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The Mentoring Room - Ask the Working Pros

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.

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Doug Block
Sun 6 Apr 2003Link
Rhonda, as I understand it, life rights are rights to the life story
of the main character(s) in your doc, which are nice for you to secure
in writing in case someone wants to make a fiction film based on their
lives after seeing the documentary.

Not always easy to get. It brings up possible issues of the subjects
feeling exploited, so you should tread carefully and find out from an
entertainment lawyer how to go about it. Also, wouldn't do it unless
you feel your character and his or her situation is so compelling that
Hollywood is sure to come calling.

Rhonda Moskowitz
Mon 7 Apr 2003Link
Thanks Doug. You are right about treading carefully. I'm just in
the beginning stages of production, so I won't deal with this until
further down the road. Speaking of an entertainment lawyer, is there
a difference between an entertainment lawyer and a producer's rep?
Also, is this the place on D-Word where I can ask specific questions
about my film-in-progress? This is my first film.

Doug Block
Mon 7 Apr 2003Link
the lines are getting increasingly blurry with the john sloss types
out there doing both, but generally an entertainment lawyer is paid by
the hour and a producer's rep gets a percentage of any distribution
advance and, depending, other sales.

Jennifer Fleming
Tue 8 Apr 2003Link
hi there, new to the board.
i am thinking of making a doc, i have very limited resources
in terms of money.just curious what is fair compensation for a main
character(s) in terms of percentages if the film makes any money?

Doug Block
Tue 8 Apr 2003Link
it's your choice, jennifer. most doc makers don't give their
subjects a profit share. some give up to 50%. it all depends on your
relationship to the subjects, what they want, what you want to give,
etc.

just make it clear to them that the chances of making any profit is
excedingly small.

Jennifer Fleming
Tue 8 Apr 2003Link
thanks doug! that helps!

Rhonda Moskowitz
Tue 8 Apr 2003Link
Thanks Doug.You are a wealth of information and very generous in
sharing it! Which would you advise for someone like me? An
entertainment lawyer or a producer's rep?

Rhonda Moskowitz
Tue 8 Apr 2003Link
Hi Doug, Just saw the list of Sundance grant recipients and saw you
just received a development grant. Congratulations! That's
wonderful!

Doug Block
Tue 8 Apr 2003Link
thanks, rhonda. i'd recommend an entertainment lawyer until you're
confident your film will start a bidding war at sundance next year.
then, hey, give me a call ;-)

Rhonda Moskowitz
Wed 9 Apr 2003Link
Thanks. Do you recommend any particular ones in NY?

Doug Block
Wed 9 Apr 2003Link
Well, I like my lawyer, Robert Freedman: 212-974-7474. He's been
very involved with AIVF over the years and is very sympathetic to
indie filmmakers. Say hi from me.

Rhonda Moskowitz
Wed 9 Apr 2003Link
Thanks Doug. Also, I called Fernanda Rossi, because I don't like my
demo reel and she was extremely helpful and knowledgable. I saw that
you mentioned her in this "Mentoring Room", and I trust your
referrals. She made some terrific suggestions and she's also
extremely nice. You are very hooked in to the documentary film scene
and are a wealth of knowledge. As I've mentioned,I'm making my first
film and I find your suggestions and this whole doc film site an
invaluable resource. (For other people reading this I am not related
to Doug, and I'm not earning any extra income from him for my
feedback, which he didn't ask for.)

Jennifer Fleming
Tue 15 Apr 2003Link
Hi There!
First time filmmaker here, I want to begin shooting a documentary
about a club and the exotic dancers who work in the club, is there
any legal protocal I should follow in terms of releases, life story
rights, and location releases? Can anyone also recommend a book or
online website that would have similar legal contracts and releases?
Any info from you pro's would be greatly appreciated. Thanks in
advance!

jenn

Doug Block
Tue 15 Apr 2003Link
Hi, Jennifer. I highly recommend you check out entertainment lawyer
Mark Litwak's website: http://marklitwak.com. Get releases from
everyone you can, including patrons whose faces are recognizable (good
luck!). Get a release from the club, absolutely. As for life rights,
it seems premature. I'd deal with that a little later down the line -
might spook your subject(s) unnecessarily.

