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.

Sharon Hewitt
Fan

Hello, I just joined, so please let me know if my post does not adhere to the rules of the community. I'm producing my first documentary and plan to shoot in HD and would like to meet broadcast standards. I'm considering purchasing Panasonic's new AG-HMC-40 (H.264 MPEG-4 using 3-1/4.1" CMOS image sensors). Can anyone tell how to be sure the camera I'm considering meets broadcast standards?

Chris Clauson
Fan

Sharon,
I just joined too and am planning my first doc with a similar camera. I am not sure what broadcast standards will really be as the web blends with TV in the near future. The camera I plan to get is the Panasonic hdc-tm300, which is a stripped-down version of the one you want. It has very similar specs, though. I am interested to hear about your doc and how you plan to gather the material.

Sharon Hewitt
Fan

Chris,
Thanks for the info. I wasn't aware of the camera you mentioned, but I checked it out and it is very similar to the one I'm considering. I plan to cover my topic by recording my subjects in their natural settings as well as through interviews. As of now, there are approximately 25 specific days over a 9 month span that I'd like to cover. I have some flexibility on the number of days I can devote, but not much. If needed, I'll trim some of these days to add other material as it develops. Tell me a little about your doc.

Chris Clauson
Fan

Sharon,
I'm just trying to figure out how to do a character-driven doc on a local woman who is on a personal mission to save unwanted pets. I hope to do it in episodes for a start-up web/cable TV station. Then,who knows, maybe there will be enough good stuff for a real doc. As I mentioned before, I plan to shoot most of it on the TM-300, which is really small and lightweight. The interviews can be shot on my JVC hd200. When I picture this story, it vaguely looks like Jon and Kate Plus Eight...that kind of reality. When the episodes run in this two county area, I hope it builds awareness of the plight of the animals and that people will donate and/or adopt. The documentary will have a bigger focus on an over-arching topic when I can get enough material. I am the shooter for this and my husband is the editor. He uses FCP. What is your doc about in general?

jane taylor
Fan

Hello D-word

I'm Jane Taylor and currently studying an MA at the University of Salford, Manchester, UK in Television Documentary Production.

I am at the stage now where I am conquering my dissertation. I got extremely inspired by the Documentary Campus event at the Manchester Town hall – Leaner Meaner and Keener, and have based my dissertation on the effect the internet has on documentary.

I would really appreciate some opinions, experiences and professional advice on this subject. How the internet plays a part in documentary distribution in a good way and bad way? advantages and disadvantages? What's the future? How it has helped you business or film? Everything and anything would be highly appreciated.

Many Thanks,

Doug Block
Host

Jane, the short answer is that the internet has been a great boon for marketing and promoting your docs, and hasn't nearly reached its promise as a serious distribution platform, especially for long-form docs. Whether it ever will is the (multi) million dollar question.

Jaty MacMillan
Fan

Hello All,
I've just joined and was wondering if there were any posts about copyright violation on torrents sites. They're offering my film on free downloads and i need to find out how to have it removed

Susheel Kurien
Pro

Hi all
I am shooting a film that has extensive performance of jazz standards. The musicians have given us releases for their peformance but I need to understand a) how to get performance rights from the publisher b)what these rights would cost.. I am trying to budget this and appreciate any help ..FYI examples: Green Dolphin St, Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White, At Last, Moanin' etc

thanks

Doug Block
Host

Stephen, I'd simply do a Google search: "sync licenses for film". I'm sure it'll turn up something useful.

alix de roten
Fan

PAl/NTSC in HD?

Hello everybody! I'm new there but it seems this is the place to ask a technical question.
I'm going to shoot in Latin America for a documentary that will be edited here in Spain. I will do it with a Panasonic HD, AG-HVX200, so recording on P2 card. As it is the first time I shoot in HD, I don't know if we still have the PAL/NTSC problem.
I have a good oportunity to rent the Panasonic in Latin america, but I need to know for sure that it will be no problem.

Someone can help me about this?

thank you a lot

Robert Goodman
Pro

Countries that are on the PAL standard for SD have HD cameras that record at 25 and 50 frames per second. Panasonic cameras from NTSC countries (US/Japan)record at 24 and 30 frames per second. Editing is not a problem though best not to mix 24 fps and 25 fps material unless you really have to.

alix de roten
Fan

Thank you Robert. I understand from you answer that, when you record in HD on P2, the only difference bw PAL and NTSC is about frames por second.
So I have another question, as it is the first time I will be editing in Final Cut (changing from AVID), does Final Cut allow you to import material recorded at 30 fps, and change it into 25 fps?
And another question (sorry but nobody is able to tell me that in Barcelona). The P2 card for the camera are the same for PAL / NTSC cameras? (means I can buy the cards here (europe) and use them for the NTSC camera I will rent there (america).
thank you very much

Robert Goodman
Pro

P2 cards are the same everywhere. Yes you can change the frame rate in FCP. And HD is HD despite the frame rate changes.

nick toscano
Fan

new to this and figured someone here could answer questions. I'm filming a female boxer whos trying to make it to the next olympics. The backround music at the gym brought up some copy right issues and wasnt sure if i need to try and edit the backround music. This is my first film so not sure how the legalities work.

