The Mentoring Room - Ask the Working Pros
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.
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....
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 . . .
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.
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.
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.
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.
Maybe your DP can do the Italian translation with notes, then you can have that transcribed here in the states.
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 . . .
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).
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
Thanks for the suggestions regarding aerial shots. Here's a sound question. I've been shooting with a relatively inexperienced boom operator. When I still had access to school equipment we used a breakaway cable between the camera and the boom/headphones. How do those of you who do not use a mixer allow for boom op and camera op to monitor sound? I have a cheap 8 pin splitter and I've thought of getting a 8 pin female/male stereo cable that would serve as an extension to my boom op's headphones. But I'm afraid the splitter might reduce sound a lot and the cables may cut out. I've been reluctant to use a mixer because I think it's a lot for the inexperienced boom op to handle. Would love to know how others handle this.
Hey, everybody. I'm a freelance photo researcher trying to find work in the documentary film industry. Can anyone think of a good way to find work of this sort? Even trying to find listings of documentary film companies is difficult, because they are usually in password-protected members-only sections of websites for various professional organizations whose membership dues are in the three figures!
Welcome Kevin. You might like to check out Docs in Progress , a Washington DC initiative started by D-Worders Adele Schmidt & Erica Ginsberg.
Thanks for the good tip! I just talked to Adele Schmidt at Journeyfilms, and she was very helpful.
Legal Question: We sent out an announcement for our documentary premiere and have received a request from a University Library for a library order. We licensed all our clips, photos and music. Can we sell our dvd now? What else do we need to do?
John, thanks for the plug. Kevin, glad you talked to Adele. Docs In Progress actually has an event tomorrow night at Busboys & Poets and would love to see you there. In the Intro topic, I also suggested some other DC-area organizations which would be worth the membership dues for you.
Has anyone read the book:
Kino-Eye: The Writings of Dziga Vertov?
I just read a short passage from one of Vertov's articles he wrote for Film Truth magazine that was excerpted in Documentary: A History of the Non-Fiction film by Erik Barnow, an awesome book written by the fellow who used to be Chief of the Library of Congress Motion Picture Division.
The passage that I read of Vertov (about 500 words) was a real revelation for me. Amazing!
I don't think I can obtain copies of the magazine (because it is from the 1920s and probably in Russian as well), so I wanted to ask if anyone here was familiar with this book.
It's a bit pricey, so I thought I'd ask around before purchasing it.
Definitely worth checking out. You can find second-hand copies via http://www.abebooks.com/
what would be the best options in terms of camera to shoot a shoestring budget feature length documentary which requires a lot of outdoor shootings following a subject discreetly in different local public places and some indoors for interviews- (pretty much guerilla/ news style)?
here are the options:
-Panasonic DVX 100b
-Panasonic AG-HVX200(P2 cards + camera =outside our budget range-unless somone knows a great place to buy it cheap)
- Sony HDR-FX1 (someone told me good but not so great)
now i have been told, since the film style will be pretty much hidden camera style (almost) , to use may be a high end HD consumer camera so i can hide it even in pocket.
does anyone know anything about the quality of these cameras below:
-Panasonic HDC-HS9 (HD & 24p)
Canon HV20 HDV (HD & 24p)
any suggestions or help?
for a no-budget production I'd go with the Canon HV20, recording sound to a separate recorder.
Something like this . There may be better audio recorders for the price, but any of these recorders should give you better sound than you'd get with any of those camcorders.
If and when you move up to a better camera, the audio recorder will still be a good and useful tool.
Add a wireless mic and you'll have a kick-ass guerilla kit for half the price of a z1U.
In reply to Chris Hinrichs's post on Mon 28 Jan 2008 : Hello all! Some of you may remember me from the post linked above. For those of you who are interested or have some time to kill, I have overhauled my presentation, using some of the suggestions I recieved here. In order not to clutter up the Mentoring Room, I'll hide the rest of my message...
Does anyone know of any job websites just for documentary projects? i have picked up a number of freelance gigs from sites like www.mandy.com www.mediamatch.com and local Craig's List but am looking for more documentary specific jobs. Thanks!
