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Old September 8th, 2009, 06:32 PM   #1
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How to go about doing a documentary?

Hello everyone, I am new to the documentary side of this forum, I am going to do a documentary and this will be my first one. The topic is undisclosed at the moment as I am trying to get everything worked out. I'm just wanted to know what are some things I NEED to have done before I start with making the documentary i.e., release forms, etc. I'm not at all sure what documentarians (if that is a word) do before they start to shoot for their documentary. Do I need a license, etc.? Thanks in advance for your replies!

My equipment goes like this:

Canon HV30
Rode Videomic/Stereomic
Zoom H2
Litepanels Micro
Manfrotto Tripod
Adobe CS3
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Old September 8th, 2009, 11:05 PM   #2
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First off, let me start by saying there are FAR more experienced folks than I here who I am sure will chime in.

You can't/won't say what you are doing. That makes the job of answering pretty tough. Will it have talking heads in it? (releases and lighting and sound issues)) Will it have archival photos in it ala Ken Burns (copyright and rights) Will it be shown on TV or cable? (backed up proof of image licenses/releases etc and format and rendering issues). In Schools? At home for friends?

Music? (rights issues or royalty free). VO? Do you have VO talent to employ?

Lots to ponder.

Do you have any experience? You have equuipment but then then it may not be ideally suited to the task... whataver that might be. Does you idea have a potential shot list? Outline? Design length for the desired market, if any?

In short, yours is an almost impossible Q to answer as posed... but those are some of the issues you will face.
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Old September 9th, 2009, 12:28 AM   #3
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Whoa! It looks like it's a lot more to documentaries than I thought (i.e. legalities), I didn't know what I didn't know, and by your questions I'm starting to see what I need to be looking into. This will be a Christian documentary, I'm learning more and more each day from the Lord what this will be about, but it will center on the morality of people and go from there (I guess this is where storyboarding comes in). As you see I'm not completely planned out, but by your response I'm seeing where I need to be looking and what I need to take care of. Thanks so much for the response and help!
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Old September 9th, 2009, 12:53 AM   #4
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Originally Posted by Ferlon Webster View Post
This will be a Christian documentary...
If you are going to be showing in, or distributing to, Churches you probably won't need to have it High Def as most will be using a data projector, but as you are using an HV30 I would shoot in HD anyway and downconvert later as you will get better image quality.

If you are quoting Scripture, don't forget that most translations - other than the Authorised (KJ) version - are copyright. At least most Christian Music publishers try to be helpful but you will need to check and clear any music you use. It can still be expensive though.

EDIT: I have a church documentary release form, based on recommendations made on dvinfo, which I can pass on if you wish.

Last edited by Colin McDonald; September 9th, 2009 at 04:38 AM. Reason: + release form
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Old September 9th, 2009, 09:57 AM   #5
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Just finished production on a documentary which will hopefully be done with post within a few months. As for the legalities the basic release forms the basic ones are your talent release, location release and don't forget your crew release forms. As for music I've found it much easier to have the music composed specifically for the project. For your situation you may be capturing some scenes where a choir is singing a song. Make sure you get the appropriate releases for that. Do a search for copyright issues on this forum and you'll find enough info to sufficiently confuse you.

As for the work flow there is the normal pre-production, principle photography, post production steps but how much you do in pre has a large effect on what happens in post. On one doc I worked on, the producer and director really did a lot of work in pre-production by way of writing an actual script. That turned out ok and as the DP it made my life easy because I knew exactly what to shoot, what B-roll to look for etc.

On this last one, it was much more of a make it up as you go situation. The interviews were being set up as we were shooting. Usually we knew about a month ahead when we'd be shooting but a lot of things like location scouting wasn't done until the last minute. On some interviews we literally went to the location a few hours ahead and figured out the setup and lighting etc. Now that we've finished with the production the writer, director and producer are creating the script to give to the editor who will then do the post production. As the production crew we were given a shot list for each interview but also were given a lot of latitude for picking up b-roll of what we thought might be of interest. There's good and bad in that approach. For me it was great because I could really play artistically. For the editor it may be a nightmare as he's getting a lot of footage to look over.


Just some things to think about.

-Garrett
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Old September 9th, 2009, 10:07 AM   #6
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As far as royalty free music goes, Digital Juice has a set of customizable music beds (you can turn tracks on and off before or after export to your NLE) specifically aimed at the faith-based community called Worship StackTraxx. Quite high quality, especially compared to their regular Royalty Free stuff.
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Old September 9th, 2009, 03:44 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by Colin McDonald View Post
I have a church documentary release form, based on recommendations made on dvinfo, which I can pass on if you wish.
Thanks so much for this great information! I really appreciate it, I would like to have the church documentary release form, I guess I can PM you for it or vice versa. Thanks again for this Collin!