Jennifer Fleming
Tue 15 Apr 2003Link
Thank you so much Doug! Your advice is greatly appreciated!

Doug Block
Tue 15 Apr 2003Link
Are you perchance the same Jennifer Fleming who worked on An American
Love Story?

Jennifer Fleming
Wed 16 Apr 2003Link
Darn . . . there is another Jennifer Fleming filmmaker out there? No
Doug, I am not her. I am a first-time doc filmmaker - I wish I can
claim her experience instead of her name.
Thanks again for your help. I am certain that my questions will be
posting frequently over the next several weeks as I embark on this
storytelling journey. :)

Gillian Grimm
Fri 18 Apr 2003Link
Can you give some advice on music copyright for documentaries. What
do you need to get/do to use an artists music in your film? Thanks!

Doug Block
Sat 19 Apr 2003Link
D-Word member Denise Ohio has written an extremely helpful article
about music clearances: http://www.holytoledo.com/clear_music.htm

Jacqueline Carlisle
Sat 19 Apr 2003Link
Hello to all,



I came across this forum whilst looking for information
on successfully producing/directing my first doco. I may have the
opportunity to film a doco and I'm really not sure where to start.
Can anyone please tell me where do I start first. I have the subject
and I have written down a few notes but that's all I've done.
Any help would be appreciated.

Cheers!

Ben Kempas
Sat 19 Apr 2003Link
What is the subject, Jaqueline?

Jacqueline Carlisle
Sat 19 Apr 2003Link
It's actually for the 20th anniversary for an AIDS organisation. They
are planning to have a year long awareness campaign in all areas of
of media, so I thought why not a documentary! It will give me a
chance to get my feet wet, and have a credit etc.

Hope that helps you Ben.

Thanks

Doug Block
Sat 19 Apr 2003Link
start first by getting a digital camcorder, learning how to shoot,
and diving right in.

ignorance is bliss ;-)

Jacqueline Carlisle
Sat 19 Apr 2003Link
Thanks Doug, that's what I'm hoping also. I do have a very good eye
and I am a published writer as well as a classically trained pianist.
It would appear that anything I do in the arts I do it to perfection,
so I believe the trend will continue whilst filming this documentary.

The organisation I'm involved in, has access to the right people in
the media, so I thought why not take advantage. I will have access to
equiptment as well as a facility. I will certainly post regularly now
that I hvae found this site.

This is GREAT!!!
Thanks for all and future help.

xxx

Diane Bernard
Mon 21 Apr 2003Link
Hi:
This is my first posting to the board though I've been reading it for a few
weeks now. First, Doug, your advice here is very helpful, especially for us
newbies (or semi-newbie in this case). Thanks.

My question is: I just finished a 15-minute sample tape/trailer for a
documentary I've been working on. It's about a failed Hollywood film
production that wound up in the hands of the CIA. There's a great story
behind it and I think this has good commercial potential. I'd like to target
more commercial funding sources than grant organizations. But I'm a little
stuck as to how to do this. How do you market a sample tape
around for broadcast/theatrical (i.e., commercial vs. grant) production money?
Where do I go? And would a producer's rep help in this early stage?

Thanks for any and all advice.

Doug Block
Mon 21 Apr 2003Link
Welcome from the shadows, Diane. An event like the IFP Market would
be perfect for a project like yours. The application deadline is
coming up soon, too:

http://market.ifp.org/market25/index_frameset_information.html

Diane Bernard
Tue 22 Apr 2003Link
Thanks Doug--yes, I'd heard about this and even joined IFP just last week.
But do they take sample tapes/trailers rather than works-in-progress? Also,
do you get a guaranteed audience with market people? Or is it luck of the
draw?

