The Mentoring Room - Ask the Working Pros

Mentoring Room

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This is a Public Topic geared towards first-time filmmakers. Professional members of The D-Word will come by and answer your questions about documentary filmmaking.

Doug Block
Host
aaron, you don't need a questionaire. ask if they feel it dragged
anywhere. if they were confused anywhere. if they feel anything is
missing. but mostly listen. you'll learn most from their visceral
responses during the screening.
Erica Ginsberg
Host
I'd start by asking them what they think it was about. Not that
there can't be multiple answers to this question (the best
documentaries leave lots up to interpretation), but it would be
helpful for you to know where they are coming from when they give you
feedback. And as Doug said, mostly listen. This is not the time to
defend your choices or people will not feel comfortable being honest
with you.
Lora Covrett
Fan
I have a question about getting permission slips signed, etc. I've
seen documentary films where police are asking the filmmakers to
leave or a business is asking them to leave the premises. Do those
filmmakers get releases signed by these disgruntled folks in order to
release the film? If I'm interviewing someone for my film, do I need
them to sign a release?
Robert Goodman
Pro
yes. If you don't have a release you can't use the interview.
Different rules apply to news organizations. Broadcasters require
independent filmmakers to carry errors and ommissions insurance for
every program as a requirement to air it. If you don't have signed
releases that will hold up in court, you will not be able to buy E&O
insurance or will have to pay a heavy premium to obtain it. E&O
insurance covers you in case you are sued for liable.
Maureen Futtner
Fan
Ok, Wise Documentary Filmmakers -

I admit I am a novice, albeit a very ambitious one. I am working on a long-
term project about a musician who's returning to her native Cuba
to perform in a series of concerts in Summer 2005. I've been
shooting her periodically and will continue to do so all the way
through her trip next year. I have no written agreement from her
as yet, but she's reassuring me constantly that this is my project.
I am getting concerned, however. I realize I need to broach the
subject of obtaining a release from her, but I also believe we
need a contract of sorts that I have exclusive rights to this project
over x period of time. Probably what I need is a lawyer, I know.
But one filmmaker has said to me, "You don't want to enter into
a "contractual relationship". You just want a release. "
What are the opinions out there? Any help welcome. Maureen
Doug Block
Host
hey maureen, sounds like you and your subject should have a talk.
that said, if she's at all famous, i'd be surprised if she's willing
to sign something that gives a novice filmmaker exclusive rights.

but at leastg get a release from her, and as soon as possible. if
she's unwilling to sign one, you're in deep doo-doo and should
seriously reconsider continuing on with the film.
Maureen Futtner
Fan
Doug & all mentors,

So i have had a discussion today w/my subject about getting a
release from her, and she basically told me she needs to get
paid; she wants a contract that figures in some kind of payment
to her. She said "I'm gonna give you my story, my life, I need
something in return." I told her people do not generally pay their
doc. subjects and she insisted because she's a performer, and
... on and on. This was all over the phone, and we have a real
meeting in a couple of weeks. She is not famous. I told her she
could get great publicity out of this. This didn't seem to sway her.
Seems she's been screwed over before, and while I've
established a great deal of trust with her (she now considers me
her friend), she does not want to feel exploited. She says my
paying her would give me creative control and I would own the
film (well, yea!).

Is this an absurd request? We haven't even broached amount. It
doesn't sound like she wants a mere token, however. At this
point, I've done 20 hours of exploratory shooting, have
researched for the last 8 months, and have mapped out my
future year and a half or more with this project in mind. Is this a
big red flag, or what?

Did Wim Wenders pay the musicians of the Buena Vista S.C? I
rather doubt it. Any wisdom welcome.

Maureen
Doug Block
Host
The subject of the successful French doc, To Be and to Have, famously
sued the filmmaker for a share of the profits last year. It's opened
up a lot of discussion on the subject.

It's not common at all to pay your subject but it's not uncommon, or
IMHO, necessarily wrong to share profits. Of course, profits are
usually dreamworld in the docworld, but if you hit the jackpot then
she shares in it. You might suggest that.

If she insists on payment, I'd be wary. Very very wary.
Maureen Futtner
Fan
Doug,

I'm grateful you're out there. Thanks (as always) for your prompt
response. I'm sure I'll be keeping you posted.

Maureen
Deleted User
Fan
Hi Working Pros,

I'm entirely new to film/video and starting a New York Film Academy
course this summer. Although I don't expect to become a filmmaker
in 12 weeks, I hope to pick up technical skills that will allow me
to start making videos/films and be valuable to potential employers
in the industry.

A couple questions: first, I've heard positive and negative things
about NYFA, and haven't paid yet, so if you think it's not a
worthwhile place to go, I'd be interested in what you have to say
(if you'd like to respond privately so as not to make a public
statement about them, that's fine!).

Second, I'm given a choice between a "film & DV" course or
a "straight DV" course. I'm leaning toward the latter, as I'm most
interested in documentary and like the idea of learning by lots of
shooting, without fear of wasting expensive media.

Miscellaneous advice is also very welcome.

Thanks for the help!
Dave
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