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.

Paul Kloeden
Pro

A quick google search will lead you to a lot of release forms. A quick cut and paste will get you what you need. As for interviews, especially set up ones, I would be tempted to buy a cheap lapel mic – simple one with cable to your camcorder.

Jason Caminiti
Pro

Skyler,

There are a number of PC editing programs. Last year when I dove back into Non-Linear Editing, I started using Adobe Premiere Elements. It is surprisingly good for a program that costs about $99. Elements is a pro-ish program dumbed down quite a bit for newbies. Though, it has some features that Premiere Pro doesn't have, like the ability to make a DVD with titles and all. Also, if you find yourself getting serious, the learning curve to Premiere Pro will be almost nothing. In fact, you will start to see many of the quirkyness that is somehow built into Elements dissapear, and it is a slick program.

I'm not a fan of the Pinnacle software at all. I have it just to import VHS and it seems amateurish.

(Ducks flames from Mac users)

Skyler Buffmeyer
Fan

Hi again!
Thank you so much for the great feedback! It is so appreciated!!!! I just love this website :)
I have another question:
What recommendations would you make for finding subjects to be in your doc? I was thinking maybe flyers around town or an article in the newspaper...anymore tips?
Thank you again.

Mark Barroso
Pro

Depends on how random you want to be. If you want just anyone to comment on, say, how they feel about the latest fashions or the Iraq Occupation then just walk up to people on the street.

If you're looking for specific kinds of people, like folks with rare diseases or ex-cops who killed people in the line of duty then you can either advertise or talk to people who work with that population.

Jason Caminiti
Pro

Robert, True, I guess I expected more from it. Adobe Premiere Elements seems really good considering. There are some really annoying quirks that I can't get past but otherwise it is great.

Skyler, You really didn't tell us what kind of documentary you were looking to make. If you are looking to just get experience, I'd recommend going to the local public access studio and volunteering. I take my camera when I go to an event in the city and make a 'show' out of it. You could throw in some interviews to get some experience there. Learning on the access facilities equipment is not only free, but it lets you see what you don't like. Which helps you zone in on what kind of equipment you need.

Evan Thomas
Fan

So i want to film for a few hours at a Military Cemetary with a PD-170 + tripod. My project is lo / no budget and i'm self funded etc working on the film in my spare time.

In order to get permission to film i need to provide:

"Proof of adequate insurance coverage for any person participating in the film production or photography, as well as any spectator who may be at the site and might be injured as a result, directly or indirectly, of the filming or photography. Adequacy of coverage will by as determined by the organisation"

Clearly i don't have public liability insurance. Any way around this?

Jason Caminiti
Pro

It's not like you are filming a movie there. If you weren't using a tripod, I'd say just go for it.

I'm in the US, and we have public access television here. People tell me all the time I am supposed to have filming permits and the like, but I just tell them it is for Public access and they seem to go away. I've never been thrown out of anywhere for filming with a lower end looking camera. Even with a tripod. I have had people ask me questions.

I think the liability stuff is more if you are going to be bring in crew and heavy equipment.

Call the groundskeeper and tell him what you are doing, and tell him you are just going to be filming with a small camera and tripod. I bet they'd be fine with that?

If not, bring a consumer grade camera and get the footage that way. A La Michael Moore.

BTW: I'm no lawyer, so you should check with a lawyer before taking any of my advice...

Skyler Buffmeyer
Fan

Hey Everybody!
You are all such a huuuge help! Thanks!
I was wondering if anyone could give advice on getting archives (especially news-media related). Any good websites or procedures I need to go through to get good archives?
Thanks again,
Skyler

John Burgan
Host

Archives – it depends a lot on what you plan to do with the material. More and more are online these days and you can search for footage which you can then license for use, whether for a web presentation or a film to be broadcast, whatever. It's not cheap though!

For instance check out the ITN Archive

BTW Skyler – please note that we ask all D-Worders to register with their full, real-world names, so please log in when you have a moment and update your profile. Thanks.

