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.

Stefani L. Weiss

I'm working on my first documentary (and my first film since film school 25 years ago!). I'm having trouble determining some of the line items to prepare a budget. I have so many questions it's hard to know where to start! I'll try a few for now and any help would be greatly appreciated!

One of my main questions would be how to determine crew costs. I will be contracting out all production and I will need to travel overseas to two different locations. Should I submit my treatment to production companies to give me quotes on their costs to do the filming? (a friend did a documentary and his production company quoted him on all his overseas costs, but he didn't have to do a budget up front, he funded everything himself. I'm not in that position!)I'm not sure that I can accurately determine any type of shooting schedule because I have not done a site visit. I should probably do a site visit before, but I don't have funding yet. I feel like I'm in a catch-22 every way I turn! In order to pitch for funding, I need the budget, in order to determine the budget, I need money! I also don't know how to factor in licensing costs on footage or photos I may have to purchase. My subject is an Olympic athlete and I have already contacted the Olympic Television Archives Bureau, but they want to know what footage I would need and how it would be used before being able to give me an approximation on cost. Until I know who will be funding the project, I can't tell them how it will be used! (They want to know if it will be cable, international, etc...what I INTEND and what may actually become reality may be different!)

Also, what is a realistic salary for writer/producer/director? I will need to factor that in to the budget as well so I at least have a salary to work with.

One more item for now would be if anyone has a recommendation on budget software/film software, etc. I've read about many different programs and mixed reviews on whether or not they are needed. I thought maybe it would be helpful to use a software program so I wouldn't leave out any important line items! One program that caught my eye online is called Gorilla...any comments on that one?

Thanks in advance for any help. I hope to one day be able to apply for membership here!

Tara Hurley

Hello everyone. I am very close to finishing my film. I just had a small viewing, and general point of view was that I needed to shorten it and add some more p.o.v. of the women. (It is so hard to cut when you love the footage!!!) Anyway, I have begun to cut, and I found an area that I will add. I have a section that I want to add about what the women want to do with their lives when they get out of the business. One of the women keep saying how she wants to own a Dunkin Donuts. I know DnD never pays for product placement, and I am sure they wouldn't pay for it in my film, and I am not asking for that, I just am wondering if they could sue me for leaving them and their products in my film.
For information about my film check out the trailer at
or check the website
Thanks in advance.

Christopher Wong

tara, how do you know that Dunking Donuts never pays for product placement? did you ask them? (not that i don't believe you...) i actually have quite a few Dunkin Donuts references in my film (none of them at all negative) and was considering approaching them for a long time, but just never got around to it.

in terms of them suing you just because you keep a reference to them in the film, you shouldn't have to worry about that. Fair Use covers you completely as long as the mention or appearance of Dunkin Donuts occurred incidental to your filming (and not intentionally so). and unless one of the women in your film is using one of their products in a rather blatant, lascivious way, i can't imagine Dunkin Donuts caring.

Tara Hurley

I do know that they don't pay for product placement because I worked at a place once that tried asked, and they said they didn't. It is also on their website. And, the product appears in my film 2 times, one time she refers to her husband when she first met him walking in with a DnD ice coffee in his hand, and the second time she talks about how she is saving money trying to get enough to open up a DnD location.

Doug Block

If they sue you it could be invaluable publicity for your doc. The bigger problem might be getting E&O (Errors & Ommissions) insurance should you want a broadcast. But I think Chris is right, can't imagine it being a huge isssue. You should join up as a full D-Word member , Tara, and ask again in the Legal topic.

Sam Rabeeh

Hi everyone,

I have several treatments and not sure how to proceed.

My main concern is copyright as I want to develop the ideas further. This isn't documentary related but I hope some of you will come to bat with some opinions.

Can I copyright a treatment? Do I need to develop the ideas further into a script and submit it to the Canadian Copyright office at that point?

I want to share the treatments so I can promote their development. How do I protect myself?

I have so many other questions but I'll leave it at,


John Burgan

Yes, you can copyright a treatment, it doesn't need to be a full script.

Be aware, however, that you can't copyright an idea.
Robert Goodman

There is no point in copyrighting treatments. If you are writing a fiction film script and are a novice, you need a killer script sample. That means a full well-realized script. If you find people who like that they'll pay you to write treatments or to develop a two paragraph pitch into a treatment.

Ideas are a dime a dozen in Hollywood. Execution is all.

Sam Rabeeh

I should further elaborate. I wish to make these films myself. As you say Robert, execution is all. Some of the ideas I'm exploring for documentaries have crossed over into dramatic as I'm curious about using the tense "is happening" rather than "has happened".

I have no illusions about the daunting tasks that lie ahead but I know with diligence and and a stepped approach I will realize these in some way. My experience over the past 25 years has shown this in everything I do so this is no time to change my thinking.

How did other filmakers discuss/collaborate their ideas and treatments in the past? I'll use the example of Lucas who only had a treatment for "The Star Wars". I stress I'm not Lucas but to bring a project to realization using a treatment only is possible. I'm not a script writer I want to make documentaries and films that hopefully communicate the ideas i envision.

John, when you say the idea can't be copyrighted, can we use an example? Is Indiana Jones, handsome archeologist professor saves the world from nazis by finding the lost ark, the idea?

So I can make a handsome, professor archeologist just as long as names, places and ark are not the same?

I apologize for the broken writing but I'm wee tired.


Boyd McCollum

Don't forget Lucas had THX1138 and American Graffiti under his belt, so Star Wars wasn't the first thing he did. He was also one of a group of directors (including Spielberg and Coppola) that were given relative carte blanche on their projects at that time.

Yes you can make your version of Raiders if you want. Happens all the time in the low-budget world of B- and C-movies (even A-list movies). All variations on a theme.

As for collaborating and discussing – lots of these folks have friends that also make films or write, etc. I have several good friends that are also filmmakers that I've known for over 20 years. We'll chat endlessly on any number of projects we have going at various stages, from writing to post-production.

Occasionally I'll stop in a bookstore and read some books on how other writers or directors got their start. Many great books with interviews out there. Just a quick search at Amazon on "directors first films" turned up this or this .

Robert's right. Write an excellent script and it'll take you places. Keep in mind what Robert McKee says in his book STORY about Hollywood:

"With rare exceptions, unrecognized genius is a myth. First-rate screenplays are at least optioned if not made. For writers that can tell a quality story, it's a seller's market – always has been, always will be."