The Mentoring Room - Ask the Working Pros

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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.

Jill Morley

In reply to Daniel LaBarbera's post on Thu 23 Mar 2017:

 Hi Daniel,

I recommend you see the film, "The Cruise." It's about an eccentric young man who does bus tours in NYC. I haven't seen it in a long time, but it was filmed in a way that you were rooting for the subject. It was funny and really an interesting window into who the character was.

Think in scenes rather than just "following" him in his life.  What has the potential to be dramatic? Yes, give him direction sometimes.

Just ask the establishments if you can film there. I see you are in New Jersey. Hopefully, your subject has a relationship with a manager or owner. 

Be charming. :-)

As far as the music goes, I kind of forget that one. You might want to ask in legal. I would err on not using anything that you don't have the rights for.  I do know that if you edit with the music that is playing in a scene that it's not kosher.

Yes, parental consent forms are a must.

It sounds like you might need a more dramatic story than what you are shooting for, but it also sounds like you could very well discover it along the way.

Good luck!




Dino Reyes

Hello my name is Dino and I'm a first-time film maker and a documentary I made was recently stolen. 

As far as the backstory, there was one main subject in the doc and I was working with the family on this project. We had much disputes, despite our contract and after the film was completed I was cut out of the project on a whim and the son, the only living heir, decided the film did not have enough of his acting (it's a doc for heaven sakes!) and his music (he was a part-time music hobbiest), so he found a rogue editor to take mine and the production teams work, re-edit and give themselves credit. Because he had the family name, he was able to influence distributors that he was in fact the director of the film and able to make agreements. 

So my name removed as director (and my editors name removed as well) replaced and placed on many sites such as Amazon, Hulu, Youtube etc (for example here: ).

You can still see I'm listed on IMDB as director for the project  (this could not be changed by the offending party).

I don't know much about the industry but I'm curious how often this may happen? Do people know about this? Since all contractual agreements have been shattered is there any recourse? commiseration or any random thoughts would be fine also...

Russell Hawkins

"all contractual agreements have been shattered" - I'm not a lawyer but I think that is the key right there.  Presumably you have a release form and a music contract, but the son has no contract that states that you have assigned ownership of your intellectual property to him. 

If your aim is to regain control of the film, you probably need to engage a lawyer and seek an immediate injunction to prevent distributors from selling the "rogue" film while you pursue negotiations or legal proceedings with the son.

Is the son an integral part of the film?  If he tries to withdraw his participation you may also want to seek legal advice about whether you can release your original version on the strength of the existing release forms and music contract.It may become murky if the son/family have invested in the film (prior to the theft).  If you raised the funds independently of them you probably have a very clear cut case. 

Have you looked into any arts/law organisations that offer legal advice?  You should be able to get at least an initial phone consultation with a lawyer free of charge.  There are several filmmakers on this forum who are also lawyers, hopefully you will get more responses.

I think these instances are pretty rare, it takes a certain kind of personality to just take something like that!  For what it's worth, I am aware of a documentary where the fixer stole all of the exposed film after the shoot and the film was never made. Hopefully your setbacks are only temporary.

John Burgan

What Russell said. Just for the record, this is a Public Topic, hence this discussion can appear in a Google search, whereas all the Pro topics are private. This is aimed at Fans, not Pros, as stated at the top.

Doug Block

In reply to Dino Reyes's post on Tue 28 Mar 2017:

As John said, wish you began this discussion in the Legal topic where it's not public. However, since it's here, I'll just ask: how did your subject get access to the material in order to re-edit?

Bill Jackson

Doug, I wanted to ask the exact same thing. I held off, knowing this wasn't the correct topic, and it might be moved to another topic. It seems the power to stop this was lost when they were given the  material.

Daniel LaBarbera

In reply to Jill Morley's post on Tue 28 Mar 2017:


Thank you so much for the advice! I will definitely check out "The Cruise" today. I am desperate for good references so thank you!  

I did a test-run with Stevie a few days ago, filming him while he trained a new employee for his company. I have about 2 hours of uneventful footage, with a few decent soundbites here and there. I think discovering the story will hopefully unfold as the process continues. 

Kristal Sotomayor

Hi everyone!

