The Mentoring Room - Ask the Working Pros

Mentoring Room

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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.

Wolfgang Achtner
Pro

Darla,

re translation Boyd wrote:

"Some additional thoughts. You may want to have more than one translator look at your footage. There are subtleties in language that are really important in editing. What a person says and what a person means can be two different things and a straight translation often doesn't help you with that. Speaking only for myself, I base a lot of editing decisions, and story development, on the meaning and subtext of the words, not only on the words themselves.

The other part of this equation is that a verbatim translation may be disjointed in English, so there is a trick to constructing the English phrasing, that sounds good, with good word choices, that is faithful to what was actually said. It depends how good the translator is, and how fluent they are in both languages."

Translation is a vey important item. Working in Italian and/or English I don't have any problem because I'm fluent in both (I write books in both languages). If your grasp of a language is not this good you need to get the best translator you can; it may cost you but it's definitely worth every cent. Unfortuneatly in Italy they always try to save money – but you get what you pay for – so I've heard terrible translations even on important channels like Dicovery or History channel in Italian where the translation completely missed the point.

You need a great translator and this person also needs to know how to write extremely well in English so your English dialoge will be perfect.

What I mean is, one doesn't take liberties with the meanings but you need to render dialogue exacly as if those people were speaking in English themselves.

That means understanding complex sentence constructions that might be the opposite of English, with the verb at the end or vicevresa and it also means understanding complex techncial verbiage (medical or legal) if need be, and last but not least, the abilty to render in proper English the correct equivalent of Italian idiomatic expressions, proverbs, syaings, etc.

Your dialogue in English must be perfect, exactly as if the people had been speaking in English. Get the best, most competent, professional translator you can find!!!

Andrew David Watson
Pro

Question for those producing docs, how much of your work falls under WFH (work for hire)? and how much of your work do you retain copyright too? I'm just trying to figure out (mostly for myself as a freelancer) when work for hire is okay and when i should be demanding better terms. I'm mostly referring to producing a full piece from start to finish. I know work for hire is fairly standard if you are working as a shooter, or editor, but what about when you are doing it all and the original story idea is yours? Does it make a differents who the client is? whether it is a NGO or network? Any insight on this would be great!

Joe Moulins
Pro

Paul...go with Adobe. I'm not sure if they have a Premiere "lite", but if you stay on a PC you'll eventually work with Adobe software. Better to invest your time and energy in one interface that will be the standard for years to come.

Or, this might be the time for you to switch to a Mac....

Christopher Wong
Pro

wolfgang, i'm sure you've got some very solid advice there for darla, but i think it might be better if you use the "Hide" function next time (especially for the super-long transcripts you included). thx.

andrew, if you are doing signficiantly more than just shooting/editing, but actually directing and producing the entire piece, you should definitely be demanding better terms than your normal work-for-hire rates. that could be whatever you negotiate (e.g. back-end points). of course, your client always has the option of saying "no", so be prepared to respond appropriately... if they don't want to give you a share of the project, then ask for a higher dayrate.

Monica Williams
Pro

I'm getting ready to buy my first Mac. Some have told me that a macbook will suffice for what I want to do, which is basically to gather and store footage and images for my editor and eventually work on a rough-cut for him. Others say that I should invest in a macbook pro. Since I'm not the editor, would anyone like to weigh in on why I might need a pro in the future?

Thanks!

Wolfgang Achtner
Pro

Chris,

Thanks. I wasn't sure how the hide feature works. What do you do? Just click Hidden section?

Joe Moulins
Pro

The basic Macbook works fine as a FCP machine if you're working with DV and/or HDV material. I have a first generation Macbook set up with an external keyboard and trackpad, and a 24 inch Dell monitor. It's much faster than a 3 year old G5 workstation, and feels very close to the Mac Pro for most functions.

But Motion won't run on it, and it doesn't have a card slot or Firewire 800 so expansion possibilities are somewhat limited.

Christopher Wong
Pro

what doug said, wolfgang. clicking "add hidden section" will open up a new text box for you – everything that goes in it will be hidden. everything in the normal text box will still be visible to all.

