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.

Jeff Girard


Advice sought: Least expensive PC for video editing programs

I am seeking help finding the least expensive PC laptop capable of running Pinnacle Studio video editing programs. I’m on the low income side (especially after becoming unemployed) so I am working with modest equipment.

Because I am couch surfing, I need to stick with a laptop, not a PC.

I’ve tried several other editing programs such as Vegas, Adobe, etc., and I’ve tried iMovie on the Mac. Pinnacle works best for me. My current laptop, a Dell I bought in 2009, cannot handle my HD video editing. I am using a Kodak Zi8 camera.

The system requirements are at:

There are three main versions and all 3 appear to have different requirements:
Studio HD
Studio Ultimate
Studio Ultimate Collection

The graphics card requirement is the same for all of three.

I’m a lean quick on my own how to use document, photo, and video editing programs for creative purposes. I am however clueless about the tech stuff.

I am getting unemployment checks and money is tight. However, I believe in myself enough to take a gamble and spend up to $1,000 on a laptop.

I need help though because I'm not good at the tech stuff and don't want to get ripped off at the stores. So far, Best Buy, Fry’s and my computer savvy friends have all recommended different machines. I’m hoping that at some point I’ll hear the same recommendation a few times.

At least at Best Buy and Wal-Mart there are no re-stocking fees.

Thanks! I appreciate your time and help,


System Requirements for Studio Ultimate Collection

* Windows ® 7, Windows Vista ® (SP2),Windows XP (SP3)
* Intel ® Pentium ® or AMD Athlon ™ 1.8 GHz (2.4 GHz or higher recommended)
– Intel Core â„¢ 2 Duo 2.4 GHz required for AVCHD*
– Intel Core â„¢ 2 Quad 2.66 GHz or Intel Core â„¢ i7 required
for AVCHD* 1920
* 1 GB system memory recommended, 2 GB required for AVCHD*
* DirectX ® 9 or 10 compatible graphics card with 64 MB (128 MB or higher recommended) – 128 MB required for Red Giant Magic Bullet Looks Plug-in: Pixelshader 2 required, Intel GMA integrated graphics not supported. – 256 MB required for HD and AVCHD*
* DirectX 9 or higher compatible sound card
* 3,6 GB of disk space
* DVD-ROM drive to install software
* Accessory:
o CD burner for creating Video CDs or Super Video CDs (S-VCDs)
o DVD burner for creating DVD and AVCHD* discs
o Blu-ray burner for creating Blu-ray discs*
o Sound card with surround sound output required for preview of surround sound mixes*

Input Options

* Capture from DV, HDV and Digital8 camcorders or VCRs (requires a FireWire ® ; port)Capture from analog camcorders, 8 mm, HI 8, VHS, SVHS, VHS-C, SVHS-C, or VCRs (NTSC/PAL/SECAM). (requires Pinnacle or Dazzle video hardware)
* Import from AVCHD* and other file based Camcorders, Digital Still Cameras, Mobile Devices and Webcams via USB

Output Options

* Output to DV, HDV or Digital8 tape (requires camcorder with FireWire Input port and a PC with a DV/FireWire port)
* Output to analog videotape (requires DirectShow compatible device with video output)

Import Formats

* Video: AVCHD*, BD Blu-ray*, DV, HDV, AVI, MPEG-1, MPEG-2, DivX ® , MPEG-4, 3GP(MPEG-4), WMV, Non-encrypted DVD titles (incl. DVD-VR/+VR), QuickTime ® ; (DV, MPEG-4, H.264*)
* Audio: MP3, MPA, WAV, AC3*, WMA

Export Formats

* AVCHD*, BD Blu-ray*, HD-DVD, DVD (DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVD+R or DVD+RW, dual layer), S-VCD, Video CD (VCD)
* Apple ® iPod ® , Sony ® ; PSP/PS3, Nintendo ® Wii, Microsoft ® Xbox compatible formats*
* DV, HDV, AVI, DivX*, RealVideo ® 8, WMV, MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4*, Flash, 3GP*, WAV, MP3*, QuickTime ® (SD format) files
* Dolby ® Digital 2 channel and 5.1 channel audio*

Jeff Girard


Advice sought: Microphones for Kodak Zi8 camera & the iTouch.

Also, any recommendations for clip on mics, attached mics, or wireless mics to enable the recording of at least 3 people for the Kodak Zi8 camera & the iTouch?



