Phew, Theresa, it would take a very long time to provide the answers to all your questions in one fell swoop. For starters, you might start here and buy a few books on documentary filmmaking and read them. The other thing it sounds like you might need to help guide you through the maze for the first time is to partner up with or hire or otherwise engage a producing partner with some experience in the industry. But I'd definitely recommend doing some reading first. Maybe taking some classes would be helpful. Good luck!
if you're going to read a book, most of us in this community like Michael Rabiger's "Directing the Documentary". you should be able to get a used copy online somewhere.
if you're going to take a class, take an editing class. to learn to shoot, you actually have to learn first what shots you need in the editing room. it sounds backwards, but sometimes the best shooters are often the best editors too.
if you know the school you are going to be shooting in, start getting releases now. you have to get them from one parent of every student who shows up in the film. and it takes a LONG time... getting releases is also a good time to start building trust with your future subjects. don't just get them to sign a form. get them to "buy-in" to your idea first; then get the form signed.
lastly, forget the whole business end of the doc right now. there will be time to think of it later, but you need to concentrate on the film itself. "it's the story, stupid" (quote from a wise filmmaker)
as someone who is currently engaged in a 3-year odyssey to finish an educational documentary, i wish you perseverance and lotsa good luck!
I am currently working on a short piece on a school, and I can say from my experience that the obstacles are many, from preproduction thru post. One way to eliminate some of them early on, which is explained in detail by Michael Rabiger's book, is thorough preproduction. Especially when documenting an institution, first sell your idea to the head authority. The first thing I did was write a letter to the principal. Email is does not catch their attention quite like a letter, and as far as phoning your pitch, no one wants a pitch to from someone they've never had contact with before. Write a letter, BRIEFLY explain yourself as a film/videomaker, and simply request an audience with them.
Although the principal took more than three weeks to respond, she thought my letter was very professional and innocent enough to at least hear me out. From there I was able to convince the principal, and with her on my side convince the staff, and with the staff on my side convince the parents, and with the parents on my side, ultimately, convince the children to participate. Definitely, pick up Rabiger's book! Its been a great help to me, especially when it comes to tackling preproduction!
Hi all, I am Earl. I have a project I am ready to begin to produce, a documentary project that has been dropped in my lap. The story is about how a city, police and community (businesses and residents) will come together (or not) and combat prostitution. The City Police, City Hall, and Community. The community has petitioned the city, the city charged the police, and the police are reacting. What we want to show (besides the prostitutes) is how these three will solve this problem. Suppression, Prevention, and Intervention.
I have met with the police. I have DIRECT access to all parties, willing participants, it was "dropped in my lap" by the police. They are the ones that want to document the story. The city manager has asked them to be creative in showing the problem with the cities prostitution because the community has rallied. The police want to create the documentary.
Like I said it has been dropped in my lap. Where do I start? What do I need, who do I need? I need to shoot this in June and July. for viewing in Fall. I need to crew build. Needs to be broadcast quality.
All thoughts are welcomed and needed!
What process would best help in me trying to obtain an experienced producer. Since I have never shot a documentary, everyone is pretty much saying that would be my first step. (1) Find/Hire/Partner with an experienced producer. Would everyone agree? How is that done? Do I need to start a production company?
earl, others with more experience that me should answer, but as one who is basically "one step" ahead of you in the documentary process, this is what i would suggest to start:
1) watch as many docs as you can that have multiple groups and perspectives represented. usually, these groups are warring against one another, but not always. but since your story is one where you will constantly have to get the other side (e.g. police, prostitutes, city hall), you want to figure out early on how you want the action to unfold. so, examples like Barbara Kopple's "American Dream" (workers, union, company) will help you see how one person did it. or, if you want to see what a doc is like when the filmmaker gets involved, any of Michael Moore's docs (especially "Bowling for Columbine" or "F911") will do. but i would doubt that the people who are commissioning the doc want that style. also, figure out if you want to make an "issue" doc where there are a lot of talking heads and interview segments, or if you want to make a "verite" doc where the story evolves as you go, and the characters actions drive the narrative.
2) In addition to the D-Word, look for a producer by first contacting film organizations. Most producers won't take your pitch seriously (especially if you haven't done a doc before); but if you first "sell" your story to a film organization that the producer is familiar with, and the org refers you, then the producer will listen with more interest. Different organizations would be: IDA (based in L.A.), National Black Programming Consortium (contact Leslie Fields), KCET or any local PBS station that might even be able to give you seed money or resources to do pre-production on a story very important to the L.A. community.
anyways, that's a start... hope this helps.
Hello All (again)
Its been many months since I was last here and I am in the final stages of editing my film about the destruction of the oldest drive-in theater in the state of Illinois. In my closing "argument" of the piece, I want to talk about the homogenizing of the suburban landscape, and want to include a very quick montage of images of typical storefronts, like Starbucks, McDonald's, etc.
