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.

Margo Precht Speciale
Pro

Hello Mentors! Any advice on how to create an effective sizzle reel for a feature length documentary? The purpose of the sizzle reel is to sell the idea to potential funders and create excitement about the project. What are the essential elements and what would you say are the do's and don't's?

John Burgan
Host

Margo, please don't make multiple posts in different Topics - it's one of the very few rules at The D-Word. This is fine in Works in Progress.

Nigel Noriega
Pro

In reply to Daniel McGuire's post on Mon 12 Dec 2016:

 Hi Daniel. I have not found a producer. Or at least I'm not sure if I'm hooking them. Quick question. If I'm sending around a documentary script, is there a format (such as traditional film script, multi-column chart with time stamps, etc) affect who reads it further?  What format do folks at D-word like to see if reviewing a documentary script?

Jill Morley
Pro

In reply to Margo Precht Speciale's post on Mon 13 Feb 2017:

 Hi Margo, first ask yourself what the film is about.  Be specific.  Then, do an assembly of selects: the most compelling moments of the film. Find music that will drive it. Then, of course, is the art of making the audience want to know more after you have combined 2 and 1/2 or three minutes that gets people excited about the story you want to tell with the music. FUnny that it sounds so easy! Many will attest that it is like visual crack poetry - make them want more!

 

Rob Caprilozzi
Pro

Hi everyone. I am making great progress on my first documentary, but I am at the point now where I want to speak with a lawyer to talk about using certain material in the film.  Licensing is a huge part of my documentary, so I want to show for example, a photo of the band "KISS," "The Beatles" - and TV shows like "Happy Days," and  "The A-Team," etc.  The documentary will tell the audience that there were costumes made for the "A-Team" and I want to show a picture of the cast of the show then show the costumes made.

I have many questions like this that I want to talk to a lawyer about. I don't want to get in any trouble for using something I am not allowed to.

Also, I saw some videos on the creative commons site I would like to use. It says public domain on them, but I want to be sure.

There are also newspaper ads from Woolworths and Kresge's that I want to use as well.

I am not sure which lawyer to actually contact to talk about this - copyright - Licensing or Entertainment. Can someone help me shed light on this?

Thanks!

-Rob

Doug Block
Host

Rob, as a Pro member you should be asking this in the Legal topic. This topic is for Fans without access to most of our topics. And a note of caution. As a new member it's best not to come on asking too many questions at once. That said, welcome aboard.

John Firak
Pro

Hey Chicago d-worders any one in  looking to collaborate on a film? I'm exploring the origins of human violence? Summer 2017 Is this the right place to post this? 

John Burgan
Host

John, as it says at the top of this page, this Public Topic "is geared towards first-time filmmakers" - so as a Pro Member, you'd best post this in one of the Pro Topics

Erica Ginsberg
Host

Also a helpful hint for newbies: when responding to someone who posted more than 2 weeks ago: they may not be checking in the topic frequently anymore, so a good way to let them know you are responding is to post ad then click the envelope icon and find their name to tag them. This will send them an e-mail to let them know someone has asked after them.

Ainsley Brown
Fan

Hi,

I was wondering if any of you experienced guys out there could take a look at the first few minutes of a documentary I am making about a friend of mine and a underground filmmaker, Philip Goring.

Any advise or feedback would be greatly appreciated.

https://db.tt/cqFCJu9utk

Jill Morley
Pro

In reply to Ainsley Brown 's post on Thu 16 Mar 2017:

 Hi Ainsley. Interesting style. I have a difficult time understanding the narrator. You might try to do it with a wireless. Also, I don't know what the film is about and most of the shots looked staged so it doesn't seem like a doc to me. Experimental stuff is not my area so not quite sure what to tell you, but I did like the opening visuals.

 

Ainsley Brown
Fan

In reply to Jill Morley's post on Sat 18 Mar 2017 (http://d-word.com/topics/98?post=347877):

Hi Jill, thank you so much for getting back to me. I am used to making video art so I guess it is going to be more experimental but I would like it to be viewed as a documentary so your feedback is greatly valued. I think because I know the subject and the back story that I have failed to explain any of this to the viewer!

The first part is Philip Goring and the montage that follows the title plate is footage of a film he has been making since 1987! The audio is a bit rubbish because he is almost a recluse and recorded it himself. Any ideas how to get any of this over to the audience would be much appreciated.

Many thanks, Ainsley

Bill Jackson
Pro

In reply to Ainsley Brown 's post on Thu 16 Mar 2017:

 Hi Ainsley. Agreeing with Jill. I know it is just a small section of the film - Since this is the beginning of the film, it would be great to have an interesting section before all of this, or after just a few moments of this opening, to explain what we are about to see - a little history, just for those that are seeing this with no prior knowledge about the subject.

Julie Hudnall
Pro

Hello!  I'm fleshing out ideas for documentary, I'm looking for any input.  I'm going to rural West Virginia in late April/May 2017 for for family reunion for 10 days.  I grew up in Los Angeles and have never been there, but my father has congestive heart failure and wants to go back to his hometown.  He is from a multi-generational coal mining family in Morgantown WV.  Looking for ideas, personal, cultural interest, interest in  labor issues & local politics . Is there a story there?

Russell Hawkins
Pro

It certainly sounds like a story!  Have you seen Harlen County USA the classic film on the Kentucky coal miners' strike?

On the topic of father/daughter relationships, Bruce and Me is a film by an Australian filmmaker who travels to the U.S. to reunite with her hippy outlaw father.  I'm sure there are other first person films that may be more relevant to your situation.

