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.

nick toscano

new to this and figured someone here could answer questions. I'm filming a female boxer whos trying to make it to the next olympics. The backround music at the gym brought up some copy right issues and wasnt sure if i need to try and edit the backround music. This is my first film so not sure how the legalities work.

Robert Goodman

if you don't edit a visual sequence to the background music, and it is in the background, it should fall into the fair use category. Read up on the rules for claiming fair use.

Andy Schocken

and it depends where you plan to exhibit it. for background music, i wouldn't worry about online or festival usage- it's only likely to be an issue for broadcast or theatrical. not that the other uses are necessarily legal, but it's very unlikely that anyone will do anything about it.

Shelly Helgeson

Hi Everyone! This started on the introduce yourself forum, but was told it would do to move it over here. Any help would be greatly, GREATLY appreciated. Thx – S

Now for a question: The doc I'm currently working needs a male actor to mimic the voice of one of our subjects for use as scratch narration. We'd like to get some one who can come very close to the person's real voice as we may use a cut with this narration to send into festival applications, etc. Does anyone know the best way to go about finding and hiring voice talent or actors? Our budget is small, so I'm sure we couldn't pay too competitively but, would try to offer a decent wage. I've posted on Backstage but was hoping for more suggestions. Does anyone know anything about contacting talent agencies or casting directors? Any advice would greatly help as I am totally inexperienced in dealing with actors. Thanks!

Michelle Ferrari

It's been a long time since I worked with an actor I didn't already know, so I apologize in advance if this method proves outdated. That said, it used to be that talent agencies had CD compilations of their voice-over talent, which can help a lot in narrowing down the field. (SAG can provide a list of agencies. The commercial or voice-over division of a given agency is the one you'll want to contact.) Depending on the talent, their level of interest in the project, and your ability to negotiate with their representation, you can sometimes get voice-over talent for well below scale. The trick is to get around the agent. You might try writing a letter (sent to the agent, but addressed to the actor) that really talks up your project and states in no uncertain terms how vital the actor's participation is to its success, but does not mention pay. Try to get him/her interested first. In my experience, if an actor wants to do something, he does it, regardless of whether or not his agent thinks it's a good idea. Say in the letter (in a p.s., so it's the last thing he reads) that you'll be following up with his agent, and then do that. With any luck, the actor will have told his agent he wants in on the project and the money will be less of an issue.

All that said, if you're only planning to use the actor for scratch, you may be facing an uphill battle – when an actor forgoes money, it's usually in exchange for exposure. If you're not offering exposure, you'll definitely want to focus your energies on smaller agencies and lesser-known talent.

J. Christian Jensen


I'm in the process of selecting post-graduate documentary film schools. Is there anyone who has graduated from Stanford's MFA program that could make yourself known? Or is anyone in contact with other filmmakers who are significantly familiar with the program. I'd love to ask some questions.

Is this the best place to post such a question?

Julian Samboma

Thanks for the warm welcome, Doug. Nothing less than I expected!;)

Right. My first question. My next project is a 30-45 minute doc on an aspect of the UK economy. This is going to be my first major production, not like the previous two, which were essentially "teeth-cutting" exercises.

They were self-financed and I did everything myself. This time around, I am exploring the possibility of seeking funding from various sources – if for nothing else but for employing a top editor.

My question is how much do i factor into the budget for said editor,and how to find one?
Also, my camera is the pana gs400, an sd camera. Is it a good idea to include the cost of a decent hd cam in the budget?

I hope this is the best place to post this question. Thanks.


Alexandra Branyon

I am about to complete my first documentary. I can't find the original source of some of the photographs, which may have belonged to a person or may have been published in a newspaper, magazine or book. What can I do to protect myself? Any thoughts will be greatly appreciated.

Doug Block

Julian, it's not the best place because you're now a member. Ask fundraising questions in the Fundraising (Europe) topic, camera questions in the Camera topic, etc.

David W Grant

I've completed, to my satisfaction, a speculative video essay, 28:45; edited on Final Cut Express. I want it to be technically as perfect as possible. Does that mean next step is 'audio sweetening' and/or 'color correction'? What are my options? Do I send the DVCAM cassette to a commercial house? Do rates vary widely? Is it best to do it locally?

Magee Clegg

Hello everyone,

I am applying to grad film school and I am interested in schools that have great documentary filmmaking programs. Does anyone have any suggestions? At the moment I am looking at Cal Arts and UCSD. Is there anything else out there?

Christopher Wong

stanford and berkeley come to mind as the top grad schools for documentary production. ucla is also quite good, but it provides the extra benefit of giving you exposure to fiction narrative production as well. (if you are a CA resident, ucla would also be substantially cheaper than a program like stanford)

Magee Clegg

Thanks for responding! I will check that out. If anyone else has anymore ideas, I would love to hear from you.

Erica Ginsberg

I'm an alum of American University in Washington DC. It is not specifically a documentary program but, since non-fiction is the bread and butter of the area, the majority of the students are focused on documentary. I can't say how it compares academically or artistically to the other aforementioned universities, but it does position you firmly in the real world of actually finding work in the industry.

Diane Johnson

Is there an experienced line producer that can send me sample budgets of a documentary – I would really appreciate it, I know that budgets vary depending on different elements, but I just need detailed budget to look at. is my email

Thanks in advance!

Daniel McGuire

In reply to J. Christian Jensen's post on Tue 4 Aug 2009 :
An MA won't help you get much in getting work in academia – A doctorate in Communications or Art Hist Concentration Film Studies would. To teach filmmaking then an MFA is considered the terminal degree – so that is more useful than an MA. That being said, going into debt for 100k or so to get a degree should be questioned in this day and age – better to use that money to make a couple of good films.

Arjuna Krishnaratne

Hi this is Krishna from Sri Lanka. Can some one help me to find out an online course in documentary film making. Please.

Ginger Rose Lee

hi there – i am doing two different series – one is a set of one on one interviews, the other is trailing a team of people for a day. it's for a great idea but i have no documentary filmmaking experience, so i was going to hire film students to do it – or have them do it for deferred pay as i have no money. for the one on one interviews, i dont need anything fancy, right? i just need someone who has shot interviews, with a camera and lighting adn sound kit? these are going to be aired on the web – tey're sort of long. what sort of camera should i ask that they have? i'm clueless, please help! thanks