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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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Ramona Diaz
Mon 11 Aug 2008Link

Well you could argue that the musician is famous and therefore you can make this film about the public persona. BUT how can you make a film about a musician without access to his/her work – i.e. the music? If management and the band are unwilling to give you permission to use the music, you can't use it. What would be the point of the film?


Paul Miil
Mon 11 Aug 2008Link

So, simply because someone is famous I can make a doc about them without their permission?

Would I be able to show the inside of previous homes and schools that he mentioned in his books or is that too private? Where is the line?

They say he is a private person and yet he's a celebrity who has written several books with intimate details about his private life.


Christopher Wong
Mon 11 Aug 2008Link

paul, for an example of how to profile a musician without using ANY of their music, check out AJ Schnack's Kurt Cobain About a Son

however, the above doc did primarily utilize the artist's recorded tapes from an interview for a book. so, you will somehow have to access something which gives the artist a voice. i'm sure you'll think of something creative...


Neil Garrett
Mon 11 Aug 2008Link

Hi all,
I'm filming a low budget community project (uk) over the next couple of weeks some of which will involve shooting teenagers (sadly only with a camera) at a club they attend. As most of them will be under 16, this puts me on tricky ground with the release forms. I need parental consent, but it's unlikely any of the parents will come to the club during filming. I'm a bit nervous at the prospect of say, giving each kid a release form and self addressed envelope and relying on them to return them, and there's no way of knowing or finding out who'll be attending in advance.
Should I be worried about this or just go ahead and shoot? Do I have to get release forms even for kids who'll just be wallpaper?


Mark Barroso
Tue 12 Aug 2008Link

Neil:
Laws are country-specific, so us Yanks can't tell you squat. That said, I'll tell you my thoughts anyway (us Yanks are like that).

I'm assuming you can't contact parents ahead of time and are shooting kids who just happen to show up. If it were me, I would demand from the kids the phone number of their guardian and call them on the spot. After getting a verbal release from mum, I'd tell her you need to get all this in writing and that she will have to sign a release and get her address.

Know going into it that x percent of the kids you shoot will be unusable because their parent never followed up by mailing you the release.


Andrew David Watson
Tue 12 Aug 2008Link

What type of club is this? A chess club? A music Club? Will the kids be getting picked up by their parents at the end? Will you be interviewing the kids or will they just be background? Thats a tough situation.


Neil Garrett
Wed 13 Aug 2008Link

It's a computer game tournament organised by a local library. I think the age range is gonna be quite broad so I'm assuming a fair number of kids will be making their own way there and back. The sequence ain't gonna live or die on whether I get interviews with them, but it would be nice to get some reaction – only with kids who I've got cast iron consent to use though!

-And Mark, thanks for the advice about getting verbal releases. I think thats probably a good place to start!

Cheers


Roderick Taylor
Wed 13 Aug 2008Link

Hey Neil,

I'm not sure how it works in the UK, nor am I really sure how it works in my own country (Canada), as the lawyers like to debate these issues to the end of time. That said, my understanding of it is this. Anyone can film anything in a public forum. Where you may be sued is if you use that public footage in a manner that could be construed as defamation of character. For example, if I'm making a video about prostitution and I videotape women waiting for the bus or teenage males cruising in their cars on main street, and I use that footage as b-roll in my film, but in such a way that those persons are depicted as prostitutes or 'john's', it would be pretty good grounds for a defamation of character lawsuit laid against me. If I was actually filming prostitutes and 'john's' cruising around the red light area of my city, and I disguised their faces in final production, I'd be minimizing the chances of a lawsuit, as I've eliminated a great deal of possibility for someone's character to be defamated.

At the end of the day however, anyone can sue anyone for anything. All you have to do is file a writ in a civil court. So, there is no 100% protection from a law suit. What you can protect yourself from is the credibility of the plaintiff's lawsuit.

If you are filming people in a private setting, such as a library, you will likely need permission from the library to do so. The library will then probably put up a poster that warns people of the shooting and gives them the option to inform you if they don't want to be captured in your film.

As for the 16-year-olds and their consent. I think it depends on two factors; the age of majority in the UK, and wheter or not you have something like an Infants Act in the UK. The Infants Act in Canada allows counsellors to provide their services to children under the age of majority, without consent from their parents, provided that the counsellor considers the child to be old enough to fully understand the consequences of such services. Maybe the UK has a law like that but pertaining to the rights of a child to access any kind of service.

