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.

Dièry Prudent

I'm urgently Seeking a Camera/Sound Tech for a doc shoot in Brighton, England August 2, 2011

I'm asking the D-Word community for help locating a skilled videographer with a decent light/camera/sound kit in that area. I'm in search of a pro who'd be willing to shoot this interview on a deferred payment basis. Shooting/sound credit assured. Does anyone know of a jazz-loving professional camera/sound/lights artist who would be up to the task?

The job consists of framing, lighting and sound-recording an hour-long interview on location at the manager's home. The whole job, from setup to strike, can be completed within 2 hours.

If so, they may call me directly anytime at +1 917.975.5940

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Best wishes to all,

Dièry Prudent, producer
"Moody's Mood for Love: the Story of a Song"
+1 917 975 5940

Stephanie Caruso

I'm about to meet with a potential subject for my new documentary. Is it necessary that I have him sign a non disclosure agreement? And if so, any suggestions to where I can find an example online?

Anna Fischer

Hi, I am currently subtitling my film, Lucky Express, and I need advice about how to subtitle? Two questions:
1- I have put the translated subtitles as they are sometimes the sentence is finished on the next image. Do I use an elipsis because the sentence is not finished?

He went to the store and bought ...
(and then next image) ... some milk and some bread.

Do I use the elipsis or not? Am very confused!

Question 2:
I have to subtitle my lead character because even though he is speaking English, it is really bad and basic English. So when I correct him, how much can I correct? The tenses? The words?
As long as I stick to the meaning of what he is saying, is it alright to put words into his mouth?
Right now, I have tried to use the exact words he is using even though the English is wrong. My theory is that all people will be able to understand the basic idea of what he is saying, even though the English is wrong.
When I corrected his English too much, later when I was reading the subtitles, I noticed that it was harder for the brain to fully understand the meaning, because what he was saying in English and what I was reading were similar but different.
Does this make sense? Its so hard to explain!
Anyway, is there a basic Rule Book for handling subtitles correctly which I can refer to?
Many thanks,

Ramona Diaz

Ann – for starters see hidden section. These are not rules, just guidelines.

1.1 Basic Text Display Subtitle legibility studies result in the following requirements:

i) Teletext characters should be displayed in double height and mixed (upper and lower) case.

ii) Words within a subtitle should be separated by a single space.

iii)Text should normally be presented in a black box. (See 2.3 Speaker Identification and 2.6 Sound Effects for other background colours).

iv) To aid readability, text can be justified left, centre or right depending on speaker position. (See 1.4 Formatting and 1.5 Line Breaks for examples of justified text).

v) The standard punctuation of printed English should be used. Punctuation gives valuable clues to syntactic structure and must be carefully displayed in order to be effective. One means of enhancing the effectiveness of punctuation is by the use of a single space before exclamation marks and question marks, after commas, colons, semi-colons and mid-subtitle full-stops, on both sides of dashes (but not mid-word hyphens), before opening brackets and inverted commas and after closing brackets and inverted commas.

1.2 Colour

The teletext specification currently used in the UK is limited to the availability of seven different text colours, including white; and eight different background (boxing) colours, including black and white. For normal subtitling purposes, black background should be used. Some early teletext decoders do not display coloured background and instead default to black. Therefore, if coloured background is used, a text colour should be chosen which will remain legible on a black background.

The majority of text/background colour combinations are not satisfactory for subtitling, being insufficiently legible. The most legible text colours on a black background are white, yellow, cyan and green. Use of magenta, red and blue should be avoided.

Of the combinations with coloured background, the most legible are blue on white, white on blue, red on white, white on red, cyan on blue and blue on cyan. Of these, white on red, white on blue and cyan on blue are preferable, because certain older decoders will reduce these combinations to highly legible white on black, or cyan on black.

The principal ways of using colour in television subtitling are discussed in Sections 2.3 Speaker Identification and 2.6 Sound Effects.

1.3 Control Characters

The use of double-height boxed coloured text generally requires six control characters in the teletext line, or eight control characters if coloured background is used. Thus, the maximum space available for subtitle text is only 32 or 34 characters per line.

1.4 Formatting

A maximum subtitle length of two lines is recommended. Three lines may be used if the subtitler is confident that no important picture information will be obscured. (See Section 1.6).

Ideally, each subtitle should also comprise a single complete sentence. Depending on the speed of speech, there are exceptions to this general recommendation, as follows:

a) Real-time subtitling (see Section 4).

b) Short sentences may be combined into a single subtitle if the available reading time is limited (see Section 2.5). Additional reading time is gained in this way because the viewer's gaze needs to be directed to the subtitle area only once, rather than two or three times if two or three short sentences are displayed on consecutive subtitles.

c) Very long sentences which are too long to fit into a single two-line subtitle. There are two procedures for dealing with such cases:

Example (i)

It may be possible to break a long sentence into two or more separate sentences and to display them as consecutive subtitles eg �We have standing orders, and we have procedures which have been handed down to us over the centuries.� becomes:

We have standing orders
and procedures.

They have been handed down to us
over the centuries.