Matt Dubuque
Pro

In reply to Doug Block's post on Tue 29 Jan 2008 :

Thanks Doug... I'll check out the Grapes of Wrath again (great flick!) and I've added Sullivan's Travels to my Netflix queue.

Your mention of Grapes of Wrath reminds me once again of

this "recurring image" theme I find so fascinating.

As I start to immerse myself in the Soviet montage school (which heavily influenced James Longley) I'm intruiged by how they focus on the EDIT and the juxtaposition of two scenes rather than just American and continental narratives with their focus on the SINGLE scene and its Mise-en-Scene.

For example, I've previously mentioned the possible role of the recurring butterfly in Goodman's Stone Reader and the group walking in the field in Bunuel's Discreet Charm, cross edited into that film.

The book Grapes of Wrath actually alternates each chapter with an ongoing parable of a tortoise, walking in the sun, apparently unrelated to the plot line. Every other chapter returns to the tortoise....the movie, however, left that out.

And the Soviet montage director Vertov was really into juxtaposing different clips with a single scene. I think there's a lot of potential there to allow people to infer new creative contexts to my message.

Looks like I'm heading down to southern Mexico this year to film some exotic bird life to use for this purpose... should be very interesting... I think the end result will be both cool and thought provoking, judiciously applied of course.

Matt Dubuque
Pro

In reply to Erica Ginsberg's post on Wed 30 Jan 2008 :

Darla, I've seen The Plow that Broke the Plains, but I have yet to see what is generally regarded as his greatest work, The River. Now I will, thanks to you!

Thanks for the link!

this "recurring image" theme I find so fascinating.

As I start to immerse myself in the Soviet montage school (which heavily influenced James Longley) I'm intruiged by how they focus on the EDIT and the juxtaposition of two scenes rather than just American and continental narratives with their focus on the SINGLE scene and its Mise-en-Scene.

For example, I've previously mentioned the possible role of the recurring butterfly in Goodman's Stone Reader and the group walking in the field in Bunuel's Discreet Charm, cross edited into that film.

The book Grapes of Wrath actually alternates each chapter with an ongoing parable of a tortoise, walking in the sun, apparently unrelated to the plot line. Every other chapter returns to the tortoise....the movie, however, left that out.

And the Soviet montage director Vertov was really into juxtaposing different clips with a single scene. I think there's a lot of potential there to allow people to infer new creative contexts to my message.

Looks like I'm heading down to southern Mexico this year to film some exotic bird life to use for this purpose... should be very interesting... I think the end result will be both cool and thought provoking, judiciously applied of course.

Wolfgang Achtner
Pro

Sorry about that guys,

since I actually don't like writing that much, I'd only intended to knock out two sentences re translations, then the keyboard just went on by itself....

Darla Bruno
Fan

Yes, well, I appreciate these explanations. I understand better now. Seems my dp would be the best translator, since his Italian is great and his English is excellent (and he gets the meaning of what these people – older people in a remote village often speaking in proverbs, etc...) are saying. But I don't know that I'm going to have him actually edit b/c after we finish shooting, I go back to NYC and he goes to Milan. I think it would be offensive to ask him to log/translate (obviously I'd pay him) but not edit . . . so I'm a little stuck. Well, not stuck. Just feeling in a bind. We're here for 10 more days and we've got a lot of good material (and information) already. I want to cut a trailer to enter into a grant/contest for April 1, so just wondering if I should cut our shoot like 4 days short and translate/log . . . edit . . . with him . . . (for the trailer, perhaps). I can still come home with all my footage and work with another editor down the road. This is only going to be about 20 hours of footage . . .

Christopher Wong
Pro

unless your DP is very unusual, he shouldn't object to doing the logging and translating with you (and not the edit). he might object to logging and translating in general, but he'll certainly understand that you need to edit this locally back in NYC.

one thing to keep in mind is that logging and translating almost 20 hours of footage (or even 10 hours) will take a LONG, LONG time. for every 1 hour of footage, i would estimate at least 4 hours to turn that footage into a transcribed, translated, timecoded document – and i believe that is a very conservative estimate.

Wolfgang Achtner
Pro

Darla,

If he is willing, you could ask your DP to do the transcriptions and translations for you. There is no need for him to log the tapes to do this. Otherwise, you might find someone else in Italy.

