The Mentoring Room - Ask the Working Pros

Mentoring Room

  • Public

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.

Darla Bruno

By the way, thanks Rob, and Erica, and Christopher – and of course, all of you.

My footage is on PAL (yes, I know you all know this), so I've gotta get someone with a PAL camera deck to run my tapes through FCP and then do time codes (assuming I will also edit in PAL) and put all that back out on either DVDs or Quicktime files to give to my translator. I think I'm understanding this correctly.

I'm close to NYC, so I guess I can just pay someone to do this for me. I really don't have too many other resources (no camera, no FCP).

Wolfgang Achtner


If your tapes are DVCAM, a DSR 11 deck will do and these are easy to find (rent). You would also need a laptop with FCP.

If you know someone or have a friend who has a Mac with FCP, they could capture for you. Then it would be simple for them to burn DVDs with timecode. And then you could mail or ship the DVDs to your dp in Italy. For safety, keep copies for yourself.

Allow me to suggest that, while you're at it, you might want to buy a small external disc (200 GB would do and is relatively cheap, US$299.00).

This way, you'll have a backup and – more importantly – you'd already have your video ready to be logged, whenever you decide to do the edit. Furthermore, a 200 GB hard disc will provide more than enough space to edit your doc.

Sam Rabeeh

To everyone who replied, thank you for your time. I know I have to be diligent and creative. It's that now I have to walk the walk of documentary making. For me personally feeling all those things is different than understanding them, or studying them first. i.e. storylines wavering. Thanks for the inspirational kick in the rear from Erica, Jennifers and everyone else.

Erica, I contemplated including myself in the story but I don't want it to be about me, or run through me. I'm actually scared of bringing the attention, or focus on myself. I want it to be about Egyptians. I guess want and get may be two different things but I hope not in this case.

p.s. transcribing english takes a heck of alot of time. I'm awesome at english, and humble ;-). I think I need to start transcribing even though I don't have alot of hours. Not to mention there is audio.....

Did I mention d-word rocks?

Ma' Assalam from Sharm El Sheik

Lucia Duncan

I'm going to be directing short interviews with people at a union convention. This might lead to short videos about a theme or union campaign. We are trying to figure out what kind of backdrop and lighting to use for the interviews. One idea is to use a white backdrop, lit fairly flat, and change up frame lengths – inspired by the look of Errol Morris's Move On ads:
Another option would be to use a purple backdrop – the union's color. The lighting kit that's been reserved by the conference organizers includes one 350 fresnel, one 150 fresnel, a 650 fresnel, plus chimeras and gels. I don't know a lot about lighting, so I'm looking for advice about whether these lights are appropriate for achieving this kind of a "natural" look. Whether a white backdrop will be more challenging to light than purple... also, what to use as the backdrop – cloth draped somehow or a firm backdrop of some kind? Thanks for any suggestions!

Jamie Cochrane

Hey guys,

What's the best way to organize footage to prepare for editing? Do you rely on creating paper cuts, or do you have a better system?

(Since you were previously on the subject of transcripts, I also do transcriptions with time code and if anyone has questions about it, you can email me directly at

Rob Appleby

Lucia – if you were to shoot a greenscreen, you could make up your mind afterwards, or even use other footage/photos as a backdrop if the project really took off.

Mark Barroso

Lucia: You didn't ask, but make sure you have a quiet room and good mics – I've been hosed on audio in this kind of situation before. As for lighting, you won't be shining a light on the background if you're trying to achieve the look of the erol morris link. You only light a backdrop if you're trying to create texture or a pattern. You need to read up on the three point lighting technique, or better yet, practice in your living room with a real person.

Jamie: I found this training video from Creative Cow usefull.

Laurence Peters

I am in the business of filming people's lifestories but no one takes their lifestory that seriously it seems--and certainly not seriously enough to pay me to make their films (again it would appear from a bit of market research). What great ways do you think I could use to kick start the idea that everyone should consider putting their lifestory on video?
I imagine a bunch of talking heads telling them that it is a good idea and putting that on the web won't work too well. Any creative thoughts?

Mark Barroso

I know a couple of people who tried to do this and never found the right formula to make it cost effective. The clients want a lot and pay very little.

My suggestion to make it worth your while is to be the guy who shows up at family reunions and tapes people talking to each other. Good audio is the key, because it will be a noisy situation – camera mics won't work. But the oft-told stories will be great and everyone will feel comfortable doing it. Plus, you get everything in a day.

Memorial videos are another idea if you can work fast. Still photos to music. I was hired once to set up in a room away from the memorial service and folks came in and talked about their memories.

The common denominator is to be where families naturally gather.

Tony Comstock

I did some memorial videos. What a great feeling when you get it right!

Laurence Peters

Thanks Mark for that suggestion. I agree with Tony--it can be satisfying when you get it right! That is what keeps me going.

