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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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Alejandro Cova
Fri 13 Dec 2013Link

@Matt. I'm not sure how to get your contact info via this site. But I will contact you somehow.

Erica Ginsberg
Sat 14 Dec 2013Link

Alejandro, do you know this film SALUD which pre-dated SICKO?

Covers some of the same themes (and storytelling challenges) as your film. It's been a while since I saw it, but I recall they covered a bit of the story of the foreign medical students in their home countries before they went to Cuba.

Matt Dubuque
Sat 14 Dec 2013Link

Hi Alejandro, you can reach me at onehundredtrees (AT)

Because your time in Cuba is so precious, you might consider a "compare and contrast" approach between Cuba and the USA, comparing aspects of medical school education (cost, barriers to entry) between the two or some variation thereof.

I have some resources on the island.

Alejandro Cova
Sun 15 Dec 2013Link

@Erica, thanks. Yes, I have seen Salud a long time ago. Yes, As I recall, Salud did a lot of filming in other Latin American countries and some countries in Africa. I will find it and take another look.

Summers Henderson
Wed 18 Dec 2013Link

Alejandro, that's a pretty common issue to face: how do you take a set of facts and turn it into a story for a documentary film? And I think there's plenty of people who end up making films that probably should have written a book or an article instead, because that would be a more efficient way to present the facts.

It does sound like you've got a great subject, full of cinematic potential. But I think you're right to be trying to figure out what your story is, because that's really the key. As you obviously know, having characters with story arcs and plot points is a great way to structure a film. I would advise you not to give up on exploring characters, even if you can't be there to shoot over a long period of time. You can get a lot out of following people for a day, observing them in different settings, maybe interviewing them briefly, even getting interviews in different settings. Having people in your film to personify the issues you're documenting will make your film come more alive.

As an example, I worked on a film "Wonder Women" for which the filmmakers did a great job at presenting facts and an argument, mostly through talking head interviews. But they also found characters who could illuminate aspects of the argument, and there were little 5-minute segments on these characters. So you don't get a feature-length story development, but you still get a lot.

Another way to consider the problem of finding a story: you can use history as the story of the film. So in your film, we might have a brief intro to the Cuban medical program today. Then we go back in time to its founding, see archival, find out how it began, see how it developed, etc. Even if you keep going back to the contemporary footage and we see what's happening today, you can still use the history-telling as a structural device. So we keep going back to the history and seeing how the program developed and became what it is today.

That's more or less the structure of "Wonder Women." There's a lot of exploring the contemporary world, but the whole thing is structured around a history (of women and popular culture) of the 20th century. So that you get to the end, and it's a natural place to ask questions about what's going to happen next. Which can work as an ending to your story, even though it's not final.

Another way to have a story is to have some person exploring the facts/issues and the story becomes their story of learning. That's the approach of a film like Sicko, where Michael Moore is the character who pretends to learn about the topic. Of course, Moore is actually constructing a sophisticated and effective argument. But there is a sort of story there, with himself as the character who grows and changes.

Maybe you don't want to insert yourself into the film like a Michael Moore. But you can get somebody else to be on-screen, like one of the students, or a journalist or an academic, or a doctor interested in this subject. And the film follows their story of coming to understand the issue.

Rodrigo Balseca
Fri 27 Dec 2013Link


My name Rodrigo and I've been a professional filmmaker for the last 5 years. I started out as camera operator and then became an commercial editor. I've even DP'd a series of four commercials for Adidas. Although, I've worked professionally in advertising my heart is in documentaries. For the last 13 years I've had personal project I've been working on and off but it's really taken off since last May. Since then I've shot in LA, NY and Argentina. My friends have served as crew working for free and I've been funding the rest out of pocket. I've taken my footage and with my subjects personal archives I've edited a teaser/trailer. I've shown it to some people for feedback (i haven't released it to the public yet) and it has gotten some really great response. Everyone is really excited about it and more and more people want to get involved. As I mentioned, I'm an editor and the company I worked for really wants to be part of my film and they feel it has commercial potential. Everything so far is great. But, always having been a staffer, I don't have any experience in the business side of things. How do i partner up with them? What kind of deal will be the best for me? Ho w do not lose creative control. Should I do it as a non profit? So many questions... Anyway thanks in advance for any help.

Kristin Alexander
Fri 3 Jan 2014Link

In reply to Alejandro Cova's post on Fri 13 Dec 2013 :
Sounds like a good start, despite the challenge of limited access. My first impression is that you are trying to cover a lot of information. Possibly focus on areas that interest you the most, for example when you wrote
"what we can learn from Cuba's preventive health model; debate about relations with Cuba and changing attitudes, what graduates of the program doing, etc.". I find that very interesting. You may be able to develop this further, follow a grad in U.S. (Anyone in Miami?). Use archival footage about embargo. What about coordinating with a filmmaker in Cuba? Maybe someone working in the tv station, although everything is govt run, so that may not be ideal. Who is your audience? If it is U.S., then so much information about Cuba would be good because we really have no idea...

Kristin Alexander
Sat 4 Jan 2014Link

Alejandro, i forgot to mention this journalist/blogger in Cuba who has written about heathcare in Cuba. You may already know her.

Edited Sat 4 Jan 2014 by Kristin Alexander

Stephanie Hubbard
Wed 8 Jan 2014Link

In reply to Alejandro Cova's post on Mon 16 Dec 2013 :
Hey there Alejandro,

I'm a professional documentary story consultant and writer ( I do workshops and consult with people all over the world and have free articles on my blog here:

Here are my suggestions: let's say you've found out about the story of a particular student that you wish you'd been following. (I suspect there are a few that stand out)) You can prompt them to tell their story that's already happened but TELL it in the PRESENT tense in the interview – then collect b roll of them that might illustrate, directly or metaphorically what they are speaking about.