Those are just my thoughts

Take Care,


Neil Garrett
Thu 14 Aug 2008Link

Well just got back from the filming and wouldn't you know it, the God of Production was smiling down on me. All but one of the kids had parents drifting in and out, all perfectly happy to have the kiddywinks on camera. Even the mum who wasn't there gave verbal consent over the phone and has agreed to sign the release I'm sending her.

Now I just need to know whether I can use cutaways of the TV screen showing the computer games being played, or whether that breaches uk copyright. Anyone?


Mike Mossey
Fri 15 Aug 2008Link

Do most people start their own company as a documentary filmmaker or can you just do business as yourself?
Does anyone know of any resources that outline the steps for creating a small-scale Doc-film business?
I am new to this. Thanks.


Doug Block
Fri 15 Aug 2008Link

Mike, I did business as myself (using a DBA) for quite a while. Once I started raising significant money for my first doc I incorporated. I think that's a pretty common way to go.


Skyler Buffmeyer
Sun 17 Aug 2008Link

hi!
i am interested in making my own doc and was wondering if there was a good editing program out there that is somewhat reasonable in the price and is not to complicated.
thank you :)


Christopher Wong
Sun 17 Aug 2008Link

welcome skyler...

there are a few decent editing programs out there, but the most common one is Final Cut Pro (FCP). A cheaper version of the same thing is Final Cut Express (FCE). But both of these programs only work with a Mac. (Speaking of which, iMovie comes absolutely free of charge with the Mac, and is a very handy program for beginners.)

if you have a PC, there are a myriad of options, the most popular of which are Avid and Adobe Premiere. unless you are wanting to be a professional editor, Avid is probably too expensive for you and requires too much of a learning curve. Adobe Premiere is easy to learn and widely used but not so much by documentary filmmakers.

all in all, if you can afford it, get the cheapest new Mac you can get, and start editing with iMovie. after a month or so of practice, then shell out the few hundred bucks for FCE. when you have a project that's actually fit for broadcast, upgrade to FCP.


Joe Moulins
Sun 17 Aug 2008Link

It's been a long time since I checked, but doesn't Avid have a free version for Windows and Mac?

(three minute later)

I guess not

Edited Sun 17 Aug 2008 by Joe Moulins

Skyler Buffmeyer
Sun 17 Aug 2008Link

Hey! thanks for the advice about the editing thing :)
Sadly, I have a PC and the FCE looks realllly good.
I have a few more questions and will probably have a lot more in the future....lol.
I will be interviewing random people on the street AND set up interviews. I was wondering what kind of release forms I would need. Can I make one up myself? I would really rather not see a lawyer or anything like that.
Also, for the filming I will be using a camcorder (Canon ZR850). I was wondering what advice you would give for sound? Could I use a simple boom?
Thanks again, this website is a great resource and, I will definitely take advantage of it. :)


Robert Goodman
Sun 17 Aug 2008Link

Pinnacle Studio 12 is a good program. A lot of features for $79. Remember you don't need much. For 90 years every Hollywood feature film was edited with a viewer and scotch tape. It used to be that you'd find less than 10 dissolves and all the other edits would be cuts.

If you want to go up the scale – Sony's Vegas Video is a good program and then head to Adobe Premiere CS3. All available for far less than Avid and other professional programs.


Paul Kloeden
Mon 18 Aug 2008Link

A quick google search will lead you to a lot of release forms. A quick cut and paste will get you what you need. As for interviews, especially set up ones, I would be tempted to buy a cheap lapel mic – simple one with cable to your camcorder.


Jason Caminiti
Mon 18 Aug 2008Link

Skyler,

There are a number of PC editing programs. Last year when I dove back into Non-Linear Editing, I started using Adobe Premiere Elements. It is surprisingly good for a program that costs about $99. Elements is a pro-ish program dumbed down quite a bit for newbies. Though, it has some features that Premiere Pro doesn't have, like the ability to make a DVD with titles and all. Also, if you find yourself getting serious, the learning curve to Premiere Pro will be almost nothing. In fact, you will start to see many of the quirkyness that is somehow built into Elements dissapear, and it is a slick program.

I'm not a fan of the Pinnacle software at all. I have it just to import VHS and it seems amateurish.