As I explained in a previous post, you should do the logging of all the tapes WITH the editor with whom you are going to edit your documentary because you BOTH need to be aware of all the video.

This way you'd only need to copy onto VHS tapes or a DVD with burnt in timecode (in order to be able to transcribe beginning end ending times for each sentence/paragraph) the tapes (or sections there of) with the interviews. You'd still need to capture this material onto a computer – and this takes place in real time – but you could return home with the tapes and your DP or whoever will be doing the transcription and translation could work at it over here and then e-mail you the finished transcripts.

Erica Ginsberg
Host

Darla, if you can afford a professional translator, that would be your best bet. It really is an art and the challenge with working with someone who doesn't do this is that it can go much more slowly and either not accurate enough or too accurate.

With Crucible of War, we had a lot of material, so split the translations of the transcripts between the director (who did speak the language while the editor didn't), two student friends, and two professional linguists. The quality of the translations was best with the two professionals, followed by the students followed by the director. He was simply too close to the material and his translations took a painstakingly slow amount of time and were too literal in text. Once we got to the point of editing, we brought in one of the professional linguists to work with us on the subtitles, both to help the editor get the cuts exactly right, improve the linguistic construction, and dare to lose some of the exact words to fit the space and still retain the meaning.

Darla Bruno
Fan

Since we're specifically on the subject of translation – can someone give me an idea of price ranges (per hour, I assume) . . . and were you finding that it's about 4 hours per 1 hour of footage?

Also, do I need it written first in Italian, and then translated to English, or just written in English? I assume both.

Finally, the thing with my DP is that he really loves these people, and their stories, and he knows the context for some of the wacky things they're saying . . . so while he may not be a professional translator, I think he might offer some good insight. Perhaps I can just ask him to do the work (instead of cutting our shoot short, I'd probably send him back to Milan with DVD copies) and then have it looked over by a professional translator.

Boyd McCollum
Pro

Maybe your DP can do the Italian translation with notes, then you can have that transcribed here in the states.

Darla Bruno
Fan

Sounds good, Boyd . . . (Maybe I'm just tired) but can you spell this out for me a little more? So he'd write everything out in English? And then . . .

Wolfgang Achtner
Pro

Darla,

You need to transcribe the dialogues first in Italian so you have a record of what was really said and also to allow another translator to check the translation (if necessary).

Boyd McCollum
Pro

Darla, along with what Wolfgang said, your DP would also be able to annotate the "wacky" things your subjects are saying (either in Italian or English). This is especially important if they are speaking in a less common vernacular.

Another workflow would be to do your translations first, and then send them to your DP to review and annotate. I remember reading that they did a similar thing on the English/Chinese translation of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, where they would send the translations back and forth between China and the US, constantly tweaking to get the best translation they could.

Lucia Duncan
Pro

I'm looking for advice about how to film a scene that shows a group of tourists flying to a remote destination to do whale-watching. I'm thinking of doing this in two parts. First, filming the tourists in the plane looking out the window. Second, flying in a plane with no tourists, so I can ask the pilot to circle around a couple times in order to film the ocean/desert below. (Am I being unrealistic in thinking I could get this right in a couple of takes?) I'm shooting with a Panasonic DVX100b, 24P. Would appreciate any suggestions.

Erica Ginsberg
Host

How long does it take the plane to drive over the interesting land/seascape? Could you not save yourself time and presumably money by shooting both shots on the same trip by getting yourself a window seat for the beauty shots and then standing up to shoot the tourists looking out the window? Or shooting the tourists on your way in and the land/seascape on the way out?

Matt Dubuque
Pro

Let's say this takes place in Baja California, which has a mix of whales, desert and water. Would you consider renting a seaplane for the second portion where you give the grand overview of the whole scene?

If you are in fact doing it in Baja, you could probably charter one at a reasonable price out of Loreto and you would get some amazing footage, shot from a lower altitude.

Just a thought.

Peter Brauer
Pro

On Second Skin, whenever we traveled to a location via plane, we shot tons of stuff out the window. Several of our characters took flights during the movie, so this stuff was really useful. You can get a lot out of airliner windows, especially right before landing and right after take off.

The whales raising young in baja are something everyone should see first hand. Talk about an animal that makes you want to save the world.

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