A great example of this is a film called "Unknown White Male" where much of the story had already happened. One of the great things that filmmaker did was have the subject tell the story in the locations where it happened. This way you can compress your CAPTURING of the story – but expand the TIME LINE of the story and weave it throughout your other story/essay elements.

That's my two cents.

Good luck, let me know if you have any more questions.
Stephanie Hubbard

Edited Wed 8 Jan 2014 by Stephanie Hubbard

marco Jackson
Wed 26 Mar 2014Link

Hi everyone,

I'm compiling a proposal to garner funding for completion of my first documentary and am looking for a few bits of advice. I have 15 years of editing experience and zero years of producing experience!! The doc will be screened at independent cinemas and distributed by DVD.

Please could you advise on the best NTSC to PAL conversion solution with the best cost/quality trade-off. There is 13 minutes of screen-time that needs to be converted.

I have used a number of stills which need to be licensed, mostly of UK politicians, all taken from websites. I understand that the price is massively variable but could you suggest an average figure per still I could put in the budget. I don't currently have time to go through the process of chasing down the owner of every photo used. Does anyone know of an archivist in the South West who could help me with this?

Many thanks


Theo Ferguson
Sun 13 Apr 2014Link

Hi guys,
I'm a 3rd year student at the University of Central Lancashire. My intrest is mainly in documentaries and therefore for my final project, i'm talking about how documentaries could possibly manipulate the truth, but also, could this also be a good thing? (For entertainment purposes).

If people could answer this short questionaire, i'd appreciate it so much. The questions are:

1. Describe your Role on the most sucessful Documentary you've been involved with?
2. What techniques did you use which could be seen as manipulating the truth when working on the documentary? i.e. Noddies, editing out parts of interviews to get more direct answers. And why did you use them?
3. When working on the documentary, do you think the subjects acted differently when they were being filmed as appose to off camera? And how did this affect the realness of the documentary?
4. Why do you think manipulation techniques for documentaries are used?
5. Do you think that a documentary would still be as sucessful if there wern't any manipulations? How would it affect it? And why? (An example, in the 2002 documentary Bolwing for Columbine, Film Maker Michael Moore filmed many scenes where the audience believed he was talking to the subject and was being ignored, but the subject had already left.)
6. How do you feel about TV shows such as TOWIE, Gordie Shore, Jersey Shore and other TV shows that are seen to it's audience as being Reality TV? How do you think it affects the documentary genre?

Thanks guys, it would really help me with my final research project.
if you have any questions, feel free to ask

- Theo

Doug Block
Sun 13 Apr 2014Link

In reply to Theo Ferguson's post on Sun 13 Apr 2014 :

Sorry for the short answers, Theo, but don't have the time to go into detail.

1. Director, Producer, DP, Writer
2. Took some interviews I did after the main filming ended and made it appear as if it happened earlier in time.
3. Yes. Not at all.
4. To tell a better, more engaging story.
5. No.
6. Not sure.

Edited Sun 13 Apr 2014 by Doug Block

Theo Ferguson
Sun 13 Apr 2014Link

No problem Doug, every little helps. Thank you. :)

Guys, if you don't feel comfortable posting the answers on here, feel free to email me at
None of these answers will be made public, just put inside a file and used for my research project. :)

Edited Sun 13 Apr 2014 by Theo Ferguson

Ellin Jimmerson
Sun 13 Apr 2014Link

In reply to Theo Ferguson's post on Sun 13 Apr 2014 :

Theo, interesting topic. I have one documentary to my credit.
1. Producer, Writer, Director, Editor
2. Same as Doug. I took some b-roll several years after my interviews with two of my interviewees; I'm not sure I know what noddies are?, if you mean nodding to people as I was interviewing them, yes, I did that; in fact, I began the practice deliberately for this reason: when I just looked at them while they were answering, mostly in order to concentrate, some thought I was upset with them, so I began to tell them ahead of time that I was concentrating but also did not want my voice on camera so could not encourage them vocally; nodding seemed to relax them and let them tell their story with more ease; I also stopped one interviewee several times because he was answering questions like, "what did you feel when all your companions died crossing the river?" with "bad." I'd ask him to try to say more . . . things like that. I was trying to get editable or useable material--my motivation; I cannot imagine not editing out parts of answers to get what I needed--usually the answers to my questions were complicated; I also interviewed indigenous people who had a long, round-about way of answering as well as the habit of referring to themselves, for example, as "he" rather than "I." So I had to take all of this into account when adding subtitles. Occasionally, I did not translate completely accurately in order better to convey the real meaning of what the interview was saying. For example, one Mexican man referred to his fellow workers in the fields as "mojados" which translates as "wetbacks" which among most Americans is considered a slur, although he clearly did not use it as a slur. So I just translated it the word as "workers". Translating more accurately would only have acted as a distraction and you can't put footnotes in, you know?
3. Absolutely, yes. Just putting someone in front of a camera is putting them into an unnatural situation. In my case, I was interviewing a number of illegal immigrants. So there was the anxiety they felt, which mostly was low-level because they trusted me to keep their identities a secret, but in one case was so high I could not use the interview. In addition, in order to protect their identities, I shot their eyes only using a slit in a screen. I had to darken the room and so there they were in a dark room, with a screen in front of them, and bright lights--kind of like being interrogated. I think that in addition to the difficulty of the memories they were sharing with me, there was the setting which made them more emotional than they might have been in a more every day setting. But there is also the issue of interviewees who are experts in their fields. They were so much easier to edit because they had their answers down to a science--some had testified before the US Congress, for example, so their interviews were chock full of sound bytes. How many of us have answers to important questions which have been fine-tuned over the years? Mostly, people don't naturally speak speeches, if you get my meaning. Having said all this, I think all of the above contributed to the realness of the film.
4. I guess I'd have to know more what you mean by manipulation techniques. The only manipulation techniques I've been directly associated with have been less with documentaries and more with print--when the story already has been written in the writer's head and I'm just there to be kept talking until I say what they want to hear and everything else, which is what I really want to say or talk about is edited out. They do that more to satisfy their funders or their editors than anything else, imho.
5. I wasn't aware of the story you told about Michael Moore. You're saying he sat in front of a camera talking to no one but pretended someone was there? My first reaction is that's unethical--but I haven't thought about it. I've often thought, though, about the director of The Thin Blue Line (whose name is slipping my mind) apparently having an interviewee dress in red while he is drawing a comparison between her and the mysterious "Lady in Red" of a 1920s gangland murder. I don't think you get to play tricks on your subjects in a documentary or on the audience. Its no longer a documentary when you do that--its fiction. I'd have to think about "still as successful." The Thin Blue Line and Bowling for Columbine were quite successful.
6. Gosh! You've got great questions. I don't watch much reality TV – in my opinion and from talking with cinematographers who have worked reality TV there is really not much reality there. Its a great question. Don't think I have much to contribute.