Robert Goodman
Pro

if you don't edit a visual sequence to the background music, and it is in the background, it should fall into the fair use category. Read up on the rules for claiming fair use.

Andy Schocken
Pro

and it depends where you plan to exhibit it. for background music, i wouldn't worry about online or festival usage- it's only likely to be an issue for broadcast or theatrical. not that the other uses are necessarily legal, but it's very unlikely that anyone will do anything about it.

Shelly Helgeson
Fan

Hi Everyone! This started on the introduce yourself forum, but was told it would do to move it over here. Any help would be greatly, GREATLY appreciated. Thx – S

Now for a question: The doc I'm currently working needs a male actor to mimic the voice of one of our subjects for use as scratch narration. We'd like to get some one who can come very close to the person's real voice as we may use a cut with this narration to send into festival applications, etc. Does anyone know the best way to go about finding and hiring voice talent or actors? Our budget is small, so I'm sure we couldn't pay too competitively but, would try to offer a decent wage. I've posted on Backstage but was hoping for more suggestions. Does anyone know anything about contacting talent agencies or casting directors? Any advice would greatly help as I am totally inexperienced in dealing with actors. Thanks!

Michelle Ferrari
Pro

It's been a long time since I worked with an actor I didn't already know, so I apologize in advance if this method proves outdated. That said, it used to be that talent agencies had CD compilations of their voice-over talent, which can help a lot in narrowing down the field. (SAG can provide a list of agencies. The commercial or voice-over division of a given agency is the one you'll want to contact.) Depending on the talent, their level of interest in the project, and your ability to negotiate with their representation, you can sometimes get voice-over talent for well below scale. The trick is to get around the agent. You might try writing a letter (sent to the agent, but addressed to the actor) that really talks up your project and states in no uncertain terms how vital the actor's participation is to its success, but does not mention pay. Try to get him/her interested first. In my experience, if an actor wants to do something, he does it, regardless of whether or not his agent thinks it's a good idea. Say in the letter (in a p.s., so it's the last thing he reads) that you'll be following up with his agent, and then do that. With any luck, the actor will have told his agent he wants in on the project and the money will be less of an issue.

All that said, if you're only planning to use the actor for scratch, you may be facing an uphill battle – when an actor forgoes money, it's usually in exchange for exposure. If you're not offering exposure, you'll definitely want to focus your energies on smaller agencies and lesser-known talent.

J. Christian Jensen
Pro

STANFORD MFA IN DOCUMENTARY FILM

I'm in the process of selecting post-graduate documentary film schools. Is there anyone who has graduated from Stanford's MFA program that could make yourself known? Or is anyone in contact with other filmmakers who are significantly familiar with the program. I'd love to ask some questions.

Is this the best place to post such a question?

Julian Samboma
Pro

Thanks for the warm welcome, Doug. Nothing less than I expected!;)

Right. My first question. My next project is a 30-45 minute doc on an aspect of the UK economy. This is going to be my first major production, not like the previous two, which were essentially "teeth-cutting" exercises.

They were self-financed and I did everything myself. This time around, I am exploring the possibility of seeking funding from various sources – if for nothing else but for employing a top editor.

My question is how much do i factor into the budget for said editor,and how to find one?
Also, my camera is the pana gs400, an sd camera. Is it a good idea to include the cost of a decent hd cam in the budget?

I hope this is the best place to post this question. Thanks.

Best

Alexandra Branyon
Fan

I am about to complete my first documentary. I can't find the original source of some of the photographs, which may have belonged to a person or may have been published in a newspaper, magazine or book. What can I do to protect myself? Any thoughts will be greatly appreciated.

Doug Block
Host

Julian, it's not the best place because you're now a member. Ask fundraising questions in the Fundraising (Europe) topic, camera questions in the Camera topic, etc.

David W Grant
Fan

I've completed, to my satisfaction, a speculative video essay, 28:45; edited on Final Cut Express. I want it to be technically as perfect as possible. Does that mean next step is 'audio sweetening' and/or 'color correction'? What are my options? Do I send the DVCAM cassette to a commercial house? Do rates vary widely? Is it best to do it locally?

