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.

Skyler Buffmeyer

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

Christopher Wong

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

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

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

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


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

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

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.