So, my question is, what can I use and not use? Can I use shots that show part of the name but not all of it? Can I drive down a street with my camera taping? Or is it fair use to show a full-on shot if it's only on for a second or two? Or if I show the building but not the sign? All told, the entire sequence of shots would last no more than 15 seconds total (if that matters).
Thanks for the help!
thanks for responding to my last post everyone – good advice in there and I've ordered direcrintg the documentary.
now i have another question – whats a really good digital camcorder i could get – what do the pros use? my documentary is probably going to be distributed online, but i want it to be good enough to show on a big screen or on tv – so something professional grade! anu suggestions? i have no idea! thanks, teetall
theresa, assuming you have very little experience with docs and camerawork, i think the best camera for you would be the Panasonic DVX100 (A or B model, either is fine). right now, you can get these cameras very cheaply (especially if you buy used) b/c most professionals are upgrading to HD or HDV cameras. this is really the perfect tool for you because it's simple enough to learn on, and professional enough to grow with. and there have been more than a few well-respected docmakers (even on this site!) who have shown on the big screen with footage from that camera.
A great place to buy used gear is DVXuser.com.
Earl: you need to talk to a tv news cameraman about the legal land mines that you may step on if you're out taping with the cops. It doesn't matter if they say it's okay to shoot. Suspects have rights, too. Is California a one-party consent state when it comes to recording audio? Laws about surveilance video vary state, too. You could shoot for months and find out you can't use any of it because you broke the law.
Everyone concerned about the do's and don'ts of copyright: here's the law in comic book form from some professors at Duke University: http://www.law.duke.edu/cspd/comics/zoomcomic.html
In reply to Boyd McCollum's post on Tue 29 Jan 2008 :
I use MovCaptioner also. For the money ($25) you won't find a better app for doing transcripts and movie captions. BTW, their URL has changed to http://www.synchrimedia.com. I talked to the developer last week and he said he's working on getting it to create Spruce STL files so that you can import captions into DVD Studio Pro or other programs that use STL. It currently does 2 types of transcripts (paragraph form and line-by-line with timecode), but it will also do embedded QT captions, Flash captions, SRT and SUB (used by Google video and others), SAMI for Windows Media, and QT SMIL. Also, the developer says that all upgrades to new versions will be free to purchasers! Good luck with your project.
In reply to Boyd McCollum's post on Sat 5 Apr 2008 :
Thanks to everyone for their answers surrounding copyright.
I'm starting my first documentary next week on Egyptian Identity. I plan to start in places familiar to me in Egypt and where I currently have contacts on social development initiatives, clinics etc.
I've found alot of the model release, location etc. forms but curious if I will need Arabic versions? I"m sure they can be translated but perhaps the few in Egypt or been there can shed some light on that.
I'm nervous as hell, with little details floating about, equipment list etc. etc.
I'm leaving on the 22 of April so if you have some advice, slap it to me.
Thanks in advance.
The not so dirty secret in the legal world is called exposure, like in, "how likely are you to be sued by subject x?" I doubt someone from Egypt is going to travel to canasa and sue you. In fact, they can't. If it were me, I would just get permission on camera. If you whip out a form, someone is going to want to get paid for their signature.
Canada, not canasa. Always preview
And I thought it was NC lingo for Canada.
Is an on-camera approval (or recorded voice for audio only interview) the equivalent of a release?
in news it is. I don't know about audio only, but definitely in video. You might have to have it on each cassette if you are recording to tape.
Does anyone know where I can find a DVCPro HD codec that will allow me to view/edit footage shot on a Panasonic HVX200 (720 @ 24 native) on a Windows computer?
I want to be able to use either Adobe Premiere or Sony Vegas Pro.
both programs have the codec to play DVCPROHD.
You need to be realistic about where this film is to going to be seen and conform to the laws of that country. It's folly to ask someone in the States or Germany about releases. If you want a lock-tight, international release because you're making the next $100 million dollar grossing documentary, then yes, get the most airtight release. Otherwise, you're just going to waste time and intimidate interview subjects.
In the US, news people do not need releases. Filmmakers do. On-camera releases are second best to written ones, and generally accepted for non-controversial interviews9"Boy, that show was great!")
Thank you Robert :-)
Is there a way to find out what networks or distributors pay for documentaries that are similar to mine? Do I need to contact the producers of those films directly or is there an easier way?
you can search the trade papers – hollywood reporter and variety – but take the numbers with a grain of a salt. Most docs are sold for very little money.
I'm in the education field overseeing students making their films. Occasionally I have students interested in Documentaries and they often have questions about legally using images, people, etc... is there a website or anything that kind of lists when you do and don't need to get release forms on people in your documentary? Or, for example the legality of using images from Scientology, that were shown in public, but using them for your film without approval from Scientology? Or taking images from websites such as YouTube and putting them in your film?
Sean, maybe your students will like this comic book written for filmmakers http://www.law.duke.edu/cspd/comics/zoomcomic.html.
But the bottom line is, are they likely to sue you? Scientology, yes. Wilma from Walla Walla on you tube, no.