Melissa Dopp

Laurence-have you checked out the Association of Personal Historians ? If you search their membership directory, you'll find companies that also create video biographies. The APH also holds an annual conference that members rave about on their listserv.

Claire Gellard

Hi Everyone :)

I was wondering if anyone would be able to give me some advice please? I have just graduated from University with a BA Hons English. Very keen to get involved in doc filmmaking and am currently writing on mental health. Any ideas as next step into the industry?

Thank you very much,

John Burgan

Don't listen to the elderly patients in this institution, Claire. Have you any practical experience in making docs? It's pretty easy these days to get hold of a DV camera. What's the mental health idea? Do you have a concrete subject or is it more a general idea at this stage?

Tony Comstock

John's right. Any idiot can make a doc. I am exhibit "A". I had no practical experience when I started (probably obvious if you watch one of my movies.) I still don't have any.

Some practical advise. Get a DV camera. You can get one for about $250.

Get a Macintosh computer. It will cost you about $1000. It will come with iMovie. I use FinalCut Pro, but any of the films I've made I could have made on iMovie.

Two best pieces of advise I ever got about making movies:

1) Watch old movies and study how they get people in and out of rooms.

2) Anything that's worth doing is worth doing poorly.



Peter Brauer

You could also get an internship at a small doc house. You could see how they do things, and then decide if its worth going broke to make a movie. I worked in reality TV a while and learned about cameras and sound. get your hands on a camera and practice. Realize this career generally leads to poverty. what can an internship hurt, and you would be helping some one who needs your help.

Evan Thomas

I graduated with a similar degree a couple of years ago and took out a graduate loan to pay for an introductory film making course in London. Cost about 800 quid at the time and if i'd lived in London it would have been ideal (although it did give me some practical experience for my cv and showed i'd got involved) I didn't live in London (still don't) so i signed up with shootingpeople and was contacted to help out as runner on a short over one weekend.

I should add that this was over a couple of years and also involved lots of dull temping and talking about working in film & television instead of doing it. If you're in London (Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol etc) clearly there are more opportunities – If you like London as a place to live – it's personal preference.

I would say just jump in and get involved. Every project you work on you gain more experience meet more people and gather momentum.

Ultimately my wife worked with someone whos ex worked as a producer and i got their email address and got in touch. Attached my CV had an interview, got a few weeks work experience, then a few more and now i'm full-time. I work as a production coordinator by day and try to work on my own project after work and at the weekend to satisfy my creative aspirations.

Just show them that you are enthusiastic and capable and willing to start early and stay late.

Good luck!

Steve Yu

Hi – I'm not sure if this this is the right place to ask...I did do a search and didn't find any info on finding television commercial archives for use in a doc – we're stumbling a bit through the process of making our film, – and need some good footage of diet ads... any tips? We've gone the route of getting a dvr, but that is so random...would love to find a place that can get us what we need! Thanks in advance...

Mark Barroso

Hi Steve! We met at the Doc Dr's workshop a few months ago. This guy has a great film.

Can you legally use ads in an independent film without their consent? I suppose you've answered that question. If you need their consent anyway, maybe the diet companies will send you their ad. Doesn't hurt to ask. You just need one, right? Have you tried taping during soaps and The View, etc.?

Good to see you on this forum.

Steve Yu

Hey Mark! We are planning to "fair use" some of these assets. Not yet sure if there will be a cost involved or not – you should check out Bigger, Stronger, Faster at Midtown Art and see how much archival stuff they used! I was surprised at all they used, but I'm guessing they spent some pretty good money on it, because of their producers.

I'm probably going to get an HD DVR to capture more on my own in the meantime! Thanks for your suggestions...

Mari Heavey

Hi, I am new to the D-Word and relatively new to film making. I do have a multi-media background in experiential marketing – business theater mostly. I am looking for a relatively inexpensive video camera to take onsite to Peru to do some B-roll filming. Any suggestions?

Tara Hurley

Hi everyone, sorry I have been out of the loop for a while. In response to Darla, I had to deal with the time code issues too. I am not sure the semantics of all languages as I had to deal with Korean, but let me just suggest again that the fastest, cheapest way I found to do subtitling is buy getting a foreign exchange student in that language and teach them how to subtitle. Use them as an intern (sometimes you can get them for free if they are interested in your project) or pay 10-$20 and hour. That is way less than paying someone to translate, then pick what you want to use as clips. I felt I got to know my "Characters" better this way because I would watch the whole interviews on dvd. It is just a suggestion, but after I spent six months doing it the way you are doing it(on paper), I spent the rest of the time right to dvd and the project ran better.

Monica Williams

Hello everyone,

I haven't posted for a while. I'm currently working on my trailer for Is there any way to gather high quality images for free? I'm looking for art from the Enlightenment era in Western history, also footage from WWI & II and the Holocaust. Thanks again to Len, for helping with September 11th a while back :) Any help will be most appreciated.