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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.

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Monica Williams
Wed 20 Aug 2008Link

Help!!

A potential next project has presented itself to me and it is a completely different style than the film I have been learning how to make for the last couple of years. I'm wondering if anyone can recommend ideas regarding the actual film or films to watch that might be in the same genre.

Here's the situation. I live in Detroit and am very fascinated with the "post-industrial" remnants of what was once a thriving city. There are hidden stories everywhere here and people are experimenting with radically creative avenues for social change. While helping tear down an abandoned house with one of his groups, I had a very long conversation with a man who was one of the Logistics officers for "Hands Across America," who was asked to teach courses on grassroots organizing at the University of Michigan and who is currently "stuck" in Detroit with legal matters. He took me to a miraculous place he helped build called the "Artists Village" in one of the worst neighborhoods you can imagine. He is very well-loved! He wants me to film some burial ceremonies he has organized with churches for the homeless and stillborn infants who are not given these rituals. Also to film some of the seeds he is planting here along with the activities of the Artists Village. The Artists Village is a huge collection of abandoned warehouses that have been painted with murals by the children in the neighborhood, guided by the artist in residence, whose artwork hangs everywhere. There is theater space where spoken word and community theater take place and there are huge community gardens. Possibilities are endless!

I guess this wasn't such a short post, but – How do I begin thinking about this? I would need to shoot some of these events ASAP and before he leaves. I have someone that can help shoot it, but I'm in need of creative direction as I'm currently working on a historical and philosophical film with archives and talking heads. What am I looking for – do I have to be in the film (aaagh!) Any help would be most appreciated :-)


John Burgan
Wed 20 Aug 2008Link

Don't want to dampen your enthusiasm, Monica, but isn't this simply a distraction from finishing "Knowing Evil"?


Christopher Wong
Wed 20 Aug 2008Link

sometimes the project you were "born to make" comes along at inopportune moments. like before you've finished the film you had already started... but if a project absolutely rings true in your heart and mind, then you don't really have a choice but to go forward with the new thing. (that was certainly the case with me.)

from what we've read before, it sounds like KNOWING EVIL might be able to wait. but only you know best... if you do go forward with this new project, make sure that you have a current story to tell, rather than simply rehashing the history of how the Artist's Village was created. as you said, there are hidden stories everywhere. go find 'em!

and no, it certainly doesn't sound like you have to be "in" the film.


Monica Williams
Wed 20 Aug 2008Link

In reply to John Burgan's post on Wed 20 Aug 2008 :

Well John, you may have me here – I'm falling for "another film." That said, I'm still committed to Knowing Evil and just finished my fundraising trailer. I know I'm a little googly eyed for this new project (it doesn't have all of the baggage of my current relationship:-) but I'm attempting to have some kind of either backup plan or footage in the works for when Knowing Evil is done. I've also thought of posting 5 minute stories like this on my website with a blog as a companion to Knowing Evil. This man's character represents a major them in the film and also symbolizes to me the combination of two of the philosophers in Knowing Evil.

Will I get in over my head if I were to just film some of the events this man is involved in for now, and to either use some of it for small 5 minute pieces and then try to make a film once Knowing Evil is finished? It also feels like a way to detach a little from Knowing Evil (in a healthy way) as I've been a bit monomaniacal with the whole process :-)


Monica Williams
Wed 20 Aug 2008Link

And thank you Chris for the great advice!


Skyler Buffmeyer
Wed 20 Aug 2008Link

Hey!
I am having trouble finding archives pertaining to the film I would like to make. I know this may seem very silly but, I am looking for videos/ video clips of things such as, hannah montana, high school musical, beauty pagents, make up commercials...... I was wondering if you could point me in the right direction and, if you could tell me more info on archives...can you get some free? if so, which ones can you use with no permission or money? and anything else I might need to know.
Thanks!!!


Jason Caminiti
Wed 20 Aug 2008Link

Monica, not sure if I can help at all. I am finishing up a film that is about how a city is using the arts to bring life back to their downtown and their mills. A few resources that may, or may not help.

http://www.artinruins.com/
http://www.urbansmartgrowth.net/

Also, a couple docs.
These are along that vein.

End of Suburbia
Escape from Suburbia

There is one Erica mentioned to me that I lost the link for about an artists community in Texas. Erica?

Chris, where were you when I was starting my project. I could have used a theme like an artists group moving into the city to explore the growth.. oh well too late now...


Carlos Gomez
Thu 21 Aug 2008Link

Monica, Varda's "The Gleaners and I" comes to mind. Maybe post-industrial Detroit is a setting where the ideas you're examining in your current doc play out, and the artist village is one branch of a bigger story. You, like Agnes Varda, could be the unifying thread: a filmmaker making sense of the world she lives in, relating historical, social and psychological trends to the changing landscape of the city she inhabits.