In reply to Mark Barroso's post on Tue 22 Apr 2008 :
thank you Mark for the additional info. I'm trying to gather as much info as I can so I Can set some realistic boundaries.
Mark, that comic book is awesome! Thanks for sharing it.
Very good find Mark, best reference to copyright isseus i ever saw.
Anyway, i'm about to make my first big investment in a camera. My budget is around 2000 bucks. For standard def i was thinking about a sony p170 or a panasonic AG-DVX100B. For High def i was thinking about a sony HDR-FX1 or the Canon XH-A1.
It's going to be used for interviews en concert footage. But it's also gonna be used for school assignments and who knows what i'll like in the future.
Advice would be greatly appreciated. Ow, if you have other suggestions, feel free to state them.
And as exchange i have a good tip for everybode > www.vimeo.com a great place to put yr vids/trailers/whatevers online
Standard definition is dead. I'd look at the Canon HV20 and buy a good microphone. It's never just the camera. You need monitoring, batteries, tripod, case, microphones, isolation headphones, etc.
Ralph, you might want to take a look at the Sony A1E. Poor low light focussing, but very useable otherwise. Should be within your budget.
In reply to Ralph Lindsen's post on Mon 5 May 2008 :
Ralph, camera choice is a pretty personal thing, and depends as much on your own style of working and/or visual style as it does on your budget. Among the cameras you've suggested though, my own recommendations would be the DVX100B and the XH-A1, because both will give you many more creative options than the PD170 or the FX1 (progressive frame rates, gamma selections, fine picture adjustments, etc.). You may or may not use a lot of those functions now, but it's good to have the option in case you find your style evolving or working on a project that needs those effects.
Again though, it ultimately boils down to which camera is best for you, and I suggest playing around with some (if not all) of those cameras a bit, if you can, before you make a decision.
But don't buy an SD camera.
I am with Joe on that one. If it takes you two years to make a doc, it will be unmarketable in standard definition. Everything will have to be HD by then.
In reply to Joe Moulins's post on Tue 6 May 2008 :
I'm not 100% sure I agree with you, Joe. On the surface what you're saying makes sense, but if you look a bit deeper, it's sort of like saying "don't buy a super-8mm camera under any circumstances because 16mm is better." More resolution is not necessarily better--some shooters might be after the look of SD for their own aesthetic reasons, or might find that they can get more manual control for their money in an SD camera than they can get in an SD camera. I'd argue that manual controls and flexibility are a far more important factor than resolution. Flexible HD cameras are becoming more and more affordable, true, but when you factor in the possibilty that people like Ralph might also have to spend $1,000 or more upgrading their computers to be able to handle HD footage, the cost shoots up quite a bit.
I guess what I'm saying is that blanket statements like "don't do such and such" or "do do this and that" are rarely applicable across the board. SD is not "dead," it's just losing popularity as a format. There's a subtle but key distinction to be made here.
Please, no flames. :)
In reply to Peter Brauer's post on Tue 6 May 2008 :
No offense, Peter, but people have been saying exactly this for several years and it has yet to come true. :) Yes, things are moving toward HD, but I'll point out that BD sales have barely increased at all since HD-DVD bit the dust, just to give one example. The world at large is not lapping up HD as fervently as camera people are. They will, of course, but it's not as if someone who buys an SD camera right now is necessarily an utter moron, as you guys seem to be suggesting. :)
This is not about DVDs. This is about theatrical and TV. I know SD can look good. I mean Second Skin is shot on a DVX100a, tons of people ask if it is HD. But for certain markets HD will be mandatory. I think this will especially be the case after the US shifts everything to digital broadcast. I am not saying anyone is a moron. I am saying, I will not buy another SD camera. I am lucky that we already have a good SD camera. When we got our camera several years ago we could make money as a DP with our own camera. Now everyone wants a DP with an HD camera. It just seems to make good business sense to recommend HD over SD any day.
I don't really disagree with you as much as you might imagine; I wouldn't buy an SD camera right now either. However, what's good for the goose is not always what's good for the gander, and no sweeping generalization is going to apply in all cases.
Likewise, it may not be about DVD's to you, but someone else might be planning entirely on self-distribution and not at all worried about the needs or requirements of theatrical distributors, broadcasters, etc. And my point with the BD thing was simply meant to illustrate that HD is not exactly being adopted as widely as we might like to believe. And bear in mind that when U.S. broadcasters make the switch to digital broadcasts in 2009, it doesn't necessarily mean that all television will suddenly be in HD--it just means that analog receivers will no longer work. Who knows what the cable channels will be doing?
Again, your situation doesn't apply across the board, and yet it kind of sounds like you're suggesting that it does.
"I would not buy an SD camera right now" is not the same as "YOU should not buy an SD camera right now." That's all I'm saying.
But how would you choose between a goose and a gander?