This is especially appropriate for �compound� sentences, ie sentences consisting of more than one main clause, joined by coordinating conjunctions �and�, �but�, �or�;

This procedure is also possible with some �complex� sentences, ie sentences consisting of a main clause and one or more subordinate clauses joined by subordinating conjunctions such as �since�, �when�, �because�, etc or by relative pronouns such as �who�, �that�: �All we wanted was a quiet chat just you and me together, but you seemed to have other ideas.� becomes:

All we wanted was a quiet chat
just you and me together.

But you seemed to have
other ideas.

It is sometimes also possible to break single main clauses effectively into more than one subtitle; eg �I saw a tall, thin, bearded man with the stolen shopping basket disappearing into the crowd.� becomes:

I saw a tall, thin, bearded man
with the stolen shopping basket.

He disappeared into the crowd

Example (ii) If such sentence breaking procedures are inappropriate, it might be necessary to allow a single long sentence to extend over more than one subtitle. In this case, sentences should be segmented at natural linguistic breaks such that each subtitle forms an integrated linguistic unit. Thus, segmentation at clause boundaries is to be preferred. For example:

When I jumped on the bus...

..I saw the man who had taken
the basket from the old lady.

Segmentation at major phrase boundaries can also be accepted as follows:

On two minor occasions
immediately following the war,...

..small numbers of people
were seen crossing the border.

There is considerable evidence from the psycho-linguistic literature that normal reading is organised into word groups corresponding to syntactic clauses and phrases, and that linguistically coherent segmentation of text can significantly improve readability.

Random segmentation such as

On two minor occasions
immediately following the war,...

..numbers of people, etc.

must certainly be avoided.

In the examples given above, sequences of dots (three at the end of a to-be-continued subtitle, and two at the beginning of a continuation) are used to mark the fact that a segmentation is taking place. Many viewers have found this technique helpful.

1.5 Line Breaks

Similar linguistic considerations should guide the subtitler in deciding how to format a single multi-line subtitle. Subtitle lines should end at natural linguistic breaks, ideally at clause or phrase boundaries. However, since the dictates of space within a subtitle are more severe than between subtitles, line breaks may also take place after a verb. For example:

We are aiming to get
a better television service.

Line endings that break up a closely integrated phrase should be avoided where possible. For example:

We are aiming to get a
better television service.


He said it would increase
the number of shareholders.

He said it would increase the
number of shareholders.

Line breaks within a word are especially disruptive to the reading process and should be avoided. Ideal formatting should therefore compromise between linguistic and geometric considerations but with priority given to linguistic considerations.

Line breaks must be carefully considered when using left, right and centre justification for speaker position. Justified subtitles should balance linguistic considerations with eye movement:

Example (i)

Left, right and centre justification can be useful to identify speaker position, especially in cases where there are more than three speakers on screen. In such cases, line breaks should be inserted at linguistically coherent points, taking eye-movement into careful consideration. For example:

We all hope
you are feeling much better.

This is left justified. The eye has least distance to travel from hope to you.

We all hope you are
feeling much better.

This is centre justified. The eye now has least distance to travel from are to feeling.

We all hope you are feeling
much better.

This is right justified. The eye has least distance to travel from feeling to much.

Example (ii)

Problems occur with justification when a short sentence or phrase is followed by a longer one. In this case, there is a risk that the bottom line of the subtitle is read first.

He didn�t tell me you would be here.

He didn�t tell me you would be here.

This could result in only half of the subtitle being read. Allowances would therefore have to be made by breaking the line at a linguistically non-coherent point:

He didn�t tell me you would be here.

Oh. He didn�t tell me
you would be here.

Oh. He didn�t tell me you would be

When the subtitler is forced to make a choice between formatting a subtitle into one long line or breaking it into two short lines, the decision should be made on the basis of the background picture. In general, �long and thin� subtitles are less disruptive of picture content than are �short and fat� subtitles, but this is not always the case.

Furthermore, in dialogue sequences it is often helpful to use horizontal displacement in order to distinguish between different speakers (see Section 2.3). �Short and fat� subtitles permit greater latitude for this technique.

1.6 Positioning Subtitles on the Screen

The normally accepted position for subtitles is towards the bottom of the screen, but in obeying this convention it is most important to avoid obscuring 'on-screen' captions, any part of a speaker's mouth or any other important activity. Certain special programme types carry a lot of information in the lower part of the screen (eg snooker, where most of the activity tends to centre around the black ball) and in such cases top-screen positioning will be a more acceptable standard.

Subtitles should be displayed horizontally in the direction of the appropriate speaker, or source of sound effect (See 2.3 and 2.6).

When consecutive subtitles have boxes of similar size and shape and the second directly over-writes the first, it is useful to position them slightly differently on the screen. This makes it easier for the viewer to perceive that the subtitle has changed.

1.7 Timing and Synchronisation

It is crucial that subtitles are displayed for a sufficient length of time for viewers to read them. The subtitle presentation rate for pre-recorded programmes should not normally exceed 140 words per minute. In exceptional circumstances, for example in the case of add-ons, the higher rate of 180 words per minute is permitted.

Presentation rates will depend upon the programme content. For example, real-time subtitling documentaries where the speaker is not on screen, or chat shows which have a higher text complexity than drama.

A fundamental function of television subtitling is to reduce frustration caused to hearing-impaired viewers by being faced with silent moving mouths. Therefore, all obvious speech should have some form of subtitle accompaniment.

