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.
In reply to Rebecca Rolnick's post on Tue 10 Jul 2012 :
Have you considered reaching out to Kuwait film makers? There's a lot there and they have visa permission to go into Iraq.
Other than that, one might contact and Iraqi Student whose home for Ramadan?
I'm sure this question's been answered several times: What's the best way to secure permission to film a documentary? On screen Ok's. Since mine includes a lot Veteran Support groups, I'm running into an issue.
I'm documenting my experience getting help/lack of help. But the moment I call mention I'm making a documentary, they roll out the red carpet. The Military has always been like that. If it's going to go public, you're the star Soldier.
Can I just shoot first ask later? No pun intended.
You don't need permission to film a documentary, unless you're on someone else's private property. You'll need permission from the people on screen if you want to distribute it. To get distribution and the E&O insurance that's required for it, you'll need to have written release forms from your subjects. Google "appearance release" or "talent release" and I'm sure you'll find some boilerplate versions. On-camera releases may be better than nothing, and they're probably fine if you don't have big distribution plans, but I doubt they'll be sufficient to get E&O for a broad distribution.
Andy's right if you intend to ask a festival , theater, or broadcaster to show your film. However if the extent of your ambition is to show it on the web or private screenings, written releases are not required. In the US, you have the First Amendment right to shoot anyone you want in public. It's the insurance companies that demand releases (which can also be gotten after the fact). If you are in the beginning of your filmmaking don't get too hung up on getting written permissions for every little thing or person.
Others may disagree, but I advocate for exercising our rights to the fullest extent, particularly if the film isn't going to be on a big screen or broadcast.
Marcus, be careful about recording phone conversations. Depending on the state you're in (including California) it can be against the law to record someone else without their knowledge. I don't know about Arizona. However, while it may be illegal in such situations to record someone else, that doesn't necessarily mean it's un-ethical. If you're phoning a health care provider, and you need to document the poor level of care they're providing to you BEFORE you tell them you're making a documentary, then I can see an ethical argument for doing so. You have to weigh that against the likelihood of criminal prosecution, which I would guess is small, but I'm not a lawyer.
In almost every other situation where you're filming someone (short of some crazy hidden camera scenario) they're going to know that they're being filmed, and will behave accordingly. They may or may not be willing to sign an appearance release, but that doesn't impact your right to film. Of course, if you're trespassing on private property, they can try to bust you for that, but the camera doesn't change that one way or the other. And of course, US military property is public, not private.
I agree with Mark that if your primary goal is to get the film made, then you should try to get a release, but don't be stopped if you can't get one. For professional documentary filmmakers, who are motivated by trying to earn money to pay the lease on their Volvo station wagon, it doesn't make sense to film someone without a release. Because they need that release to get E&O insurance, which they need to sell their film to PBS or HBO. But if you're motivated by a passion to document your own experience, then you can still make a film that people will see someday, even if not on HBO.
Hi---I am working on a short documentary that has 4-5 talking head interviews. After putting up graphics to identify who is being interviewed for the first time---how often (if ever) would you "re-identify" who is speaking? Is the viewer supposed to remember the name if they haven't seen them on camera for a while? Should you identify them say the first two times they are on camera and then none after that?
What is the rule of thumb so to speak on putting up titles on interview subjects? I keep going around and circles between identifying my interview subjects too much and not enough. Thanks so much in advance for any feedback or advice you can give me. I appreciate anyone taking the time to respond with advice!
In reply to Todd Johnson's post on Sun 14 Oct 2012 :
Todd, if I ID with a lower third I do it on the speakers first or second on-screen appearance. Sometimes a film may have a montage of opening comments and then the IDs come in after the opening as the narrative opens up.
The old rule of thumb was the ID should be on long enough to read twice but that has gone out the window with lots of other thumb rules. I prefer 4 seconds at least. I've seen many only 2 seconds.
If the piece is long enough, say over 25 or 30 minutes, you can ID again if necessary especially if the person hasn't been on lot in the first section. Sometimes you can get away from on screen IDs by having people introduce themselves or have a narrator introduce them (if there is a narrator).
Ideally the film should give you a sense of who they are because most viewers won't really remember the name but need to know what they do or how they fit into the narrative. Hope that helps.
Thanks, Tom---Appreciate your taking the time for that feedback!
I think I'll go with the "old" rule of thumb, and do them twice. That seems to fit mine, which is about 24 minutes or so.