Skyler Buffmeyer
Fan

Hey John!
Thanks so much for the advice.
I'm very sorry that I didn't put my full last name up.
I felt a little uncomftorable doing so considering, I just found this website a few days ago and I am underage.
I am so sorry if I have broken any rules.
If there are certain reasons that you need people to put up their last names please tell me and I will change it.
Again, I am very sorry if I have broken any rules and also, thanks so much for the advice about the archives.
:)
Skyler

Joe Moulins
Pro

I wouldn't want my daughter sharing her full name on this board. No offense.

Let Skyler B be Skyler B.

Andrew David Watson
Pro

Skyler – check out http://www.archive.org/index.php

Evan – The public access or "student film" lie can go a long way. Also, you could try to track down a local professional that might be willing to help you out and have them as a "co-producer." I would say go take a walk around there and see what the vibe is like and try to get a sense if you would even be bothered.

Doug Block
Host

Skyler, no worries, we'll let you remain a B given that you're bringing the mean age of The D-Word's membership down considerably. Just don't be ordering any drinks in the virtual bar.

Monica Williams
Pro

Help!!

A potential next project has presented itself to me and it is a completely different style than the film I have been learning how to make for the last couple of years. I'm wondering if anyone can recommend ideas regarding the actual film or films to watch that might be in the same genre.

Here's the situation. I live in Detroit and am very fascinated with the "post-industrial" remnants of what was once a thriving city. There are hidden stories everywhere here and people are experimenting with radically creative avenues for social change. While helping tear down an abandoned house with one of his groups, I had a very long conversation with a man who was one of the Logistics officers for "Hands Across America," who was asked to teach courses on grassroots organizing at the University of Michigan and who is currently "stuck" in Detroit with legal matters. He took me to a miraculous place he helped build called the "Artists Village" in one of the worst neighborhoods you can imagine. He is very well-loved! He wants me to film some burial ceremonies he has organized with churches for the homeless and stillborn infants who are not given these rituals. Also to film some of the seeds he is planting here along with the activities of the Artists Village. The Artists Village is a huge collection of abandoned warehouses that have been painted with murals by the children in the neighborhood, guided by the artist in residence, whose artwork hangs everywhere. There is theater space where spoken word and community theater take place and there are huge community gardens. Possibilities are endless!

I guess this wasn't such a short post, but – How do I begin thinking about this? I would need to shoot some of these events ASAP and before he leaves. I have someone that can help shoot it, but I'm in need of creative direction as I'm currently working on a historical and philosophical film with archives and talking heads. What am I looking for – do I have to be in the film (aaagh!) Any help would be most appreciated :-)

John Burgan
Host

Don't want to dampen your enthusiasm, Monica, but isn't this simply a distraction from finishing "Knowing Evil"?

Christopher Wong
Pro

sometimes the project you were "born to make" comes along at inopportune moments. like before you've finished the film you had already started... but if a project absolutely rings true in your heart and mind, then you don't really have a choice but to go forward with the new thing. (that was certainly the case with me.)

from what we've read before, it sounds like KNOWING EVIL might be able to wait. but only you know best... if you do go forward with this new project, make sure that you have a current story to tell, rather than simply rehashing the history of how the Artist's Village was created. as you said, there are hidden stories everywhere. go find 'em!

and no, it certainly doesn't sound like you have to be "in" the film.

Monica Williams
Pro

In reply to John Burgan's post on Wed 20 Aug 2008 :

Well John, you may have me here – I'm falling for "another film." That said, I'm still committed to Knowing Evil and just finished my fundraising trailer. I know I'm a little googly eyed for this new project (it doesn't have all of the baggage of my current relationship:-) but I'm attempting to have some kind of either backup plan or footage in the works for when Knowing Evil is done. I've also thought of posting 5 minute stories like this on my website with a blog as a companion to Knowing Evil. This man's character represents a major them in the film and also symbolizes to me the combination of two of the philosophers in Knowing Evil.