Eye movement research shows that hearing-impaired viewers make use of visual cues from the faces of television speakers in order to direct their gaze to the subtitle area. If no subtitle is present, the resulting �false alarm� causes considerable frustration. Further research into eye movement has shown the following pattern developed by hard of hearing viewers:

i) Change of subtitle detected
ii) Read subtitle
iii) Scan picture until another subtitle change is detected

Therefore, subtitle appearance should coincide with speech onset. Subtitle disappearance should coincide roughly with the end of the corresponding speech segment, since subtitles remaining too long on the screen are likely to be re-read by the viewer, ie another kind of �false alarm�.

The same rules of synchronisation should apply with off-camera speakers and even with off-screen narrators, since viewers with a certain amount of residual hearing make use of auditory cues to direct their attention to the subtitle area.

1.8 Leading and Lagging

The target point for synchronisation should be at naturally occurring pauses in speech-sentence boundaries, or changes of scene. However, there are bound to be cases where this is either impractical or inapplicable. Recent research indicates the following:

i) Monologue Material For hard-of-hearing people viewing programmes which consist mainly of monologue, research has shown that perfect synchronisation is not an absolute necessity and delays of up to six seconds do not affect information retention. The same is true of leading subtitles (providing that the first subtitle of a long speech is in synchrony). It should still be recognised, however, that some viewers use subtitles to support heard speech and will require synchronisation. Therefore, the technique should not be over used.

ii) ii) Dramatic Scenes

iii) For drama and programmes with continuous changes of shot, subtitles which lag behind dialogue or commentary by more than two seconds should be avoided.

1.9 Shot Changes

Besides the general recommendation for subtitle/speech synchronisation, there are certain other aspects of the television picture which influence subtitle timing. Subtitles that are allowed to over-run shot changes can cause considerable perceptual confusion and should be avoided. Eye-movement research shows that camera-cuts in the middle of a subtitle presentation cause the viewer to return to the beginning of a partially read subtitle and to start re-reading. In practice, it is recognised that the frequency and speed of shot changes in many programmes present serious problems for the subtitler. A subtitle should, therefore, be �anchored� over a shot change by at least one second to allow the reader time to adjust to the new picture. Shot changes normally reflect the beginning or end of speech. The subtitler should, therefore, attempt to insert a subtitle on a shot change when this is in synchrony with the speaker.

General rules for dealing with camera-cuts are as follows:

i) Avoid inserting a subtitle less than one second before a camera-cut and removing a subtitle less than one second after a camera-cut.

ii) Attempt to insert a subtitle in exact synchrony with a camera-cut.

iii) A decision to segment a single sentence into more than one subtitle, to be placed around a camera-cut, should depend on whether the sentence can be segmented naturally and on whether the resulting subtitles can be allowed sufficient display time.

Camera fades and pans do not produce the same perceptual effect as camera-cuts, and accordingly need not influence the subtitler in the same way.

Major scene changes can cause the same problems as shot changes within a scene. A particular difficulty arises when a speaker's last line in a scene, especially a vital punch line, is followed instantaneously by a scene change. In this case, the subtitle should be removed before the scene change to avoid visual confusion.

Some film techniques introduce the soundtrack for the next scene before the scene change has occurred. If possible, the subtitler should wait for the scene change before displaying the subtitle. If this is not possible, the subtitle should be clearly labelled to explain the technique.

JOHN: And what have we here?

Anna Fischer

Thanks that was helpful!
Now I still have to get some help on how to translate accurately?
Stick to bad English or translate and correct the English but confuse the reader?
What to do?

Ramona Diaz

That's always tricky. First of all, is he really difficult to understand? Do you really have to subtitle him? I've vowed in the past not to subtitle characters speaking English but because of outside pressures (like broadcasters, distributors), I've had to do it. So I treat it like I would treat other subtitles, I "translate" it so it's grammatically correct. Offensive all around but if you have to do it....

Nefin Dinc


I am planning to apply for a grant to make a documentary and they are asking for "letter of commitment" from the advisors.

Could you tell me where can I find a sample for a letter of commitment?

If I were to create it myself, what should I include in it?

Thank you,

Reid B. Kimball

I would suggest you subtitle exactly as your subject speaks. Documentary films are supposed to be accurate, representing truth. If a deaf person learns that the subtitles were not reflecting actually what was said then you lose credibility. Also, I don't think your subject would appreciate words being put in their mouth.

If your subject is really that hard to understand, then can you not include them in your film? I always vet my subjects for camera presence before I spend the money and time with them.

Ramona, that's a shame you don't want to subtitle your films. I'm hard of hearing to point where I need to wear $6,000 hearing aids. I absolutely must have subtitles for me to watch a film and understand most of it. Then there are people who are completely deaf and they need subtitling too.

Ramona Diaz

My films are close captioned for the hearing impaired. I think that's what you're referring to.

Subtitles are a completely different matter. I subtitle my film if they are not speaking English and it's for b'cast in this country or distributed in English speaking territories. My point about not wanting to put English subtitles on someone already speaking English to begin with is that it is offensive to the person filmed. But sometimes, due to distribution contracts, it has to be done. And if I only choose subjects who are easy to understand (and who will define "easy to understand" to begin with?), then I'm hosed.