Hope I've helped a little bit. Best of luck with your project.

Edited Sun 13 Apr 2014 by Ellin Jimmerson

Theo Ferguson
Sun 13 Apr 2014Link

Great answers there Ellin, and very detailed Thank you so much!

By 'Noddies' I should have explained, I mean for example in an interview, the interview would be filmed single camera, and then a seperate scene shot after the interview of the interviewer acting although he/she is nodding (or surprised/laughing/sad etc..) in response to their answers.

Ellin Jimmerson
Sun 13 Apr 2014Link

In reply to Theo Ferguson's post on Sun 13 Apr 2014 :

I would say, then, that Noddies is a no-no.

Theo Ferguson
Tue 15 Apr 2014Link

Thanks Ellin. Feel free to keep em coming guys :)

Theo Ferguson
Wed 30 Apr 2014Link

Research Project is done. Thanks for all the help :)

Eva von Schweinitz
Wed 30 Apr 2014Link


I just joined The D-Word, so hopefully I'm posting this in the right thread.

My short experimental documentary "A Film Is A Film Is A Film" just completed its World Premiere with 4 screenings at Tribeca Film Festival, and it was a delightful experience.

I'm getting some interest from distributors, but I am quite unexperienced with this aspect of the filmmaking business. So I'm hoping to hear and learn from you.

Specifically, I was contacted by Gonella Productions who are based in France:
Judging by the films they represent on their website, they look pretty great. Here is what they offered as conditions:

Contract: Non-exclusive

Duration: 2 years

Territories: Worldwide

Licensed Rights: All media (TV, Cable TV, Pay TV, DVD, VOD, Internet,

Mobile device)

Payment: 50/50 – No distribution fees (We take care of all the costs of

distribution and promotion of your movie).

I have no idea if this is great or not great at all.

Thoughts? Thank you so much in advance!

All best, Eva

Ellin Jimmerson
Wed 30 Apr 2014Link

In reply to Theo Ferguson's post on Wed 30 Apr 2014 :

You're welcome, Theo. Hope your prof likes the paper!

Jill Woodward
Wed 30 Apr 2014Link

Hi Eva! No advice, but welcome!

Eva von Schweinitz
Wed 30 Apr 2014Link

Ha, hey Jill! Thank you. Fun to meet you again here!

Eli Brown
Thu 1 May 2014Link

Hi Eva, welcome – and maybe sign up for professional membership, too! There's lots more to explore elsewhere on the site with that. And I think your Tribeca-ness easily qualifies! As to your deal – not sure how great of a deal that is, since it would probably preclude any other deal and it appears that they're mostly specializing in France? Or are just most of their films French language? Is your film French (in subject matter if not title)? Also, not sure how they plan to account for earnings or – more precisely – what they would expect to sell on your title (you can AND SHOULD ask them what kind of sales numbers they predict/expect). It's nice that they're not charging you for any promotion, but a more typical split for all media is 30/70 or 33/67. Without an advance or any kind of money being put in by them, it doesn't seem like they're really invested in the film (i.e. there's not a ton of incentive for them to sell your film because they're not trying to recoup an investment in it. For them, it's really about building up a catalogue and they can say to other prospective filmmakers, "Hey, we have a Tribeca film in our roster." And that looks great, for them. I'm not sure how great that is for you. Short films are notoriously difficult to distribute/get money for outside of the festival world...) But, really, the best thing to do is to ask for some references or talk directly with filmmakers that have signed with them to gauge their experience. Best if you can find them by not going through the distributor directly, as you can get a more unbiased report that way. My gut is telling me this is not a great deal – but a short experimental documentary film is also not the easiest thing to distribute, so I'm not sure how optimistic I would be about making much on any deals that you're fielding. You say you are getting approached by distributorS – are there others that are approaching you? Do they have deal terms that you can compare? That might be helpful, too, at least as a bargaining chip. Congratulations and good luck!

Andrew Iden
Thu 1 May 2014Link

Hey all-
I’m not entirely sure where this discussion falls in the topics here, but I’ve determined this to be the closest. Jumping out of the network news world, and more into the independent production side of things, I’ve had some difficulty getting some traction and networking (some of it my own fault, some of it just the difficulty of making your way in a different arena) I’ve reached out to some people via email in the production community near me without any introduction, or any real in person networking. I’m curious, am I out of line just “cold e-mailing” folks? I’ve found that often times, jobs, opportunities and openings in this career track don’t sit on job posting websites, and don't follow some of the more traditional job boards/directories/etc that more “normal” type industries would use. So, in an attempt to make it happen, and following the “no one will do it for you” type attitude, I’ve just gone for it-Emailing, pitching myself, etc. So I’m curious-How does this look on the other side to potential producers/employers? I certainly don’t want to turn people off, but also know that I’m not exactly going to have things handed to me, either. I’m just trying to strike a balance. Thought this would be a good place to throw the discussion out there. Thanks everyone-This is a great forum, and probably some of the more accurate feedback I’ve gotten on issues like this.

