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.

Tom Dziedzic

In reply to ilona zonnenfeld's post on Mon 6 Aug 2012 :
I'm currently on a 27 inch iMac running Avid Media Composer 6. I'm a big AVID booster as it has been and remains a robust and reliable editing platform for over 20 years. You can download a trial version of Avid off their web site. Having the i7 top iMac 2011 model makes editing easy with all the different versions of HD out thee today.

Olivier Uwayezu

Hello to everyone,
I see Apple stopped to support final cut studio, Most professional editors use Final cut studio since many years ago, why don't we bring our voice up to tell apple our wishes (and now we are suffering into other software) ? I suggest the host of D-word can help us to gather our wishes and voice. May be Apple thought we don't need it any more.

Waiting to hear from you

Marcus Torrez

I'm sure this question's been answered several times: What's the best way to secure permission to film a documentary? On screen Ok's. Since mine includes a lot Veteran Support groups, I'm running into an issue.

I'm documenting my experience getting help/lack of help. But the moment I call mention I'm making a documentary, they roll out the red carpet. The Military has always been like that. If it's going to go public, you're the star Soldier.

Can I just shoot first ask later? No pun intended.

Andy Schocken

You don't need permission to film a documentary, unless you're on someone else's private property. You'll need permission from the people on screen if you want to distribute it. To get distribution and the E&O insurance that's required for it, you'll need to have written release forms from your subjects. Google "appearance release" or "talent release" and I'm sure you'll find some boilerplate versions. On-camera releases may be better than nothing, and they're probably fine if you don't have big distribution plans, but I doubt they'll be sufficient to get E&O for a broad distribution.

Mark Barroso

Andy's right if you intend to ask a festival , theater, or broadcaster to show your film. However if the extent of your ambition is to show it on the web or private screenings, written releases are not required. In the US, you have the First Amendment right to shoot anyone you want in public. It's the insurance companies that demand releases (which can also be gotten after the fact). If you are in the beginning of your filmmaking don't get too hung up on getting written permissions for every little thing or person.

Others may disagree, but I advocate for exercising our rights to the fullest extent, particularly if the film isn't going to be on a big screen or broadcast.

Summers Henderson

Marcus, be careful about recording phone conversations. Depending on the state you're in (including California) it can be against the law to record someone else without their knowledge. I don't know about Arizona. However, while it may be illegal in such situations to record someone else, that doesn't necessarily mean it's un-ethical. If you're phoning a health care provider, and you need to document the poor level of care they're providing to you BEFORE you tell them you're making a documentary, then I can see an ethical argument for doing so. You have to weigh that against the likelihood of criminal prosecution, which I would guess is small, but I'm not a lawyer.

In almost every other situation where you're filming someone (short of some crazy hidden camera scenario) they're going to know that they're being filmed, and will behave accordingly. They may or may not be willing to sign an appearance release, but that doesn't impact your right to film. Of course, if you're trespassing on private property, they can try to bust you for that, but the camera doesn't change that one way or the other. And of course, US military property is public, not private.

I agree with Mark that if your primary goal is to get the film made, then you should try to get a release, but don't be stopped if you can't get one. For professional documentary filmmakers, who are motivated by trying to earn money to pay the lease on their Volvo station wagon, it doesn't make sense to film someone without a release. Because they need that release to get E&O insurance, which they need to sell their film to PBS or HBO. But if you're motivated by a passion to document your own experience, then you can still make a film that people will see someday, even if not on HBO.

Good luck!

Todd Johnson

Hi---I am working on a short documentary that has 4-5 talking head interviews. After putting up graphics to identify who is being interviewed for the first time---how often (if ever) would you "re-identify" who is speaking? Is the viewer supposed to remember the name if they haven't seen them on camera for a while? Should you identify them say the first two times they are on camera and then none after that?

What is the rule of thumb so to speak on putting up titles on interview subjects? I keep going around and circles between identifying my interview subjects too much and not enough. Thanks so much in advance for any feedback or advice you can give me. I appreciate anyone taking the time to respond with advice!