors, as I couldn't figure out how to delete my extra post.


Doug Block

done, laurie. you only have about 5 minutes to delete or correct a post yourself. whereas we almighty powerful hosts can delete anything at any time. wheeeeee!!!!!

Arturo Glass

We have a 90 minute doc shot and recently accepted into a couple "A" list film festivals. What we'd like to know is what sort of distribution deal we should be seeking at the festivals in the event the film wins or doesn't win awards. What kind of numbers should we be seeking for theatrical distribution? For television – HBO, Showtime, something like that? I know the best bet with theatrical is always trying to get more upfront rather than hoping for royalties down the line, but what ballpark figures should we be seeking?

Thank you in advance for any help you can provide.

Arturo Glass

If it makes any difference, the doc is a direct cinema (verité) w/out narration, that is, plays out like a normal fiction film.

Jessamy Meyer

I just joined, and at the moment am trying to figure out some translator issues for the documentary I'm editing- lots of footage in Hmong! Would anyone know of any good Hmong translators what would be the best way to give HD footage to a translator? Disks? Hard drives??

Also, for traveling and documentary filmmaking abroad, I have some team members going to Laos. Would anyone know of a good 'fixer' in Laos?

Andre Dahlman

Hoping to glean some knowledge regarding forming an LLC for a documentary.

Here's the back story:

Been working on a doc for almost a year now and I just got my fiscal sponsorship from the IDA. No doubt the dollars will be rolling in in no time (kidding kidding). But I AM hoping to do some serious fund raising and I want to make sure I protect myself financially.

The IDA fiscal sponsor form requires I submit a W-9 tax form with either my social security # or a Tax ID. Thus far I have merely opened a separate bank account and just keep track of finances with basic accounting software. Things seem to be getting more serious now and I'm considering starting an LLC.

Two questions:
1 – Has anyone with fiscal sponsorship from the IDA used their personal social security number? Did you encounter any problems submitting your taxes?

2- If I do decide to form an LLC, what are the advantages of forming an LLC for a general production company VS forming an LLC for a specific project. I hear a lot of people form the later.

Many thanks for any advise/ online resources you could point me towards.

Mansi Behal

Submit your short film to Pros And Con Games competition at and you could win funding to direct your feature-length script! 15-20 filmmakers win $1500 to $4500 each month – 3 of those go on to compete for feature funding at the end of the year! Entries must be 1 to 3 minutes long and are due November 6, 2008. More info at

Jason Vaughn

Hi, I'm a Los Angeles photographer looking to find a documentary film to do still photography. I'm wondering if anyone knows of a good place to find a list of documentaries currently in production or starting soon. Any words of wisdom or advice would help greatly.
Jason Vaughn

Judy Lieff

Hi, I'm working with my first ITVS contract and need some advice regarding how best to distribute the funds – through a fiscal receiver or my LLC.

My situation is a bit complicated because of the history of funding on the project. Prior to my ITVS contract, I used one fiscal receiver for State grants (NYFA) and a non-profit organization for NEA funds. (NEA changed their rules several years ago and only allows organizations to apply, not individuals with fiscal receivers). I signed off on my ITVS budget giving the non-profit organization's director a salary equivalent to cover fiscal responsibilities. What I completely forgot about was that NYFA requires that they be the only fiscal receiver. NYFA is now telling me that they will terminate my contract if I don't use them as the fiscal receiver. I don't have an additional 8% in my budget to spare to cover their fee (18,000). The only option I can think of in order to not breach my contract with NYFA would be to use my LLC for the ITVS funds.
Does anyone know if I could still pay people as independent contractors if I use my LLC? What if people are working at my office? – Won't they technically need to be on payroll? (I did not allow for payroll expenses in my budget).
The only people who would be working at my office on a regular basis for the year are editing assistants and the editor.
Please Advise.
Thank you!

Sam Rabeeh

Hi Everyone,

A friend suggested I create a sequence of "best shots" from my trip to Egypt. I guess this is under "research", "Egyptian Identity", silly ideas as to what that might be....misconceptions I've seen personally or in media/film, whether negative or positive where what interested me at I mixed in there somewhere as Erica suggested a while ago?

A 41MB H264 QuickTime Movie (no sound) is at:

Eli Brown

Judy, considering that you have an ITVS contract, you might want to consider applying for member status on this website – it will open up a lot more forums and chances to get more feedback on a question like that. That said (and not being an accountant/lawyer), my best advice would actually be to talk directly with ITVS. They obviously have a vested interest in you managing to finish your project, so they'll be able to better advise (or point you in the right direction of someone else who might) and from all accounts, are very helpful in general. My understanding of an LLC is that it's akin to any corporation, so you should be able to pay people the same way anyone with a company might – but, please, don't take my word on it as I'm not a lawyer/tax accountant, I just know that a lot of films are set up as LLCs and must also deal with this dilemma. Hope some of that is helpful and good luck!

Christopher Wong

judy, i think what eli says is right. i'm not quite sure why you would process your ITVS funds through a fiscal sponsor anyways – ITVS doesn't need a tax-deductible receipt from you. the only entities that go through your fiscal sponsor are 1) individuals who want to deduct their donations from their taxes; and 2) foundations or corporations who have a policy of only donating funds to non-profit organizations. so i think you have nothing to worry about...

for the record, i have an LLC and i pay my independent contractors through it. the question of whether your crew are considered employees has nothing to do with paying them through an LLC (or other such corporation). the employee designation has more to do with whether they are truly functioning independently from your constant supervision, and a few other key provisions that you can easily google...

Thomas Golaszewski

Hi All;
I'm getting ready to do a documentary about leader dogs for the blind. This project will take about two years to complete. I was told to look for grant money but, don't have a clue where to start and this project will start in January 2009. I have most of the equipment because of video work that I've done before for example Canon XL1s cameras. I will also do all my own editing in FC studio. This is the first project of this size and if I can get it done right, the org. that I'm working with could get a lot of donations and help me as well.
Thanks for your time

Mansi Behal

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