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.

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.

James Longley

I'm using this one – the 500GB version. So far it works fine for cutting 720pN material on the Macbook Pro in Final Cut. I've only been using these drives for a few weeks, but no problems to report so far. And yes, I sometimes carry them in my pockets.

Naftali Beane Rutter

Hello everybody---

My new feature doc, an all- verite day in the life of three families in New Orleans, was accepted free of charge to the Thessaloniki Documentary Film Market after I submitted to the Film Festival. The movie is not in the festival, and it has not yet been picked up by any distributor (although I got really really close, dammit!)

I have never been to a film market of any sort before, and can find very little info on the net about the Thessaloniki Docmarket. So I am wondering if anyone has had any experience there or has heard anything, can tell me a bit about other docmarkets, whether it would be useful to be there in person or whether it's too crazy to go all the way to Greece [from Brooklyn]. One other thing to consider-– My flick is definitely a European style movie, which could hypothetically be most successful with audiences over there, so this market could be exactly where I want it to be in terms of target audience.

Thank you thank you thank you,


Doug Block

Naftali, it's not really worth it to go over to Greece if you're just in the market. Often they don't even let the filmmaker in to where the market is, it's just a bunch of commissioning editors and festival programmers sitting in a room with monitors watching stacks of films on dvd. What you really want to do is get your film to the few good sales agents out there that take on docs and sell them internationally (Films Transit and Roco Films are two). They go to the various markets and larger festivals and do the dirty work for you. Meanwhile, keep applying to film festivals and try to premiere it in the biggest and best one possible before you settle for the second or third tier festivals. Lots of luck.

Chahid Charbel Akoury

In reply to James Longley's post on Tue 13 Jan 2009 :

thank you for the reply Mr. Longley.... i just had a chance to try the Sony PMW-EX3 as a friend is over to visit from the U.S. and i found it to be rather good, except for some minor details, i'll try and find a Panasonic HPX170 , unfortunately we do not have a vast range of camcorders, or anything but the commercially available consumer minicams in lebanon... well its more convenient for me to shoot directly onto solid state cards.
and as you say it's pretty much "drag-and-drop" to get the material off the cards and into hard drives for editing.... i found it so easy especially with the non-linearity approach to viewing the clips ...

thank you again...