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.

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.

Doug Block
Host

Now that Monica's a member, discussion of her trailer can migrate to the Works In Progress topic. Congrats on making the big leap, Monica.

Chris Reed
Fan

In reply to Skyler B's post on Mon 25 Aug 2008 : As one who has used PCs for almost 20 years and who never cared anything about Macs, I have to tell you that editing on a PC is more aggravation than it is worth. I used Premiere, Premiere Pro, blah blah blah. You will have program crashes, system crashes, conflicts, on and on. Buy a Mac and get Final Cut Studio. Yes, it is a lot more of an initial investment but I cannot tell you how many hours – days – weeks I WASTED with PCs and editing.

Do I like the Mac better than the PC? No, not really. I have trouble navigating the interface and overall, to me it is just a machine. But I will admit that I have now owned it for one year, never opened the case, have had a few crashes and a few program lockups but I have never had any data destroyed, lost or corrupted. I have never booted the computer and ended up in Limbo. Equally important is the Final Cut (and everything that comes bundled with it) is FAR superior to Premiere. In this case, I do believe you get what you pay for.

I'll be curious if others agree with this. In any event, good luck.

Robert Goodman
Pro

There are plenty of working systems on the Windows platform. Avid, Vegas Video, Edius, etc. I've used them all. Never had the issues you've had. This is likely due to making sure that there are no word processing applications or other non-essential editing tools on the same computer. People expecting to use one computer for everything will have nothing but trouble.

The other issue is cooling. Computers fail because they don't have adequate cooling especially ones with lots of drives. It's best to run an edit system so the ambient temperature is 62 degrees in the room where the system resides or that cold air is supplied to the computer. I often see people running systems that are operating in the 90 degree range. Expect failures as soon as the temperature rises.

Jill Kelly
Fan

hi, thanks to Eli for mentioning that the hvx p2 does not tape in hd, only sd, it finalized my buying or rather waiting to buy the new panasonic that comes out in october, 2 pounds lighter with no tape only p2 cards.My question, i read that it is very unlikely to get funding for a first doc, i'm wondering should i choose a different subject to my "dream doc" for my first?One that would be closer to home, aka, cheaper etc to get my feet wet?would an instructional film work?I made a 10 minute doc at school,hardly enough but how much experience is needed to seriously consider finding successful funding?Is it also having a executive director?I'm in for the long haul and i have already begun work on my "dream film" but i would like to be smart about getting some work and credit under my belt, so i can be taken seriously, cheers

Chris Reed
Fan

Does anyone have a recommendation for the best and most reliable recordable DVDs? I do not want CHEAP. I want EXCELLENT! I need DVD-R inkjet printable.

Thanks, all!

Eli Brown
Pro

Watershield discs by Taiyo-Yuden. Nice quality, pretty reliable, and inkjet prints that don't smear or wipe away...

Brad Studstrup
Pro

Hello,

I want to travel from the U.S. to Europe for a shoot (first port of entry is actually Morocco) with two checked bags of video equipment – a light and a lens. Do I need a carnet, or is a rental agreement sufficient for customs?

Thanks,
Bradley

Robert Goodman
Pro

checking video equipment with the airlines is a bad idea. Theft rampant. Best to ship it or rent it there. If you do bring it, then you will need a carnet if it's pro gear. If it looks like a tourist camera you can sneak past. However, you should be aware that if you get stopped by customs you will be required to post the full retail value of the equipment in cash to enter the country with it. Negotiating can bring it down somewhat but there's never any guarantee. A carnet is cheap insurance.

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