In reply to Lynnae Brown's post on Wed 4 Feb 2004 :
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I'm going to be shooting a project on a canon XA10 and a Canon 5d.
I will use one camera for certain applications, – the xa for run and gun, the 5d for interviews and tripod shots.
I'm confused by all the available formats, and wonder what formats would be ideal that would allow all the footage to be dragged to the same timeline in FCP7 and edit with a minimal amount of render time.
Right now I log and transfer footage from both cameras to Prores422.
The XA10 offers this option of quality:
Mxp (24mbps) FXP (17mbps), XP+(12mbps) SP (7mbps) and LP (5mbps).
Frame rates are 60i, PF30, PF24, and 24p
The 5D has a choice of video system NTSC or Pal
If I use NTSC, the
Movie Rec size options are 1320x1080 (30) and 1320x1080 (24)
(it also has SD NTSC)
If I use video system PAL, the
Movie Rec size options are 1320x1080 (25) and 1320x1080 (24)
(it also has SD PAL)
So the question is: What settings for XA10, what settings for 5D, so they cut together as well as possible.
And BTW, what is the difference between PAL 24 and NTSC 24FPS on the 5D?
If this question is off the mark, of if you can point out something I am misunderstanding, please do.
In reply to Daniel McGuire's post on Mon 19 Nov 2012 :
No reason for you to film in PAL unless you're shooting specifically for European delivery. Standard here is NTSC. Regarding the resolution, I think you mistyped – it's 1920x1080. Also, the PAL option would be 25p, not 24p, correct? Either way, shoot NTSC.
I would definitely suggest continuing to transcode both sources to ProRes – 422 is great, but you could probably do 422 (LT) to save space (if needed). Shooting 24p or 30p is a completely aesthetic choice. I personally dislike the look of 30p and shoot 24p almost exclusively. Just make sure to pick one and stick to it on both cameras.
You're right about that typo. But if PAL and NTSC are both 1920x1080, and there is a 24 fps both NTSC and PAL – what is the difference?
And what about data rate?
Unless you have a reason to film PAL, have it set to NTSC. I don't know the differences between their 24p – for simplicity sake, use NTSC. It's not worth the time researching, testing, looking up the difference, when you have no reason to film in PAL.
For data rate, always shoot the highest possible you camera allows.
Hey Dan, there's no difference between the NTSC and PAL 24p. They are both exactly the same – 1080x1920. And both record at a truly cinematic 23.976fps.
It's just a confusing menu interface. There is in fact no such thing as PAL 24p or NTSC 24p. 24p is 24p. To be more precise, it's 23.976p. Which is what film runs at.
Your statement is incorrect. A camera set to PAL and recording in 24P will record at a frame rate of 24 frames per second. A camera set to NTSC and recording in 24P will be at a frame rate of 23.976. Film runs at 24 frames per second flat.
The problem will not be in picture but in sound. If your editing system is operating on 60Hz power then you should use the NTSC setting otherwise the sound will drift out of sync.
If you are doing double system sound the issue becomes even more important if you want to have the sound stay in sync.
It may not seem like a big difference but a .004 frame difference over 10 minutes is lip flap and a post production nightmare.
My name is Tymon Ruszkowski and I am a journalism student at Edinburgh Napier University in Scotland in my final year.
I am writing a dissertation on monetizing non broadcast documentaries.
I was wondering if I could ask you some questions about your projects and how posting video online can bring profit to filmmakers.
I am also curious about how audiences had changed and what does it mean for filmmakers.
Is it possible to send some filmmakers few questions over an email?
Try asking the people who created Distrify. You can find them through their website. Peter designed the current D-Word website and he and his partner in Distrify, Andy, are filmmakers. Their toolkit was created for especially for filmmakers. Also, look at the http://www.onlinefilm.org/ – and ask the same questions there perhaps. Onlinefilm grew out of the initiatives of some people associated with AGDOK (the association of doc filmmakers in Germany). They were thinking about this many years ago.
I have a mundane question, but one I don't the answer to (I am a first time film maker and first time festival participant). What is the purpose of post cards ? What goes on them?
Hey Ellin, Postcards are usually made up for screenings. You do all the regular stuff: Title, directed by, artwork/photo, website, sponsors, etc and then leave room for a sticker.