Penelope Andrews
Thu 21 Aug 2008Link

Skyler B
try http://www.archive.org look for the prelinger collection, read about the copyright stuff with each clip.


Eli Brown
Thu 21 Aug 2008Link

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...)


Lucia Duncan
Thu 21 Aug 2008Link

Here's the website: www.thirdwardtx.com


Monica Williams
Thu 21 Aug 2008Link

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
Thu 21 Aug 2008Link

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


Evan Thomas
Fri 22 Aug 2008Link

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
Fri 22 Aug 2008Link

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
Fri 22 Aug 2008Link

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
Sat 23 Aug 2008Link

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
Sat 23 Aug 2008Link

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?

Edited Sat 23 Aug 2008 by Monica Williams

Christopher Wong
Sat 23 Aug 2008Link

you'll be fine, monica... go ahead and post it.


Doug Block
Sat 23 Aug 2008Link

Ditto. Go right ahead, Monica.


Doug Block
Sat 23 Aug 2008Link

Monica, why haven't you applied for full membership yet?


Monica Williams
Sun 24 Aug 2008Link

Great – Here is the 10 minute fundraising trailer for Knowing Evil! Any feedback will be most appreciated – but go easy on me :-) And Doug, I didn't think I was qualified yet as this is my first go round, but I'll apply now – Thanks!

http://8bliss.com/Temporary/KnowingEvil/KnowingEvil_Trailer.wmv


Andrew David Watson
Sun 24 Aug 2008Link

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
Sun 24 Aug 2008Link

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


Doug Block
Sun 24 Aug 2008Link

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
Sun 24 Aug 2008Link

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
Mon 25 Aug 2008Link

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
Mon 25 Aug 2008Link

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).


Monica Williams
Mon 25 Aug 2008Link

I'm thinking my trailer may have been overlooked considering the massive preceding posts. If anyone would like to view it – it's about 10 minutes – here it is and I would love any feedback!

http://www.knowingevil.com/clips/KnowingEvil_Trailer.wmv


Skyler Buffmeyer
Mon 25 Aug 2008Link

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


Christopher Wong
Mon 25 Aug 2008Link

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
Mon 25 Aug 2008Link

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
Mon 25 Aug 2008Link

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
Mon 25 Aug 2008Link

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!


Jason Caminiti
Tue 26 Aug 2008Link

Monica,

I got a chance to watch your 'trailer' last night. It is more of a treatment, and I think it works really well as a fundraising video. First off, your choice of a subject to interview was great. She had the perfect voice, as well as zeal to make it sound really intriguing.

The piece is pretty good on its own as is, as a short. I didn't know where you were going with this when you first started talking about it. KNOWING EVIL could be so many things. I was surprised by your treatment of Bush as well as 9/11. It seems that 'evil' is a continuum. Does the ends justify the means? Is there some external evil, or do we create the notions of good and evil? Is it evil to kill a human, but not an animal. If not, why is it not ok to kill a human. What if there were or were not a God, would that change what evil is, as proposed by EXPELLED the documentary purporting Intelligent Design.

This piece really got me thinking. I thought I'd throw some at you just to let you know.


Monica Williams
Wed 27 Aug 2008Link

Thanks Jason! I'm glad that you liked it – it needs a lot of work still but I'm hoping it works to get me to the next phase. I really appreciate the feedback and your thoughts. What I hope for the film is that it might provide clarity as this is such a murky topic and so tricky to think about.

Edited Wed 27 Aug 2008 by Monica Williams

Doug Block
Wed 27 Aug 2008Link

Now that Monica's a member, discussion of her trailer can migrate to the Works In Progress topic. Congrats on making the big leap, Monica.


Monica Williams
Wed 27 Aug 2008Link

Thanks Doug! Peace out enthusiasts! :-)

Edited Wed 27 Aug 2008 by Monica Williams

Chris Reed
Tue 2 Sep 2008Link

In reply to Skyler B's post on Mon 25 Aug 2008 : As one who has used PCs for almost 20 years and who never cared anything about Macs, I have to tell you that editing on a PC is more aggravation than it is worth. I used Premiere, Premiere Pro, blah blah blah. You will have program crashes, system crashes, conflicts, on and on. Buy a Mac and get Final Cut Studio. Yes, it is a lot more of an initial investment but I cannot tell you how many hours – days – weeks I WASTED with PCs and editing.

Do I like the Mac better than the PC? No, not really. I have trouble navigating the interface and overall, to me it is just a machine. But I will admit that I have now owned it for one year, never opened the case, have had a few crashes and a few program lockups but I have never had any data destroyed, lost or corrupted. I have never booted the computer and ended up in Limbo. Equally important is the Final Cut (and everything that comes bundled with it) is FAR superior to Premiere. In this case, I do believe you get what you pay for.