(Ducks flames from Mac users)

Edited Mon 18 Aug 2008 by Jason Caminiti

Skyler Buffmeyer
Mon 18 Aug 2008Link

Hi again!
Thank you so much for the great feedback! It is so appreciated!!!! I just love this website :)
I have another question:
What recommendations would you make for finding subjects to be in your doc? I was thinking maybe flyers around town or an article in the newspaper...anymore tips?
Thank you again.


Robert Goodman
Mon 18 Aug 2008Link

it's not amateurish it's simple for amateurs on purpose.


Mark Barroso
Mon 18 Aug 2008Link

Depends on how random you want to be. If you want just anyone to comment on, say, how they feel about the latest fashions or the Iraq Occupation then just walk up to people on the street.

If you're looking for specific kinds of people, like folks with rare diseases or ex-cops who killed people in the line of duty then you can either advertise or talk to people who work with that population.


Jason Caminiti
Mon 18 Aug 2008Link

Robert, True, I guess I expected more from it. Adobe Premiere Elements seems really good considering. There are some really annoying quirks that I can't get past but otherwise it is great.

Skyler, You really didn't tell us what kind of documentary you were looking to make. If you are looking to just get experience, I'd recommend going to the local public access studio and volunteering. I take my camera when I go to an event in the city and make a 'show' out of it. You could throw in some interviews to get some experience there. Learning on the access facilities equipment is not only free, but it lets you see what you don't like. Which helps you zone in on what kind of equipment you need.


Evan Thomas
Tue 19 Aug 2008Link

So i want to film for a few hours at a Military Cemetary with a PD-170 + tripod. My project is lo / no budget and i'm self funded etc working on the film in my spare time.

In order to get permission to film i need to provide:

"Proof of adequate insurance coverage for any person participating in the film production or photography, as well as any spectator who may be at the site and might be injured as a result, directly or indirectly, of the filming or photography. Adequacy of coverage will by as determined by the organisation"

Clearly i don't have public liability insurance. Any way around this?


Jason Caminiti
Tue 19 Aug 2008Link

It's not like you are filming a movie there. If you weren't using a tripod, I'd say just go for it.

I'm in the US, and we have public access television here. People tell me all the time I am supposed to have filming permits and the like, but I just tell them it is for Public access and they seem to go away. I've never been thrown out of anywhere for filming with a lower end looking camera. Even with a tripod. I have had people ask me questions.

I think the liability stuff is more if you are going to be bring in crew and heavy equipment.

Call the groundskeeper and tell him what you are doing, and tell him you are just going to be filming with a small camera and tripod. I bet they'd be fine with that?

If not, bring a consumer grade camera and get the footage that way. A La Michael Moore.

BTW: I'm no lawyer, so you should check with a lawyer before taking any of my advice...

Edited Tue 19 Aug 2008 by Jason Caminiti

Skyler Buffmeyer
Tue 19 Aug 2008Link

Hey Everybody!
You are all such a huuuge help! Thanks!
I was wondering if anyone could give advice on getting archives (especially news-media related). Any good websites or procedures I need to go through to get good archives?
Thanks again,
Skyler

Edited Tue 19 Aug 2008 by Skyler Buffmeyer

John Burgan
Tue 19 Aug 2008Link

Archives – it depends a lot on what you plan to do with the material. More and more are online these days and you can search for footage which you can then license for use, whether for a web presentation or a film to be broadcast, whatever. It's not cheap though!

For instance check out the ITN Archive

BTW Skyler – please note that we ask all D-Worders to register with their full, real-world names, so please log in when you have a moment and update your profile. Thanks.


Skyler Buffmeyer
Tue 19 Aug 2008Link

Hey John!
Thanks so much for the advice.
I'm very sorry that I didn't put my full last name up.
I felt a little uncomftorable doing so considering, I just found this website a few days ago and I am underage.
I am so sorry if I have broken any rules.
If there are certain reasons that you need people to put up their last names please tell me and I will change it.
Again, I am very sorry if I have broken any rules and also, thanks so much for the advice about the archives.
:)
Skyler


Joe Moulins
Tue 19 Aug 2008Link

I wouldn't want my daughter sharing her full name on this board. No offense.

Let Skyler B be Skyler B.


Andrew David Watson
Tue 19 Aug 2008Link

Skyler – check out http://www.archive.org/index.php

Evan – The public access or "student film" lie can go a long way. Also, you could try to track down a local professional that might be willing to help you out and have them as a "co-producer." I would say go take a walk around there and see what the vibe is like and try to get a sense if you would even be bothered.