Thanks John, I just bought it! Abebooks (which is now my first place to look!) also had this awesome "The Man With the Movie Camera The Man with the Movie Camera: A Cinematic Analysis by Vlada Petric that has an incredible scene by scene analysis of Vertov's timeless masterpiece.
Now I'm just trying to find a copy of Vertov's "One Sixth of the World". I'll keep looking!
Andrew, you can also try RealityStaff.com http://www.realitystaff.com/home/index.php?section=JOBS&left=Jobs
Their focus is on reality shows, which overlaps with documentary/television. Hope that helps. I have been looking for documentary-specific job sites myself and that is the best I have come across. I am also browsing Craiglist, mediamatch, and Mandy everyday!!! Good luck with ya. It's a tough world out there finding work!!
thanks Le Sheng, do you ever check http://www.entertainmentcareers.net/jcat.asp?jcat=109
There are some alright jobs on there from time to time.
Haven't been on there in a long time. Do they charge a subscription fee? That might be one of the reasons I don't go there. MediaMatch does too but I get the $5/month student membership.
This is an ethics question.
I'm finding that I've got great interviews but as my subject is really
explaining an electoral system (I.e., the "Inconvenient Truth" model) rather than documenting a series of events (I.E., the "Super Size Me" model) I wanted to ask you about the ethics of truth and such.
What I'd like to do create a "frame" around the footage that I've gathered that is essentially a parody of "An Inconvenient Truth" I'd basically rent-out or borrow a classroom with projector on the weekend, and invite my improv comedian friends to be "feeding" me questions. I would make it obvious that the audience is portrayed by actors – first with a disclaimer up front which states: "While the subject is truthful, the audience portrayed in the film are paid actors."
Then during the shooting, I was actually thinking that the first question would be along the lines of: "Yeah, Brian, you said that if we came here and pretended to be an audience that is actually interested in this stuff that you'd give us 20 bucks." (Interruption from the back) "And cake! Where's the cake?!"
Is it ethical to make a documentary with obviously staged scenes to increase the entertainment value and, supposedly, to get more people interested in it,
without crossing the line into "mockumentary?"
SOUND HELP for documentary shooting on Canon HV20.
Has anyone had shot a doc on canon HV20 or knows well the camera?
I went to a store in NY specialized in video. I told them i needed a broadcast quality sound for the consumer HV20 Canon. it's for a doc , reality TV like.
The shooting style will be handheld mostly. On person crew (so no boom) and only one person (the subject) can be wired up but I still need to pick up the sound of people the subject will be talking too. So i will also need a shotgun mic i presume.
There''ll be indoor and outdoor (public places) shoot.
Here's the package the seller at the store, came up with:
Sennheiser EW 100 wireless lavaller $500 +tax
Beachtek XLR $179
Rode NTG 2 shotgun $269
Total = over $1000
1) is this a good package for sound quality?
2) is there anyway to get the same type of quality sound (assuming it is a good one with this package) but a bit on a lower price?
any other suggestions?
My 02.c worth. What you describes seems very much a mockumentary to me.
I don't think it has to do anything with ethics, rather it's a question of what kind of a story you want to tell and whatever way you believe is best to tell that particular story.
A documentary can very well be interesting and entertaining without using gimmicks. It very much depends on the story and how you want to tell it.
brian, a mockumentary is really just a fiction film posing as a documentary. i think what you seem to be worried about is your doc descend into something so silly that the main point about something serious (i.e. the electoral system) is lost.
while i'm not completely convinced that your scene (as described) will work effectively, there's nothing ethically wrong with it, especially since you seem to be taking great pains to tell the audience "This is a setup!" but if you compare your scene to some of the animated scenes in, let's say, "Bowling for Columbine", it's essentially the same thing. the only difference is you've got animated characters standing in for paid actors – the humor, the pre-written lines, and the method are the same.
In reply to Fredric Lean's post on Sun 2 Mar 2008 :
Fredric, I'm also shooting on the HV20, and my next purchase is for a beachtek adapter and some new XLR mics – but I've found I've got good audio from this combo:
Audio Technica ATR55 Shotgun Mic ($50)
Shock Mount ($20-40)
A bracket to move the microphone away from the camera. ($10)
I don't use wireless mics.