Magee Clegg
Fan

Hello everyone,

I am applying to grad film school and I am interested in schools that have great documentary filmmaking programs. Does anyone have any suggestions? At the moment I am looking at Cal Arts and UCSD. Is there anything else out there?

Christopher Wong
Pro

stanford and berkeley come to mind as the top grad schools for documentary production. ucla is also quite good, but it provides the extra benefit of giving you exposure to fiction narrative production as well. (if you are a CA resident, ucla would also be substantially cheaper than a program like stanford)

Magee Clegg
Fan

Thanks for responding! I will check that out. If anyone else has anymore ideas, I would love to hear from you.

Erica Ginsberg
Host

I'm an alum of American University in Washington DC. It is not specifically a documentary program but, since non-fiction is the bread and butter of the area, the majority of the students are focused on documentary. I can't say how it compares academically or artistically to the other aforementioned universities, but it does position you firmly in the real world of actually finding work in the industry.

Diane Johnson
Fan

Is there an experienced line producer that can send me sample budgets of a documentary – I would really appreciate it, I know that budgets vary depending on different elements, but I just need detailed budget to look at.

nycproducer212@gmail.com is my email

Thanks in advance!

Daniel McGuire
Pro

In reply to J. Christian Jensen's post on Tue 4 Aug 2009 :
An MA won't help you get much in getting work in academia – A doctorate in Communications or Art Hist Concentration Film Studies would. To teach filmmaking then an MFA is considered the terminal degree – so that is more useful than an MA. That being said, going into debt for 100k or so to get a degree should be questioned in this day and age – better to use that money to make a couple of good films.

Arjuna Krishnaratne
Pro

Hi this is Krishna from Sri Lanka. Can some one help me to find out an online course in documentary film making. Please.

Ginger Rose Lee
Fan

hi there – i am doing two different series – one is a set of one on one interviews, the other is trailing a team of people for a day. it's for a great idea but i have no documentary filmmaking experience, so i was going to hire film students to do it – or have them do it for deferred pay as i have no money. for the one on one interviews, i dont need anything fancy, right? i just need someone who has shot interviews, with a camera and lighting adn sound kit? these are going to be aired on the web – tey're sort of long. what sort of camera should i ask that they have? i'm clueless, please help! thanks

Ginger Rose Lee
Fan

and also for the part where they are trailing a team of people, should i hire more than one camera person? that could get tricky...

Christopher Wong
Pro

tackling second question first... if you and your crew have little to no experience with documentary filmmaking, you should definitely limit yourself to one camera only. you don't want to be worrying about shooting from the wrong side (it's called "crossing the line" and results in major difficulties when it comes time to edit), and you also don't want to have to avoid being in the way of the other camera(s).

Christopher Wong
Pro

as for the 1-on-1 web interviews, it sounds like you just need basic lighting and framing, nothing tricky or especially artistic about your setup. so, yes, just find someone with a lighting kit (2 or 3 lights should do) and a basic DV camera. you can use HD if you want to, but it's not necessary for the web.

by the way, hiring film students to do work for you on a deferred pay basis is a difficult proposition. film students are not known for being extremely reliable, and if they are not being paid, you never know what you're going to get. if i were you, i wouldn't even promise deferred pay – i would just sell the project on its own merits, and hope that whoever wants to do it just needs the experience. good luck.

Joanna Arnow
Pro

Hi Ginger, it might be difficult to find students who have their own cameras, lighting and sound kit so I would start out by seeing what you get. But in terms of cameras try to find someone with a 3ccd camera that has manual modes. Also, try to find someone with a lavalier microphone. And if someone doesn't have lighting or sound you could try renting from DCTV (downtown community television center)--they have pretty reasonable prices. If you're following people for a whole day, I think you'd get a lot of footage with one camera and be able to follow the action but it really depends on how much is going to be happening in your event, and how much material you need for this series. Good luck!

Ginger Rose Lee
Fan

wow, incredibly fast responses! you know what, they dont even have to be students – i'll just post on mandy, but selling project on merits & for their film reel is a good idea. so is renting from dctc, thanks! so no one will notice quality difference between dv and hd camera? i know nothing! thanks

Ted Fisher
Pro

In reply to Ginger Rose Lee's post on Wed 11 Nov 2009 :

Hi Ginger,

I do have one recommendation: when you set up the interviews, consider what sort of shot you can gather that could be used to cut away to or to otherwise allow your editor to break up long sections of the interview. There are many possibilities: b-roll shot outside the interview, or detail shots taken at the time of the interview, for example. But definitely find something that will give your editor reasonable options when they are editing the interview. Ideally, you'd like to have the option of shortening, clarifying or repairing parts of the interview, so get those shots that will allow you to "cover" the editing.

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