Will I get in over my head if I were to just film some of the events this man is involved in for now, and to either use some of it for small 5 minute pieces and then try to make a film once Knowing Evil is finished? It also feels like a way to detach a little from Knowing Evil (in a healthy way) as I've been a bit monomaniacal with the whole process :-)

Skyler Buffmeyer
Fan

Hey!
I am having trouble finding archives pertaining to the film I would like to make. I know this may seem very silly but, I am looking for videos/ video clips of things such as, hannah montana, high school musical, beauty pagents, make up commercials...... I was wondering if you could point me in the right direction and, if you could tell me more info on archives...can you get some free? if so, which ones can you use with no permission or money? and anything else I might need to know.
Thanks!!!

Jason Caminiti
Pro

Monica, not sure if I can help at all. I am finishing up a film that is about how a city is using the arts to bring life back to their downtown and their mills. A few resources that may, or may not help.

http://www.artinruins.com/
http://www.urbansmartgrowth.net/

Also, a couple docs.
These are along that vein.

End of Suburbia
Escape from Suburbia

There is one Erica mentioned to me that I lost the link for about an artists community in Texas. Erica?

Chris, where were you when I was starting my project. I could have used a theme like an artists group moving into the city to explore the growth.. oh well too late now...

Carlos Gomez
Pro

Monica, Varda's "The Gleaners and I" comes to mind. Maybe post-industrial Detroit is a setting where the ideas you're examining in your current doc play out, and the artist village is one branch of a bigger story. You, like Agnes Varda, could be the unifying thread: a filmmaker making sense of the world she lives in, relating historical, social and psychological trends to the changing landscape of the city she inhabits.

Eli Brown
Pro

Unfortunately, Skyler, Disney is pretty legal and protective of its media properties. If you're planning on making something that you won't distribute, I wouldn't worry about it (like a class project, for instance), but if the rest of the world will see it, it's a safe bet that they'll be unamused at its use should they find it. However, the policy of "Fair Use" (small description here – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fair_use) does give you some latitude to use all of those things in the context of a work of "scholarship" which often includes documentary. If an interview you conduct with someone talks about one of those programs, you could probably get away with a very, very short clip of it (or stills). Depending on what your point of view is of these items, the companies behind the creation of the media may even be willing to give you limited use (if it serves their PR or goals). Fair Use is your best bet for using any of it, but as a rule you probably won't be able to use a lot. (Disclaimer: I'm not a lawyer, so for any fair use claims, it's always best to check with someone who knows legal matters a little bit better...)

Monica Williams
Pro

Carlos – thanks for helping me make that connection between the two films and the possibility of their becoming one. And I've just put Gleaners and I in my Netflix queue.

Jason – Thanks for those sites and the offer of help. I've heard of the Suburbia movies you mentioned and I'm ordering them. Oakland county is one of the richest in the nation and it borders Detroit!

Carlos Gomez
Pro

I wasn't exactly thinking they would become one but hey... glad it made any sense.

Evan Thomas
Fan

I will soon be editing in FCP for the first time. I will be using shared macs at the local arts center so I will be trundling along every week with my external hard drive. I understand it needs to be FAT32 formatted. My interviews are all 40 – 60 mins and therefore each is larger than 4GB in its entirety. Do i have to digitise them in stages then? Any good tutorials about on this sort of thing?

Jason Osder
Pro

Evan, actually it is recommended that you use “Mac OS Extended (Journaled)” for the drive formatting. There should be no problem with file size. Organization is the other big challenge. There has been a lot posted here on that lately. Plenty of good advice, including that each project is different. You may want to apply for full membership to the D-Word so that you can access the FCP topic.

Kristin Alexander
Pro

As Jason said, organization is important! Be sure you understand your scratch disks, and how to point the material you capture to your external hard drive and save it there.

Jill Kelly
Fan

hi, i'm ready to buy the panasonic p200a,I am going to be using it for educational and travel films.I have been going back and forth between the sony ex1 and the panasonic. I understand the p2 doesn't produce hd in full 1080 like the ex1, is this that important of a difference? I would like to have equipment i can grow into but is the hd that much of a selling feature when it comes to selling a film or for getting a broadcaster on side for funding? I will be working with premier pro cs3 as i have a pc.Will any of this set up hold me back once i get a project completed? It's such a hard decision! thanks for any help...