(The economical way to do it) The stickers will change with each screening. This way you can use the same postcard for festivals as well as theatrical screenings or even if it will appear on cable. You can just put the info on the sticker and make a new sticker when the info changes.
You might redo the card later with reviews, festivals your film has played at, etc. When you go to a fest, you see a lot of people handing out postcards or postcards in the local restaurants, hangouts, etc. I used to get them at 1800Postcards, but not sure where the best place is these days. Hope that helps!
Ellin, in the future no need for you to ask questions in the Mentoring Room as you're a professional member. This is more for "enthusiasts" who don't have access to most of the topics. And professional members rarely come here to answer questions (Jill being a very nice exception).
In reply to Doug Block's post on Tue 5 Mar 2013 :
OK. Thanks, Doug. I didn't realize that.
That said, feel free to come back here to answer questions asked by enthusiasts.
I have a few questions surrounding footage ownership and distribution of a documentary.
Two years ago I was hired as a DOP to shoot a bullying documentary in a high school for two days. Letters were sent to all the parents by the school and approval from the teachers, school and families was full. The goal was to follow one student who was popular until an accident forced him to see bullying from the other side. Everyone involved expected the project to be screened in the school, broadcast, provide to other schools around north america who showed interest in the story. The documentary was screened and there were teary eyes everywhere at the school. But the school thought that the different groups being critical of each other (i.e. cheerleaders being critical of another group), and some other factors I'm not aware of created a rift between the school and the student and his mother (protaganists).
I am not aware of any model releases held by the production company.
I was never paid for the work I performed and don't expect to. I did not sign any contracts and still have the original footage.
My question is, what are my options in distributing or broadcasting this documentary if I edit a new one that is.
We had open access to any student who was willing to talk. I could possibly secure model releases from some of the principal characters as I would see them being supportive of moving forward.
Thanks for the ongoing support.
I'm curious, Sam, did you speak to the parents of the student? I wonder if they agree with the school that the film caused a rift. If not, is there any reason the film can't be distributed as is? After all, everyone has apparently signed off on it.
Hi Doug. Thanks for taking the time to respond, and so fast!
I haven't spoken to the students mother since the shoot. I don't have the full story on the rift and I have tried to investigate it further with the Director. Both of us are in the dark as we found the production company had not been honest on several issues.
That being said, after I wrote my post I thought to myself there shouldn't be any barrier to them signing a model release. Or any other students for that matter if that is the barrier to broadcasters and distributors.
The barrier to releasing the current version is that there is no master copy. I didn't edit the original and identified many issues with the final product.
Recently I captured the footage and began editing to re-tell the story.
I could distribute the new version to YouTube for example as per some previous posts without the model releases. I'm curious what other options there are for that scenario.
In reply to Marianne Shaneen's post on Sat 29 Dec 2007 :
Hi Marianne, I was wondering whether you found/designed an exclusivity agreement. I'm looking for precisely the same thing, also having no luck and was hoping you could perhaps point me in the right direction?
Hey everybody I am in the U.S. Navy and I am about to deploy for 6+ months very soon. I came up with the idea to shoot a documentary over the course the entire deployment from a sailors perspective. There isnt any films that have showed what life aboard a ship of over 5,000 people is actually like, that I know of. I have a few friends that I will show they're stories and what its it's like to leave wives, friends and loved ones behind for an unknow period of time. This has come from an idea to actually shooting in an extremely short time and I really am looking for advice. I do not have very good camera equipment nor do I have the money to get any on such short notice. Does the quality of the video really matter when the film is supposed to be the good, bad, and ugly of a real deployment? Most of it will be impromptu and on the go. I have a vision of how it will all come together to tell a great story but I don't want the lack of video quality to overshadow the story. I currently have a GoPro and a canon sx160. Any tips would be very helpfull. Thank you!
Daniel, I would suggest to capture the best quality video you can afford. The quality really does matter, especially if you would like it to screen in a theatrical setting one day. But, even if you decide image quality takes a backseat, you MUST have decent audio. You need a real microphone, possibly from a separate sound recorder, depending on how cheap a camera you end up using. I'm sure there will be all sorts of wind noise aboard, plus many other distracting sounds. You want to be able to isolate your subjects' voices as best as possible. Hopefully some others will chime in on the best way to achieve that.
Another idea--consider this deployment as like a scouting trip. Shoot some stuff with your current gear and use that as a guide for what you'd like to do on your next deployment when you've had time to raise some funds. Possibly having the scouting images will help funders see the potential.
