New member looking to shoot his first documentary - help needed

Hello. I'm a new member and describe myself as "an old dude that wants to bring stories of injustice to the screen". I am looking for advice on my first documentary project that I'm working on. I have ZERO experience in the filmmaking industry (I did take a class on films though about a hundred years ago) but with that said I am 100% committed to getting this story made and captured on film.
 
Sounds like the best thing would be to hire a camera and audio crew that already has the gear and the Producers.
 

indietalk

IndieTalk Founder
Staff Member
Admin
:welcome:
 

sfoster

Staff Member
Moderator
Welcome. Advice that you get may vary depending on the length of your project and its distribution goals.
 

indietalk

IndieTalk Founder
Staff Member
Admin
Also what kind of doc? Archival footage? Reenactments? Interviews? Investigative? Cinematic?
 
Welcome. Advice that you get may vary depending on the length of your project and its distribution goals.
Well the overall goal is to have Netflix, HBO or one of the other streaming companies take interest in this project. But funds are very limited so likely will only be able to produce a 30 minute film (Just guessing). I know nothing about distribution.
 
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Welcome to IndieTalk. I'd recommend finding a local film school and make friends with their "I need a film crew" bulletin board. Be willing to volunteer for someone else's student film, and that will make it easier to find volunteers for yours. My local film school is Cal Arts, it's almost embarrassing the caliber of free talent you can get by just asking. And as for "old dudes", I burned out completely 20 years ago, packed up and moved to Northern California to raise my young son, and am just now "kinda sorta" thinking about getting back into the industry... at the young age of 68. But remember this... on a $50m + production, the producer sits in an office and smokes Cohiba red dot. On a no-budget production, the producer picks up the dog shit on set.
 
Interviews with archival footage.

Job #1 is to get the audio right. If your interviews are difficult to listen to (noisy) or understand (unintelligible) you'll be shooting yourself in the foot (actually, a little higher and more to the centerline). Your audience WILL NOT forgive bad audio for a longer format project, and neither will your potential distributors.

If your interviews look terrible but sound good you can use any footage you want over the interview. The reverse is not true; there is no rescuing of bad sound without A LOT of expense.
 
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Can someone tell me how much, on a percentage basis, you should allocate in your budget for production (filming), post production (editing) and distribution? Is it like about a third of your budget each? Note, this is an interview style documentary that also will extensively use archived footage. Thanks.
 
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These kinds of questions are extremely difficult to answer, as every project is different.

This is where your budgeting needs to begin.

You are going to be doing interviews, so you'll need a camera or two, and solid production sound - lavs and a boom w/recorder. You can DIY or you can hire a crew. How far will you be traveling for the interviews? Will it require you to transport, feed and house your crew?

You want to use archival footage. Archival footage can be very expensive depending upon what it is and the source.

Is your editor a talented up-and-comer or an experienced pro? That will affect your budget. How much material will need to be vetted? How much visual and audio clean-up is required? This can be expensive. What do you need in the way of graphics? Another variable expense. How about the score/music? Original score or canned tracks?

The list goes on and on.

There are two ways of approaching your budget; you already have a budget and will need to figure out how to shoehorn all of your requirements into the budget, or you can figure out how much everything will cost and raise the funds. But either way, you first need to figure out your requirements.

Perhaps an experienced production partner would be the way to go.
 
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Howlongapieceofstring.jpg


These kinds of questions are extremely difficult to answer, as every project is different.

This is where your budgeting needs to begin.

You are going to be doing interviews, so you'll need a camera or two, and solid production sound - lavs and a boom w/recorder. You can DIY or you can hire a crew. How far will you be traveling for the interviews? Will it require you to transport, feed and house your crew?

You want to use archival footage. Archival footage can be very expensive depending upon what it is and the source.

Is your editor a talented up-and-comer or an experienced pro? That will affect your budget. How much material will need to be vetted? How much visual and audio clean-up is required? This can be expensive. What do you need in the way of graphics? Another variable expense. How about the score/music? Original score or canned tracks?

The list goes on and on.

There are two ways of approaching your budget; you already have a budget and will need to figure out how to shoehorn all of your requirements into the budget, or you can figure out how much everything will cost and raise the funds. But either way, you first need to figure out your requirements.