In reply to John Burgan's post on Tue 6 May 2008 :
It depends on how hungry I am. :-D
Actually I am constantly telling young people seeking my advice to buy a cheapy camera for practice. If you don't have the money to go HD, don't worry about it. Just make a movie. It is the only way to learn. My first video camera was a 3 years out of date DV camera. It looked like crap next to what was good at the time. I still managed to make an award winning instructional video on it. The video quality was low, but the subject spoke for itself in the disability community.
Shoot your concert footage on a K-3. Much better in the high-contrast lighting environment.
Any video camera will work well for interviews if you've got a good DP, good gaffer, and a good make-up artist.
In reply to Jarrod Whaley's post on Tue 6 May 2008 :
I'm not sure what "the look" of SD is exactly.
As the happy owner of a Sony A1, I'd recommend the Canon HV20 and a good microphone. And maybe pick up a cheap SD camcorder to rewind tapes with. :)
RE: "the look" of SD
Who doesn't love interlace zippers!
Right, because there are no interlaced HD formats at all. ;)
SD does have a look that is distinct from most HD formats. The DV codec comes with its own kinds of artifacts, macro-blocking, etc., and whether most people really "see" them or not, they do at least subconsciously contribute to the way in which the image is perceived.
My point was that a lot of times people shoot on super-8 as a way of suggesting "old home movies," and that filmmakers might begin using mini-DV in a similar way as HD gains more and more ground.
Anyway, no need to belabor this point any further.
This is about finding my story –
I've shot 16 hours of footage (in Italian, of which I'm not fluent) and need to cut a trailer for fundraising.
I think the footage that was shot is very "trailer-friendly," but I do still need to find my story. And while I directed what we shot, I can understand about twenty percent of it (language barrier).
So, what I'd like to do is get the 16 hours of footage translated then watch the footage and find my story (at the same time eliminating hours so that when I go to an editor, I can have less to sort through).
But someone suggested it would be cheaper to sit with an Italian-speaking editor and cut the trailer.
The thing is, an Italian-speaking editor I'm talking with is asking me what my story is – . . . see?
So, is it possible for me to sit with the editor (while she knows what's being said and I don't) and find my story or . . .
Blugh. Okay. I hope what I'm asking is clear: two avenues (and maybe a third I'm not seeing?) a) translate all footage and look through it myself and find my story and "tag" what I want to use for the trailer, than bring it to an editor or b) start with all 16 hours and an Italian-speaking editor.
Which is more realistic? Cost-effective?
Darla – you're the director, so you need to get the footage translated/transcribed. Otherwise it'll end up with the editor or whoever does understand the footage directing it – which isn't what you want. Get it transcribed with time code and then go to the edit. I can't see any other way to do it.
Okay, Rob. So then I need a tranlsator who can also transcribe.
Know anyone? :)
If you look back I'd already answered this and many other questions before – or just after – Christmas, if I remember correctly. The answers remain valid.
As I wrote you then, you would have been much better off having someone transcribe the tapes in Italy. Anyone could have done that for you over there. Then you could have chosen to have the transcripts translated in Italy or over here.
Check the old posts.
Thanks, Wolfgang – some things have changed, though. One being that I'm not in Italy any longer, so I can't really look at "should haves" at this point.
Well, another option would be to go over all the footage with the editor, which I'm sure you're going to do anyway, and log it with notes on what is valuable in terms of dialogue. Make quick notes while you're in capture, for instance. Lots of your material will probably get thrown out because of image problems anyway, most likely. So then you can get the pick of the material transcribed/translated. But you'll probably regret not having it all when you come to think about voiceover possibilities – when the track from substandard or problematic picture might still be very valuable. The best route is just to bite the bullet and get it all done.
Do I know anyone – well, contact me offline if you want to discuss it.
"The best route is just to bite the bullet and get it all done."
While all the while telling your self that money has nothing to do with filmmaking.
Rob, What would be "biting the bullet" in this case? I wasn't clear (sorry, newbie). Also, I did try e-mailing you at the address on your site, but the e-mail bounced. I'm at email@example.com if you'd like to contact me.
"biting the bullet" = paying money to have your tapes transcribes/translated.
BTW, I'll be very interested to see how this turns out for you.
For a variety of reasons, I'd like to do one of my "hardcore love stories" with a spanish-speaking couple. But while I speak spanish well enough to travel in Mexico, I can't image editing in Spanish, at least not the way I edit my english films.
Well, Tony, if I jump off a bridge in the midst of this . . .
My gut is telling me to have it all transcribed in English with time codes – that I spend my money there rather than with an editor.
I trust my editing (although I'm a book editor) to at least get my first 16 hours into a trailer (with some help) and get a better grasp of my story.
Ideally, I could sit with someone . . . but I just don't have a bazillion dollars right now. I have like twenty bucks :)
Really, I'd put out a couple thousand, but not like five.
So I don't know if this plan/gut is reasonable. I think so.
Tony, that's an interesting remark. BTW – I'd love to get ahold of your films, they really look fascinating.