Also, remember that the weak link for any film is often sound.... try to get the best quality sound you can.
also, reach out to contacts within the military who make promotional films and ads for the navy and they can help you greatly as well and perhaps fund you.
In reply to Daniel harren's post on Tue 19 Mar 2013 :
First and foremost is to consider a core question: what is the story you wish to tell? Two or 3 people can be on that same ship for those same 6 months and emerge with completely different films. What's your purpose in undertaking this challenge? Is it merely to document? Or to do something like reality tv shows? Or is it to probe a bit further into questions such as: how do people negotiate difference? assumptions of masculinity? sexuality? how are 3 people changed/impacted over time by the experience of...
In reply to Daniel harren's post on Tue 19 Mar 2013 :
Daniel,Have you seen the 10 part PBS series "Carrier?" It was shot on board the Nimitz in 2005. The series is a documentary with some reality show drama but the character development is pretty good. http://www.pbs.org/weta/carrier/
Having served on an aircraft carrier in Vietnam I was fascinated by what I saw on the Nimitz, both good and bad. Showing my age since I left the USS Oriskany CVA 34 in September 1972.
Jill, Matt and Vivian have offered really important advice. I might add that on one hand you have incredible access and on the other hand you are so close to the story that you may not see the forest from the trees.
I'm wondering if you have considered talking to the ship's public affairs officer or your supervisor. Have you poked around the ship's tv facility to see how they might help? Perhaps loan you a microphone.
Lots of potential directions for you to take the story.
One shot I would try to get is a zoom out from the deck of the ship so that at the end the entire carrier is in the field of view.
Zoom outs are awesome. Bring a wide angle.
Thank you to everybody for all the help! I wanted to try and work in the industry when i get out and seeing as this is my last deployment I just wanted to take advantage of the opportunity and make a positive of it. What I wanted to show was how people interact with one another and mainly the ups and downs and overall change in attitude and mood. After last cruise I was a little different for a while for some reason that I couldn't even figure out and I want to explore that (and throw in some action shots from the cockpit and flight deck of course!). Ron, I have seen "Carrier" but it didnt really like it too much honestly. I wanted to do something with a more insider feel i guess. Another problem I started to think of is the whole legality thing. I will actually be going out on the Nimitz too and I don't know if the Nimitz would be too happy with me showing the not so great aspects of everything! I think this deployment I will look at as a opportunity to get some good practice and learn how and what I want to do when the time comes for me to get out. Thank you again everybody for answering me back so quickly and helpfully!
Hi everybody :)
My name is Sara. I'm a grad student of the Master of Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology program at University of Waterloo. My start-up is about promoting documentary films online. I'm interested in your views on online documentary films promotion and consumption. Please take a moment to fill out this survey. Your participation will be much appreciated.
In reply to Daniel harren's post on Fri 22 Mar 2013 :
Shoot first and let them ask questions later. The thing is, you have to shoot A LOT for people to forget you have a camera in front of your face. In the first week of shooting people will either be hamming for the camera, doing all that stupid clowning most people do when someone points a lens their way, OR being stiff and official, like you're filming a training film. In order for people to let their guard down and act naturally, they need to get all of that out of their system and not think it's strange that a camera is pointed at them.
I've been thinking of using a teleprompter hood to obscure the camera and the lens from the interview subject. From that perspective, I think Errol Morris has a leg up on making people feel comfortable using his tech-laden interview rig.
Hello D-Worders:) I am curious, as I am always searching for producing partners and whatnot (as I am trying to do a few films a year and am stretching my generous collaborators thin); what has been the best way for anyone on meeting new collaborators?
I never use the word "interview" – it carries a lot of cultural baggage that can negatively influence the demeanor of your subject. They hear "interview" and they think TV – Oprah – etc... it may force them into culturally engrained ways of being or simply stiffing. Not always, but you never know – especially if you are dealing with quasi-illiterate folks who have only been exposed to western media as a model for how to be "on TV".
In reply to Rodrigo Dorfman's post on Fri 29 Mar 2013 :
If you don't use the word "interview", then what word or phrase DO you use?
I use the word "conversation". Obviously it will be filmed...
Fair enough. I've used "conversation" in the last couple talking head pieces I've filmed and it does seem to put the subject more at ease.
Learn something new every day.
