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.

Peter Brauer
Pro

I agree.

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 My first video camera was a 3 years out of date DV camera.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.

Tony Comstock
Fan

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.

Joe Moulins
Pro

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. :)

Tony Comstock
Fan

RE: "the look" of SD

Who doesn't love interlace zippers!

Jarrod Whaley
Pro

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.

Darla Bruno
Fan

Hi,

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?

Thanks!

Rob Appleby
Fan

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.

Darla Bruno
Fan

Okay, Rob. So then I need a tranlsator who can also transcribe.

Know anyone? :)

Wolfgang Achtner
Pro

Darla,

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.

Darla Bruno
Fan

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.

Rob Appleby
Fan

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.

Tony Comstock
Fan

"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.

Darla Bruno
Fan

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 editor@darlabruno.com if you'd like to contact me.

Tony Comstock
Fan

"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.

Darla Bruno
Fan

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.

Rob Appleby
Fan

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?

Tony Comstock
Fan

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.

Tony Comstock
Fan

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.)

Darla Bruno
Fan

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.

Tony Comstock
Fan

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!

Peter Brauer
Pro

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.

Tony Comstock
Fan

agreed

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.

Darla Bruno
Fan

Peter,

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.)

Peter Brauer
Pro

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/

Wolfgang Achtner
Pro

Dearest Darla,

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! :-)

Wed, 30 Jan
Darla,
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!!!

Fri Feb 1
Darla,
If he is willing, you could ask your DP to do the transcriptions and translations for you. There is no need for him to log the tapes to do this. Otherwise, you might find someone else in Italy.
As I explained in a previous post, you should do the logging of all the tapes WITH the editor with whom you are going to edit your documentary because you BOTH need to be aware of all the video.
This way you'd only need to copy onto VHS tapes or a DVD with burnt in timecode (in order to be able to transcribe beginning end ending times for each sentence/paragraph) the tapes (or sections there of) with the interviews. You'd still need to capture this material onto a computer – and this takes place in real time – but you could return home with the tapes and your DP or whoever will be doing the transcription and translation could work at it over here and then e-mail you the finished transcripts.

Sat Feb 2
Darla,
You need to transcribe the dialogues first in Italian so you have a record of what was really said and also to allow another translator to check the translation (if necessary).

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