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.

Eli Brown
Pro

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...)

Monica Williams
Pro

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
Pro

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

Evan Thomas
Fan

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
Pro

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
Pro

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
Fan

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
Pro

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?

Andrew David Watson
Pro

Jill – on the HVX200a (assuming that is what you are talking about) you can shoot DVCproHD at 720p, which is a pretty professional format. Sounds like either the EX1 or the HVX would be a good move up for you. There is a lot to camera other then just the resolution, so don't just use that to determined what camera to buy.

As for broadcasting, if the story is well told and the film is shot well, it wont make a difference what camera it is shot on. If you shoot DVCproHD you can always do a up-rez to HDcam (which is 1080) for broadcast. I'm sure James Longey can speak better on that topic :)

Jason Osder
Pro

Jill and Andrew – the HVX200a will also shoot 1080i DVCPROHD, just FYI.

Doug Block
Host

Monica, you've been working on a doc feature for 2 years now, I'd say that qualifies you. Besides, we need all the good grant writers we can get ;-)

Andrew David Watson
Pro

thanks jason, i forgot to mention that, from my experiences and from what i read it seem 720p is the preferred shooting format on the HVX. I was thinking more along the lines that the HVX shots 1080i and the EX1 shots 1080p (i believe??)

Jill Kelly
Fan

thanks so much,it is the HVX i'm thinking of and i had also read that the EX1 shoot 1080p.Glad to hear that if it's all done well, the equipment is not quite as important, you helped me with that final choice.I really like the idea of have the ability to use tape or the p2 card.From what I've, heard, i think fujitsu is starting to make the same cards so the price is meant to come down in the new year(said she hopefully).I'm a continuing student at G.I.F.T.S.and it's time to take it out into my own project.thanks again to the info, it was just what i was looking for, until another question...jill

Eli Brown
Pro

For what it's worth, the HVX tape mechanism does not record HD. Just hope that was made clear at some point... (though the HVX does, in fact, record 1080p, just not with a pixel for pixel imager like the EX3).

Skyler Buffmeyer
Fan

hey!
i was wondering which is a better editing program..
adobe premiere or sony vegas?
thanks :)

Christopher Wong
Pro

In reply to Monica Williams's post on Mon 25 Aug 2008 :

Monica, far be it from me to have the first word on critiquing someone's work-in-progress trailer, but since no one else seems to be commenting on it, i'll go ahead and take a shot...

First of all, I think your concept is really interesting and compelling. Exploring the concept of evil is one of the things that most of today's documentaries have NOT done. Most of the docs that are coming out deal only with the personal stories in the aftermath of great evil (e.g. WAR DANCE, LOST BOYS OF SUDAN, etc.) So your doc certainly is timely and fills a void.

The most intriguing section of your trailer deals with Adolf Eichmann and the analysis of how his "banal personality" co-existed with his key role in the Holocaust. The archival footage here is strangely riveting and Susan Neiman's commentary gives pertinent information.

Looking at the trailer as a whole, however, I have to say that I didn't find the other sections as interesting or as well constructed. The one big problem – and I don't know how you get around this – is that Susan's voice and presence don't play that well on-screen. Her thoughts are often deep, but just not well-communicated. I feel like she is constantly droning on and sometimes a bit too pleased with her own insights. Tighter editing of her VO would probably help a lot so that we only hear her most salient points.

Also, you use a lot of classical paintings to illustrate your points but a lot of them fall flat because it's not very clear why you are using them. For instance, during the montage where "Sympathy for the Devil" is playing, there's one painting of a naked man with a protractor-drawing tool – what is he doing and why are we watching this? It may be obvious to you, but to the untrained viewer, we have no idea.

There are a number of technical points too that you should be aware of. The opening text animation is really clunky and you'll lose a lot of credibility right from the start if this is the first thing the viewer sees. Generally, text should not "bump" into other text unless you are trying to communicate something comical. A simple fade-in of text is the best approach here. Your other uses of motion graphics, especially with pictures, looks very amateurish as well. I realize you are probably doing everything yourself, but you need to either keep everything absolutely simple (and static), or hire a decent motion graphics artist who can perform the camera moves more elegantly (using AfterEffects). Lastly, the odd camera angles and shaking during Susan's interview don't leave a positive impression of the production.

My question to you would be: who is this trailer meant for? If it's meant to raise money, it has to be a LOT shorter and more tightly edited. If this trailer is for broadcasters, you have to make a better case for what your story is, and why Susan's train of thought will keep an audience engaged. Right now, I have no sense of what the finished film will be like; if it's just a slew of Susan's talking-head amidst an avalanche of archival footage, few will be interested. You can certainly "lead" the viewer with questions in your trailer, but you have to make them more regular and build on each other.

I'm sorry if my comments sound at all harsh, but I wanted to be completely honest with you. Again, your concept is rock-solid. It's the execution that is troublesome right now. If I were to suggest a possible structure for you, it would be something like:

1) Introductory montage – "Sympathy for the Devil"
2) 20-second sound bite from Susan on "What is Evil?"
3) Very brief exploration of Adolf Eichmann's case
4) Closing montage with some kind of cliffhanger question (e.g. "Can Evil ever be stopped?")

Anyways, best of luck with this project and any others you take up in the meantime...

Jason Caminiti
Pro

Skyler, I'd say Adobe is the more pro type program. I've never heard of the Sony Version. But, I think Adobe Elements will get your feet wet, and then if you need something more you can get Pro.

Monica Williams
Pro

Thanks so much Chris! That is what I needed. With the paintings I was trying to show that our ideas about the nature of evil have evolved over time, from Adam and Eve in the Garden to Demons, and from the Lisbon Earthquake (which was thought of as evil) to Auschwitz – I can see how this is not clearly communicated however. With actual money I'm hoping to have better quality images and text animation. The two opening quotes are lines from two opposing philosophers that formed the shape the Enlightenment would take. I think I just need another quote altogether – the bump is quite awkward – but I was trying to show that these ideas were in opposition to each other, forming the doubt and optimism that surround thinking about problem of evil throughout the modern world. I will also have more talking heads so ideally, Neiman will not carry the whole thing. I will try to shorten it, though I'm running out of volunteer hours from my editor :-) I'm hoping investors will forgive me the lower quality of this edit and understand that it will be better with money. Thanks again very much for analyzing this in such detail – I will try to apply your suggestions!

Monica Williams
Pro

Oh – and the naked guy really does have significance, but I guess only to me! It's a painting by William Blake of Newton figuring out some major laws of the universe. During the Enlightenment, the philosophers thought that if Newton could come up with that, then human beings could come up with an explanation of why there is so much suffering and evil on earth – and then they went looking for the "Newton of the Mind" who they decided was Rousseau! But again, I understand that it doesn't make sense and is just plain awkward in the trailer – Darn!

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