I do the same as Rodrigo: It's a conversation, or a discussion, about the topic. And I only arrive with a few topics to be sure to cover, never a list of questions.
It doesn't work with cops, though, who always talk like they're being deposed.
Yes, Mark, BUT – when you can get a cop to relax – especially when you remind him that he's getting screwed and losing his benefits while the officers are cashing it in... Or you ask them what they plan to spend their double time money on and then they start opening up in ways that you'd be surprised... I talked to a lot of cops during my OWS adventure...
I wasn't thinking about questions that appealed to their own selfish interests, but rather their work on the crime front.
Hi everyone. Great to see so many professionals helping each other – excellent contribution to other people's lives and projects.
My partner in crime Peter Marsh and I are reaching the end of along haul making a film about Polynesian origins. it is a fairly small niche market and I wondered if anyone might have any ideas about marketing.
It is potentially a 4 part series covering hidden histories about Hawaii, Easter Island, New Zealand and Tahiti and the one we have made off our own backs is about Hawaiian legends versus Scientific dogma. WE will need funding if we are to do the other three but for the moment we would like to get some interest for the first part. Do you think that Google keywords and ads help? what would be your advice.
Gabi, since you're a professional, you may have better luck posting your question in the Marketing and Distribution topic. We don't normally allow double posting but in this case it would be acceptable.
I was wondering if anyone had a sample budget with the latest official rates for the following crew positions (researcher, writer, director, producer, associate producer, dp, editor) for an indie feature documentary?
This varies widely depending on where you are shooting, the skill level and equipment used, among other things. Even here in the US, salaries can vary by region. For the best information, you should specify where you are shooting, and an honest assesent of the skill level you can afford. If all you need is to get from A to B, for instance, it's a waste of money to buy a Lexus when a old pick-up truck (like mine) would do.
I am graduating soon and am looking to gain experience as a PA in documentary film to get a feel for how docs work. I have some experience in major motion pictures and decided it's not for me.
Any advice on how to start, what kind of equipment to initially invest in (I'm interested in working on my own personal projects) and resources for new film makers, would be wonderful! I will be moving to Ireland soon for one year – so anyone with any experience working in film over there...it would be great to hear from you!
I am not in this business (I am a middle school science teacher), but I am wondering if someone could help me.
What would be your advice to someone who has an idea for a documentary film? Where do I go? Who do I talk to in order to bring the idea to life? How do I pitch an idea to a production company?
Thank you for any help!
In reply to Susan Cosgrove's post on Fri 19 Apr 2013 :
Hi Susan, I would say to follow your passion, wherever it leads. Always keep that fire burning. Learn as much as you can about every aspect that excites you.
One of my initial inspirations in documentary film was James Longley, a professional member of our group.
James has only made three or four films in his career and his second film (Iraq in Fragments) won best cinematography at Sundance and was nominated for an Oscar.
But more importantly, he is pretty much a one man wrecking crew. Watch Iraq in Fragments which he filmed entirely himself, doing almost all the sound, on a Panasonic DVX 100B camera which you can buy for around $1500.
It remains one of the most incredible pieces of cinema I've ever seen.
That was deeply inspirational for me.... if this fellow can do THAT with an affordable camera as a one man crew, maybe there was hope for me......and there was.
Buy a nice HDSLR with a few good lenses and tell us a story. Make it a beautiful story. Bring us into your world.
In reply to Lynette Wehner 's post on Sat 20 Apr 2013 :
I would describe your idea in writing as completely and as thoroughly as you possibly can and then copyright it after checking out a copy of "Copyright it Yourself" from your local library.
It's a simple process, will cost you $25 total, and will help a lot to protect you from the sharks.
In reply to Lynette Wehner 's post on Sat 20 Apr 2013 :
Following up on Matt's advice, I have written a post that might help you How to Stop Your Idea Being Stolen and another one that goes into detail about how to write a proposal: How to Write a Proposal A Commissioner Will Read
Then if you have time to explore the site you'll find lots of resources that will introduce you to our crazy world!
[Edited by Host to make links active]
In reply to Matt Dubuque's post on Sat 20 Apr 2013 :
Hi Matt -
Thank you for the advice. I plan on following my passion! I've been working in major motion pictures for a couple of years, and feel as though documentary work will be more fulfilling and hands on.
I can't afford much in the way of a camcorder at the moment, but i'm just excited to start learning. Does anyone have any suggestions about affordable editing programs?