Dillon Birdsall
Thu 1 May 2014Link

Hey I was just wondering were I would post information about my kick starter and other crowd funding news? and if anyone has already started the topic please let me know.

Doug Block
Sat 3 May 2014Link

You can do it in the Classifieds topic, Dillon.

In reply to Eva von Schweinitz's post on Wed 30 Apr 2014 :

Now that you're a Professional member, Eva, a better place for your post is the Marketing and Distribution topic. Normally we discourage "double posting" but in your case it's justified.

And welcome to The D-Word, by the way.

Eva von Schweinitz
Sat 3 May 2014Link

Dear Eli,

thank you so much for the thorough answer. Everything you say makes a lot of sense. To answer your questions:
My film is not French, though I feel like it could do well in a French market. This is what Gonella Films said in their e-mail:

"We are based in France, but we have clients all over the world. We can sell your film to television channels and VOD platforms in different countries. We have recently sold short films to TV channels as Canal + (France, Spain, Belgium), Arte, TV5, among many others. "

What you say about them wanting to build their catalogue seems to be part of why they're interested. I'll get in touch with some of the filmmakers they represent, that's a great idea.

Gonella Films was the only distributor that contacted me with an exclusive offer.
The others have been online distributors, such as the VOD platform SnagFilms and I have an opportunity with vimeo's new VOD Audience Development progam.

As I'm hoping to show my doc at more festivals, I'm holding off from distribution right now to keep it eligible, but it's good to know where to go from there.

I now got the professional membership (yay) and will look around elsewhere on this forum. (Thanks, Doug!)

Best, Eva

Robert Rapplean
Sun 11 May 2014Link

Hi, all. I'm doing a documentary that basically asks the question "why hasn't this awesome medical treatment been adopted after 20 years?

The answer I'm presenting is systemic, but I'm having difficulty finding qualified medical professionals who are willing to be interviewed because they're afraid that I'll make them look bad. Trying to explain to them that I'm trying to make the point that there would be no way for them to have known doesn't seem to help.

The ones who do want to be interviewed want to sign a contract saying that they have a right to not have their interviews published if they think I'm going to say something bad about them. Could someone point me to resources for navigating this kind of difficulty? I'd specifically like to know if this kind of contract is common, what the pros and cons are, and if it's going to double my meager budget to hire a lawyer to navigate the issues.



Summers Henderson
Thu 15 May 2014Link

In reply to Andrew Iden's post on Thu 1 May 2014 :

I can't really answer your question with authority, Andrew, because I haven't usually been in the position of the employer. Usually I'm like you, looking for a job. But I'm curious to hear if other people have a response. Personally, I think it's a good idea to cold email people that you want to work with. In my limited experience, you're likely to get a good response if you happen to email them on the day when they just realized they need somebody like you. By the time two days go by, they've forgotten about you already. So if you email somebody and don't get a great response, it's probably just your timing is bad. Probably not that they're offended you contacted them directly. Why would they be offended? It doesn't hurt them when you try to contact them. So I say go for it!

Margie Friedman
Fri 23 May 2014Link

I'm looking to connect with another filmmaker who has used licensed music from a music publisher (not an original score or from a stock music house) in their documentary and is selling the DVD to libraries and educational institutions.

I have a specific question regarding the music licensing and public performance rights in an educational setting.

I just joined the D-word and am waiting to be approved for professional status. I appreciate hearing from anyone who has experience with music licensing for library DVD sales.

Doug Block
Fri 23 May 2014Link

Now that you've been approved as a Pro, Margie, best you re-post your question in the Legal topic. Many more members will see it there.

Noam Osband
Wed 28 May 2014Link

I have an audio question I'm wondering if someone might be able to help me with: I'm using a Rode NTG-3 with a Canon XA-10. When I listen to the audio I record, it definitely sounds a bit muddy, as if it's clipping. But the levels when I import into FCP 7 aren't showing clipping. Moreover, the levels on the camera aren't showing clipping either when I'm recording. Thoughts on how I might solve this?

John Burgan
Wed 28 May 2014Link

As you've just been admitted as a Full member, you might wish to repost this in the Member's Topic Sound and Music

Adjul Gardner
Mon 7 Jul 2014Link

I'm in the outlining phase of a documentary that will follow three different groups that work on communication in different ways, but with a core similarity. I'm also working on a separate documentary that tracks one of those groups through a 2-month training intensive in the wilderness. I have a few questions, I'd appreciate any help, or if you can redirect me to part of the site that is more suited to my question.

1. One of these films already has 1Tb worth of footage, and I'm only 1/4 of the way into the filming phase. I've been taking a few words of notes on each day, and thinking to put that into a searchable word document to cull through when I'm done. I've also put each day's clips in a separate labelled folder. What are people's methods of organizing such a mass of footage and/or taking notes on it during the shooting phase?

2. With the piece that I'm just starting to outline, I'm wanting to start arranging interviews but I'm nervous because I don't know what the narrative thread will be. It could be more of a "let the speakers and clips speak for themselves," or I could do voice-overs as the POV narrator throughout the film. How much of the arc/narrative style of the film really needs to be decided this early on, if any? I'm worried about not feeling confident during the interviews (they require travel) and regretting not taking more time to prepare.

