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Old March 10th, 2008, 10:32 AM   #1
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Documentary on homeless kids and families

I am working on a mini-documentary (30 minutes) about homeless children/families in my community. We are not making a profit or receiving any income from this project and are hoping to raise funds for the homeless shelter by hosting a benefit dinner where we will have a guest speaker and show the film (can I even use that word "film"). I have been told by the shelters and children agencies that our production qualifies for grant funding, but we'll see about that.

As of right now, we don't plan on filming any children unless their parents allow it, but I do have a few questions. I have been renting and watching several documentaries and taking notes over the past few weeks and have seen a few that include footage taken in elementary schools. I know there were hundreds of children that were filmed and I highly doubt many, if any, were shown that had releases signed by their parents.

If it's possible and not a tedious process, I would like to do some filming in a few schools of school kids as I'll be interviewing school teachers and administrators.

Anyone ever worked on a documentary that did some filming in elementary schools during their daily activities?


Also, I know that I need to talk to a lawer, so personal experiences is what I'm looking for.
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Old March 10th, 2008, 12:41 PM   #2
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Understandably teachers and school and administrators have concerns related to protect children's privacy and in some cases may be required to do so by various state laws and regulations. As a matter of law you can't use the image of a minor child without the permission of their parent or legal guardian whether child is in school or out. The school can't give permission on behalf of the child to a third party (even if the school district has a release policy in place that applies to school activities). There has been a lot of change in laws in this area in recent years owing to various violent incidents -- and that might explain earlier filmmakers were given broader access. Here in PA there are laws and regulations about who can be left alone with students in the absence of school staff -- one has to undergo a set of criminal background checks conducted by the state police -- something to check on.

In my experience here in PA, your chances of being allowed to film in the schools will have a lot to do with how much autonomy individual principals and teachers have to set policies on such matters in their classroom or schools. Just because they might be able to allow access does not mean that they will. The best situation is one in which the teacher(s) of the kids in question understand and will support your project and are willing to be advocates for you with with their superiors and parents. So . . . you have to put some time in building relationships. Don't expect to ask once and get everything settled, you may have work through several layers of administration and explain the project again and again and again. It's a great help to have a good short written description of the project to share.

Apart from the legalities, you have do careful production planning. It's a very good idea to try an arrange a visit to the class before you do any real production so the kids can meet you and see your equipment etc. If you take the time to do this you will get much better candid results later. Once they know you they'll ignore you. You also need to get a feeling for school routines. When the bells ring, how much kids move around etc.

You may be surprised at how small elementary classrooms can be. They are often crammed full of stuff and it's hard to move about. Kids are also low to the ground. Shooting them on their own level can take some doing . . . you may find yourself on your knees quite a lot.

If you have any specific questions, I can try to answer them.
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Old March 10th, 2008, 01:23 PM   #3
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Thanks

Quote:
Originally Posted by Peter Wiley View Post
You may be surprised at how small elementary classrooms can be. They are often crammed full of stuff and it's hard to move about. Kids are also low to the ground. Shooting them on their own level can take some doing . . . you may find yourself on your knees quite a lot.

If you have any specific questions, I can try to answer them.
Thanks. I'll send you a PM with questions that may not be of much help to the rest of the board.


I have my own children in one of the schools that the shelter is zoned to and have a good relationship with the staff. I don't particularly want to film the individual homeless children for fear of causing possible embarassment to the kids once the film is released. I think some footage of children interacting at the school would be beneficial while there is some dialog from teacher and administrator interviews and discussions.

A couple of advantages I have is that I've been in the schools a lot, have coached several youth sports, and am not tall, so I won't have to bend much. I'm very comfortable around the craziness.

Outside of the above, the purpose of the film is not to win or even enter a competition. I live in a community that certainly has very manageable homeless problem and my hope it that we can reach some folks that will recognize that too and step up just a little. When the idea came to my head that this was something I had to do, I realized I could fall flat on my face, but I'm amazed at the people that have been put in my path and offered to help.

I've met a lady who once owned a production company and was a script writer who asked if she could help. I've met a CNN documentary producer who is helping us out and I also have met a guy who produces a couple of shows for a national network that's mentoring me as well. I've been humbled at how open, friendly, and helpful the video production business is. This forum is no different either. Yall are great and someone always takes time out for knuckleheads like me who try to do things they aren't experienced enough to do. Luckily, for this project, I'm surrounded by some great folks that also sense something great for this community will come from this effort.
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Old March 10th, 2008, 04:46 PM   #4
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From my 15 years worth of experience of shooting tv news, most schools have parents sign a release form at the beginning of the school year. I know it covers tv and newspaper photographers, not sure about your situation. Generally, if a student had not gotten the permission from the parents at the beginning of school, then that student was removed from class during the taping.

Hope that helps a little bit.

Jon
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Old March 16th, 2008, 04:03 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Peter Wiley View Post
As a matter of law you can't use the image of a minor child without the permission of their parent or legal guardian whether child is in school or out.
What law says this? If you are shooting a documentary or a news story on a new community playground for example, and kids happen to be playing at the playground, are you saying you need to get permission from each and every one of those kids?

I understand that minors can not legally enter into a contract without their parent's or gaurdians approval.... so they couldn't for example consent to being in a commercial or endorse a product- but I was under the impression that the first ammendment protected a photographers right to aquire images as long as they are on public property.

I would really like to know what law says that there is a special exception that pertains to children.
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