Perhaps and experienced production partner would be the way to go.
No doubt that I’m a fish out of water with these things having never been even remotely in or around this industry in my lengthy career. We’re working on a shoestring budget of around $10K so yeah if I could find an experienced production partner that would be the way to go but with such a thin budget is this even possible? My thoughts are to find a freelance kid out of film school with a couple of years experience behind a camera to shoot the interviews. I was thinking of renting a hotel room or like a conference room at a WeWork spot for a couple of days and bringing the majority of people there for the interviews as most live within an hours drive of Nashville in order to help keep travel costs down and to help ensure good sound and lighting. I’m really hoping that this could be done by one person using lavs and a camera. From there we would spend the third day shooting b-roll outside. The majority of the archived footage exists at Court TV, with other archived footage at local TV stations. I don’t have a clue how much that will cost but know which pieces of those archived footage materials we want to use. One of the key characters we need to interview lives in L.A. and to keep his interview cost down I was thinking of interviewing and recording him over the telephone, not optimal I know but if we can get good sound quality we can make that part work. The editing is likely going to be key and I’m really struggling with how much will this cost me? Originally I wanted to get a documentary of about 45 minutes in length in the can but I’m thinking that I’ll be lucky to get one of half that time given our financial constraint. Graphics are going to be quite minimal. Music score, yeah something canned. This is such a compelling story that I’m literally committed to making it happen even if it means using kids in film school though I would prefer having experienced pros shooting and editing this project. Hopefully this will help generate more ideas and suggestions. Thanks.
 

sfoster

Staff Member
Moderator
I was in a documentary that was on tv in 2011, the producers had a 100,000 budget i believe. for context.
 
Has anyone made a documentary and used footage from local TV stations without having to pay fees? I'm told that some usage could be deemed fair use but that it needs to be used in a transformative manner different than its original use. Not an easy hurdle when trying to make a documentary largely based on calling into question witness testimony made during the trial which was broadcast live and now is archived.
 
Has anyone made a documentary and used footage from local TV stations without having to pay fees? I'm told that some usage could be deemed fair use but that it needs to be used in a transformative manner different than its original use. Not an easy hurdle when trying to make a documentary largely based on calling into question witness testimony made during the trial which was broadcast live and now is archived.

Don't the courts have control of the trial recordings? There's probably an administrative fee to obtain them, but shouldn't be too expensive.

I don't know enough about Fair Share laws to give any opinion there; that's why you would need a production partner, to help you navigate the ins and outs of doing things correctly.

No doubt that I’m a fish out of water with these things having never been even remotely in or around this industry in my lengthy career. We’re working on a shoestring budget of around $10K so yeah if I could find an experienced production partner that would be the way to go but with such a thin budget is this even possible? My thoughts are to find a freelance kid out of film school with a couple of years experience behind a camera to shoot the interviews. I was thinking of renting a hotel room or like a conference room at a WeWork spot for a couple of days and bringing the majority of people there for the interviews as most live within an hours drive of Nashville in order to help keep travel costs down and to help ensure good sound and lighting. I’m really hoping that this could be done by one person using lavs and a camera. From there we would spend the third day shooting b-roll outside. The majority of the archived footage exists at Court TV, with other archived footage at local TV stations. I don’t have a clue how much that will cost but know which pieces of those archived footage materials we want to use. One of the key characters we need to interview lives in L.A. and to keep his interview cost down I was thinking of interviewing and recording him over the telephone, not optimal I know but if we can get good sound quality we can make that part work. The editing is likely going to be key and I’m really struggling with how much will this cost me? Originally I wanted to get a documentary of about 45 minutes in length in the can but I’m thinking that I’ll be lucky to get one of half that time given our financial constraint. Graphics are going to be quite minimal. Music score, yeah something canned. This is such a compelling story that I’m literally committed to making it happen even if it means using kids in film school though I would prefer having experienced pros shooting and editing this project. Hopefully this will help generate more ideas and suggestions. Thanks.

There are lots of ways to keep your costs down. It could possibly be less expensive to interview your interviewees in their homes; probably a lot more comfortable for them as well. You don't have to transport the interviewees. You won't have to rent an interview space. You could get your B-roll, plus "human interest" footage of the interviewees. Either way, your production crew will cost the same. The interview from LA could be done over Skype, Zoom or a similar app; we see that on news programs all the time, especially now during Covid lockdowns.

The key to a successful project is massive, detailed preproduction. You are a general planning a campaign. Where are you going, how do you get there, what logistical support do your troops need? "Nobody plans to fail; they fail to plan."

That's why you need a production partner to help you navigate; you are a stranger in a strange land and need a "native guide" to lead you through the production jungle. Otherwise you could be wasting a lot of time and money.
 

indietalk

IndieTalk Founder
Staff Member
Admin
You need to work with an experienced documentary/news crew not just anybody. So the students suggestion is great, but they either need to be PAs or have doc experience. It's not like narrative film. You could do interviews and the subject is looking directly at the camera, which is considered confrontational and hard to watch. But someone with experience would know they should look off-camera, and at what angle, and this, and that, etc.
 
You need to work with an experienced documentary/news crew not just anybody. So the students suggestion is great, but they either need to be PAs or have doc experience. It's not like narrative film. You could do interviews and the subject is looking directly at the camera, which is considered confrontational and hard to watch. But someone with experience would know they should look off-camera, and at what angle, and this, and that, etc.
Great advice thank you for sharing this with me.
 
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