Jaeyoon Lee
Wed 9 Jul 2014Link

Hi all,
Is there anyone who knows where I can get some help with fixing Beta deck Sony UVW 180 in New York city?
We have a beta deck Sony UVW 180 and we are trying to put it back in use after a few years on the shelf. We are going out from the deck into a Sony converter box DVMC-DA2. But Log and capture in FCP 7 doesn't work...The Log and Capture window shows “no communication'...

Thank you!

Doug Block
Wed 9 Jul 2014Link

You might try Technisphere, Jessie.

No need to sign your name after a post, btw, as it appears above it automatically.

Jaeyoon Lee
Wed 9 Jul 2014Link

In reply to Doug Block's post on Wed 9 Jul 2014 :

Is Technisphere still in business? Because I went there and it was closed even though it was monday. And when I call the store number, it says 'this number is temporally unavailable.'
So do you guys happen to know other store similar to Technisphere?


Eli Brown
Wed 9 Jul 2014Link

Sony Professional Service is in Teaneck, NJ, also as an option. Usually pretty reliable, but they'll probably be at least $300 just to look at it. "No communication" on the capture window would make sense, since the converter box doesn't offer any deck control. Choose "non-controllable device" and make sure you're getting video in via the firewire port. Apple has some info about this whole process here , if that helps troubleshoot it at all.

Jaeyoon Lee
Wed 9 Jul 2014Link

In reply to Eli Brown's post on Wed 9 Jul 2014 :

Thank you so much for store info and link, Eli!!
I tried to log and capture numerous times with non-controllable device setting but video doesn't show up.....I don't know if deck is wrong or converter box is wrong or rca cable is wrong or Final Cut setting is wrong.....

I don't think we have that much budget for fixing this.....T.T And with that money, I think it's better to just ask a store to digitize beta tapes rather than fixing beta cam deck..

Is there anyone who knows cheaper and closer store? Or could you guys recommend good and cheap place which can digitize beta tapes?

Edited Wed 9 Jul 2014 by Jaeyoon Lee

Khadijah White
Fri 11 Jul 2014Link

Hi – I'm a former AP at PBS whose been out of the newsroom for several years finishing up grad school. Now that I'm a professor (with an actual equipment budget!) I'm looking to invest in my own professional-grade video camera equipment for a one-man band within my means (around 5k). This would be for possibly airing on TV or in film festivals. I would really appreciate suggestions on what to get. Based on some lists I've seen online, I've narrowed down the choices to these few, but I'm sure there are lots of stuff I'm missing. Thanks for any help or feedback:

ALSO – Here was my top list based on prices of HD:

Panasonic AG-HPX250 AGHPX250 P2 HD Hand-Held Camcorder + 32GB DSHC Card (10) + Tripod + Deluxe Accessory Pack

Sony HXR-NX5U NXCAM Professional Camcorder

Sony PMW100 One 1/2.9" Exmor CMOS XDCAM HD422 Handy Ca

Canon XA20 Professional Camcorder

Canon XH-A1S 3CCD HDV High Definition Professional Camcorder wit

Panasonic HMC40KIT Camcorder and Mic Adapter/Holder with 12x

And in terms of 4K cameras:

Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GH4KBODY 16.05MP Digital Single Lens Mirrorless Camera with 4K Cinematic Video (Body Only)

Edited Fri 11 Jul 2014 by Khadijah White

John Burgan
Fri 11 Jul 2014Link

This is an interesting selection, Khadijah – but this Topic is mainly for beginners, which you clearly are not! If in any doubt as to the purpose of a Topic, virtually all have a brief description at the top of the page underneath the title.

You should use the Search Function (top right of every page) to look through the Cinematography Topic in particular as there have been many detailed discussions on specific cameras which you might find useful.

Edited Fri 11 Jul 2014 by John Burgan

Khadijah White
Wed 16 Jul 2014Link

Thanks John, I'll do that!!! Plus, I still think of myself as a novice when it comes to buying equipment, but thanks for vouching for me :-)

Neil Gaerhard
Wed 23 Jul 2014Link

Hi all,

I've signed up to the D-Word as an unusual situation has presented itself, and hopefully some of you guys can offer some advice.

I work mainly making short online promos, commercials and corporates, but over the years have produced and directed three full length web-docs, (30-60mins).

I've been approached by an agency who have a multi-national client in a fairly controversial industry – palm oil – who are looking to produce a documentary about what they do in a developing part of the world. However, they don't want to produce an 'expensive' corporate film that no one will watch – they want to get it broadcast on TV, preferably globally.

Normally, it wouldn't be my job to tell them how to do this, but this time it is. And unfortunately, I don't really have any experience on that side of it. I just make em!

Obviously there are a few ethics and transparency issues here. There probably aren't too many mainstream broadcasters who'd be eager to snap up what is effectively corporate propaganda and put it on their channel. I've had conversations with the agency about this, and have told them of the need for honesty and transparency and independent voices within the field to fend off allegations of corporate shilling or astroturfing.

So I guess the questions I have are:

Are corporate sponsored films a complete non-starter for broadcast? Let's assume I make an honest, transparent doc, that although in 'association with GloboCorp', doesn't shy away from asking and answering the tough questions to paint an honest picture of their operations, would broadcasters be open to acquiring it?

Would a broadcaster pay for it, or would 'GloboCorp' have to pay? (Presumably this ratchets up the whole ethics issue if the company were to pay to have it shown!)

What would be the best way to approach broadcasters, pre-production with a treatment or post-production with the completed film?

I apologise if this gets anyone's back up. I'm sure some people might not be too comfortable with the idea of the D-Word discussing corporate propaganda. That said, I wouldn't touch this project if I was being asked to produce a film about how they don't go tearing down the rainforest if they're tearing down acres of rainforest.