Having just completed 18 months work in Hindi, Gujarati and Tamil (none of which I speak, except Hindi I understand maybe 30%) I'd be interested to know why you wouldn't be able to edit in a language you understand like you do in English. Once you have transcriptions and so on, what other problems would you be facing?
The best advice I ever got (as far as indie filmmaking goes) was "If something's worth doing, it's worth doing poorly."
FWIW. I never use transcripts, or haven't since I bought my own edit suite about 15 years ago. I just watch the stuff over and over and over and over and over and over until it's all completely memorized. Probably not the most cost effective way to do it, and probably completely impossible in your transliterated case. Of maybe not. Maybe if you watched long enough you'd learn italian.
Which is why I'm curious to hear how it all turns out for you.
Good luck. And you still need a shirt and/or sweater, I'm cleaning out my closet. I could send something to you.
Rob, as mentioned above I don't use transcript. Originally this was a cheap ass cost saving measure. But over time I came to feel that having a vivid sense of how something was said was at least as important as knowing what was said. Transcripts just don't convey that for me.
Also, despite being told on many occasions that spending so much time watching footage and scanning footage to find what I was looking for was a big waste of time, I've had too many "happy accidents" where I've stumbled across the key to the whole film while looking around trying to find something I thought I remembered someone saying. (I recently read that Walter Murch feels the same way about scanning, so I feel vindicated.)
Tony, you inspire me. I want to learn to edit myself. I think I'd love it.
Anyway, I think you can keep doing what you're doing but with transcripts and translation, no? I mean, in the case of your Spanish film, you can memorize what's been said (once you have the footage translated).
All right, I'm just going to worry about my own problems here.
The mechanics of editing are not especially difficult, expecially now with things like FCP. Probably it's sort of like writing a novel. I'm sure you've heard the aphorism that everyone has one novel in them; probably everyone has one film they could edit in them, person connection and passion an adequate substitute for art and craft.
I'm still waiting for the world to catch on to the fact that I probabyl the most ham-handed hack ever to make a "career" for himself in film. Hopefully by the time they do I'll have enough rental properties and t-bills it won't matter!
My best Spanish lesson was making a film in Spanish. I did 7 hours of interviews in Spanish. Then I transcribed everything they said in Spanish over the course of one long day. Then I spent another longer day translating everything into English. In an editing program were you can watch and rewatch what some one says, it is amazing how much easier it is to follow a sentence. After putting all that work into the 7 hours of interview, I realized I had nothing of what I wanted. I was making a training video for people who suffered a spinal injury. Ultimately I took the best bits of the interviews and asked my subjects to make them much more concise. Together we crafted a script. The words were theirs, but I kept them on point. At the beginning of the process my Spanish was bad, by then end I was down right okay. Now it is bad again, but that is just for lack of practice.
As for editing, just do it. Get imovie, final cut, premiere or whatever. Have someone explain basics to you in one afternoon. Ultimately it is just cutting and pasting stuff together. You will learn the nuances as you go. But you shouldn't be afraid to mess around with out help. I mean what's the worst that can happen. I went to film school, but I learned nearly all my editing skills outside of the classroom by playing around with friends.
back when cuts only offline editing costs $50/hour it was expensive to fuck around and try to edit. Now you've got the basic tools on your laptop.
Give it a go! You've got nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Wow. That's impressive. I should add that my subjects speak in wacky proverbs and often don't have teeth (which makes it even harder for me to understand them) and also have a lot of regionalness – not necessarily dialect – so this would be extremely difficult for me.
When I worked with them, and was near them, it was much easier for me, but I actually really long to know what they're saying, so for the, I think the translation would be a gift.
I thought something like FC is $800 or more. . . ? Maybe I'll consider it. (Yes, cheaper than film school – and I already paid my way through writing school.)
Victor, the producer/writer on Second Skin, still regularly cuts small projects on imovie. When he made a daily vlog for our south by south west premier he entirely used imovie. variety blogged about our vlog strategy and posted our youtube link. So imovie does give results.
There are very often less then honorable ways of getting software for free. Maybe you can convince someone to share their discs with you. All I am saying is one should not have to pay to learn. Granted, I pay for my software now.
As for translation, if you came to my neighborhood, Astoria, looking as topless as you do in your photo, there would be a line of men begging for the opportunity to translate it for free.
As for my experience, let me say all of my subjects were paraplegics and quadriplegics, meaning they spoke perfectly. My last grade in spanish was C+ in spanish 2. But I had completed 2 months of immersion Spanish lessons with the two quadriplegics in the film. Needless to say if anyone wants a remarkable effective and inexpensive place to learn spanish, check out http://www.projimo.org.mx/
People like you drive me nuts – no offense meant :-) – because you ask for advice (sometimes on different boards), you don't take it and then you ask the same questions again!
Re your translation dilemma, check the hidden section, I reprinted my previous answers (you could have looked them up in mentoring room yourself).