There are two problems with this setup. One, handling noise – even handling the wire connected to the camera – transmits easily. But I've actually found it to get really, really good sound.
Get that setup if you can afford it – don't try to cheap out on the sound, and that actually sounds like the best option.
You may also want to spend $200 on a Samson Zoom H2 to get a second source of audio if you're doing sit-down interviews.
A deadcat/fluffydog will be useful for cutting out wind noise.
With my setup, here's the audio I got.
Another quick question: Anyone use Keynote to graph key ideas in a documentary? How did it turn out?
I was wondering if anyone had any good advice on temporary insurance for documentaries. I am working on a budget for my film in which I want to hit Ghana, Tanzania, France and Britain. With me possibly going overseas, I don't want to take equipment and things over there and not be insured. Does anyone have any experience with this? Who would you recommend as a provider and who should I AVOID?
Thanks in advance
I'm a first time documentarian producing a film about the first generation immigrant exiles to move to Miami from Cuba. They are old and I need to get their stories on video before they die. I'm going to try to hire an experienced director, but if not, I'm going to do it myself.
1) Are their any documentaries I can look to for inspiration that are like this one? I know there is a name for this type of film where you profile a certain community or group of people and interview them, but don't know the name.
2) In terms of sound, I'd like to get the wireless lapel mics. Is that a bad idea? I feel like it would make shooting that much easier.
Please help. Thanks, Alex.
Alex, for your first comment, that is basically researching a subculture. It's like a sub group of a larger culture. Profiling and researching a group within a group, in which people have something in common, can be very helpful. There is a documentary called "Wetback" that targets foreign immigrants that is very well done. Check it out.
Your project sounds very interesting.
A few quick tips regarding how to go about it (regarding whether or not you should shoot it yourself; you might want to have a pro start shooting it and later, when you've learned how to shoot, you could continue by yourself).
Identify the characters, the people, men and women that you want to shoot;
Research all the information you can find about the community that interest you: this means research archives of local newspapers, and identify and read some books dealing with these issues.
A book that comes to my mind is: Finding Manana: A Memoir of a Cuban Exodus (Paperback)
by Mirta Ojito
If I remember correctly, she's working on a documentary based on her book.
You may find some useful information here:
2) Visit and research the neighborhood. I would assume that there is a "Little Havana" in Miami. Visit the neighborhood, reserach everyhting about it, discover who some of the most important members of the community are, when any particular religious or other festivities take place, etc.
3) Shoot all of the above.
4) identify 4 or 5 interesting characters. get to know them, interview them, shoot them at work and with their families, get photos, visit with them for several months/one year.
5) Decide what kind of doc you want to build with the material you are gathering.
6) Build your doc around the personal stories of these 4 or 5 people, interweaving blocks about the community. The fact that the situation in Cuba is moving and that this is an election year will give you great topics and great video to interweave withe stories of your 4 or 5 protagonists.
Re your second question, wireless lavalier mics are very good to interview people. I would suggest you might be interested in the Sennheiser Evolution G2 100 series; it has a good price/value ratio.
I am a student at Ravensbourne College and I am currently in my last of study for a BA degree in Broadcast Post Production. I am writing an essay entitled Can Documentaries be Completely Impartial? I am required to have primary research for my essay and I was hoping that some of you would be able to answer these questions for me.
What motivates a filmmaker to make a documentary and is there always a
political angle to it?
Can the editing in a film or television programme change reality? If so in what way?
Can the way something is shot change the reality of a situation? If so how?
I would also be interested in any views or opinions that you have on
Michael Moore's film Roger & Me and Rupert Murdoch's OutFoxed.
I hope that you can spare the time to help this hard working student LOL. I look forward to your replies.
IMHO there's a few things you have to consider. First there's the issue that documentaries are a form of art. One way that art, at least for me, defines itself is that it's unique because of the artist. If 2 very good crafts(wo)men paint a wall the result will be (more or less) the same, if two artists paint on the same canvas the result will be significantly different even if they try to paint the same picture.