Monica Williams
Pro

This may be a silly question, but I have a 10 minute trailer for Knowing Evil and would like to post it here for anyone to rip apart. I don't have all the rights to the archival images used so if I post it, will I get into legal trouble, would it be too public?

Andrew David Watson
Pro

Jill – on the HVX200a (assuming that is what you are talking about) you can shoot DVCproHD at 720p, which is a pretty professional format. Sounds like either the EX1 or the HVX would be a good move up for you. There is a lot to camera other then just the resolution, so don't just use that to determined what camera to buy.

As for broadcasting, if the story is well told and the film is shot well, it wont make a difference what camera it is shot on. If you shoot DVCproHD you can always do a up-rez to HDcam (which is 1080) for broadcast. I'm sure James Longey can speak better on that topic :)

Jason Osder
Pro

Jill and Andrew – the HVX200a will also shoot 1080i DVCPROHD, just FYI.

Doug Block
Host

Monica, you've been working on a doc feature for 2 years now, I'd say that qualifies you. Besides, we need all the good grant writers we can get ;-)

Andrew David Watson
Pro

thanks jason, i forgot to mention that, from my experiences and from what i read it seem 720p is the preferred shooting format on the HVX. I was thinking more along the lines that the HVX shots 1080i and the EX1 shots 1080p (i believe??)

Jill Kelly
Fan

thanks so much,it is the HVX i'm thinking of and i had also read that the EX1 shoot 1080p.Glad to hear that if it's all done well, the equipment is not quite as important, you helped me with that final choice.I really like the idea of have the ability to use tape or the p2 card.From what I've, heard, i think fujitsu is starting to make the same cards so the price is meant to come down in the new year(said she hopefully).I'm a continuing student at G.I.F.T.S.and it's time to take it out into my own project.thanks again to the info, it was just what i was looking for, until another question...jill

Eli Brown
Pro

For what it's worth, the HVX tape mechanism does not record HD. Just hope that was made clear at some point... (though the HVX does, in fact, record 1080p, just not with a pixel for pixel imager like the EX3).

Skyler Buffmeyer
Fan

hey!
i was wondering which is a better editing program..
adobe premiere or sony vegas?
thanks :)

Christopher Wong
Pro

In reply to Monica Williams's post on Mon 25 Aug 2008 :

Monica, far be it from me to have the first word on critiquing someone's work-in-progress trailer, but since no one else seems to be commenting on it, i'll go ahead and take a shot...

First of all, I think your concept is really interesting and compelling. Exploring the concept of evil is one of the things that most of today's documentaries have NOT done. Most of the docs that are coming out deal only with the personal stories in the aftermath of great evil (e.g. WAR DANCE, LOST BOYS OF SUDAN, etc.) So your doc certainly is timely and fills a void.

The most intriguing section of your trailer deals with Adolf Eichmann and the analysis of how his "banal personality" co-existed with his key role in the Holocaust. The archival footage here is strangely riveting and Susan Neiman's commentary gives pertinent information.

Looking at the trailer as a whole, however, I have to say that I didn't find the other sections as interesting or as well constructed. The one big problem – and I don't know how you get around this – is that Susan's voice and presence don't play that well on-screen. Her thoughts are often deep, but just not well-communicated. I feel like she is constantly droning on and sometimes a bit too pleased with her own insights. Tighter editing of her VO would probably help a lot so that we only hear her most salient points.

Also, you use a lot of classical paintings to illustrate your points but a lot of them fall flat because it's not very clear why you are using them. For instance, during the montage where "Sympathy for the Devil" is playing, there's one painting of a naked man with a protractor-drawing tool – what is he doing and why are we watching this? It may be obvious to you, but to the untrained viewer, we have no idea.