Next, when you decide to ask more questions about editing, check the answers Chris Wong and I already gave you (in the Mentoring Room) on that subject! :-)
Mr. Brauer, as far as I know, I am wearing a shirt, albeit strapless . . . but I might consider your offer to walk the streets of Astoria with my footage needing translation.
Wolfgang, I will not bypass your hidden content. I'm sorry to have overlooked it. And, if it's any comfort, I even annoy myself sometimes.
I assumed it was strapless. But part of the d-word is having fun. No-offense intended.
Seriously half of my neighbors are native Italian speakers. I live on the same block as George Costanza's parents live on Seinfeld. No joke their house has a unique look that could only be my block. I know one old guy down the street who only speaks Italian. We say hi and wave, but that is about it.
darla, if it makes you feel any better, peter's not wearing any pants...
Its true, I avoid them whenever I can.
Hahahaha . . . oh, you boys!
All right, well, I'm taking heed (Wolfgang) and I think I'm going to find myself a good translator. Ideally, it would be one of the italians I worked with – they were there. They know the nuances of the language and got the wacky proverbs.
I understand why many people recommended that I just go in (with or without a pro editor) and start cutting – but I think this is an opportunity for me to really sit with what I shot, get to know my characters (and finally learn what was said!) and get a better grasp on my story. And being a Capricorn, an editor, and a writer . . . I think I'm interested in learning myself, first, what my story is, before someone sits and tells me (though I do enjoy collaboration).
So I think that's how I'll move.
You'll find that you won't regret having a real pro do it. In reality, it has to be someone really good, it's not enough to know the language.
All the more, if your documentary is going to be based on these interviews, you can't afford to loose the nuances.
I have done some translations of the sound track of documentaries (same issue except on finished products) and I speak Italian perfectly, so you'd be surprised to find out how many shitty jobs are out there. Sometimes, minor misunderstandings leadot translations that are actually saying the contrary of what was said.
Translating from English, the most common problems regard the mis-translation of American idioms or expressions. When you can't translate literally you need to know how to adapt the sentence to the other langauge and or culture, etc.
getting back to your stuff, you need someone who understands the language and the culture, so they can transalte the fine points without loosing any of the texture, if you know what I mean.
When you've done this part, before you start editing, re-read my posts on the editing phase.
Yes, Wolfgang. I know . . . the problem is, how to find this person who is going to do this. Ideally, it would be my DP – he knew the people, loved them, got their proverbs, and has an excellent command of English. But he's not terribly excited by the prospect.
Tony is right.
If you offer to pay him enough he'll probably accept the job.
Furthermore, it would probably be much easier for him (in Italy, if I remember correctly) to find people to transcribe – with time code references – your interviews.
Absent money, try flattery, perrsuasion, coercion, persistence. If that doesn't work, try showing him your tits.
Of course I'd pay him, but he's gotten dp jobs at $800 a day now, and I know he knows I can't pay him a rate like that, so . . . I think he's just not down with it.
What's a going rate for good translation and how do I know how long it would take to translate 10-16 hours of footage (that he shot)?
Don't believe Tony. I tried showing my tits once and it didn't work.
I tried flattery, perrsuasion, coercion, persistence, and didn't get anywhere with those either.
As I wrote before, I used "flattery, perrsuasion, coercion, persistence" because I had to tits to show and no money to spend.
Oh, such abuse a poor girl has to endure to get her film made! Don't be offended, Darla, just consider it mild preparation for dealing with the distribution phase.
On a serious note, could you negotiate a fixed price with your DP that would be enough to entice him to do the work? If so, then you could go out and fundraise for it. Depending on who you know and are related to, a good way to raise modest amounts of money is to send a nice letter to your entire friends and family list explaining your project and asking for donations. Be specific and say "I now need $XX to pay for YYY part of the project." I'm personally terrible at asking for money, but the few times I've done it, having a specific amount for a specific purpose has been more successful than a general request.
Hmmm....Mikal, good idea. I think I'll save my fundraising for when I really need it--to go back to Italy to finish shooting and everything else following that (tons more translation, editing, etc....)
I want to propose this to my DP, but I want to give him something reasonable. I'm canceling a dream trip to Alaska this summer to do it.
I just want to get an idea from others on timeframe and cost estimate.
This is how I did my translations. It is the cheapest way I could think of, and I had hours and hours of Korean to translate. I went to school's websites to find my translators and interviewers. I live near Brown University so I went to their school's student union web site and found Korean Student Association. I am sure they have the same type thing for Italian. The first translator I paid $10 an hour. Because of my topic being related to woman studies the second semester she was going to work for credit only, but she went abroad, and I had to find a paid replacement. So I say find a student, they are cheap or free, and you can teach them how to subtitle.