Hi all- I'm working as a Researcher on a doc film now, and we're looking for internationally-sourced archival footage. Does anyone have experience finding this? We are specifically looking for legislative/goverment archival footage from Portugal/Switzerland/Europe in general. Thank you!
Here's a working link to Nicola's "How to Write a Proposal A Commissioner Will Read" article: http://www.tvmole.com/2009/01/how-write-proposal-tv-commissioner-will-read/
In reply to Susan Cosgrove's post on Tue 23 Apr 2013 :
Hi Susan, the price of everything keeps crashing..... you can get some nice images from even a T3i, but you have to pay attention to good sound......
I finally completed my first doc which I filmed in Nov 2000. It is in SD. Recently I found a european company wanting to represent my film at the markets surrounding Cannes but think it's a big problem that the doc is not in HD. She is still willing to take the plunge if we know it can be up converted with same quality. I found a company in Atlanta which can do this, but my question is – will the quality really be sufficient and are there really no more broadcast possibilities for something in SD. Natch any future projects will be in HD, but after so much effort I'd really like to complete the process with this one.
Thanks for any info
My understanding is that more and more broadcasters are demanding that programming be hi-def. Or at least mostly – I think at least 70% of a film needs to be hi-def, but that might just be HBO.
That said, I just up-res-ed a bunch of SD footage, and was blown away by how much better it looked. The teranex seems miraculous to me.
Same here. It's a very cool look, especially when intercut with HD footage.
Bonnie – it really depends on your master footage – what kind of SD camera you used and your exposure. fellow D-Worder James Longley shot Iraq in Fragments with the now legendary DVX 100 – in SD but with an anarmorphic lense. He was able to blow it up to 35MM!!! And win Best Cinematography at Sundance and get HBO to release the film.. Here's the trailer https://vimeo.com/10535967 – I shot my first feature in SD with the DVX 100 and was able to blow it to HD in order to sell it. In reply to Bonnie Friedman's post on Fri 3 May 2013 :
Thanks everyone. I have been trying to find someone with the teranex which keeps getting rave reviews. Any ideas? I am a little concerned about the fact that the doc includes stock footage – some of which is beautiful and some of which is – well not so much. I originally shot with a Canon XL 1 – long ago and far away...
The trailer can be seen at www.alliance-productions.net which will give a pretty good example of the quality of the doc footage.
We have been using archival footage in our documentary we got for free off of archive.org. The quality of the free footage from archive.org is fairly low, so for the final film we're interested in getting higher quality versions of that footage.
It seems like the majority of the footage we're using is from the prelinger archives. When we go to their site it says they sell the higher-quality versions of their footage through getty images, which seems to charge a lot for their footage, more than we can really afford.
Does anybody know how to work around this? We're wondering if there is another, cheaper way to get this prelinger footage outside of getty, or if anybody has any other advice on how to save money here.
Brian – I might be a lonely voice on this – but I actually thrive on the low rez aesthetics of the youtube look. It gives the image a gritty quality that transcends the so called perfection of HD. And so, I use found footage on the internet and as long as I am using it within the fairly clear parameters of fair use, I don't pay a dime. Especially since the footage is degraded and I'm "transforming" it. Now, granted, I like impressionism and mindcapes and collages so that approach works for me. You may need high rez archival footage. And in many ways, that's what your paying for – the "master" tape. Depending on what footage you are looking for – you may find it elsewhere, like in another doc for example. Wish I could be of more help, but it depends what you are looking for.
Yes, I agree Tom – so far I've been lucky (and underfunded!)In reply to Tom Dziedzic's post on Fri 24 May 2013 :
Hey guys, I'm a writer who has never dabbled in Documentary work. I however have a new project that revolves around a Documentary type production. I was hoping to pick the brain of a few professionals who know the ropes a bit. First and foremost about approaching and interviewing people to be your film. Anyone who has some good advice or knows of a website that details some great techniques would be amazing. Thanks in advance!
Can you be more specific ? What do you mean by "documentary type"?
Essentially it will be a few individual short documentaries on specific subjects life events. I have a wonderful video production team at my disposal, and I am a writer... I'm just unsure on how to approach a subject and the best interviewing techniques to get your AVERAGE person to talk about the subject. I assume there are probably some fairly developed techniques used.