Rina  Sherman

I have an hour long timeline in Sony Vegas sub titled with a media generator legacy plug in. About 40 minutes into this hour SV started crashing repeatedly.
I have tried and tested all and any solution that various colleagues have suggested, to no avail.
I have several more hours of of sub titling to do and I am now looking for an alternative method. I need to print to tape and DVd authoring, so my titles cannot be made purely during the DVD authoring.

Any suggestions welcome. My sub titling is from Otjiherero to English and the same to French – two versions.

I will be looking at Subtitling Workshop, but any other ideas?

Thank you in advance,
Rina Sherman

Doug Block

Rina, the Mentoring Room is basically for Enthusiasts who don't have access to most of the discussion topics. Some Professional members drop by here but not that many. Now that you have Professional status, you should move any further questions about sub-titling to the Editing topic.

Bonnie Friedman

Hi everyone,
I have just finished my first doc and now need some advice on the business side. Against my better judgement I took bad advice and did not get cast or crew deal memos and now an intellectual property attorney tells me that broadcasters will require these in addition to other clearances. He says all crew, but not necessarily the cast, but other research tells me all cast and producers only. I want to do what is needed and I would like to only ask people once. So first question is : from whom do I need these deal memos? and second: are there standard forms to use (both pre for next time and post for this one.)
Many thanks,

Doug Block

Bonnie, you'll need what's known as release forms for the key people who are in the film. Anyone who speaks prominently, for sure. It's necessary in order to get Errors & Omissions (E&0) insurance, which broadcasters require.

Crew deal memos are important more in case you get audited by the IRS. I've never needed them for any broadcasters, and I've worked with PBS, HBO, Bravo, IFC and many big international broadcasters.

I should add I'm not an entertainment lawyer, and I highly recommend you consult with one before proceeding.

Bonnie Friedman

Hi again Doug,
forgot to mention that the cast was French. Should I use a french release form, a translated form or both? Where might I find a french standard form? Also I suppose I should get releases from the narrators? I have one for the English version and one for the French version.
thanks again,

Todd Yi

Could anyone recommend a good film lighting workshop in New York? Any suggestions would be really appreciated.

Thank you!!!

Reid B. Kimball

I'm having difficulty scheduling someone I want to interview. They sound enthusiastic about being in the doc. Have said, "provided I have time." Am going to the same conference as them. I've said I'm available "anytime". And they keep saying "if I have time." How do I get them to commit to a time? It's like the person isn't looking at their schedule at all.

Is it better to lead and suggest times than to leave it up to them to tell me what time works?

Jill Woodward

Reid, I would suggest semi-stalking that person during the conference and getting a commitment for maybe the next morning or later that afternoon. They'll probably be wanting to fully participate in the conference and not sure which talks or whatever they can't miss. During down-time they may need to do socializing which can typically only take place during a conference setting. Maybe the morning after the conference ends would work.

Reid B. Kimball

Thanks Jill, good ideas. I'll try suggesting later in the afternoon or evening after the 1st day events. The speaker leaves the morning after, so my opportunities are limited.

Monika Davidsz

Hi there,
I'm fairly new on D-word and a first time documentary maker, originally from Amsterdam. I've started research for a documentary in New York, the result is the following work in progress trailer:
Question, now what? I would like to put together a crew (director, dp, researcher) and produce myself. Any tips where to start, the process is a bit overwhelming.

Jill Woodward

Monika, if you have funding for your project, the next steps should be pretty easy! Watch the films you like or aspire to be like, find out who worked on them, and see if they are available. Welcome to NYC by the way. I was living in Amsterdam for a couple years not so long ago.

Bonnie Friedman

Andrea – that would be fantastic! thank you. How would I find your email address?

Andrea Feder

Just sent you an email with the release attached. Good luck.

Kevin Hallagan

Hey everybody I have a question. it's pretty basic. I am trying to make personal business cards, but I can't figure out what a respectable title is. "filmmaker" seems too generic, but "Documentary Filmmaker" seems to be limiting. if someone wants me to just edit they would look at "documentary Filmmaker" and figure I wouldn't be ok with only doing the editing. My ultimate goal is to do all of it, the research, the filming, the editing, etc. but I'm ok with someone hiring me to do just one of those things.

What is a good respectable Title that still represents what I do?

Doug Block

How about just Producer/Director? Or Producer/Director/Cameraman/Editor?

Bonnie Friedman

Hi again everybody. I have more questions of course... I am planning a trip to France to screen the finally completed doc for the participants (the few who are left) and another filmmaker has asked if he could schedule other screenings there for me. I have been told that it's not a good idea to have screenings if I am planning to do any festivals. In an ideal world (for me) I could find a sales agent and go straight to a broadcaster, but if I am unable to find an agent I may yet want to try to do a few festivals for exposure.
So my questions are: yes or no on the screenings? And any ideas on how to go about trying to find an agent?
PS thanks again so much Andrea for the release form!