Tara has given you a good idea. I'm not sure about where you live, but in NY there are several universities with Italian institutes. Aside from a small fee, you can always promise to list them as "intern" or whatever in the credits section of your doc
Sorry, I don't mean to turn this into the All-About-Me Room, but while I did like Tara's idea, I just wonder about the quality and level of translation. Wolfgang, you yourself had written quite a lot on the subject of hiring a talented translator. My characters are in a small region in the mountains of Abruzzo and don't speak "regular" Italian and are often difficult to understand; I'm sure many of the words and usages in their diction are archaic.
To me, this might take more than a college student for $10 an hour. I mean, it's definitely definitely a good resource. But I have tons of friends who speak Italian . . . just word about the issue of "dialect" (it's more a regional issue than a dialect, but it's easiest to put it that way).
Thanks, though, to both of you!
How about negotiating a fixed price up front with your DP but paying him off at some set rate/month that you can both live with, like a mortgage. Think he'd go for that?
Find a college student in the U.S. from the region, or one who has some familiarity with the argot there. Is there a university in the Abruzzo... with an exchange program with an American University? Worth some digging and posting on university websites. Or, perhaps a college professor who is familiar with the dialect? They have to be out there....
lets not always call the DP a he! I know only 6% of women are in the industry but lets not rub it in...
In this case, he is in fact a "he," which is why I used the word.
Just to put it into context: I'm a talented translator, I've made my living doing it for ten years, been living in Italy since 91, but I wouldn't touch the dialect of my own region with a bargepole, let alone that of another region.
So here's a different suggestion. Why don't you wait until you're back in Italy (you said you're going back in the summer and you're not in a great hurry), then get someone from the community you're documenting to help you with the translation? I'd imagine that people would like to be involved in your process, it would probably greatly increase your access and integration. Dialect is a huge problem for translation, but on the other hand, people are very proud of it and getting the characters themselves involved would be a great way to show them that you are very committed to what is so particular about their lifestyle and community.
[Start dodgy suggestion] In the meantime you could cut a very short teaser for picture alone, put some music over it and wild track perhaps. And if what they're doing/saying is most likely not of great dramaturgical impact (when cutting up the pig, for instance), then you could even subtitle what you imagine they're saying (like, hand me the bucket, careful not to get blood on your shoes, etc.). This would work for a teaser until you can get the real thing. [End dodgy suggestion]
Re my previous answer, what I had written you in the past is, in fact, correct.
The idea re using a student translator – and mind you, I'd choose a graduate student who speaks the language fluently (that's why I mentioned cultural Institutes like the ones at NYU and Columbia); I didn't mean someone studying Italian – is still a good one to help you save money.
The student (who needs to be fluent and competent) could probably provide a good first draft of a translation of most of the dialogue and you could then have an expert (especially in reference to the dialect), verify it afterwards. This would allow you to save money.
this is a reply to Darla, and another question to all.
Darla – I posted for a translator on the good ol' craigslist and was surprised on how many responses I received. In all I got 6 hours of beautifully translated (spanish to english) with time code references for a couple hundred dollars.
To all – I'm in post production on my first feature doc. and need to find a music contract pertaining to world wide film festival usage. I'm trying to avoid contacting an entertainment lawyer because of the cost.
Thanks, y'all. In fact, the dp is a he (I think I mentioned that a few times). And I just wrote to him today to ask . . . I said he can take his time, and I'd pay him slowly . . . (so thanks for the mortgage metaphor, Mikal). And I'm just keeping my fingers crossed – though, he lives in Milan, and accepts only euros; in this case, if it doesn't work out, I won't be too upset, b/c the exchange rate right now is why I can't go back and shoot in the first place (until I have more funding).
So, I'm not actually planning to go back until August 2009 (Rob thought it was this summer). . . and I do have time on my side here. If the dp accepts, I'll be good to go. If he doesn't, I'll ask the photographer (who was also with us and had a good grasp on the regionality in the language). Short of those two, I love the idea of Craigslist.
So that's what I'll do.
The teaser idea was cute, Rob.
I tried to find your e-mail address. . . would you mind contacting me off list at firstname.lastname@example.org? I need some advice on the CL post.
opps...I should read the back pages more...
Just to let you know, I loved working with the students. I have to admit that before this project I was not at all familiar with Korean culture. You might be more familiar with Italian culture, and probably are, but there was much more to know than just the language. My students did more than just translations for me. One student even did footnotes for me on the translations that were worth probably more that what I would pay an actual translator. I would learn things in the footnotes that I could bring up in future interviews. Even if you do not get a student, you should ask if it is possible to get some kind of footnotes on the translations. My footnotes had historical and cultural information.
Anyone know where i can find some info on the perils and pitfalls of selling my own DVD over the internet? Website or a book perhaps?
In reply to Evan Thomas's post on Fri 16 May 2008 :
There are no "perils and pitfalls". Make a run of a 1000 units (shouldn't cost you much more than 1000 pounds, probably less). Put up a Zencart-based website. (Zencart has a huge, enthusiastic and free support community.)