Doug Block
Tue 22 Apr 2003Link
Yes, they screen samples in their works-in-progress section, which is
where they put their emphasis.

As far as guaranteed audiences, there are never guarantees. You'll
have to work your little fanny off to get their fannies in the seats.
If you do a google search, or look closely at the IFP's website, I'm
sure there are numerous articles that have been written over the years
about how to "work" the market.

Lots of luck.

Gillian Grimm
Wed 30 Apr 2003Link
Is there any word out there about how people are finding Final Cut
Express. I am planning to shoot only on an XL1s and am about to
purchase software. The savings on Express would really help but am I
going to regret it later?

Thanks in advance, this is such a helpful site!

Doug Block
Wed 30 Apr 2003Link
Gillian, you seem to be confusing Final Cut Pro with Avid DV Express.
But both are fine programs that you won't regret using.

Ben Kempas
Wed 30 Apr 2003Link
Doug, you don't seem to be aware of Final Cut Express. It's like
Avid's FreeDV. More info at http://www.apple.com/finalcutexpress/ ...
they could have chosen a less confusing name, though.

Doug Block
Wed 30 Apr 2003Link
Well I'll be an uncle's monkey! Next thing ya know they'll have Avid
Cut Pro.

Joanne L.
Wed 30 Apr 2003Link
Hi everyone, I'm new here. I registered a couple of days ago and
have been educating myself quite a bit with all the terrific info on
this forum. Many thanks to all who contribute to this forum and those
who take their time to give advice.

Now, I need a little guidance myself, if you don't mind. My partners
and I had an idea for a documentary. I don't want to go into it too
much, but the subject was a French athlete who is virtually unknown
in the states. We contacted her American agent with the proposal and
the agent requested we send a resume of ourselves with a description
of the project, which we kept pretty general. This morning we got
the call and were told that she had already committed to another
documentary. Needless to say, I'm pretty disappointed. We already
had private funding and a crew in place.

Do I think that she's involved in another documentary? Highly
unlikely. Do I think the agent talked with her about this project?
Highly unlikely. The agent admitted she really doesn't deal with
her. Perhaps, the agent contacted her people in France and they
turned it down. I really don't know. Sorry, I'm babbling. I really
felt this could have been an unique and entertaining project. Could
it be that we were not award-winning docu filmmakers? I don't know.
Our backgrounds are in funding, producing, directing and writing
small indy and short films. Though, I doubt that HBO, BBC, etc. are
knocking down her door.

I could go on and on, but this message is long enough. Here's my
question? Has the fat lady sung yet? Should we contact her agent in
France? Should we try to gain contact with the athlete and pitch to
her directly? I've met her before and she seems very personable.

Any advice to this problem would be greatly appreciated!!

Doug Block
Wed 30 Apr 2003Link
Joanne, if you're gonna give up because her agent says no then you're
gonna have a very short career as a documentary filmmaker. A no means
maybe. Or try again later. Or try again in a different way.

I'd try to get to the athlete directly. Use your ingenuity, your
charm and your passion for the film. Be honest and sincere. And
don't even think of giving up so easily.

Good luck!

Joanne L.
Wed 30 Apr 2003Link
Doug, thank you so much!! It's just what I needed to hear.

Doug Block
Thu 1 May 2003Link
Oh, didn't I mention I get 10% of the funds you raise? ;-)

Robert Goodman
Thu 1 May 2003Link
how did you get funding in place without a deal with the subject?
You may not be a known quantity as a doc filmmaker but you do make
the grade in the funding category. Care to fund-raise for a known
quantity?

