The Mentoring Room - Ask the Working Pros

Mentoring Room

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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 Longley

"Guns and Mothers" by Thom Powers. I haven't seen it, but the title seems right.

Chahid Charbel Akoury

hello everyone,i'm in the process of buying a camera, nothing fancy just the right equipment for guerilla filmmaking .....and i've set my eyes and choice on either a Sony PMW-EX3 XDCAM or the Panasonic AG-HVX200A P2 HD... i've never tried the Panasonic, but i've seen it's popular around independent filmmakers especially documentarists..what would you advise?
i haven't found any review that compares both cameras... although P2 and XD are quite a different storage system , i'm not sure which is of a better quality and compatibility with say a macbook running final cut...

BTW Mr. Longley i'm an avid fan of your work .... as a middle eastern i have to say Gaza Strip , Iraq in Fragments , and Sari's Mother are the best documentaries to have been ever made in this truly capture the essence , the texture, the feeling, the traits.....what can i say ..thank you for such adorable on screen experiences.....i heard you are in the process of making a documentary in Iran .... good luck with that ..eagerly looking forward to seeing it....

John Burgan

Chahid, I'll let the others chip in, but as well as the HVX200, you should also consider the (tapeless/P2 only) HVX170 which has the advantage of being lighter than the 200 which may be a factor for handheld work.

Diane Johnson

Hello – I have a question about casting subjects. Is there ever a time where Producers have to pay experts in order for them to be interviewed for a documentary?

I have always been able to convince experts to be a part of my student documentaries, but now that I'm graduating Im wondering if subjects for PBS docs or indie docs pay their experts.

Matt Dubuque

Hello Mr. Longley-

I too have found your work profoundly inspirational. I have finally obtained my DVX 100b and have several documentaries ready to be actualized, as it were.

In fact you were a key reason why I joined this group about a year ago. Somehow I learned you were in it.

I wanted to commend you for one aspect of your work which I have not seen publicly acknowledged.

That is the fantastic music that you score for your films. As if it were not enough to do so much fantastic solo work on courageous topics, when I learned you did the music as well, that just took the cake!

I have a few questions. Do you ever shoot footage with a particular tune or tone piece in mind? The syncopation of your edits goes so well with your music. It seems likely that you score the music last, but I wondered if you ever made the visual image fit the music, a la Fantasia.

I'd even be interested in conducting an interview with you on this subject for a good magazine. I'm confident that this topic and aspect of your work has not been adequately explored by others and it would help to justifiably broaden your brand. I put you right up there with Vertov, Bunuel and Kurosawa (whom I have totally immersed myself in pending acquisition of the DVX 100b).

I imagine Russian film school must have really been amazing. Since I learned of your attendance there, I decided to immerse myself in a fair amount of Russian montage and I remain stupefied and in awe of Vertov, especially The Man With the Movie Camera.
I've been meaning to ask you, do you know any way how I might obtain a DVD of Vertov's "A Sixth of the World" or "A History of the Revolution"? These seem like essential items for me to study, especially the former. It's been a pretty solitary journey for me, everyone has been very nice, but nobody seems to know much about Vertov (or Kurosawa for that matter). Perhaps I am in the wrong circles.

I picked up a copy of Constructivism in Film by Vlada Petric (50 bucks!) and it was a revelation for me. As you probably know, this contains a frame by frame analysis of Man With the Movie Camera. Incredible.

I eagerly await your next film and hope that some day you feel my films are worth watching. I'm an extremely serious student. My motto is "Film that Matters, Films that Matter".

My first film will be complete by August 2009. The way things are flowing it seems likely it will be televised on HBO or The Documentary Channel or some such. I have some very good momentum established.


Matt Dubuque

James Longley

Thanks for the nice email exchange, Matt.

Chahid – I am using the HVX200 in Iran and I find it works well, particularly with four 32GB cards (a bit expensive) – I would second John Burgan's advice about looking into the HPX170 – (smaller/lighter/wider lens/better picture) – unless you really want to be able to shoot standard definition material onto DV tape, in which case the HVX200A would be the right choice. But it's a much bigger camera, and if you don't need DV tape recording there's no reason to get it now.

I haven't tried the Sony cameras, but other people here say they're good.

With all of these cameras that record on solid-state cards, the biggest thing to get used to is the new workflow. At first it can be fairly daunting to have to back up all your material onto multiple hard drives or other media, but I have found the more I work this way the easier it gets. It's very much "drag-and-drop" to get the material off your P2 cards and into hard drives for editing. I'm using 500GB Lacie portable drives in the field – I have 12 of them and they're very light and seem durable – it's enough space for about 100 hours of HD material, all backed up on separate drives. These drives also run off the Firewire cable power from a Mac Powerbook, so you don't need an extra power cable, and they're small enough to put in a baggy pants pocket.

John Burgan

James has very baggy pants. He's the MC Hammer of doc filmmakers.

David Mcilvride

James, you don't have any problem with the speed of the Lacie drives? They don't hang up and everything runs smoothly? What model of the drives are they? I've got older ones, but they'd be too big too bring along anywhere, but I recently bought a 1tb fairly small size drive but the footage hangs.