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.

Wolfgang Achtner


re translation Boyd wrote:

"Some additional thoughts. You may want to have more than one translator look at your footage. There are subtleties in language that are really important in editing. What a person says and what a person means can be two different things and a straight translation often doesn't help you with that. Speaking only for myself, I base a lot of editing decisions, and story development, on the meaning and subtext of the words, not only on the words themselves.

The other part of this equation is that a verbatim translation may be disjointed in English, so there is a trick to constructing the English phrasing, that sounds good, with good word choices, that is faithful to what was actually said. It depends how good the translator is, and how fluent they are in both languages."

Translation is a vey important item. Working in Italian and/or English I don't have any problem because I'm fluent in both (I write books in both languages). If your grasp of a language is not this good you need to get the best translator you can; it may cost you but it's definitely worth every cent. Unfortuneatly in Italy they always try to save money – but you get what you pay for – so I've heard terrible translations even on important channels like Dicovery or History channel in Italian where the translation completely missed the point.

You need a great translator and this person also needs to know how to write extremely well in English so your English dialoge will be perfect.

What I mean is, one doesn't take liberties with the meanings but you need to render dialogue exacly as if those people were speaking in English themselves.

That means understanding complex sentence constructions that might be the opposite of English, with the verb at the end or vicevresa and it also means understanding complex techncial verbiage (medical or legal) if need be, and last but not least, the abilty to render in proper English the correct equivalent of Italian idiomatic expressions, proverbs, syaings, etc.

Your dialogue in English must be perfect, exactly as if the people had been speaking in English. Get the best, most competent, professional translator you can find!!!

Andrew David Watson

Question for those producing docs, how much of your work falls under WFH (work for hire)? and how much of your work do you retain copyright too? I'm just trying to figure out (mostly for myself as a freelancer) when work for hire is okay and when i should be demanding better terms. I'm mostly referring to producing a full piece from start to finish. I know work for hire is fairly standard if you are working as a shooter, or editor, but what about when you are doing it all and the original story idea is yours? Does it make a differents who the client is? whether it is a NGO or network? Any insight on this would be great!

Joe Moulins

Paul...go with Adobe. I'm not sure if they have a Premiere "lite", but if you stay on a PC you'll eventually work with Adobe software. Better to invest your time and energy in one interface that will be the standard for years to come.

Or, this might be the time for you to switch to a Mac....

Christopher Wong

wolfgang, i'm sure you've got some very solid advice there for darla, but i think it might be better if you use the "Hide" function next time (especially for the super-long transcripts you included). thx.

andrew, if you are doing signficiantly more than just shooting/editing, but actually directing and producing the entire piece, you should definitely be demanding better terms than your normal work-for-hire rates. that could be whatever you negotiate (e.g. back-end points). of course, your client always has the option of saying "no", so be prepared to respond appropriately... if they don't want to give you a share of the project, then ask for a higher dayrate.

Monica Williams

I'm getting ready to buy my first Mac. Some have told me that a macbook will suffice for what I want to do, which is basically to gather and store footage and images for my editor and eventually work on a rough-cut for him. Others say that I should invest in a macbook pro. Since I'm not the editor, would anyone like to weigh in on why I might need a pro in the future?


Wolfgang Achtner


Thanks. I wasn't sure how the hide feature works. What do you do? Just click Hidden section?

Joe Moulins

The basic Macbook works fine as a FCP machine if you're working with DV and/or HDV material. I have a first generation Macbook set up with an external keyboard and trackpad, and a 24 inch Dell monitor. It's much faster than a 3 year old G5 workstation, and feels very close to the Mac Pro for most functions.

But Motion won't run on it, and it doesn't have a card slot or Firewire 800 so expansion possibilities are somewhat limited.

Christopher Wong

what doug said, wolfgang. clicking "add hidden section" will open up a new text box for you – everything that goes in it will be hidden. everything in the normal text box will still be visible to all.

Matt Dubuque

In reply to Doug Block's post on Tue 29 Jan 2008 :

Thanks Doug... I'll check out the Grapes of Wrath again (great flick!) and I've added Sullivan's Travels to my Netflix queue.

Your mention of Grapes of Wrath reminds me once again of

this "recurring image" theme I find so fascinating.

As I start to immerse myself in the Soviet montage school (which heavily influenced James Longley) I'm intruiged by how they focus on the EDIT and the juxtaposition of two scenes rather than just American and continental narratives with their focus on the SINGLE scene and its Mise-en-Scene.

For example, I've previously mentioned the possible role of the recurring butterfly in Goodman's Stone Reader and the group walking in the field in Bunuel's Discreet Charm, cross edited into that film.

The book Grapes of Wrath actually alternates each chapter with an ongoing parable of a tortoise, walking in the sun, apparently unrelated to the plot line. Every other chapter returns to the tortoise....the movie, however, left that out.

And the Soviet montage director Vertov was really into juxtaposing different clips with a single scene. I think there's a lot of potential there to allow people to infer new creative contexts to my message.

Looks like I'm heading down to southern Mexico this year to film some exotic bird life to use for this purpose... should be very interesting... I think the end result will be both cool and thought provoking, judiciously applied of course.