Deborah Dobski

I'm seeking technical assistance surrounding a particular issue. I teach film & video in a high school. In an attempt to move my students into HD, I bought a black magic deck link and installed it into our 4-core mac pro. We edit with Final Cut 6. I'm able to feed an image back from the computer with HDMI onto a HD screen just fine. However, I am having problems with log & capture using firewire from a Sony GV-HD700 mini-DV deck into Final Cut. I found that if I use Apple Intermediate Codec, I'm able to capture on the fly, but in Log & Capture, the deck is not recognized by Final Cut with any Codec. ideally, I'd like my students to use Log & Capture, and I'd also like to be able to feed the timeline in HD back to tape. Any suggestions would be most appreciated. Thanks in advance.

Deborah Dobski

Dear Eli: Thank you for trying to help! Where are you in Brooklyn? I teach at Saint Ann's School in the Heights, and live in Carroll Gardens. I've been upstate during the hurricane and just got electric and the internet back and so have just seen your response to my inquiry. – I've seen this thread, but I'm in a stage one step beyond these folks' discussions. With the Sony deck, I've never had an issue capturing HDV. But my desire has been to be able to screen the work in HD on a large monitor, and to be able to print back to tape. As a test of how I understand to accomplish this, I purchased a black magic deck link studio 2 which is supposed to allow the HD image to feed back via HDMI to an HD monitor (which it does) and to allow the HD image from Final Cut to print back to tape. I can't test this second feature because I am totally unable, now that the black magic deck link has been installed, to capture HD footage other than on the fly (i.e. NOT in Log & Capture) and only able to do that while using Apple Intermediate Codec which I don't believe is the correct Codec to be using. So, something I COULD do before installing the black magic deck link, I am now unable to do. And, of course, I have no idea if, once I figure out how to get Log & Capture working again, if I'll be able to print back to tape. Any thoughts, or do you know anyone who has used the black magic deck link successfully? Thanks so much!

Eli Brown

I have 2 blackmagic cards, but don't work with HDV decks, so this might not be completely accurate... but, my guess is that you don't use the blackmagic card to print to tape – it's a converter, for lack of a better description; it takes HD sources and allows you to output those via it's HDMI on a monitor or to a device that takes an HDMI signal. However, it doesn't output back to HDV through the card. So, I would ingest the footage via HDV/firewire, then to output to a monitor, use the blackmagic card (they should install with several easy setups; one of which will probably have a name similar to Blackmagic HDV 1080i or something). To output back to HDV Tape, you'll want to use the Final Cut Easy Setup that is for HDV (not via the Blackmagic card). I'm guessing that in the basic HDV easy setup, you should have deck control restored. The Blackmagic card is looking for an RS-422 deck control signal, probably, which is why you aren't able to see it/control it.

Marina Lutz

Hi Everyone,

The next edition of CINECITY The Brighton Film Festival (UK) is interested in combining a screening of my short film, The Marina Experiment, with a guest lecture, and they wish to know my terms and conditions –

Can anyone recommend what I should ask as a screening fee and lecture fee, in addition to travel and accommodation? I don't want them to think I'm too costly but I need to make it worth my while.

I live in New York.


Kristen Kellogg

I am returning to Bali to film my first documentary. Last year I had the idea, but realized there was still too much I needed to learn before shooting. I took the last few months and worked with a local filmmaker who produces commercials and also makes documentaries. I am now feeling confident and ready to make my film. I am looking for another filmmaker who would like work with me. I could shoot it on my own, but would be great to have another camera and set of ears and eyes. Any suggestions for looking for someone who might be interested. The dates are October 26th-Nov. 11th. Any suggestions to finding someone who is in the area would be greatly appreciated!

Reid B. Kimball


I apologize for this being so long, but hopefully it's not overly complex a question. In summary, I am trying to decide if for my first documentary I should go big or make it small and then at a later time do my grand vision.

I am faced with a decision that I need some help with from those who are more experienced than I.

I am directing and self-funding my first ever documentary. It’s a passion project and I am teaching myself the art of documentary filmmaking, along with all the technical equipment and editing skills needed along the way as I develop the film.

I work on the film part time with my other part time paying the bills and film costs. I realized the other day that if I want to accomplish my grand vision for the film, it will likely take me 2 or 3 more years at this current rate of production.

I’m confident I can do that, but I am worried about the film coming out in 2 or 3 years. My topic is health related, one that I feel can help nearly 60 million in the US alone who suffer from devastating digestive conditions such as IBS, Celiac and Crohn’s disease, the latter I have.

The grand vision of my film is about people with those digestive conditions who use alternative medicine instead of the conventional approaches when they don’t work.

Additionally, it will ask the question, if people like me and the patients I interview can overcome an incurable disease like Crohn’s disease without using conventional medications and surgery, why aren’t more people doing this?

That question will lead to exposing the systemic healthcare and government failings that are prohibiting patient access to healthy food and alternative treatments.

There are also concepts about modern western society being out of alignment with the natural laws of life and so we are seeing more diseases.

Lots of interconnected and heavy topics, and I feel they are important to make the film help as many people as possible. But people need help right now, people are dying frequently from the ravages of Crohn’s disease which eats away at a person’s intestines.

The other option I have is to make a smaller, tighter focused documentary that only discusses the patients and the treatments that have worked for them along with a few key medical experts. I could probably wrap production this year if I haul ass and release it next year.

But I’m afraid of doing that because I want to make my grand vision and I fear that if I make a smaller version first, something will happen and I’ll never get to make that original version of the film I really wanted. Are my fears warranted based on your experiences?
What do you think I should do?