Kris, I'm a first time documentary film maker, but I've interviewed lots of people for this and other (non--video) projects. Personally, I don't think there is much mystery to get the average person to talk. The trick, in my mind, is knowing your subjects area of interest, his/her area of expertise. You should come to the interview knowing who they are. Focus on why you want to talk with that person. So, for example, when I interviewed Mary Bauer of the Southern Poverty Law Center, who is an expert on the Guest Worker Program, I read the reports she had written. Then I'd just say, "Talk to me about The Dog War," for example. But I also interviewed, for example, a migrant in the middle of the Sonora Desert who had been wandering, lost, without food or water, for days. I asked basic questions of him--again knowing as much as I could in advance about the subject. Of course, under the circumstances, I kept it short. Other migrants, I got information that I thought was relevant--that I wanted the audience to know--for example, how much they paid their human smugglers (because I already knew that there is a misconception with the US public). That kind of thing. Of course, some people are just poor subjects--either they are so nervous they can't get anything said, or can't get to the point, or they answer questions like, "how did your parents feel when they believed for three months that you had died crossing?" with "sad."
Others may have differing opinions or approaches.
Perhaps it is helpful to frame the process as "having a conversation" rather than "interviewing".
Asking open ended questions can be helpful.
The problem with conversations is they can be impossible to edit. The interviewer has to get out of it. At least, that is my experience.
Hello, I was just wondering if someone could offer me advice. I'm embarking upon a documentary about a community theater. In order for them to agree to me filming, they have asked that I obtain liability coverage for my crew to offset any accidents that might occur while we're filming. I'm just wondering, how much do you think this would cost and is this really necessary considering it's going to be me and my friends? Is there anyway around it?
I hear this occasionally and I just flat out refuse. You can try asking if a "Hold Harmless" agreement would suffice. OR that you'll make promo videos for them if they cover you on their policy and/or drop the requirement. A prudent person will tell you should get the insurance, but I never have in 21 years. I've also walked away from jobs that demanded it because it is simply not worth the expense.
The thing is you call it " a conversation" because it puts people at ease... but the art of getting on film what you're looking for – or for what may surprise you – that is an art and a craft that takes time and practice to perfect. You call it a conversation and then you direct the conversation – or not!In reply to Ellin Jimmerson's post on Wed 29 May 2013 :
OK – here's one piece of advice – avoid at all costs to have your questions written down on a piece of paper that you're holding while filming your subjects. In my opinion this will distract them, and throw cold water on the moment. Eye contact, emotive contact, follow ups that are not scripted is where you will find gold. There is no map. So, memorize some questions and then throw them out the window.In reply to Kris Kilduff's post on Tue 28 May 2013 :
I agree, Rodrigo. Getting good results is an art that takes some time to perfect. You absolutely have to listen carefully to what is being said so that you can give the interview its head. That is what makes these interviews so exhausting for the interviewer--the listening part. I remember in one of my interviews the subject, a guest worker, mentioned something I'd never heard of. And, on the fly I couldn't make sense of it. So I just said to him, "I'm curious about what you just said. There is a benefit here to the employer but I don't understand what the benefit is. Help me understand that." And, of course, he did.
But I've never had a problem having questions or topics written down. I don't need to refer to my list after I've thrown the topic on the interview table. But once that bit of the conversation has ended, I sure want to refer to it so I don't forget what I came for.
Also, at the end of every conversation I always ask say to the interviewee, "You know more about your life / this subject than I do. What did I miss? Tell me what you really think I need to know."
And, yes, maintain eye contact. Emotive is good, but I've had the tables turned on me when being interviewed and fake emotion is a sure 'nuff turn-off. Makes me want to slap somebody upside the head.
I tend to be a very serious listener and deliberate processor. So I've learned always to tell people up front that I'm a serious listener (with a serious demeanor) and not to be thrown by that. And I always try to just chat before the camera runs so that my subject can get comfortable with me, etc., see me smiling and so forth.
It may be, too, that the technique would vary depending on the nature of the documentary you are making. I really can't see not going in prepared with the kinds of interviews I've ever done. And from the perspective of someone who also has been interviewed, I find it disappointing when the interviewer has no idea who I am or any real interest because he / she hasn't done the homework or basically comes to me with the story already written and is just using me to sort of dress things up. I really object to that. Don't tell me you want to interview me because of my expertise in immigration when what you really want is to exploit "Saint Ellin of Alabama, The Noble Grieving Mother." Tell me up front that is what you are after so I can say no.