Linda Wasson

In reply to Jeff Girard's post on Sat 15 Jan 2011 :

the oldest and still the best place on the web for all things computer-related is

originally in DOS, pricewatch used to list real-time prices with discounts as they appeared online. nowdays it provides links to both retail and online computer supply stores.

ok, that's one option. #2 is my own personal suggestion: you want a laptop and new ones are like new cars: the moment you bring it home the price decreases about 50% – because they are all overpriced. what to do? a couple of options – you can build your own – since you aren't working and have some time, this is a real option and w/price watch and Fry's nearby...

another option: go for the refurbished model. there are SO many out there – I bought a Samsung notebook in 2003 that was about 2 years old; new it was priced around $5000 because that's what they cost back then. I paid about $250 for it and it was loaded with goodies. I was happy if it would last 6 months – guess what – I still have it and it still boots up just fine. Over time tho, memory allocations increased and I can't upgrade for a reasonable price so it's not really practical to use anymore; I just don't want it to wind up in a landfill somewhere or I'd chunk it.

which is another good reason to buy refurbished – there's simply nothing wrong with recycling a computer – many are still worth keeping around. Just check and double-check your hardware requirements, ask about warranties and you're good to go. the cheapest models come with no operating system which if you already have one, you can just use that.

if you can register for a class somewhere, you can qualify for academic pricing on software which will also save you $$

good luck and hang in there.

Jack Hunter Cohen

I'm looking for a Line Producer for a feature doc. Where do I go? The film is on Women and Men and their relationships and will be structured around interviews shot overseas and in the states in several locations. Is there an appropriate forum here to put it out there?

Eli Brown

Members Classifieds is a good place to start. You could also put it on the public classifieds Рand there are a lot of media-centric job sites (,, craigslist, even) if you're just doing a random sort of cattle-call for resum̩s...

Doug Block

Just remember, Jack, that the public classifieds is open to Google searches. So be careful about what information you're giving out.

Ashley Hillis


This is my first posting so I hope I do this correctly :)

Advice sought: Recommendation of films to watch for reference

I'm hoping someone might be able to recommend a documentary that successfully tells a character driven story while also exploring this individual's culture and highlights other characters from his/her world. I'm not looking for a traditional biographical piece (I understand my description might come across sounding that way). This is a silly example, but it might help in understanding the type of film I'm looking for... (I just made this up so it might be totally ridiculous, but hopefully it will serve as a helpful illustration.)

A once celebrated under water basket weaver is looking to make a comeback. She decides to build a store in which she will sell her baskets and through the process of building the shop, she will face some of the demons from her past.

In order for the film to be accessible to the everyday viewer, the film must put the story in context – tell a bit about the history of under water basket weaving and why it is significant to some. We should also learn about others in the field so that we are able to see what makes this particular weaver different (or maybe the same) as others out there.

Does this make sense? Can anyone point me in the direction of a film that follows a similar path?

Thank you so much for your help!

Doug Block

Ashley, first of all, welcome to The D-Word. And bravo for leaping right in with a post. You did it fine, except that the Mentoring Room is mainly for those we call Enthusiasts and the professional members rarely hang out here.

We don't encourage double-posting but in this case we'll make an exception. You should post this again in the Documentary Film topic and you'll probably get a good deal more feedback.

Also want to encourage you to tell us a bit more about yourself in the Introduce Yourself topic.

Ashley Hillis

Hi Doug,
Thank you so much for responding. I will make my way over to the Documentary Film area and see about posting there.
Thank you for your help.

Martin Carel

We're about to go into the editing phase for our indie documentary. For the post-workflow process (using a Mac Book Pro 2.4GHz 4GB), we're about to transcode the (Canon t2i) H264 files into APR422 files using MPEG Streamclip. This seemed to be the best practice at the beginning of year 2010.

2 questions:

  • is it still the best practice today?
  • while editing in FCP, is it realistic to source the video files from an external FireWire800 HD? I was hosting my video files on an external USB 2.0 HD on a previous project, and it's just too slow. So I'm wondering if FireWire800 would do it or if I need to have the video files on my local MBP drive.

Thanks in advance,


Laura Moire Paglin

Martin – I'm not the tech geek that some of the filmmakers are (so perhaps other will have something to add)- but there are some other options besides MPEG stream clip. EOS Plugin allows you to use FCP 'log and capture settings' to transcode files.This is supposed to be faster and also allows you to imbed timecode onto your footage. Some have had problems with it however. Magic Bullet Grinder allows you to simultaneously create both ProRes Proxy files and higher ProrRes files simultaneously and creates timecode. Oh but I just noticed that you're transcoding to something called APR422. I've never heard of that. Just about everyone I've talked to uses Prores. Yes FireWire800 should be fine. FYI – you need FCP 7 to convert to Prores Proxy (which takes up a lot less space). I think the timecode option offered by EOS plugin and Grinder is a huge advantage over MPEG streamclip.

