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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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Rachelle Cournoyer
Mon 13 May 2002Link
Look in the international TV trade magaziness, MIP TV issue. They
give dollar values for television sales in various countries that are
fairly reliable in giving a ballpark.

Craig Highberger
Wed 22 May 2002Link
I am working on a biographical documentary of a person who was a now
little-known performer (now deceased). I have many photos from the
subjects personal collection, performance stills and studio shots
(for PR). Several dozen I want to use are unattributed... and most
are decades old and none of the surviving friends or relatives have
any idea of who the photogs were. I remember seeing a documentary
several years ago that had something in the end credits along the
lines of acknowledging these unattributed photos... anyone have any
thoughts on this?

Doug Block
Wed 22 May 2002Link
Welcome, Craig. How can you acknowledge an unattributed work? Or,
to put it a different way, what's the point?

Craig Highberger
Wed 22 May 2002Link
HA! You are correct Doug... but what I saw was something atune
to: "The producers have made every effort to attribute
photographs used in this film from the private collections... yada
yada..." which is to ward off lawsuits. In my case this is the
situation... I have made every effort but still want to use these
unattributed photos. Just wondered if anyone else has been in
this position. It is maddening. Thank goodness, just today I got
in touch with a retired big name photog who has many shots that
I need in his files... but I would love to hear from anyone who has
used unattributed photos as cutaways. Thanks!

Erica Ginsberg
Thu 23 May 2002Link
I think I saw this done recently in Alan Berliner's "The Sweetest
Sound" (http://www.pbs.org/pov/sweetestsound/). He used a lot of
archival family film shots at the beginning (the kind of strange
stuff you find at garage sales) and then ended the film with
something along the lines of "If you know any of the folks in these
films, contact me."

As for your question, I think that if the photos are from the
performer's personal collection, he (or his family) owns the rights.
When you say "studio shots," I assume you mean like a Sears studio
rather than Warner Bros. If the latter, you might need rights from
the movie studio.

Craig Highberger
Thu 23 May 2002Link
Thanks, Erica, that is just what I was thinking of - thanks for the
link too! Craig

Olympia Stone
Thu 30 May 2002Link
Hi, my name is Olympia Stone and I have worked in the tv
production world for a long time and am making my first
documentary. I am just beginning the film festival application
process. Does anyone know anything about how to write a good
synopsis of your documentary for these applications? Is there a
book I can buy? Any advice, tips, information would be greatly
appreciated--thanks!!!

Craig Highberger
Thu 30 May 2002Link
Olympia, I am in the same situtation and found wonderful examples on the PBS POV documentary website:

There are lots of examples of the materials prepared for PR including synopsis, fact sheets, etc.

Good luck! Craig


Doug Block
Thu 30 May 2002Link
The IFP website has a sample application for attending the IFP
Market's No Borders section. Go to: www.ifp.org. You could also go
to IFP's office in NYC and look at back copies of their market
catalogues. AIVF's office in NY has an extensive library which could
also help.

There's also the Sundance website, where they have the past few
year's catalogues archived. For your purposes, that might be best of
all. I think it's www.sundance.org.

Good luck, Olympia!

Olympia Stone
Thu 30 May 2002Link
Perfect and just what I was looking for --thanks so much!!!

Virginia Williams
Fri 31 May 2002Link
I've got a question about digital transfers. I want to do a 'clone'
of a large format dv tape going to a mini-dv. I don't want a composite
transfer bc I don't want to lose a generation. Does anyone know where
to get this done? Thank

Doug Block
Mon 3 Jun 2002Link
It's a large world out there, Virginia. Where do you live?

Erin Nesbit
Wed 12 Jun 2002Link
This is probably going to be an incredibly basic question for most of
you, but maybe you can woo me with your expertise?
I'm interested in any info on setting up a Final Cut Pro system that
I'm not likely to get from the Apple people, or any opinions from
people who've used the system in different forms. Specifically, what
types of decks, drives, other accessories are best or preferable? It
might be helpful to know that the project for which I'm inquiring is
being shot on PAL/16x9/DVCAM.
Thank you all!

David Herman
Thu 13 Jun 2002Link
http://www.kenstone.net/fcp_homepage/fcp_homepage_index.html#tutorial
for everything auhoritative you NEED to know about fcp
cheers

Steven Austin
Tue 30 Jul 2002Link
I'm not so saavy about this forum yet, please forgive me if this was
posted elsewhere. (it contains a new question)

I'm a filmmaker (12 years in the industry) and I'm about to embark
on my first documentary feature.