There are a number of technical points too that you should be aware of. The opening text animation is really clunky and you'll lose a lot of credibility right from the start if this is the first thing the viewer sees. Generally, text should not "bump" into other text unless you are trying to communicate something comical. A simple fade-in of text is the best approach here. Your other uses of motion graphics, especially with pictures, looks very amateurish as well. I realize you are probably doing everything yourself, but you need to either keep everything absolutely simple (and static), or hire a decent motion graphics artist who can perform the camera moves more elegantly (using AfterEffects). Lastly, the odd camera angles and shaking during Susan's interview don't leave a positive impression of the production.

My question to you would be: who is this trailer meant for? If it's meant to raise money, it has to be a LOT shorter and more tightly edited. If this trailer is for broadcasters, you have to make a better case for what your story is, and why Susan's train of thought will keep an audience engaged. Right now, I have no sense of what the finished film will be like; if it's just a slew of Susan's talking-head amidst an avalanche of archival footage, few will be interested. You can certainly "lead" the viewer with questions in your trailer, but you have to make them more regular and build on each other.

I'm sorry if my comments sound at all harsh, but I wanted to be completely honest with you. Again, your concept is rock-solid. It's the execution that is troublesome right now. If I were to suggest a possible structure for you, it would be something like:

1) Introductory montage – "Sympathy for the Devil"
2) 20-second sound bite from Susan on "What is Evil?"
3) Very brief exploration of Adolf Eichmann's case
4) Closing montage with some kind of cliffhanger question (e.g. "Can Evil ever be stopped?")

Anyways, best of luck with this project and any others you take up in the meantime...

Jason Caminiti
Pro

Skyler, I'd say Adobe is the more pro type program. I've never heard of the Sony Version. But, I think Adobe Elements will get your feet wet, and then if you need something more you can get Pro.

Monica Williams
Pro

Thanks so much Chris! That is what I needed. With the paintings I was trying to show that our ideas about the nature of evil have evolved over time, from Adam and Eve in the Garden to Demons, and from the Lisbon Earthquake (which was thought of as evil) to Auschwitz – I can see how this is not clearly communicated however. With actual money I'm hoping to have better quality images and text animation. The two opening quotes are lines from two opposing philosophers that formed the shape the Enlightenment would take. I think I just need another quote altogether – the bump is quite awkward – but I was trying to show that these ideas were in opposition to each other, forming the doubt and optimism that surround thinking about problem of evil throughout the modern world. I will also have more talking heads so ideally, Neiman will not carry the whole thing. I will try to shorten it, though I'm running out of volunteer hours from my editor :-) I'm hoping investors will forgive me the lower quality of this edit and understand that it will be better with money. Thanks again very much for analyzing this in such detail – I will try to apply your suggestions!

Monica Williams
Pro

Oh – and the naked guy really does have significance, but I guess only to me! It's a painting by William Blake of Newton figuring out some major laws of the universe. During the Enlightenment, the philosophers thought that if Newton could come up with that, then human beings could come up with an explanation of why there is so much suffering and evil on earth – and then they went looking for the "Newton of the Mind" who they decided was Rousseau! But again, I understand that it doesn't make sense and is just plain awkward in the trailer – Darn!

Jason Caminiti
Pro

Monica,

I got a chance to watch your 'trailer' last night. It is more of a treatment, and I think it works really well as a fundraising video. First off, your choice of a subject to interview was great. She had the perfect voice, as well as zeal to make it sound really intriguing.

The piece is pretty good on its own as is, as a short. I didn't know where you were going with this when you first started talking about it. KNOWING EVIL could be so many things. I was surprised by your treatment of Bush as well as 9/11. It seems that 'evil' is a continuum. Does the ends justify the means? Is there some external evil, or do we create the notions of good and evil? Is it evil to kill a human, but not an animal. If not, why is it not ok to kill a human. What if there were or were not a God, would that change what evil is, as proposed by EXPELLED the documentary purporting Intelligent Design.

This piece really got me thinking. I thought I'd throw some at you just to let you know.

Monica Williams
Pro

Thanks Jason! I'm glad that you liked it – it needs a lot of work still but I'm hoping it works to get me to the next phase. I really appreciate the feedback and your thoughts. What I hope for the film is that it might provide clarity as this is such a murky topic and so tricky to think about.

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