As I've had it pitched to me, there are a lot of misconceptions on the subject and a lot of untold stories, and the company is (I'm told) looking to present their work in a way that let's people make up their own minds.

Ok, so I've probably gone on long enough. Over to you guys and thanks in advance for any advice!

Julia Guest
Wed 23 Jul 2014Link

Interesting situation Neil.

I heard someone complaining recently that Liberia's new Government had agreed to oil palm plantations.. Not just any government, but one that now has a very high ethical bar, compared to the past. Already there are stories of corruption related to the contract and people losing their land. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

It made me wonder what is the other side of the story.. undoubtedly jobs for Liberia.. but how many and at what cost, what protection of the environment will there really be.. and so on.

I doubt a broadcaster would fund something that was effectively directed by the company or accept something they had funded.

You have access.. that counts for something. It should be about how effectively you manage that access to create a transparent film. Involving a broadcaster during production would allow them to push all the really awkward questions forward.

Vivian Kleiman
Wed 23 Jul 2014Link

In reply to Neil Gaerhard's post on Wed 23 Jul 2014 :


First of all, congrats on all of your thoughtful questions. It's clear that your approach to filmmaking must be equally methodical and inquiring into the nuance of choices made.

As a veteran Producer/Exec Producer of many docs broadcast on national PBS, I can say that there's the rule, and then there's the implementation of the rule. They aren't always the same.

It's clear that you understand the principle of self-aggrandizement. And it seems that the company is proposing a film that has broader significance than that. But it can be a grey zone. I recall once when my local PBS station launched production of a documentary profiling the patriarch of the Gallo family. IIRC, it was paid for by a donation from Gallo Wines to the wine industry's professional association here in the Bay Area, and then re-granted to KQED. A huge uproar ensued and ultimately, KQED aborted the project and funds returned.

Other broadcasters might be more flexible in their interpretation.

I might suggest that you contact the legal depts of the potential broadcasters and see how they respond to the query. My experience with PBS is that the legal dept is available for such conversations.

Neil Gaerhard
Thu 24 Jul 2014Link

Hi Julia and Vivian,

Thanks so much for your thoughts and advice.

I'm thinking that an approach that may make it more attractive to broadcasters while also helping with the transparency issue could be to have the doc fronted by a high profile presenter from an environmental background. Someone deeply skeptical of palm oil and not afraid to scrutinise the company's claims. If the company genuinely feels it has the evidence to back its position up, they should have the cojones to welcome that... right? ;-)

Thanks again, I'll let you know how it goes!

Julia Guest
Thu 24 Jul 2014Link

Thanks Neil, it does sound very interesting and worthwhile if you can get it right. Love to hear more and email if you'd like more direct input.

Katrina Sarson
Fri 1 Aug 2014Link

Hi all
I'm in pre-production on a documentary that will involve videotaping people performing material that is copyright protected – specifically, excerpts from plays. I'm trying to figure out if I need to get licenses for the use of the plays from the copyright holder, or if that's the responsibility of the people who are creating the performances (because I'm just documenting an existing performance). Any thoughts/ideas/places to look would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

Summers Henderson
Tue 12 Aug 2014Link

My thought is that you are responsible for licensing this copyrighted material, even if you're not the one saying the words aloud. Because you're using the playwright's work as part of your documentary. If anything, the copyright holders are more likely to go after you than after the performers. Because let's say they're in a basement theater, performing for a few dozen people. But you're making a film that can be reproduced and distributed and seen by millions (ideally!) so you're even more of a threat to the copyright holders.

The only way you could legitimately get away with using others' copyrighted material is under the doctrine of "fair use," which you can read more about here:

But in my opinion, based on the limited information in your post, you don't have a fair use case. Fair use is for situations (to give one example of one use; there are others) like you're following somebody throughout their day and they walk past a TV showing a TV show. It's fair use to show that in your doc without licensing the TV show. But if they sit down to watch TV and you focus on the TV and let the camera roll for 5 minutes... then you're not gonna be able to make a compelling case for fair use. Because at that point you're just using somebody else's work. Same thing for if someone gets up in front of your camera and performs a long monologue from a Broadway show. It doesn't matter that they were gonna do it even if you weren't there. The point is that you ARE there and you are capturing that work and when you show it on the Internet somebody may say, "Wow, that was great, glad I saw it, now I don't have to pay to go see the show on Broadway." That's gonna piss off Broadway.

Thomas Haffey
Wed 20 Aug 2014Link

Please forgive me if this is not the correct forum for this issue.

I just finished filming a documentary about a motorcycle rally, including concerts. One band was three teenage sisters (who were awesome BTW). I got performance footage, autograph signing, and on-camera interview with them. Mom signed a release for them. I wish I'd stopped there. I then interviewed dad about the band, but when it came to the release he wanted to further review. Got an email saying he couldn't sign because they need to be "unencumbered" for potential TV deal in the works.

Where do I go from here legally? Mom as parent and legal guardian gave the ok, so can I use the girls' footage? I obviously can't use dad's footage, but does his refusal force me to cut all the girls? Am I asking for trouble for my project, or potentially harming their deal if I move forward? Can I use the performance footage as "public fair use" but not their personal interview?

I am in Mississippi, United States, by the way. Thanks for any help. I hate legal gray areas. lol.


Doug Block
Wed 20 Aug 2014Link

The Legal Topic is actually the right one for this, Thomas. Mentoring Room is for "enthusiasts" who don't qualify for pro status.