Randy Lee

I think the MPEG streamclip option works fine, especially if you then copy your THM files into the folder that the new files are in and use the free version of QTChange (search for QTChange 0.7) to add timecode and reel numbers. The EOS plugin has me plenty of issues, and I'm not the only one who has run into them – I've spent plenty of time with other filmmakers in the Madison area trying to solve their issues with it.

You're definitely better off keeping your footage on an external FW800 drive (make sure the drive is 7200rpm not 5400) than on the internal. Also, backup, backup, backup. When that drive fails, what do you do?

Linda Wasson


first q – you should always be editing off a firewire drive for many reasons, much of what has to do w/how FCP operates. also it doesn't have to be a 5400; I have 2 of those and 1 7200 drive; they all work pretty much the same. However, if you are editing HD, then you will probably see a difference w/the 7200 but your processing speed will likely be the limit rather than the external.

you can actually run into some problems with a USB drive so please do stay away from those when running FCP.

your backup files should be on your hard drive; it's called the Autosave vault and you should find it in your documents dir which is the default when you loaded FCP unless you changed it. you can set it in your system preferences in FCP.

next q about transcoding files – didn't really understand what you were referring to until someone mentioned App Prores 422; I export all my files in this codec even if I've imported into FC as another such as H.264. just import the files and change it in your settings; you can also click on the timeline, then go to your settings for your sequence (go to Sequence, settings, you have to be in the timeline or it will be grayed out) and set your codec there for prores or whatever.

fyi, if you join D-word as a member you can post over in the FCP section as well as editing.

Errol Webber

Your opinion guys. I know some production people in the film industry may not take well to unsolicited contact about video work, but if you were to stumble upon a production company of which you like their work and would like to shoot for them on their upcoming projects, what is a good way (notice I said "good" way, because there's probably no "best" way) to approach them so they aren't initially turned off by your unsolicited contact? A phone call first? An email first? Both consecutively? A phone call to set up a meeting (if they are in the same city/state?) I have an approach I've used for years, which works out fine most times, but I want to know your opinions.

Ever since I started doing video in '03, I've worked mainly from referrals, so my former clients usually do the trumpet-blowing for me when it came to future projects with other directors/producers. But every once in a while I will find a project that I'm interested in and would like to work on, and I sometimes scratch my head, thinking of how to approach this particular person/production company.

What are your thoughts? If you ran a decent-sized production company that's been around for years or was a producer of a newly conceived film, how would YOU prefer potential shooters contacting you? Would you even mind them contacting you? And if you WOULD mind, what was the turn-off?

Randy Lee

Do you know of anywhere that someone involved hangs out? Or a group that they're a member of? I'm a member of MCA-I here in Madison, WI, and have been able to get a foot in the door on several great projects by keeping in contact with people that I've met through the meetings.

Otherwise I can't see an email with a phone call follow-up hurting – have a reel or website ready, of course, but it can't hurt. Some places don't want outside involvement, or don't keep track of good people until it's time to hire, but some do, and are happy to keep your card in the rolodex – I'd say at least try contacting someone there. Research the place a little first, see if there's a particular person who you should ask for, and take it from there. I know that at the company that I work for, if someone calls when we don't have a call out for resumes, they'll be sent to some middle-management guy who's goal is to send you on your way as quickly as possible. If you know the name of our DP, though, or an editor, and ask for one of them, you're in in no time.

Errol Webber

Thank you, Randy. Some good information, especially that note at the end about how big production companies think.

Doug Block

Errol, it's hard to imagine someone being turned off by an email genuinely expressing appreciation for my company and wanting to become a part of it. They may not respond enthusiastically (and that's their loss), but why would they be upset?

Neil Orman

Can anyone advise me on the simplest way to light interview subjects, as a one man band? Next week I'm doing a shoot in a house with lots of windows and pretty good light. Whenever possible, I hope to take advantage of natural light. But I just want to be prepared should I need to throw some light on a subject. In the past I've used kinoflos and lit people with the people of a PA, but this time I need to keep it to just me. And I don't want to be messing with c-stands, sandbags and the like. Any advice would be hugely appreciated.

Ron Osgood

Neil – try to use the natural light as your main source and add a reflector to the opposite side. Or use a soft box, umbrella or diffused light as your key and the window as your fill. Don't forget to use CTB to match to daylight. Of course figuring out how to add a back light is important.

Avery Morgan

I am making a short (10 minute) historical documentary. I have all of the important information, but so far the documentary is a little boring. Any advice on how to make it a little more interesting while still professional?

Laura Moire Paglin

I'd have to know a little more about what it's about. But the key with any documentary is to remember that you are still telling a story. The story is more important than imparting facts and information.Think about Ken Burn's documentaries. Also figure out why you're using a visual medium to tell the story. What can you communicate in a visual way? Watch lots of historical documentaries. Try to figure out what makes you like them and figure out how you can apply that to your project.