As far as editing, it also depends on whether you want to be part of the movie. I don't--takes up too much real estate and is uninteresting (for what I'm doing). But if you are going to be a part of the movie, that changes how much you can be involved in a conversation as opposed to an interview.
For me, a real challenge is to get people to speak in complete sentences or at least refer to the topic verbally. So I have to listen out for that.
Thank all of you. Your suggestions are actually very helpful. It's interesting to see how other people do this. One problem is It will be interviewing pretty Regular people. Not business professionals, or anyone enlightened on a certain subject. I think that might make it a bit more tricky. Also, Do either of you have advice on approaching subjects? I'm far from shy, but i want to come across as professional but personal.
Good interview feedback so far. Just let me add:
Check out the approach John Sawatsky teaches at ESPN:
Maybe read John Brady's The Craft of Interviewing.
Aimed at interviews for print, but way back when I was a cub reporter I found it useful.
Watch a doc you like and try to reverse-engineer the question that elicited the response.
Pre-written questions or no pre-written questions: Depends on whom I'm interviewing and the context/goal. Sometimes it's really helpful. Sometimes it isn't. But over the years, I find fewer and fewer people are distracted by a small notepad. Everyone's drenched in media...and frankly, I don't look at the notes all that often... it's nice to let conversations unfold naturally. But an infrequent glance will help me make sure I don't miss anything I want to ask.
Transcribe the interviews you conduct and pay attention to what you said, how you said it, and what approaches got the responses you need. This helped me a bunch...still does.
As for being shy, I am too. But being prepared, and just doing it a bunch helped. Shy can be OK. But too much nervousness can spill over to person you want to interview. Many people, if they agree to be interviewed, want you to succeed. And if you're interviewing people in the US, they've seen plenty of interviews.
Worry about it...but only enough to motivate yourself to be prepared and attentive. Don't worry about it so much that you're a distractive wreck. It'll be great.
Kris, I think Jim, too, is giving good advice in addition to Rodrigo. It might help to know more about your project. How is it that your subjects would not be enlightened on the subject. Even if they're not academics or formal experts in one thing or another, there is some reason why they are of interest to you, right?
Also try not to over think it too much. They know why you're there, it's a set up, there's cameras, lights maybe a small crew... you have an agenda and you have picked them for a reason...In terms of approaching them for the first time – well – that's part of the seduction and the craft of getting people to spend their valuable time with you. That can't be taught. Either you're a sociable, likeable guy – or you're not. Either you can get people to follow you, or not.
In reply to Amy Halpin's post on Wed 29 May 2013 :
Hi Amy, thank you! I'll look them up now! Really appreciate your message.
I am new in d-world. please help me to find friends,,,,,,,,,
Well as it says at the top of the page, this Topic is for first-time filmmakers – what's your interest in documentary?
I'm interested in buying a good entry level (less expensive) HD camera and am a bit overwhelmed by all the choices that are out there. I'm looking for a camera that is versatile in a variety of shooting situations. I'm not up on all the technical jargon that accompanies most conversations that involve gear but I'm learning. Anyone willing to share some insights?
I am very happy with my Cannon xa10. Modestly priced, small enough not to be intrusive (I shoot handheld verite) good in low light, (which was very important to me). The internal hard drive was also a selling point for me.
Tell us more about what you are looking for.
What kind of shooting are you looking to do?
What is your price range?
Those are good questions. I'm not a cameraman, but I watch a lot of films: famous and ones that'll never leave the screening room. I think it's also important to be realistic about what kind of films you can make with each type of camera.
On one end of the spectrum is friends and family -slash – youtube hobby, and the other is theatrical/broadcast wide distribution. You can use almost anything in the former, and the latter requires learning the jargon and spending a lot of money (for me, any ways). A crappy camera will need a helluva story to be interesting, whereas beautiful, well-crafted pictures and sound can make the mundane seem wonderful.
needing advice again. Just signed a contract with an Italian company to represent my doc outside of the US and one of the deliverables needed is a press kit. Anyone know an inexpensive but good publicist who can help me with this? Should I post this in public classifieds instead?
In reply to Bonnie Friedman's post on Tue 25 Jun 2013 :
Bonnie- For just a press kit, I don't know that you need to hire a publicist. Maybe just ask people to send you copies of press kits from their past films and make your own. I'd be happy to send you mine, if you like. Email me offlist: firstname.lastname@example.org