Stay colonized,

-Reid B. Kimball

Rob Rooy

Reid, is there any way you can go for the more tightly focused documentary now, and then still do the big one later? You say you're worried that if you go the easier route, "something will happen" and you won't get around to making your grand vision; isn't also possible that something will happen anyway if you embark on a much longer path to completion?

As someone who has also learned by doing, I would encourage you to choose the more immediate goal first. Especially if you want this film to be seen and be of immediate benefit to others who suffer similar diseases. And, as a newly minted filmmaker, all the things you learn the hard way on the smaller film can greatly benefit you on your next film, when you get to start with a clean slate! My experience is that docs can take twice as long and cost twice as much as you think they will. Unless you're a real glutton for punishment, I'd start small(er).

John Burgan

It's good advice – learn to walk before you run. Good luck Reid and keep us posted.

Reid B. Kimball

Thanks John.

I have a gear question now. I'm using a Sanken CS-1 shotgun mic that requires 48v phantom power. Can anyone recommend a battery operated 48v phantom power supply? I find it's drawing too battery power from my Zoom H4n.

I'm looking for AA battery powered and ultra portability.

Here's a great example of what I'm looking for, but I think it only works for Sennheiser shotgun mics.

Bill Jackson

Reid, this one looks good to me. Phantom Power I haven't used it, but it uses a 9 volt battery and seems to be a good design.

Karina Whitmarsh

Just started out and need to put a production log book together. How is this done. I'm the director and my one and only producer just told me he is going to join the Navy. I'm all alone now and need to continue making my doc. film. We never started one out in the first place..been only working with him for the last 2 months and only two shoots, so not much work to be done..however now I'm wearing all the hats. Help, please.

Doug Block

Karina, as you're a professional member, you should probably ask this question in the Editing topic where you're bound to get more eyeballs. This is more for "enthusiasts" who don't have access to much beyond this topic.

Jennifer Reiman

Hi everyone :)
I am editing a political documentary which is my first full length project, and find myself in need of some good tips. I have a lot of creative control as to the direction of the film as well.
I watched 'The Cutting Edge' and found it very helpful. I would love some suggestions on more educational videos, and free courses to take.
Other than that, if anyone has some time they would like to share to help me along, please message/email me, or let me know if you are available for a phone chat or two.

Thanks :) positivecontact (at)

John Burgan

Jennifer, we don't appreciate links to illegal downloads at The D-Word, which is why your post has been edited.

As it happens, The Cutting Edge, The Magic of Movie Editing is available new and second-hand at Amazon

As you are currently editing your first full-length project, it might be worth thinking about how you plan to survive in a business where the fruits of your labours are made available for free. It's basically the difference between a hobby and being able to pay the rent.

Jennifer Reiman

Hi John,

I was wondering after I posted that if someone would say something.

First, just because a file is available for download through a bittorrent site does not mean it's 'illegal', and also in my case, I will make my documentary available for people to see for free, as well as purchase hard copies, as many in the genre I am working in are doing.

I support people in the industry by buying documentaries from them (usually after I have watched them) and I often give them away to people.

That being said, I appreciate you communicating with me about your edit

John Burgan

The movie in question is not available legally through any bittorrent or download site, Jennifer – if you believe it is, please email the link and we will happily post it. It may be available on Netflix to subscribers in the US for online streaming – but that's not bittorrent.

Jeremy Ansell

Actually John it is available. You can watch it on Youtube and it has a standard license. It can be found via a simple search. The first part has over 90,000 views and was posted in 2006 so the assumption would be that it is legally available to watch for free.

Documentary filmakers might want to think about how they plan to survive in the business without considering other ways of distribution. This is the reality, embrace and think outside the box.

John Burgan

Although some sections are there on Youtube, the whole movie is not available to watch, as you acknowledged in your original post.

The bittorrent link that you posted which we removed was certainly not legal – is that what you meant by "thinking outside the box"? :)

As it is, D-Worders are already exploring alternative methods of distribution online, such as our Distrify and The D-Word Topic.

Jeremy Ansell

That was my original post? I've not posted a bit torrent link. I wouldn't encourage illegal downloading but I would encourage 'thinking outside of the box' when it comes to distribution and not just assuming that making your film available for free is not part of a viable distribution plan. This is a model that threatens the more established filmmaker and it shouldn't. You get what you pay for.

John Burgan

Sorry Jeremy, the illegal link was posted here by the other poster which we removed – and I think the smiley shows that she knew it was content you didn't have to pay for. I mixed the two posts up – my mistake.

Nick Ravich


Hello all-

For some reason having a really hard time getting folks to talk to me about this issue so wanted to throw it out to the D-word community (doesn't seem to have been really covered in past forum posts.)

I work for a small, non-profit arts organization that produces a pretty high profile nat'l documentary series for PBS. We’ve got a growing amount of digital original video material (multi-GB, broadcast-intended digital video files; mostly XDcam EX and P2 original) and we need to get serious about more long term/archival preservation – a system where I can reliably expect to access the media 5/10/20 years down the line. Currently all this media lives on multiple, but non-networked, non-RAIDED external drives; given the life expectancy for these kind of drives, I realize they’re really only a short term solution. Up to the last couple of years, almost all of our original footage was shot to tape; we’ve been creating protection masters, and storing masters and protections in separate climate controlled facilities. Obviously digital material requires a different solution.