Gail Mallimson
Wed 8 Oct 2014Link

I am in the finishing stages of my documentary, The Edge of the Wild ( The film tells the story of a 30-year land-use battle over endangered butterflies living on private land in the small town of Brisbane, CA. This local battle resulted in the weakening of the Endangered Species Act 30 years ago that has had detrimental effects on wildlife management across the country. The film follows the fate of the butterflies and is told through the eyes of a resident of the small town who becomes determined to save the butterflies before they die out.

I am starting to plan an outreach program for the film that centers on current attacks on the Endangered Species Act in congress and highlights the species die-off crisis. I have identified potential non-profits that are likely partners in this, but I've never created an outreach program and I don't really know where to start. For instance, when I talk to these people what do I ask?

I do need to do a crowd-funding push to raise the last $10,000 to $20,000 to complete the film, and would like to establish these partnerships before I do this, so that I can access their membership to hit up for the crowd-funding. I am wondering if anyone on the list has created partnerships/sponsorships with enviro groups for their films and what their experiences have been.
Gail Mallimson

John Burgan
Wed 8 Oct 2014Link

Gail, the Mentoring Room is for first-time filmmakers – you should repost this in the Professional Topic Crowdfunding

Natasha Mottola
Thu 23 Oct 2014Link

Can a professional on the D-word need mentoring?

I have been an assistant editor in feature length documentary for the past six years.
The last two films I worked on, I was encouraged by the editor to cut scenes and currently, I am employed as an associate editor on another feature length verité documentary. I am editing a lot and involved in creative discussions, but ultimately, all of my creative work can be overwritten by the editor.

All this is to say is that I still, six years into this all, wonder if I will ever be an editor.
As my d-word profile states: "I am at a point in my career where I have been waiting for a project to call my own, one in which I can devote myself to completely, especially one with meaningful subject matter. I can say with out doubt that I am an excellent editor ready to challenge myself."

I know that there are lots of folks out there who have never assisted, but to those who have, how did you make it out?
One editor friend said to me, "if you want to stop being an assistant, stop taking assistant editor jobs." Easier said than done.

Does anyone have any advice or helpful suggestions?
I'd love to buy you a coffee and chat.

Doug Block
Thu 23 Oct 2014Link

Natasha, you may need mentoring but being as this topic is in the public area not that many professional members will wind up reading it. It's a great question you ask, so though we don't encourage double posting I suggest you cut and past it to the Editing and Post-Production topic in the Professional area.

Natasha Mottola
Thu 23 Oct 2014Link

Thanks Doug. I'll take advantage of the double post pass.

Jesse Yost
Wed 29 Oct 2014Link

Looking for advice on media licensing... the short version is I'm working w/ MTV regarding some footage that would be fairly key to our project, which is a docu about a local, now defunct, music club that catered to local/regional acts as well as big name national acts.

Our guess is that our project will make the film fest route but probably not much more than that unless something crazy happens.

Anyhoo – I've never dealt with licensing clips so I could really use some straight forward explanations of license types, etc. I realize this is pretty standard biz info but I've just never dealt with it and the explanations I've found thus far require being somewhat familiar w/ legalese... which I'm not.

Thanks in advance!

Jill Morley
Wed 29 Oct 2014Link

Hi Jesse,

You will need to contact the owner of the footage and ask them for a festival license. You can try to bargain with them, etc and sometimes you can get lower prices.

Later, if you get worldwide distribution, you will need to go back to them and ask for worldwide rights in perpetuity and pay those prices. We just went through this with ESPN and Madison Square Garden. You will need these to get E and O insurance as well as a distributor. Otherwise, just secure the festival license. Good luck!

Jesse Yost
Wed 29 Oct 2014Link

Thanks Jill!
I've been in touch w/ the footage holder and we're just working out details. In addition to the Primary Display, to which we answered Film Fests, they are asking us for:
Usage (use and timing)
Rights (Territory, term, and media)

Are these things typical?
Since answers from the media holder have long delays I'm trying to submit the correct info all at once and am trying not to send them "What do you mean by X" emails. I just need to know what it is, exactly, they want for answers.

Tom Dziedzic
Wed 29 Oct 2014Link

In reply to Jesse Yost's post on Wed 29 Oct 2014 :

Usually you can get "off-line" archival footage with a watermark or time code for a research fee. Don't buy any festival rights until your film is finished and the edit locked (and maybe until your film actually gets into a festival). Then negotiate for only the footage you actually use in the edit. Best case is getting "all media, worldwide in perpetuity" if you get to that point as Jill pointed out. Good luck with your project.

Edited Wed 29 Oct 2014 by Tom Dziedzic

Andy Schocken
Thu 30 Oct 2014Link

And keep in mind, if there's music in the clip, you'll most likely need to clear that separately.

Judy Van Wyk
Fri 31 Oct 2014Link

I'm working on a profile of an Indian-American couple and am looking for royalty-free music that's reflects the music of India but also works under narration. I'm finding sitar doesn't work well and is hard to edit. Much of Indian music is lush and streaming w/out clear phrases. I need to find something to use for titles, transitions, and narration and that isn't "over the top" like most movie scores.

Edward Goldberg
Mon 3 Nov 2014Link

Dear Friends,

My company, Catalysta, began publishing documentaries, interviews and roundtables on in September. We would like to distribute the work to broadcasters' websites in the US, Europe and other English-speaking countries.

Would you recommend connecting with a sales agent? If so, agent contact info would be most appreciated.

All related suggestions are welcome.

Thank you!


Vivian Kleiman
Mon 3 Nov 2014Link

In reply to Jesse Yost's post on Wed 29 Oct 2014 :

You've received great feedback. I just want to make a footnote to 1 comment: The notion and going back and asking for more rights later on can be very unpleasant. Instead I suggest that you agree on a fee for all possible territories and usage at once, but only pay for them as the need presents itself.

Mark Rinehart
Wed 12 Nov 2014Link

Re:  Exclusivity legal forms, etc.

