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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 1 Feb 2004Link
Johanna, those are great questions and each one requires a long,
detailed answer, so I can't get to all of them.

The short answer to the first is... you can't protect your ideas. Not
fully. You can't copyright an idea. So the more fully developed they
are when you present them, the more it's clear that you've done the
work and someone would be foolish to try to do it themselves when
you're imminently going into production, well... hopefully, that does
the trick.

As far as format for pitching, TDF at Hot Docs, IDFA and a number of
other places have formal pitching sessions for international docs
during the year and they all have a similar format. You can read up
on it at the TDF website:

The only trade secret on securing pre-sales is to shoot a lot of
great footage and make it into a fantastic sample tape. And, if you
can, allign yourself with producers who have international experience
and contacts (all but necessary in int'l co-pros and presales).

Lots of luck.

Johanna Kloot
Mon 2 Feb 2004Link
Thank you so much for your valuable advice. I will take heed. It
must feel great to know you are making a difference.
Thank you again, Johanna.

Sarah Richards
Wed 4 Feb 2004Link
Does anyone have any tips on getting into the industry for a lawyer
turned documentary filmmaker? Do I need to go back to school? Is it
realistic to want a career in documentary? Am I crazy???! Cheers,

Doug Block
Wed 4 Feb 2004Link
Yes, Sarah, you're crazy! Totally bonkers!!! Then again, so are all
of us. So, you're in good company. But you're also ahead of the game
since much of producing is doing all the agreements yourself that you
wish you had the money to pay a lawyer to do.

I'd also say don't go back to school. What for? Use all that money
you save towards making your film. There are plenty of ways to learn
outside of school. Just one recommendation: if you're gonna wind up
shooting yourself, get a camera and practice, practice, practice.

Doug Block
Wed 4 Feb 2004Link
Sarah, just noticed you applied to the community. We don't normally
let in inexperienced doc makers, but if you promise to hang out in our
Legal Issues topic and restrain from asking too many basic questions
we'll make an exception. When you get in (later today), please
introduce yourself again there.

Sarah Richards
Wed 4 Feb 2004Link
Thanks Doug, you've made my day!

Lynnae Brown
Wed 4 Feb 2004Link
do you have any recommedations for transcription services? I'd like
to have my footage transcribed for paper editing..thanks

Lynnae Brown
Wed 4 Feb 2004Link
in NYC preferably

Shazia Malik
Fri 6 Feb 2004Link
Hi every one,

Forgive me for sounding stupid... Ive finally managed to shortlist
two topics for my first school documentary:

1. Since Im an immigrant Im very interested in the plight of
children born of Immigrant parents.

2. The Hare Krishna Consciousness and their way of life (supposedly
aiming for a kind of spirituality). What kind of spirituality are
they aiming for really?

Now for my question:

Im in America at the moment and have to hand in topics the day I
land NZ (where I study and will be filming). So I have chosen topics
based on very minimal research done abroad. Im scared that mid way
in my research if I discover that there really isnt much to

I guess my fear is partly born out of the fact that I might not be
able to go back and change my topic...

Hope Im not sounding too vague...


Erica Ginsberg
Sat 7 Feb 2004Link

Without knowing more about your circumstances (when is the project
due, whether you are working with a crew of fellow students, whether
the school is funding it entirely or you have to fund part of it,
etc.), it is hard to give really good advice, but here are a few

I'm assuming by your saying this is your first school documentary
that this means you will probably go on to make a second school
documentary. So, in a sense, you could think about both of your
choices as possibilities -- one for now, one for later. Your real
choice is which one are you more passionate about right now and which
one seems achievable given the likely limitations of time, money,
crew, etc. Do you have an advisor at your school who has given any
feedback on which one looks more realistic as a first project?

It'obvious what led you to choice #1, but how did you get interested
in choice #2? Are you Hare Krishna or do you have connections to
Hare Krishnas? Are there many Hare Krishnas near where you are in
New Zealand? It is certainly not a requirement to have a pre-
existing connection -- sometimes being somewhat removed from a topic
but curious about it can make you look at it more objectively. But
you do have to be interested enough in it to carry your passion
through the ups and downs of following the subject (starting with
research and getting the access and the trust level of people who may
feel they have been misrepresented in the past)

In terms of the first topic on children of immigrants, it is one
which has been done a lot, which is not to say don't do it. Issues
of cross-cultural identity are always ripe for documentation. I am
not sure how many other documentaries have been done specifically
about immigrants in New Zealand compared to issues in U.S., European
countries, Australia, etc., so I am not sure if the stories would be
similar or different. I assume you may have noticed some
similarities and differences between immigrant experiences since you
have been in the U.S. You may also want to look at other films which
have dealt with this topic.

The advantage of having a personal connection to a story is that you
could either introduce yourself as a character or have a means to
make your subjects more comfortable since you share something in
common with them. The disadvantage is that you may make assumptions
that those who don't share that identity might miss. So it's also a
question of who is your audience? Would you want this film to reach
others who are immigrants to make them feel they are not alone? Do
you want it to make people who don't share that identity and either
know nothing or think they know something to know more about the
experience of immigrants? These are two very different audiences and
it is hard, but not impossible, to make a documentary which would
appeal to both.

Good luck, what ever you decide!

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