I'll be curious if others agree with this. In any event, good luck.


Robert Goodman
Tue 2 Sep 2008Link

There are plenty of working systems on the Windows platform. Avid, Vegas Video, Edius, etc. I've used them all. Never had the issues you've had. This is likely due to making sure that there are no word processing applications or other non-essential editing tools on the same computer. People expecting to use one computer for everything will have nothing but trouble.

The other issue is cooling. Computers fail because they don't have adequate cooling especially ones with lots of drives. It's best to run an edit system so the ambient temperature is 62 degrees in the room where the system resides or that cold air is supplied to the computer. I often see people running systems that are operating in the 90 degree range. Expect failures as soon as the temperature rises.


Jill Kelly
Tue 2 Sep 2008Link

hi, thanks to Eli for mentioning that the hvx p2 does not tape in hd, only sd, it finalized my buying or rather waiting to buy the new panasonic that comes out in october, 2 pounds lighter with no tape only p2 cards.My question, i read that it is very unlikely to get funding for a first doc, i'm wondering should i choose a different subject to my "dream doc" for my first?One that would be closer to home, aka, cheaper etc to get my feet wet?would an instructional film work?I made a 10 minute doc at school,hardly enough but how much experience is needed to seriously consider finding successful funding?Is it also having a executive director?I'm in for the long haul and i have already begun work on my "dream film" but i would like to be smart about getting some work and credit under my belt, so i can be taken seriously, cheers


Chris Reed
Tue 2 Sep 2008Link

Does anyone have a recommendation for the best and most reliable recordable DVDs? I do not want CHEAP. I want EXCELLENT! I need DVD-R inkjet printable.

Thanks, all!


Eli Brown
Tue 2 Sep 2008Link

Watershield discs by Taiyo-Yuden. Nice quality, pretty reliable, and inkjet prints that don't smear or wipe away...


Brad Studstrup
Wed 3 Sep 2008Link

Hello,

I want to travel from the U.S. to Europe for a shoot (first port of entry is actually Morocco) with two checked bags of video equipment – a light and a lens. Do I need a carnet, or is a rental agreement sufficient for customs?

Thanks,
Bradley


Robert Goodman
Thu 4 Sep 2008Link

checking video equipment with the airlines is a bad idea. Theft rampant. Best to ship it or rent it there. If you do bring it, then you will need a carnet if it's pro gear. If it looks like a tourist camera you can sneak past. However, you should be aware that if you get stopped by customs you will be required to post the full retail value of the equipment in cash to enter the country with it. Negotiating can bring it down somewhat but there's never any guarantee. A carnet is cheap insurance.


Skyler Buffmeyer
Sat 13 Sep 2008Link

hey!
i know i already asked this question but....i am totally lost on the whole archive business. I am looking for archives that represent women negatively in the meadia, ie...rap videos, make up ads, models ect. ect. I really need help plus, I don't know any of the rules/laws of archives.
Can someone please help?
Thanks a bunch!


Mark Charles Berlin
Sun 14 Sep 2008Link

Can anyone in the Michigan area direct me to get funding for my film?

HELP!


Mark Charles Berlin
Sun 14 Sep 2008Link

Is the Michigan film office giving out grants?


Joe Scherrman
Tue 16 Sep 2008Link

Mark, you might start here: http://www.michigan.gov/filmoffice

Be sure to learn about the incentives Michigan is offering.


Le Sheng Liu
Sun 21 Sep 2008Link

I'm not new to D-Word. I joined earlier this yr but I am a relatively new transplant to LA (been here since early 07). Anyway, just wanted to introduce myself: My name is Le Liu. My long-term objective is to write, direct, and produce my own feature docs, although as of late I've been thinking about TV and internet distribution a lot more.

My website reel is here if you wanna see my feature doc, my short films, or my speaking engagements :)
http://leshengliu.com/Films.html

And this is the blog I keep for a long-term project I'd like to eventually launch....
http://covergirlsthedocumentary.blogspot.com/

I work M-F til about 7pm in Sherman Oaks (for the Emmy-nominated A&E show Intervention). But other than that, I've been wanting to make myself available to doc filmmakers who need help with whatever. I've done PA work, scheduling/coordinating, editing on FCP 3, public relations, film fest submissions, film fest boothing, and lots of other random stuff. At this point, I am mostly interested in development/funding so I can learn how to get my project off the ground (i.e. my blog) and into the real world of production.

In any case, if you're in the LA area and want an assistant (preferably paid, but I'll take whatever), feel free to CONTACT ME OFF-LIST.

lesliu@gmail.com
213.308.6387


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