Karen Yaeger
Thu 1 May 2003Link
hello to all,

i'm a new member to the forums... been reading a lot of the
posts... and very happy to be a part. as a new shooter/editor i've
happened upon some opportunities to document weddings and
am interested in exploring this.

the "clients" are interested in verite style, natural sound... i share
this sensibility and am excited about doing it.. but would love to
hear from others with experience doing this type of thing... how
they approach the day... interact w/ guests, etc. any advice would
be greatly appreciated... i've picked up a few things... and
purchased 83 min dv stock for the ceremony...(hope that's long
enough) have a backup camera and batteries just in case... love
to hear some thoughts... many thanks

Doug Block
Thu 1 May 2003Link
Actually, I do verite style weddings myself, Karen:
www.dougblockweddings.com

I approach it no differently than I do shooting cinema verite
documentaries: www.wmm.com/loveanddiane

Karen Yaeger
Thu 1 May 2003Link
many thanks doug...i'll check out the website... it seems to be a
good way to get doc shooting experience... and also pay some
bills... must be some nervous people... i guess remaining calm
helps.

Danny Lurie
Tue 6 May 2003Link
Hi,
I've been working in the advertising industry for a couple of years...
a thankless job. Anyway I have the opportunity to produce a
documantary that I think is going to make a difference to my country.
How and where do I go to learn about the in's and out's of funding,
distribution and selling a documantary to broadcasters around the world.
Hope you can help.
Danny

Doug Block
Tue 6 May 2003Link
Yikes! Well, I suppose you could start by reading Jan Rofekamp's
conference here on Selling in the International Marketplace:

http://cafe.utne.com/partners/bin/motet?show+The_D-Word+9+1-

Erica Ginsberg
Tue 19 Aug 2003Link
Continuing the discussion from {LINK NOT IMPORTED}...

Stephanie,

Sounds like an interesting project. Would love to know more about
these singers (what country?)

I think your biggest challenge coming from a radio background is
making your story visual enough and also thinking about length and
pacing (I am not sure what sort of programs you have been doing for
radio; with the exception of things like SOUNDPRINT, it seems to me,
most radio documentaries are 7 minutes or shorter -- your film sounds
like it could be at least 1/2 hour or maybe even an hour).

While you may have in mind to use a narrator, avoid a narrator, or
bring yourself in as a character/"host", you could probably shoot for
all three possibilities. For instance, if you want to incorporate
the historical context of their music, you should ask them about it
so that you have the potential to use their own words if you decide
to forego traditional narration. Similarly, you may want to make
sure you are getting footage and/or commentary of yourself while you
are in the region filming them. I am currently producing a film that
wasn't originally intended to have the director as a character, but
it has evolved that way -- thankfully, we had a little bit of footage
of him there, but could have used way more.

The fact that you mention that the singers come from a beautiful
place may help a bit. The place probably figures prominently in
their songs and could help illustrate them. Also you say some of
these folks are real characters. So make sure those characters are
reflected on screen. Is the film only about the music or is it
really about the people who choose to keep up the life of the music?
Focus on a few of the most interesting characters and make sure to
include some footage of them in their daily life, as well as
singing. Whether you choose to do formal interviews is up to you --
some filmmakers prefer to shoot everything verite and people will
sort of open up about their lives at some point. Others prefer to
combine formal sit-down interviews with b-roll footage. Take a look
at other films on similar subjects so you can get a sense of
different ways of approaching the same material.

As far as whether to do it in English or in another language, you
probably want to think about where you plan to try to market the
film. Even on public TV, it is still difficult to get a subtitled
documentary on TV (in the U.S. anyway). We're trying with our
project, but it will still be a major handicap for us. On the other
hand, if the language is intrinsic to the music, then you might want
to make the decision to keep it. Do your subjects speak English -
i.e., would you want to interview them in English? I would recommend
if you do interviews to do them in whatever language they are most
comfortable speaking from the heart. You could always opt to do
English voiceovers later.

Just a few thoughts.

Stephanie Conn
Tue 19 Aug 2003Link
Erica
Thanks so much for your thoughtful consideration of my questions.