Doug Block
Tue 19 Aug 2008Link

Skyler, no worries, we'll let you remain a B given that you're bringing the mean age of The D-Word's membership down considerably. Just don't be ordering any drinks in the virtual bar.


Monica Williams
Wed 20 Aug 2008Link

Help!!

A potential next project has presented itself to me and it is a completely different style than the film I have been learning how to make for the last couple of years. I'm wondering if anyone can recommend ideas regarding the actual film or films to watch that might be in the same genre.

Here's the situation. I live in Detroit and am very fascinated with the "post-industrial" remnants of what was once a thriving city. There are hidden stories everywhere here and people are experimenting with radically creative avenues for social change. While helping tear down an abandoned house with one of his groups, I had a very long conversation with a man who was one of the Logistics officers for "Hands Across America," who was asked to teach courses on grassroots organizing at the University of Michigan and who is currently "stuck" in Detroit with legal matters. He took me to a miraculous place he helped build called the "Artists Village" in one of the worst neighborhoods you can imagine. He is very well-loved! He wants me to film some burial ceremonies he has organized with churches for the homeless and stillborn infants who are not given these rituals. Also to film some of the seeds he is planting here along with the activities of the Artists Village. The Artists Village is a huge collection of abandoned warehouses that have been painted with murals by the children in the neighborhood, guided by the artist in residence, whose artwork hangs everywhere. There is theater space where spoken word and community theater take place and there are huge community gardens. Possibilities are endless!

I guess this wasn't such a short post, but – How do I begin thinking about this? I would need to shoot some of these events ASAP and before he leaves. I have someone that can help shoot it, but I'm in need of creative direction as I'm currently working on a historical and philosophical film with archives and talking heads. What am I looking for – do I have to be in the film (aaagh!) Any help would be most appreciated :-)


John Burgan
Wed 20 Aug 2008Link

Don't want to dampen your enthusiasm, Monica, but isn't this simply a distraction from finishing "Knowing Evil"?


Christopher Wong
Wed 20 Aug 2008Link

sometimes the project you were "born to make" comes along at inopportune moments. like before you've finished the film you had already started... but if a project absolutely rings true in your heart and mind, then you don't really have a choice but to go forward with the new thing. (that was certainly the case with me.)

from what we've read before, it sounds like KNOWING EVIL might be able to wait. but only you know best... if you do go forward with this new project, make sure that you have a current story to tell, rather than simply rehashing the history of how the Artist's Village was created. as you said, there are hidden stories everywhere. go find 'em!

and no, it certainly doesn't sound like you have to be "in" the film.


Monica Williams
Wed 20 Aug 2008Link

In reply to John Burgan's post on Wed 20 Aug 2008 :

Well John, you may have me here – I'm falling for "another film." That said, I'm still committed to Knowing Evil and just finished my fundraising trailer. I know I'm a little googly eyed for this new project (it doesn't have all of the baggage of my current relationship:-) but I'm attempting to have some kind of either backup plan or footage in the works for when Knowing Evil is done. I've also thought of posting 5 minute stories like this on my website with a blog as a companion to Knowing Evil. This man's character represents a major them in the film and also symbolizes to me the combination of two of the philosophers in Knowing Evil.

Will I get in over my head if I were to just film some of the events this man is involved in for now, and to either use some of it for small 5 minute pieces and then try to make a film once Knowing Evil is finished? It also feels like a way to detach a little from Knowing Evil (in a healthy way) as I've been a bit monomaniacal with the whole process :-)


Monica Williams
Wed 20 Aug 2008Link

And thank you Chris for the great advice!


Skyler Buffmeyer
Wed 20 Aug 2008Link

Hey!
I am having trouble finding archives pertaining to the film I would like to make. I know this may seem very silly but, I am looking for videos/ video clips of things such as, hannah montana, high school musical, beauty pagents, make up commercials...... I was wondering if you could point me in the right direction and, if you could tell me more info on archives...can you get some free? if so, which ones can you use with no permission or money? and anything else I might need to know.
Thanks!!!


Jason Caminiti
Wed 20 Aug 2008Link

Monica, not sure if I can help at all. I am finishing up a film that is about how a city is using the arts to bring life back to their downtown and their mills. A few resources that may, or may not help.

http://www.artinruins.com/
http://www.urbansmartgrowth.net/

Also, a couple docs.
These are along that vein.