Also for everyone else thank you so much for your comments and advice, everything is very very helpful!
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Old September 12th, 2009, 04:53 PM   #8
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I second what Shaun said about the Worship Stack Traxx from Digital Juice. They're good. I bought the entire collection.
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Old September 12th, 2009, 07:19 PM   #9
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FTR: right now, Worship Traxx are in "retirement" at Digital Juice, which anyone familiar with DJ will point out that they will disappear for a bit and come back in short run quantities or new repackaging over a period of time. They are however currently "on sale", which again has it's own meaning in the Digital Juice lexicon.

Don't get me wrong: I love Digital Juice but there are those that are taken aback by their marketing campaigns. My advice: if you need them, buy them at any price. If they happen to be on sale, buy more!
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Old September 13th, 2009, 12:19 AM   #10
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I started doing a 22 min short documentary with similar equipment, then a series of Web documentaries, and I went and filmed a feature-length in New Zealand on my own dime and own time (still working on it!) and I'm currently field producer on a project in Buenos Aires.

I started out exactly where you were 3 years ago, so let me tell you what I WISH I knew then.

The Zoom H2 is good. I set it down on the table/desk in front of interview subjects and it's a great "audio of last resort" system. But what I'd suggest is getting an XLR mic, a boom stand (that doesn't have to be expensive!) and a Juicedlink adapter. The reason I'm recommending the Juicedlink is that the HV30 has a noisy pre-amp... you're going to get lots of noise if you turn up the gain in the HV30. Turn up the gain in the Juicedlink and keep the gain in the HV30 very, very low.

Positioning the mic on the boom also means it's closer to your subject. Leave the Rode Videomic for "run and gun" shots.

Shoot for a short documentary - 30 minutes at most, though 26:40 is a better time to shoot for. Less than 10 minutes for a YouTube documentary is fine too. Your first documentary is not going to be as good as your second, and your third will be even better.

That said:

You do not need a license to make a documentary in the United States.

If you plan to distribute the documentary (YouTube, DVD, etc.), anyone you film needs to sign a release form. You can download a boilerplate one from the 'net. The fact that it's not for profit does not relieve you of this responsibility.

You can only use music and images that are A) in the public domain, B) licenced. Buying the music from the store does not grant you a license to use it. Consider buyout music.

[ Note from Admin: an three-paragraph opinion about Christianity has been withdrawn from public view per forum policy. ]

Finally, I can only give you this advice: When you start doing this - when you start becoming a journalist, you'll start to realize that the things that matter most in life - the things that you learn from and from which you grow as a person - will never be those things which conform to your existing expectations. Be prepared for disappointment, but do not be afraid of disappointment.
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Old October 1st, 2009, 01:04 PM   #11
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I seldom clear locations before setting out and I never bring releases with me. If I'm ever worried, I have em state they want to be in my movie into the camera after I get all the bites I need from em. I have found showing up and looking like you belong there gains access much more than asking for permission. I'd rather ask for forgiveness if need be. ;)
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Old October 1st, 2009, 10:31 PM   #12
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I seldom clear locations before setting out and I never bring releases with me.
I assume then you don't get E&O coverage for your projects? It seems like the first thing they want to know is if you've got or are planning to get releases for everyone and everything you shoot.
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Old October 2nd, 2009, 04:10 AM   #13
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No I don't. My company is covered and my gear is covered but I've never purcahsed a policy for any one production. Sometimes a distributor will inquire about this when nibbling. I've found that when they are really interested it's no obsticle.
When I shoot dopcumentaries, I work on the fly. I like it like that. To me, part of the story is being able to document it. Features are different. I guess it's why I gravitate toward documentaries. I like the freedom.
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Old October 2nd, 2009, 07:32 AM   #14
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There's no way I'd ever shoot anything without having the releases thought out and in place. If you ever want to sell anything for public screening there's no way anyone's going to touch it without having all the proper paperwork. You may have the greatest show but without the proper release they wouldn't take the risk of legal action. Uploading to youtube is completely different to selling something. Documentaries aren't like the news.

Do you really want to take the risk of being sued? There are lots of resources on the web around rights and allocation of rights etc which will start you off and secondly I'd invest the time (and a bit of money) to have a chat with a specialist entertainment lawyer you can guide you to the paperwork you'd need to ensure you tick all the right boxes if you were ever to sell anything for broadcast.
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Old October 2nd, 2009, 12:54 PM   #15
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I've been at this for many years and have sold many tv shows and documentaries. I've never been sued for release or location woes. I have, however, run off potentially great interviews by introducing a scary contract to em. We are all in the friend'making business. It all revolves around relationships. When in doubt, I can always get em to give an oral agreement into the camera but this is always after I have gotten what I need. Still, I seldom feel the need. Their only question usually is "what channel is this gonna be on?" and "can I get a copy?"
Not that you wanna pay a lawyer to argue this but of course, their agreeing to a stand up interview is an understanding they are being recorded.
Again, after a quarter of a century of doing this, I've never needed to dispute any of this.
Common sense applies. Should I shoot a Robert Plant performance, there is no way I'll put that in my piece. However, should w hang later on and have funny conversations, you bet that will make the cut. It's always as easy as asking and enjoying the new contact created.
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