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.

Doug Block
That's a surprise to me, too, Carolyn. Can you give us some examples
of the pricing you've run across? Because a PD150 shoots dv-cam and
goes for, what, $3500? Where can you get a beta-sp camera for near
that price?
Carolyn Projansky
Doug: I think the price comparison was not for a PD150 versus BETACAM-
SP, but for a bigger DV-CAM camera, compared to a BETA-SP. I'll have
to get the specifics from my production manager. But do you, or does
someone else know whether it matters what I shoot with if it's going
to end up in a tiny box on the web? Will a better camera give a
crisper image so its better to spend the money? Or will it all end up
looking tiny and grainy so who cares?
Ben Kempas
A bigger camera is always nicer for its easy handling, decent
exposure, proper lens, less depth of field, and better reliability. As
long as your footage ends up on the net, the format really doesn't
matter. Could be a 300 or 500-series DVCAM, any Beta-SP, or anything
down to S-VHS. :-)
Carolyn Projansky
Thanks Ben. If anyone else out there has a opinion about format for
shooting direct-to-web I'd be interested.

Meanwhile, as long as I'm on the subject of cameras ... I have two
doccies I'm developing that raise camera questions, too. One is
definitely for int'l TV broadcast and I'm targeting the BBC
particularly. Is it best to shoot 16X9 these days and then compress,
or whatever you do for 4x3screenings? I'm still budgeting and so I
can select the shooting format as I choose. Although this one isn't
an "intimate" story, I generally prefer a smaller, more unobtrusive
camera for a documentary. Will all the broadcasters accept DVCAM
(the big kind) or is it better to go for HD nowadays? I'm not sure I
like the look of HD for a documentary. Are people having good
experiences with the "look" and "feel" of the format? What type of
film does it seem to work best for?

My other project is a very intimate doc which is destined either for
US tv or might be a feature doc for some cinema release. It depends
on how the characters work when we start shooting. We're going to do
a demo. But I don't want to shoot the demo material and then throw it
away. I'd like to start shooting with the format we're going to stay
with. What do you recommend? An intimate "family" story, needs to
be unobtrusive camera but great looking.

thanks very much! Carolyn
Erica Ginsberg
Hey Carolyn. Erica from WIFV here. Glad to hear you are back from
South Africa and welcome back to D-Word.

I'm surprised by the price differential too. Even if you are looking
at getting a crew with one of the higher end DVCAM cameras, it should
still be less expensive than Beta-SP. HD could be more expensive
though. How did you get your crew quotes? Did you try posting on
the WIFV listserv?

I'll let the cinematography experts answer your other questions, but
my understanding is that BBC absolutely requires 16X9.
Ben Kempas
What's wrong with the "look of HD for documentary"?

As a cinematographer, I've worked with HD - but not for "doccies".
Carolyn Projansky
I still don't have the specific price quotes but I spoke again to a
production manager who gets quotes all the time. She says that a
bunch of the major houses that rent camera equipment in the DC area
have all just recently upgraded to top DV Cam equipment and they're
now renting their "old" BETAs for less. Interesting. Plausible. I
haven't check the price quotes myself but this person is very
reputable. I'll check into it myself by the end of next week and
report back.

To Ben: I'm a complete novice with HD, but from what I've seen, it
has such sharp, detailed look that it is almost the antithesis of
film with its warm, soft, shadowy edges. It's hard to describe. I
think living in an HD world will take gradual adustment.
Carolyn Projansky
Sorry, Erica, I forgot to say, "Hello" back to you. No, I didn't
post this on the listserve, but I've been working with a production
manager we had recommended by the listserve. Thanks for your
comments. Carolyn
Erica Ginsberg
Carolyn, you would probably get better quotes if your production
manager went to individual cameramen or a boutique house rather than
a major house (or, if you already have a cinematographer sans the
right camera, it may be cheaper to buy him the camera as part of his
payment than to rent one for him). If the major houses think they
can charge top dollar for the same camera quality as a cameraman with
his own equipment, they will likely go the way of top post production
houses which can no longer compete for the offline market while
everyone has Avids and FCP in their home offices. While you were
gone, Henninger went bankrupt and then had to retool their operation
and, as you know, Roland House recently went out of business
Robert Goodman
there is no single flavor of HD nor an agreed upon
definition of what is or isn't considered HD.

Blanket statements about what something looks like
is like suggesting that 35mm has a single look.
To dissuade yourself about that - rent Northfork,
Malcom X, and Schindler's List.