One important thing to know about us – we have serious aspirations to preserve all of our originally-produced footage beyond the life of the organization, to eventually make publicly available for researchers, students, etc. So this is not a client-mandated need but instead something generated internally, motivated by our contemporary art and media centered mission. Being smart now about how we ensure the longevity/future usability of this material is crucial for us.

I know the terms "archival" and "long term" probably bring up more questions than answers but I'm wondering how folks in similar positions – smaller production companies producing a consistent (if not broadcaster level volume) of digital original material, who own their media and have a vested interest in preserving it – have dealt with this. Transferring to LTO5 tape? Some kind of cloud/network-based solution? In house? Out-sourced?

Honestly, very surprised there isn't more discussion out there about this. Really hoping I can spark something here.

Sincerely, Nick

Doug Block

Hope to see some answers myself, Nick. It's a huge problem.

Daniel McGuire

The guy at that forum wrote:

"That said, I can't afford LTO. I archive my stuff on external hard drives, and copy it over to the next latest and greatest drive every several (~5) years. With hard drive capacity continuing to increase (at virtually no higher price), this is a viable method for the mid-term."

Given that the cost of storage is minimal – a hundred hours of SD or HD footage fit on a 1TB drive that costs around $160, (That's a fast, G-Drive), why would you use magnetic tape? Clone or back-up the drives every 5-10 years, depending on usage. If you are getting to be an old fart, perhaps begin discussions with a film or university archive to handle your footage after you die- with stipulations for tape back-up or whatever.
To me the real problem is how to organize it. I'd like to have a workflow so that, say, 100 hours on a drive would also be mirrored (with BITC) to a private youtube account – each tape divided into 6 10-minute sections – so that other people – researchers, collaborators – anywhere in the world could be roped in to log, translate, and work on editing sequences.
If you have historic and valuable footage, you might be able to have a university buy the collection library.

Scheffee Wilson

I'm producing a documentary about the lifestyles of the women in Brazil. I working with a small budget and looking for some advice. I may need a super affordable documentary producer. Someone who has experience with small budgets and a foreign women subject. Please contact me.
I really need some advice.

Chan Park


I have been making a documentary, titled “Tango Your Life,” whose trailer can be seen at, if you care to watch it.

Basically I filmed and used in my documentary film many dance scenes, which come with copyrighted music, being played during the filming sessions. As these were dancing scenes, it’s not possible to avoid the music.

When I approached a law firm here in Buenos Aires, their interpretation is that I sync the copyrighted music to the film. That means, I have to pay the copyright loyalty to two groups: one representing composers/authors and the other for record companies. The loyalty is extremely high enough to put me out of the game.

When I asked the firm about “fair use,” their response was:
1) Fair use is provided by our law only for the limited use of a work for educational o scientific purposes. Other uses are not comprised within this exception. If you proceed to sync fractions of music themes with your documentary without having prior authorization from their authors, you could be subject to a lawsuit.

Then I discovered “Documentary Filmmakers’ Statement of Best Practices in Fair Use,” under which I believe the music recorded and used in my documentary falls under the protection of “fair use.”

I admit there are some incidents in the film, where the music was used beyond “fair use.” For example, some scenes start with a dance scene, which later is overlaid with an interview while the music continues to play to the end of the interview. This kind of scenes will be fixed to comply with “fair use.”

So my question is, “If the documentary shows dance scenes that come with copyrighted music, does it fall under “fair use?”

Please provide your advice here or to Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you.

Marj Safinia

Hey Chan, since you're a professional member, I suggest you copy and paste your whole question in the Legal Corner , where you're more likely to get the kind of reply you're looking for.

Chan Park

Thank you, Marj. I am new to the forum. I'll do...

Marj Safinia

We normally strongly discourage double posting in more than one topic, but in this case I think it's appropriate.

Benjamin Prawer

Hi mentors,

I'm making a documentary tentatively titled "Life is Good," and am currently looking for a non-profit to fiscally sponsor the project. We have donors who want to give money, but need a non-profit to funnel the money through. Topics in the film include: life optimism, sailing, aerospace, hypothermia, young death, living life to the fullest.

Here is the log line:
In the wake of Tyler Lorenzi’s unexpected death, an adventurous list he made of must-dos in his hometown of San Francisco inspires four of his best friends from different walks of his life to take a trip to the Bay Area in his honor. As two of his college sailing buddies, his best friend from high school and the young woman whose life he saved undertake the difficult task of paying tribute, they try to emulate Ty’s outlook on life as they each struggle to find meaning and transformation in their adventure.

Info packet attached. Any ideas would be GREATLY appreciated. Thanks!

Lucas Catton

Hi, I joined the D Word earlier in the year when I started some of the research for my first documentary and have found some great information, but I confess that my visitation has been sporadic. I completed "Curing Addiction" in September and have submitted to some film festivals and working some circles to start with. I was wondering if anyone knows of some good educational distributors for colleges and other institutions that I could contact.

Doug Block

Lucas, go to "Search Posts" at the top of the page and plug in "educational distributors". Should turn up some previous suggestions.

Lucas Catton

Thanks,Doug. I did try to do that over the summer but a few of them were no longer in business. I will do that again and look for other ones that I'm sure I missed.

