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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.

James Perez
Wed 5 Mar 2008Link

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.


Wolfgang Achtner
Wed 5 Mar 2008Link

Alex,

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

http://www.amazon.com/Finding-Manana-Memoir-Cuban-Exodus/dp/0143036602

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/05/15/books/review/15STARRL.html

If I remember correctly, she's working on a documentary based on her book.

You may find some useful information here:

http://www.tc.edu/latinoresearch/index.htm?id=Research+Areas&area=Immigration

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.

http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/324229-REG/Sennheiser_EW100ENGG2_C_Evolution_G2_100_Series.html


Maria Bailey
Wed 5 Mar 2008Link

Hi Everyone

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.


Sahand Sahebdivani
Thu 6 Mar 2008Link

Hi Maria,

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.


Asar Imhotep
Thu 6 Mar 2008Link

In reply to Asar Imhotep's post on Tue 4 Mar 2008 :

Can anyone help me out with the Insurance question?


Alison Clifford
Thu 6 Mar 2008Link

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.


Erica Ginsberg
Fri 7 Mar 2008Link

In reply to Asar Imhotep's post on Thu 6 Mar 2008 :

Asar, others may be able to recommend European-based insurance companies that might be competitive. In the U.S., DeWitt Stern is one of the best known for production insurance.


Asar Imhotep
Fri 7 Mar 2008Link

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.


Evan Thomas
Sun 9 Mar 2008Link

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?


Boyd McCollum
Sun 9 Mar 2008Link

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". )


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