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 everyone-

Does anyone know of online resources (other than Netflix) where I can view older movies and documentaries online for a fee?

I'm particularly looking for access to some of the harder to find, non-mainstream items, older foreign documentaries and films, etc.

No file-sharing recommendations please. These usually don't have the harder to find, less mainstream titles and I also want to respect the rights of the copyright holders.

Thanks so much!


Matt Dubuque

I've been using Final Cut for my post-production and I just don't prefer the Apple layout and user interface. I was raised in a Wintel environment and I'm really learning towards switching to Adobe Premiere Pro for my next project.

Different strokes for different folks, I guess.

Does anyone know any compelling reasons why I would not switch over to Adobe? What are the biggest reasons for NOT doing so? What are the biggest disadvantages of Adobe Premiere Pro vs. FCP?

I will be filming in HD.

Your thoughts?



Robert Goodman

A. You can make changes to FCP to better suit your needs.
B. The latest version of Premiere Pro is a very good editing platform though it tends to be like most Adobe products with lots of hierarchical menus. Best to learn the keyboard shortcuts.

Doug Block

No need to sign your posts, Matt. It's done automatically.

Dean Hamer

The situation: We're starting post-production on our fist feature documentary, which tells the story of what happens when the filmmaker (my partner) puts his same-sex wedding announcement in the local paper of his ultra-conservative small home town. It includes casual interviews with people on both sides of the debate about gay rights, verite footage of the filmmaker engaging with the local "Family" Association and School Board, and several interesting characters.
The need: A creative collaborating editor who can look at our 100+ hours of footage and help shape it into a coherent story with the appropriate tone and voice: think Jesus Camp meet Roger and Me.
The problem: although our hometown of Washington DC has many talented editors and a wonderful documentary community, nobody with the exact right mix of skills, interests, political outlook and time available to work on this project has emerged. We are in discussions with some really terrific, experienced people in New York, Philadelphia and elsewhere – but the question is, how does it work to edit a project when you live in different cities? Should we expect to move there for a few weeks? Or months? Have any of the experts had experience editing long distance? I'd appreciate your thoughts and any advice on how to work together over a distance.

Dean Hamer

To Matt- Re Adobe versus FCP – From a technical point the two programs are extremely similar, as are the layouts and even many of the keystrokes. In my experience the critical question is: who are you going to be collaborating with? Adobe seems to be used mostly by event and corperate-style videographers whereas FCP is used by almost all academic institutes and many indie filmmakers. If you're going to work completely by yourself it doesn't make much difference, but if you're going to collaborate on graphics, color, music etc., best to find out what your collaborators prefer. As to disadvantages, the big problem with Premier has always been instability; it shuts down a lot – maybe thats changed with the newest version. As to FCP, the biggest disadvantage used to be the price of MACS – but that has already changed with the new Mac Pros.

Matt Dubuque

Thanks Robert. That's a very helpful point. No need to drill down through endless menus. I'll be sure to learn some of those critical keyboard shortcuts!

Dean, I don't want to underestimate the amount of skill required to do the various parts of post-production (as well as filming) or disrespect the great amount of skill required to make a memorable, moving documentary.

But my films are primarily going to be focused on content, not technical wizardry. I'm working with stories which move me very deeply that I believe will resonate with others deeply as well.

I will be doing most of the post work myself, as difficult as I know that will be. I am a quick learner and relish all the various challenges that I surely will face.

Boyd McCollum

Dean, I'm not sure if you've done this or not, but get your interview footage transcribed. It's a lot of work up front, but it pays huge dividends down the road.

It may be best to sit down with a writer instead of an editor. Figure out the story you want to tell and the structure you want to use. You probably already know the story you want to tell, so write it out. Heck, you basically nutshell the story each time you post on the topic. As an editor, I don't need to watch a hundred hours of footage to get to that basic statement.

Starting with your basic statement, make a one or two page synopsis. Then make a treatment/paper edit, including what visuals, narration, music, etc. that you think will go into different places. Then sit down with a documentary writer or editor to look over what you have and get feedback from them. You can post what you come up with here and get excellent feedback.

Don't put it on your editor to reinvent the wheel. Especially if you know exactly what kind of wheel you want. If it's some Goodyear XKG All Season radials with white side walls, 205/85, etc., then say so.

Take a look at your Need and Problem statements again. You're setting your editor up for failure. I even have the 3 reasons why they will fail – not creative, not collaborative, and/or not the right mix. We could rewrite the statement to read – unprepared filmmaker seeks editor to do the hard work and accept the responsibility for things not working out right.

Editors are creative and collaborative and they don't need to be the "right" mix. The more specific you define the mix, the harder it is for anyone to meet the criteria. It's the filmmakers job to be the "right" mix, that's why they are telling a unique story.

It's really the filmmaker, especially the less experience they have, that lacks those qualities. It's not that the filmmaker isn't creative, or collaborative, rather without the experience, it's more difficult for them to clearly see the vision floating in their head, and then to clearly communicate that. The problem arises when the editor is unable to "divine" what the filmmaker is "seeing".

I hope I don't come across as harsh, and it's definitely not my intent, but one of the most common problems I see over and over again is the filmmaker him/herself getting in the way of making their film as good as it can be. And I'm the first to admit that I've been guilty of that on more than one occasion! But no one said the learning curve was easy or pleasant...

Anyways, my $0.02 – which won't even purchase fumes at the gas station :-)

Boyd McCollum

Dean, part 2 of your question – working remotely with an editor. While it's not ideal, I think the technology today makes it much easier. One solution would be to have duplicate drives and file structures. As the editor works on a cut, they can send the project files to you so you can view what's going on. There's also tools such as Skype, etc. that would allow you to videoconference in and also see a virtual desktop.

There are times when an editor just needs to work alone to actually implement changes that have been discussed with the director. This is especially true in the rough cut stage. As you near a fine cut, there is more value in being there day to day. It all varies and depends on lots of factors.