End of Suburbia
Escape from Suburbia

There is one Erica mentioned to me that I lost the link for about an artists community in Texas. Erica?

Chris, where were you when I was starting my project. I could have used a theme like an artists group moving into the city to explore the growth.. oh well too late now...


Carlos Gomez
Wed 20 Aug 2008Link

Monica, Varda's "The Gleaners and I" comes to mind. Maybe post-industrial Detroit is a setting where the ideas you're examining in your current doc play out, and the artist village is one branch of a bigger story. You, like Agnes Varda, could be the unifying thread: a filmmaker making sense of the world she lives in, relating historical, social and psychological trends to the changing landscape of the city she inhabits.


Penelope Andrews
Wed 20 Aug 2008Link

Skyler B
try http://www.archive.org look for the prelinger collection, read about the copyright stuff with each clip.


Eli Brown
Thu 21 Aug 2008Link

Unfortunately, Skyler, Disney is pretty legal and protective of its media properties. If you're planning on making something that you won't distribute, I wouldn't worry about it (like a class project, for instance), but if the rest of the world will see it, it's a safe bet that they'll be unamused at its use should they find it. However, the policy of "Fair Use" (small description here – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fair_use) does give you some latitude to use all of those things in the context of a work of "scholarship" which often includes documentary. If an interview you conduct with someone talks about one of those programs, you could probably get away with a very, very short clip of it (or stills). Depending on what your point of view is of these items, the companies behind the creation of the media may even be willing to give you limited use (if it serves their PR or goals). Fair Use is your best bet for using any of it, but as a rule you probably won't be able to use a lot. (Disclaimer: I'm not a lawyer, so for any fair use claims, it's always best to check with someone who knows legal matters a little bit better...)


Lucia Duncan
Thu 21 Aug 2008Link

Here's the website: www.thirdwardtx.com


Monica Williams
Thu 21 Aug 2008Link

Carlos – thanks for helping me make that connection between the two films and the possibility of their becoming one. And I've just put Gleaners and I in my Netflix queue.

Jason – Thanks for those sites and the offer of help. I've heard of the Suburbia movies you mentioned and I'm ordering them. Oakland county is one of the richest in the nation and it borders Detroit!


Carlos Gomez
Thu 21 Aug 2008Link

I wasn't exactly thinking they would become one but hey... glad it made any sense.


Evan Thomas
Fri 22 Aug 2008Link

I will soon be editing in FCP for the first time. I will be using shared macs at the local arts center so I will be trundling along every week with my external hard drive. I understand it needs to be FAT32 formatted. My interviews are all 40 – 60 mins and therefore each is larger than 4GB in its entirety. Do i have to digitise them in stages then? Any good tutorials about on this sort of thing?


Jason Osder
Fri 22 Aug 2008Link

Evan, actually it is recommended that you use “Mac OS Extended (Journaled)” for the drive formatting. There should be no problem with file size. Organization is the other big challenge. There has been a lot posted here on that lately. Plenty of good advice, including that each project is different. You may want to apply for full membership to the D-Word so that you can access the FCP topic.


Kristin Alexander
Fri 22 Aug 2008Link

As Jason said, organization is important! Be sure you understand your scratch disks, and how to point the material you capture to your external hard drive and save it there.


Jill Kelly
Sat 23 Aug 2008Link

hi, i'm ready to buy the panasonic p200a,I am going to be using it for educational and travel films.I have been going back and forth between the sony ex1 and the panasonic. I understand the p2 doesn't produce hd in full 1080 like the ex1, is this that important of a difference? I would like to have equipment i can grow into but is the hd that much of a selling feature when it comes to selling a film or for getting a broadcaster on side for funding? I will be working with premier pro cs3 as i have a pc.Will any of this set up hold me back once i get a project completed? It's such a hard decision! thanks for any help...


Monica Williams
Sat 23 Aug 2008Link

This may be a silly question, but I have a 10 minute trailer for Knowing Evil and would like to post it here for anyone to rip apart. I don't have all the rights to the archival images used so if I post it, will I get into legal trouble, would it be too public?

Edited Sat 23 Aug 2008 by Monica Williams

Christopher Wong
Sat 23 Aug 2008Link

you'll be fine, monica... go ahead and post it.


Doug Block
Sat 23 Aug 2008Link

Ditto. Go right ahead, Monica.


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