Now compare documentaries to journalism. Even when journalists do their best to be impartial the results aren't always, there's always personal, religious, cultural biases, there's the stress of deadlines, there's the wishes of the editors or sponsors, there's the conscious or subconsious choices you make to cut things out of the story, highlight other things, for the sake of clarity but which end up "coloring" a story.
Now, even though it's a gross oversimplification to say journalism is purely a "craft" and documentary making purely an "art", one can assume that the personal "coloring" is even a bigger issue in documentary.
So I personaly think that, no, documentaries or journalistic pieces are never fully (or at all) unbiased. This is not an issue for me. I very much like to hear the personal in the story. For instance, when I read a piece of N. Chomsky, I don't think, now I will know the truth and the whole truth about this subject, I will rather think, now I know N. Chomsky's take on this subject. (Though sometimes I forget and have to remind myself, and so does the general audience, but this is another topic altogether)
Now, another issue to consider is the following, documentary makers are not always trying to cover a story, sometimes they are trying to change the world, the society, people's believes. I have not seen OutFoxced, but Micheal Moore, for me, is very much an activist filmmaker. I might agree with his messages, but I don't assume he will give me a biased account of what even he perceives as the truth. To make the power of his story stronger will he use material that supports his story and leave out material that gives a different opinion.
Again, I don't think this is bad. A film like SuperSize Me, in which the filmmaker eats at McDonalds for a month and becomes a repulsive monster might be infantile to some, but can be quite entertaining and potentially life-changing for others.
"Can the editing in a film or television programme change reality? If so in what way?
Can the way something is shot change the reality of a situation? If so how?"
Both editing and shooting can change the reality in 1.000.000 ways. In my native Iran there's regular anti US protests, but always shot in a way to hide the fact that these are actualy small groups protesting. A huge anti US protest is good for both Iranian media as well as foreign media.
Now imagine you are filming a neighbourhood, everything decision, from material you shoot on, framing, music, editing, etc. etc. changes the story. Imagine a grainy home video type of image going over the graffiti, while the soundtrack is gangsterrap. Now imagine filming on oldfashioned 16 mm, made even warmer in post production, with beautiful music (think wonder years). Same neighbourhood, but two totally different emotional reactions to the footage.
Anyway, one could go on, but I hope this helps.
In reply to Asar Imhotep's post on Tue 4 Mar 2008 :
Can anyone help me out with the Insurance question?
Hi, I´m looking at how to put together a marketing package for a documentary about film piracy in Mexico. I´ve never done any marketing and I´m not sure where to start. I know I want to send it out to TV stations both in the States and in Mexico, as well as PR´s for magazines and Newspapers as well as radio stations. I could really use some help in getting myself pointed in the right direction.
In reply to Erica Ginsberg's post on Fri 7 Mar 2008 :
Thank you so much. I will check them out. They seem to have a simple process. Thanks again.
Has anyone used public domain footage from www.archive.org in their productions? There's some useful archive for my film on there but should i get its public domain status verified before i go ahead and use it?
It's good practice to verify any footage you use, regardless of source. Lots of people think they own copyright to certain things when they actually don't.
With Archive.org you need to really read the different licensing they use – not all of it is public domain. Some requires attribution, some can be used in a noncommercial way, etc. I've seen media that had no copyright/licensing information provided. So just residing on the site doesn't mean public domain.
Get whatever information provided and if there isn't any, do some more research on it. This can be useful when getting E&O insurance. Also, it's good practice to have an entertainment/copyright attorney look over you stuff. (and do find a lawyer that specializes in this, as not all lawyers have equal knowledge. A good friend of mine is a top notch real estate attorney, and he won't touch copyright – "it's not what I do, so I can't provide solid legal opinions". )
I would like to ask a question about Sundance. Do they only select the 16 documentaries for competition or do they also select many others that do not make the competition (but are still part of the festival)? I believe this is the case from my research online. If so, do the non competing docs get decent recognition from press, industry people, make sales, etc, etc? Thanks for the great site.