Marshall Burgtorf

Any help with this would be greatly appreciated. I discovered a developing story in Iraq 2 weeks ago. I approached the parties involved about tagging along to tell their story. They made a spot for me and one of my investors purchased airfare today.

Here is the issue. In the past when I have traveled in countries such as Kenya or El Salvador my "press pass" was simply a badge provided by the organizations I was traveling with. Do I need some kind of official press pass? I will contact the US Embassy as soon as it is morning in Baghdad but I thought someone here might be able to help out. Thanks.

Reid B. Kimball

Hi everyone,

I am trying to use Excel to enter my IN and OUT timecode information. I am having trouble getting my format to appear correctly. My timecode is based on 60 frame/sec so it may look like 00:04:34.51 but freakin' Excel will change it to 04:34.50, truncating the hour 00 and rounding down the frame number. I have tried setting the column cell type to Number, Text and custom (which I don't understand well) with no luck.

I did search for Excel macros for timecoding info and most are based on 24 or 29 frame/sec. It would be a bonus to have a timecode macro that can calculate the elapsed time between IN and OUT but that is not essential.

My main issue is getting the formatting right because I am copying and pasting from a word doc with the original timecode format.

Right now I have to copy from my word doc, paste into notepad, then copy from notepad and paste into Excel for the format to appear correctly. Talk about a productivity nightmare.


Robert Goodman

there are far better programs for logging video footage than excel. Avid has one, Imagine Products makes expensive ones, and there are bunch of others floating around. These days I wouldn't even bother. Just do it in your editing program – if space is an issue – bring everything in low res. That way you can organize bins too.

Todd Leatherman

Hello all-
I'm a documentary film student (about to graduate in December) who is looking for an internship here in NYC. Aside from the standard job posting sites, does anyone know of a good way to find and research available internships in the field?

ben epperson

In search of the "perfect" camera:

I am a photographer in Knoxville and have been roped into this crazy adventure in the spring. It's called The 555.
Basically all of the crazy motor heads here are travelling across the country again. The only catch is that they must use motorcycles under 500 ccs, costing less than $500 to rebuild and orginally built before 1975.
and they want me to sit in a homemade side car and film the trip for two weeks
I am looking for a camera that is in the spirit of the 555
grimy, beat up, sturdy, drunk, a one man show
Can anyone recommend something?
What kind of camera does a crazy person take on a dangerous motorcycle adventure in hopes of capturing the truth about "The 555"?

ps. how the hell am I going to get sound for this if I'm the only one doing this project?

ben epperson

Stephen Cooper

Hi, everybody—

I’m new to the D-Word, new to the world of documentary filmmaking, and I have a ton of questions. I’ll confine this post to question number 1 but first a few words of introduction.

I’m a writer in Los Angeles, working in collaboration with a veteran European filmmaker on the development of a doc film project that’s been accepted into IDA’s Fiscal Sponsorship Program. On page one of the FSP Agreement it says that as Project Manager I’m required “to obtain appropriate liability insurance for all aspects of the project in an amount of not less than $1,000,000, which shall name IDA as an additional insured.”

I’d like to ask folks with experience in this area where I should (and maybe also should not) go to inquire about such insurance, how much I should expect to pay, if there are some plans better than others, etc. Any and all information will be appreciated.

Many thanks, and it's great to be part of this group--

Steve Cooper

P.S. Thanks to Lisa Hasko of IDA for telling me about the D-Word!

Stephen Cooper

Here's my second question for the Mentoring Room and it's also about insurance. At what point in the long process of development should Errors & Omissions coverage be purchased? Compared to liability insurance, the quotes for E&O are way more expensive. Early on, we're trying to figure out the best way to spend what money we have. Any thoughts or anecdotes will be appreciated--


Doug Block

Stephen, wait until you're finished (or close to finished) and have a sense of what your distribution will be. You'd need it mainly for theatrical and broadcast, so why pay for it when you may not ultimately need it?

James Longley

Basically, if a broadcaster (like HBO or the BBC or Discovery or whoever, for example) wants to buy your film, they will tell you if they have an E&O requirement and what company they prefer you to get the insurance from – because the insurance is really to protect the broadcaster, not the filmmaker (but you should still make sure that the insurance policy also covers you.)

This is because broadcasters have a lot of money, and filmmakers generally have none. So any potential lawsuit resulting from your film will likely target the broadcaster, not you, the filmmaker.

However, in most cases such lawsuits are few and far between – this E&O business is mostly just a formality required by the legal departments of large media companies.

What you can do to prepare for this process is to get signed waivers from the principal participants in your film, if possible.

Stephen Cooper

Thanks, Doug and James, for your 12/16 and 12/17 responses to my question above about E&O insurance. You're both helpful and encouraging.

Maureen Ridley

In reply to Ray Metoyer's post on Fri 13 May 2011 :

Can anyone tell me what are the typical rates for selling a documentary to a US TV channel or where I might find such information? I have a client here in the UK who has made a documentary which should be of interest to the US audience.

Doug Block

The rates are all over the place, Maureen. Could be as little as next to nothing (small cable channel) or as high as a million or more (HBO, if they really really want it). Would help to know what kind of doc it is and the length.