I like the idea of leaving my options open -- the same thing happens
in radio -- ex., sometimes you wish you'd asked the questions on
tape, as their answers don't always end up being stand-alone. Might
incorporate athird party to be 'chatting' to the singers. But must
pick the right one from the start...

I hate being onscreen -- I bet many folks do, to - so I am reluctant
to go that route although some say I should. I also dislike the idea
of narration in this case. Although I know it could work in some
cases -- maybe in a personal doc.

My singers speak English and their own language but I feel since it
is a dying, minority language you don't often get to hear, and the
songs are in this lang., it's important to hear it on screen. I was
thinking of doing my interviews in english, then repeat part of them
in the other language, in order to intercut the interview for the
film. i think that would give a good flavour, without alienating
English-speaking audiences.

In Europe apparently they must overdub everything anyway so... that's
a whole other issue i guess.

I like the verite approach but i think I need a camerman to help me
do that right. whoa, a lot to think abotu but thanks very much.

-stephanie
PS
yes, sorry, I'm being a bit vague about details as I know this is a
public forum so anyone could read it. My friend worked for a long
time on a film and did some shooting, was in the middle of pitching,
etc, and then found out other people were doing the same project.
not sure how she will resolve this but it was a huge blow to her.
I guess there can always be different interpretations etc but it is
a drag if they happen at the same time.

Is there a website/organization that keeps track of films in
production?
I thought this was referred to in another thread but have been unable
to find the answer. If anyone knows about this I would be very
grateful.

Erica Ginsberg
Tue 19 Aug 2003Link
If you have unique access to this community, I wouldn't worry too
much about someone stealing your idea. Chances are, someone else
could be doing a similar project but if you have particular people
who really stand out, it's not something you should fret over.

Dubbing in Europe varies country to country. Some countries actually
prefer subtitles. Of course, if they speak a very pronounced
regional dialect of English, you may need English subtitles for some
audiences ;-)

If this is your first doc and you want the verite approach, you are
right that you may want to work with an experienced cameraperson.
However, if you are still at the fundraising stage and you live near
your subjects, there's no reason you can't do some shooting on your
own just to give potential funders the flavor of your subjects and
how they are on-camera (sometimes people -- even performers -- may be
comfy with a mic but clam up with camera, so you'll want to know that
as you choose who your main subjects will be).

Stephanie Conn
Tue 19 Aug 2003Link
Thanks, I do like the idea of doing a bit of shooting on my own , if
only to show people a taste of what it might look like.
But I have zero camera experience so... not sure if it will be
usable. I'm going to try anyway, this weekend.

I have actually thought myself, that I might need english subtitles
for the english! LOL!

I think someone else might be doing something involved with the same
community, but with a very different focus to it. That one other
project I can handle, but any more than that and I'll feel pretty
discouraged.

Laura Hayes
Fri 5 Sep 2003Link
I am a new member looking for websites or resources regarding the
laws for documentaries. When I started shooting my documentary I
didn't have a clue, I just shot it as it happened. In some footage
there is music on the radio or a tv playing in background. I need to
know what I can or cannot legally use.

thanks in advance for your help

Doug Block
Sat 6 Sep 2003Link
try: www.marklitwak.com

and, as i said in the intro topic, join the community:
www.d-word.com/join

Laura Hayes
Sat 6 Sep 2003Link
thank you so much doug, will do.

Andrew Berends
Fri 26 Sep 2003Link
Hi there,

I'm writing in regard to my documentary film URK.
(www.storytellerinc.com/urk) It was recently nominated for the 2003
IDA Pare Lorentz Award. It looks like I'm about to sign a deal with a
distributor at the beginning of next week. I've never done this
before, and I have a few questions.

1- Do I need to get a lawyer to help negotiate the contract? Are
there other resources which could help me educate myself to handle
negotiating the contract?

2- I am eager to sign ASAP, because the distributor is prepared to
take the film to MIPCOM next month. Is this a good idea, or should I
not rush into it simply in order to make it to the market?

Thanks for your advice.

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