I would put some thought into how you will manage filming whilst also participating in and enjoying what will obviously be a very special time for you and your father.  In other words, how to keep the filming as casual and unobtrusive as possible.  If you have the opportunity to make a follow up trip by yourself that may take the pressure off having to accomplish everything at once, and give you time to dig deeper into the threads that you uncover.

Julie Hudnall
Pro

In reply to Russell Hawkins's post on Mon 20 Mar 2017:

 Hi! Thank you so much for your comment!  I LOVED Harlen County,  I haven't seen Bruce and Me, I will go watch it though.  I have thought about a follow up trip because someone recommended going to the library there to do some research on the camps and my family.  I don't want to spend the whole time in the library, I want to talk to as many people as I can. 

 

Russell Hawkins
Pro

Shooting a film that you are also in sounds pretty difficult to me, but I know people do it!  For example, how to approach meeting a relative for the first time and needing to engage as a family member while shooting and being in the film?  Moments like that really need to be caught in that moment, there is no second take.  "Don't look at the camera" isn't going to work.  Hugging someone with a camera in your hand is awkward.  Will you appear on camera, or will you wear a lapel mic and record your voice?  I would watch other films and talk to people who make those films to better understand which approaches work.


Doing the library research on a separate trip is a good idea.  Also you could use that opportunity to get some landscape/town footage, establishing shots of people's houses, people doing their regular thing... all of which may be difficult to get whilst you are in the midst of the family stuff. 


If you intend to look at other films it could be worth searching or posting in the "Recommended Docs" thread.

Jill Woodward
Pro

In reply to Russell Hawkins's post on Wed 22 Mar 2017:

 I have seen at least one, if not more films, in which the filmmaker is meeting family for the first time. I am either thinking of Daughter from Danang, or possibly Chac by KimChi Tyler from 2000. There is definitely a scene in my mind exactly like what you describe Russell, where the filmmaker kept filming and also hugged. As a filmmaker watching, I was fascinated to see how she would handle it.

Daniel LaBarbera
Pro

Hi everyone! First time documentarian here. I've been in the video/production field for 10 years but I'm taking my first stab at making a documentary. The project is about the life of an eccentric 26 year old man (Stevie Blatz) who has owned his own entertainment business in PA since he was 16 years old. The business has been losing money the last several years due to Stevie's lack of education (high school dropout) and questionable business decisions. Aside from his business life, his personal life is a mess. He has endured a lifetime of bullying, personal failures, and mental issues. The bullying he goes through is constant and it's beginning to wear on this man. After a very long chat with him, we decided the direction of the documentary should be about Stevie bettering himself as a businessman and finding a girlfriend. He is extremely outgoing, but has had almost zero success with the ladies in his 26 years. 

I'm comfortable with the interview process and we already have 5+ subjects that are willing to be interviewed for his documentary. That's the easy part, in my head at least. What I can't wrap my head around is everything else that will be in the documentary. The footage of Stevie going about his life. He has a large personality and I know following him around for a period of time would create amazing content. 

To understand the personality I am working with, check out this interview he did for the local news station a few years ago: http://www.wfmz.com/news/lehigh-valley/mr-liberty-dances-his-way-through-tax-season-1/18174894

Now for my questions:

1. How can I film Stevie in a bar, restaurant, coffee shop, mall? What's the process? He LOVES to dance. I imagine it being very difficult to obtain permission from any of these establishments. His personality is huge so I know there's opportunity for great content in establishments like the ones I mentioned. Can anyone offer some guidance to this approach? 

2. What's a good approach to capturing the content that is NOT an interview? Stevie living his life. Stevie working on improving his issues. My current plan is to spend approximately 2-3 full days, every week for about a month or two with Stevie. Production would begin early in the morning and commence very late. Thinking 10-14 hours a day. I'm wondering how organic this should be...Do I literally roll the camera and let him make his bed? Do I give him direction? I'd love any advice to point me in a better direction for this. 

3. He's an entertainer (mostly kid parties). If I want to include footage of him performing at an event, can I use any of the audio captured at the party? Almost all of the songs he plays and performs to are not licensed by him. Without obtaining music licensing I imagine including any audio from these events would be difficult. Is that the case? If I am filming him in public and there's pop music playing in the background, do I need the rights to that song? 

4. If he's performing at a kid's party, do I need signed consent from the parents of every child that might appear in my frame? 

 

I have so much more to ask but I'll start with this! If anyone can lend advice, personal experience, words of wisdom; it's very much appreciated. 

 

John Stanton
Pro

Not sure if this is the correct place to post this. I have been shooting a documentary about the rise of the foodie culture. We have not raised a penny of budget yet, but I was able to convince my team to chip in two shoot days on the cuff, just to get the ball rolling. One of the chefs we interviewed, who I think might be a major character in the film, offered to hold a special event -- basically one night at his very high end restaurant, with the night's proceeds going to the film. This is not any sort of investigative piece, just a small doc celebrating this part of local culture. I can see the obvious problems -- mostly the worry that he might want t influence the storytelling -- but just wanted to throw it out t you guys to see what else can go wrong.

thanks

Nigel Walker
Pro

Offer to cut a 1-2 minute promo piece for his website... maybe hold back some of the best moments.

Paul Szynol
Host

In reply to John Stanton's post on Mon 27 Mar 2017:

i would have him sign a release that makes it clear you have full editorial control and ownership of the film, so that it's clear that you have no obligation to heed his creative input (if he offers any).  that said, i think the risk is that it will be seen as an advertisement of sorts if one of the main characters in the film partially sponsors the production... 

John Burgan
Host

In reply to John Stanton's post on Mon 27 Mar 2017:

 All good advice, but as it says at the top, this is a Public Topic geared towards first-time filmmakers. As you're a Pro member, John, in the future such questions could go in the Pro Topic on Production. 

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