My topic is rather unique, so I can't reveal it online. Due to the
timely nature of my piece and my relative inexperience in the field,
I'd like to ask some seasoned pros a few key questions regarding:

1. co-productions, ie. finding the right partner(s) to help finance
and/or distribute my feature doc.
2. acquiring film clips and still photos, fair usage laws and public
domain.
3. the discovery of copyrights for films already made, plus
discovery of underlying literary rights of such films.

Any help would be appreciated! I can be reached at
philnoir@earthlink.net

Thank you.

Doug Block
Wed 31 Jul 2002Link
It would help if you could ask more specific questions, Steven. And
maybe one at a time?

Donna Barker
Mon 12 Aug 2002Link
I'm researching a possible film topic and have spent hours trying to
find comprehensive doc film libraries so I can check out what other
films have been made on this topic. I don't feel like I'm hitting
gold yet. Any sites you would recommend? Thanks.

Doug Block
Tue 13 Aug 2002Link
Donna, have you tried doing a Google search? First, by your subject
+ "documentary film". Then under "documentary film, distributor".
Then you might contact the more prolific doc distributors (ie.
Filmmakers Library, California Newsreel, First Run Features) and
collectives for self-distributed docs like New Day Films.

Donna Barker
Tue 13 Aug 2002Link
Thank you Doug, both for your honest welcome to the list (although I
notice by your bio that you are a thriving working doc
filmmaker...afraid of the competition, perhaps!? ;> ) and for the
quick reply to my querry.

My approach was exactly as you described, using Google. I'll check
out the distributors. Aside from the Canadian National Film Board
that approach hadn't occurred to me. Gotta dust off my research
skills I guess. And maybe there just haven't been many films made on
the topic I'm working on.

Doug Block
Tue 13 Aug 2002Link
I always try to scare away the newbies, Donna ;-) Way too many of
them out there. Those damn cheapie dv camcorders are to blame!

But clearly there's no scaring you off, so God bless.... And, yep,
ya gotta do your homework.

By the way, I wouldn't be scared off even if there have been other
films done on the subject. There's always room for diff. approaches
and p.o.v.'s.

And yours will be better, of course.

Donna Barker
Tue 13 Aug 2002Link
So, Doug, maybe we could carry on this therapeutic exchange off-
list. How much do you charge to provide witty words of encouragement
to newbies in need?

James LaVeck
Mon 19 Aug 2002Link
Hello all,

I have a 43 minute English language doc for which I am looking to create a
Spanish language version. I have a good translation, which will be read by
the subject of the doc, who is a native speaker. My question is this: can
anyone recommend some good NYC firms that would be good to work with
on creating the new soundtrack, from recording the Spanish dialogue,
matching to picture, etc. I am looking for people with lots of experience in
this specialty area.

TIA

James LaVeck

Rebecca Romani
Thu 5 Sep 2002Link
Olympia~ hope your festival circuit is going well. I had the same
problem as well as asking myself is this realy as interesting as I
would like to think it is (answer:well, that depends...)Anyway, I
looked at past program descriptions of festivals I was interested in
to dtermine what kind of work they show, but more importantly how do
the programming people describe the material. That was really helpful.

Byrd Mcdonald
Thu 19 Sep 2002Link
Hey D-Word, thanks for your continued existence.

I have visited these forums sporadically over the last year, but rarely posted.
I'm posting now because I'm having a major melt down and I want other
opinions or some perspective.

i'm in the painful final stages of completing a documentary I've worked on for 3
years about people in the haunted attraction industry. The film profiles
various men and women who have been building and directing "haunted
houses" for years. It's a portrait of a strange, unusual industry, but more
importantly a portrait of the creators, and what makes them do what they do,
and what makes patrons pay money to be scared.

In researching haunted houses, I of course read about "hell houses" and even
went to one in Denver for a week, where I shot some of the best footage I
have. (For those not familiar, hell houses are church ran haunted houses that
intend to scare morality into patrons through skits involving abortion, drugs,
homosexuality). However, the hell houses always stuck out as not belonging
in my movie, which is very much a valentine to Halloween and people who
draw some creative energy from this time of year.

Then, George Radcliff's HELL HOUSE emerged and begain getting raves at
different festivals.

My issue is that i fear people are going to compare my film to HELL HOUSE in
some way. HELL HOUSE is a wonderful movie (I've seen it), but very different
from my film. however, they are both about haunted houses, just opposite
ends of the spectrum.

I know this happens every day, that people get "scooped" before their film is
done. But, I am looking for advice on how to position my movie so that it
doesnt' get compared to HELL HOUSE and doesn't get perceived as a small
subject which another movie has already covered.

Doug Block
Thu 19 Sep 2002Link
I think there was one year where three different docs about women
boxers came out. All were very good and quite successful.

Moral is, I think you position your film as if Hell House never
existed. There's always room for different p.o.v.'s about the same
(or similar) subjects.

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