My name is Kristal and I'm a senior studying film at Bryn Mawr College! I'm going to be graduating in May and wanted to get some advice on documentary filmmaking labs and fellowships for aspiring filmmakers. I also really want to get into a graduate film program to gain more experience and contacts before starting to make my own feature length documentaries. Mostly, I'm going to graduate soon and I want to spend a year or two honing in on my skills before going to graduate school so any advice that people can offer would be amazing! Thank you so much!


Kate Prendergast

HI, I have wrapped shooting and nearly done editing my first documentary. I was hoping to get some advice from more experienced film makers on post production work flow. The nitty gritty of what the year ahead might look like. I am in the NYC area and hoping to connect with other independent film makers. Thanks

carla oppo

Hi, which is the best school of documentary? Do you know some found footage documentary course? Thanks

John Burgan

That's a pretty big question, Carla. It would help if you could give a brief overview of your level of experience as well as the territories you are interested in - Europe, North America.....

John Burgan

Indeed, let's include Asia and the Pacific region as well, they all have highly regarded film schools

Hsuan Yu Pan

Hi there, anyone took The Edit Center's 6-week course before? If so, how does it benefit you in editor's career after the course? I have to decide by tomorrow if I want to take it this month. Thank you. 

carla oppo

In reply to John Burgan's post on Tue 2 May 2017:

 You are right. I just made my first found footage documentary (I won a found footage festival). I need to learn a lot, I'm just at the beginning. I'm looking for a course, not too long because I have not enough money. I was thinking about three months. I wanted to do a found footage course but I cant' find it and I am looking for a classic documentary school. In New York I saw NYFA, I know it's not the best school but the prices are ok. The problem is that the course is only 6 week. I also thought about Cuba EICTV, but it's 8 weeks (too short) or 8 months (too long). Unfortunately I have not enough budget to do very long courses. I won a competition, they will pay for my training but there's a budget. Do you know any other school?

John Burgan

Problem is, I don't think you'll find many courses between 8 weeks and 6 months. If your budget can cover it, why not sign up for two shorter courses in separate locations, for instance one in Cuba and one in Europe? There might be a degree of duplication, but the contrast might be inspiring. Met Film School in Berlin (where I sometimes work) has an eight week course, for instance.

carla oppo

In reply to John Burgan's post on Sun 11 Jun 2017:

 Hi John, thanks for the answer. The problem is that the competition I won finances me only for one course. Right now I'm hesitant between a short course in Cuba and a short course in NYc.

Fania Balabanova

Hello D-word people! I need a piece of advise please.

I plan to make a documentary on the life of people with bipolar disorder in Russia (I'm bipolar myself). I've already found some people, mostly screenplay writers, that are willing to help me with this project.

As this will be my 1st documentary (I only have an experience of making a 10-min short), I'm thinking to take a one-month documentary course at Central film school

Do you think it's a good idea? Or shall I give it a try as is, without taking any course? I feel quite unconfident, to be honest.

John Burgan

I don't know anything about this specific course, Fania, so can't comment on it but there are other similar short courses in London at the London Film School and Met Film School you might consider as well.  

There's a limit what you can do in a month but it could be a valuable experience. It's likely to be fairly traditional in its approach, which is no bad thing; what you're planning, however, is rather more ambitious and not just a standard "documentary".

Are there any other films you know that resonate with you? Jonathan Caouette's Tarnation is worth looking at. You can also learn from Doug Block's work, also his checklist for "personal docs"


Kelsey Killeen

Hi everyone. I'm reaching out to see if anyone on here has their master's in social work, or if you know anyone with their MSW who has transferred their skills into documentary production. Social work and documentary film/storytelling seem to go hand in hand, and yet I'm struggling to find social workers in the creative field. I'm a clinical social worker on a mission to be involved in documentary film or audio production, so I'm looking for some guidance. Thank you!

Sean Robinson

Good morning!

I am new to this forum and am hoping to learn a lot.  Currently I am just a hobbyist.  I have created a few training and promotional videos for the company I work for which is involved with helping to train our troops.  We run simulation drills in a mock village that has cameras installed in various buildings.  We edit the videos, control the atmosphere with smoke and smells, pop up targets, etc. then we edit the video that is captured to produce a training video that commanders can review and use for future training.  It's a lot of fun, especially considering who our customers are.

I am hoping to take this opportunity further to help the training facility promote their site with updated videos for their Facebook page, website, and general training videos.

Thank you in advance for all the help I know that I will receive here to help me become better at what I love doing!

Have a better day!

Alan Oxman

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