Oh wait, there is one "peril and pitfall". Even if you happen to sell five or ten thousand copies, a lot of people will not take what you've accomplished seriously. They'll always have a reason why the movie you made/sold is different from the movie they want to make/can't sell; why it was easier for you than it is for them. You may find this annoying. It may even hurt your feelings. ;=)
Tony, you are such a maverick. What ever you do, don't let the nay sayers wear you done. I can't imagine sex sells, cause I have never paid for a sexy video in my life. What you are doing is an inspiration to us all. Or me at least.
Hello everyone, I've been in Egypt now for several weeks and been filming, recording and photographing Egyptians in their daily lives in my home village. I'm discovering I have to work hard at listening and not jumping the gun in my interviews, everyone is afraid of my still camera not to mention my video camera. I've interviewed Muslim and christian farmers, professionals working together for generations and feel inspired that i've discovered more about Egyptian Identity. Yet I can't help but feel lost in the process. As though I don't know what I'm looking for or what it is I'm trying to achieve.
I started by wanting to discover more about our Identity and break several myths about Egypt and Egyptians in general. But with only 7 hours of tape, and several hours of recorded audio I feel as though it's not enough, or as though I haven't accomplished anything yet. To put it simply it's frustrating as I think it will take much more time to really discover more of the issues, not to mention more deeply. I know I need to be patient but does anyone have any advice or contacts in Egypt (documentary) that I might talk or hash out my fears? wishes? I guess a large question in my mind right now is, how long of a story do I want to tell? I don't want to glance over the issues. I'll be heading to the Banff T.V. festival in June and have meetings with documentary producers there and plan on listening to hear what their demands, wishes are. But if anyone can help me out with the "position" i'm in it would be greatly appreciated.
God, am I really the right person to offer advice? Probably not, but here goes.
I would recommend writing a "white paper" laying out as briefly as possible the issues you're interested in. Then try to imagine what characters you need to explore those issues. Like, an issue might be that farmers are out of touch with international commodity price fluctuations (!), if you're dealing with cash crops. Well, then you might have a farmer who is actively trying to get information about that on-line and is adjusting his crop accordingly, or one who has a bumper crop of something that has suffered a severe price drop – or is about to have a great year because of a rise in prices. If you have a character or two around each issue – and better yet if they overlap – then you can illustrate the issues by following their fortunes.
That sounds very mechanical; but the more you get interested in the individuals you have identified in this way, the more you will find them, and be able to make them, engaging even independently of your issues. And then your audience will care more about how the issues affect them.
That's how I would go about it, anyway. But issue based films are not really what gets my juices flowing, which is why I suggest getting deep into your characters.
Sam, I don't think your position in which you find yourself is specific to Egypt. We've all at times felt lost like we are not sure what we are looking for or seeking to achieve.
I would say there are four elements you need to succeed: purpose, identity, patience, and community.
Maybe it would help to tell us a bit more what is the story you are hoping to tell. You mention something about breaking myths about Egyptians. What are these myths you hope to break? Who do you see as your audience? Cairo-based Egyptians? Others in the Middle East? Europeans? Americans? What preconceptions is your target audience coming to the film with that you hope to dispel?
Are you yourself living in Egypt and simply returning to a village from the big city? Or are you an emigree coming back to the home country? Whether you are a character in the story or not, your own identity – real or imagined by your subjects – can color the production process in terms of the level of trust and access you can get with your subjects.
You say you have been there for several weeks and shot seven hours of footage. But if you are really trying to get to the heart of the place and the trust of your characters, you may need more time. Do your best not to be overly constrained by production schedules, money, or time. Continue to work hard at listening – and not just when the camera is rolling. Perhaps what you have already shot is simply research or practice. Maybe the real story will emerge as you spend more time. And this does not necessarily mean you have to live in this village for a year. It may be a process where you make repeat visits over a period of time to see how things develop with your characters or the life of the village.
Yes, it is tremendously helpful to have others with whom to share your experiences, gain new knowledge, and simply have a place to vent the joys and frustrations which accompany any creative endeavor. D-Word can certainly help you in terms of some virtual community. And I have no doubts that there is a community in Egypt which can help fill that need in a more face to face manner. You can search the D-Word database for other filmmakers by country to see if there are some fellow Egyptians to e-mail directly (since not everyone checks into this forum frequently). And others here may have some more specific advice.
In any case, best of luck. It sounds like an amazing project.
Great advice from Erica!
For what it's worth, feature length docs routinely require 20-100 hours of source material. Not to suggest you be careless with rolling tape, because that will only be burden later, but if you're still in the research stage with only seven hours shot and no clear direction, it's no huge deal yet. You just don't want to come home with 40 hours of tape and no clear story focus or structure.
You might consider approaching subjects with only a mic (good quality!) and do all your initial interviews audio-only. That way, you can assess what someone has to say, how "listenable" they are, the level of rapport you might be able to develop and whether or not you will want to have them in the film. Audio-only is much less intimidating than a camera for most people and you can always use that as voice-over later if someone says something brilliant and you decide you want to keep that person as a character.
Kudos to you.