Curious if anyone knows where I can find an exclusivity agreement form?  Just need some basic legal "boilerplate" language that states that a subject agrees not to appear any other documentaries, etc...

I am also providing a camera to an individual who will be filming himself.   I need a legal form stating that the footage is owned by producer and can not be used for any other purpose besides the film, etc.   Anyone know of a website where I can download basic legal forms of this nature?  Much appreciated!  


John Burgan
Thu 13 Nov 2014Link

Mark - welcome to The D-Word. The Mentoring Room is just for beginners, so as a Pro member you should re-post this in the Legal Corner

Also, no need to "sign" your name as it appears above each post. Maybe also add a photo to your profile?

dragos ionescu
Thu 18 Dec 2014Link

hello everyone,

i am dragos,a hitchhiker traveler living in amsterdam for the moment who came with the idea to make a one year trip from northern europe to balkans via middle east and till the caucas.

i came here as i wish to document my trip(i see it as a pity that so many adventurous trips people have/had are not properly documented,lack of photos,movies etc and also annoying when u see pretty good shorts about not that wow short hitchin trips like from berlin to prague etc..)

i am totally new to this thingy and want to learn more what i have to know and do about my project.i plan to start my trip in a year and a half,in like may 2016.

now since i am in the mentoring room,i have to ask a couple questions:

1.since it is most likely that noone will travel with me for the whole period,i am prepared to film everything myself,so i was having in mind of maybe some hd camera glasses for those sweet moments when hitchhiking and meeting people etc,and also i was thinking of a gopro cam.any advices regarding this?i don't really have a big budget and i am aware that i need to spend some money on some external hard drives,cards,batteries etc besides the cameras themselves.

2.any good resources on this kind of documentary i want to make,or just something essential for a total begginner like myself?

thanks in advance,


ps. important is to know that this project is meant to be as no budget as possible as that is my traveling style and the project is just to document my experiece.

i will also add a photo to my profile but i cannot from the computer i am using now at the library :P

peace out


Kelsey Killeen
Mon 22 Dec 2014Link

Hi Everyone,

I just joined the site and am hoping to connect with a professional who can provide some guidance.

I recently quit my job in Seattle and moved back home to the east coast to pursue my dream career in documentary filmmaking. I'm a researcher at heart, so I'm particulary interested in being involved in the research/development/pre-pro stages. 

How does a young professional like myself get started in film research without a background in film studies or archives? I'm confident I have the drive, curiosity, resourcefulness, and organization skills to be a valuable part of a team, but I need a chance! 

At this point, any opportunity to learn the ropes and be involved in the making of a film would be amazing. I'm open to being a paid intern or personal assistant and am willing to relocate.

Any suggestions??

Thank you!

Kelsey Killeen  (Resume attached)


Doug Block
Wed 24 Dec 2014Link

Welcome, Kelsey.  I highly recommend you get in touch with researcher extraordinaire Rosemary Rotondi. If she doesn't need help herself my guess is she could steer you towards someone who might.  Her website is:, and feel free to say I suggested you get in touch.  Best of luck!

Edited Wed 24 Dec 2014 by Doug Block

Kelsey Killeen
Wed 24 Dec 2014Link


Thanks so much for the reply! I'm happy to say (because it shows I'm on the right track) that I'm well aware of Rosemary's great work and contacted her recently. She offered some helpful tips, but didn't have anyone specific in mind. She suggested I join IDA, attend events, become a member of or volunteer at local film orgs, and reach out to filmmakers in the Boston area. I'm not set on staying in Mass, so my search will likely be broader. 

I'm hoping someone in the D-Word network might be in need of an assistant or have someone in mind who is. I'm open to any opportunity that would give me some experience and education, as long as I can afford rent and food!

By the way, Doug, I have to say that I saw you on the TODAY Show discussing 112 Weddings and enjoyed the film very much! It's a pleasure to hear from you.





Doug Block
Wed 24 Dec 2014Link

Kelsey, you've demonstated enough seriousness of purpose that we've upgraded you to Professional status on The D-Word.  It will enable you to post your request again in the Professional Classifieds topic, which many more professional members will read.  (The Classifieds are the only topics we permit double posting in.)  You'll have access, as well, to the Research topic here, which you'll hopefully find helpful to read through.

Kelsey Killeen
Wed 24 Dec 2014Link

Thank you so much, Doug! This will be a huge help. I'll re-post in the Professional Classifieds and explore the site in depth. Have a happy holiday!

Doug Block
Wed 24 Dec 2014Link

Ooo, not sure we would have let you in if we'd seen that Red Sox hat, Kelsey :) Make sure to fill out your member profile and also post something about yourself in the Introduce Yourself topic. And happy holidays to you, too!

JB Letchinger
Sun 28 Dec 2014Link

Kelsey, your enthusiasm is refreshing and a powerful asset to you. Those suggestions you’ve received from the research pro were really good ones, also, following suggestions of those whom you respect demonstrates teachability. I should have done that more often, myself! Even as you cast a wider net, and may leave Boston later on, immerse yourself in your current community as best you can. Good luck and feel free to email me anytime with questions.

Yixi Villar
Wed 4 Feb 2015Link

Hello Everyone, so greatful for this forum.  My name is Yixi and I am working on a cancer documenary called"Life In The Balance". I need to shoot an interview with a patient who is in Colorado but I can't get there and he is quarantined so the hospital wont give us permission. To get around it, I was thinking of recording the interview with him via Skype. Does anyone have any recommendations on what is the best Audio & Video recording App for Skype that will transfer to Final Cut without losing quality ? Also, I want to make sure the Audio is on point, should I use an external Mic for him? Any guidance would be much appreiced. Thank you.  


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