I've really been enjoying digging through this site since I joined a few weeks ago. Thanks to these forums and your profiles, I've gotten to know lots of documentarians and films though your posts and links to your respective websites. I've also been scouring the public areas of the site to gain more insight into the world of documentary filmmaking. Unlike most of you, I am a fan of the genre rather than an aspiring filmmaker. I admire the fact that so many of you are willing to share your experience and knowledge with others in such a supportive, non-condescending way. I'd like to ask a "What would you do if you were me?"-type question that pertains to documentaries. Since it requires some explanation and may be long, I'll leave most of it hidden. Thanks!
The Mentoring Room - Ask the Working Pros
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.
Hi Doug, I just saw 51 Birch Street and congratulations!
What a courageous film. For me, courage is such an admirable and rare quality in film nowadays and I'm delighted I saw it.
I had one of those rare life experiences laughing and crying at the exact same time when you clasped hands with your dad at the end.
That's quite a combo, to laugh and cry at the exact same instant; thanks so much for that!!
I have kind of a dumb technical question. When you were behind the camera participating in interviews, did you have a lavalier mike for yourself and a shotgun mike for the talent?
Robert Goodman, I just saw Stone Reader and loved it! I know you didn't direct this (you were the producer) but one of my favorite parts of the movie was the recurrence of various footage of butterflies throughout the film. Was this done to mark out different "chapters" of the movie?
This continual insertion of butterflies into the film reminded me of the recurring scene in Bunuel's Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie where the protagonists are repeatedly seen talking and walking in the French countryside....
Again Stone Reader is great film, with lots of unexpected twists and turns. Some great political points too (about ITT and the purchase of the publishing house) very subtly and ably presented.
Thanks so much for helping to bring that to the public. Because I'm a huge fan of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, I think I'm really going to enjoy the book The Stones of Summer, the subject of the movie.
Mossman's quite the scholar.... evidently 1605 was THE year for Shakespeare!!!
I plan to attend a local sports-related consumer show next month, with
an eye toward getting interviews and other shots. I'll use footage shot
in a public-access TV show, and for other things. Any tips or hints?
The eqpt will be loaned to me by the public access station. I will have
interviewees sign releases.
What sort of open-ended questions should I ask? What sort of shots? I'm
brand-new at this, so any help is appreciated.
In order to help you, you need to provide us with more information.
What do you mean by "sports-related" consumer show? Is this a fair, a sort of market with equipment on sale/ What sport(s)? Who do you want to ask questions? People selling equipment, members of the public, buyers?
What is your motivation for filming this event? Why is it important? Is there anything special about the event or the equipment being sold/exhibited here? Is this the first time or is this a yearly event? Is there any special significance for the locals? Will any (sports) celebrity be attending?If so, you need to obatin info about this person(s).
Will someone be demonstrating a sport using some kind of equipment? How big is the arena/sports ground, etc? Why are the organizers putting on this event?
These are things I would try to find out if I had to film this event and in order to figure out what to film and what questions to ask.
The following guidelines are the A, B, Cs of news coverage and they apply to documentary storytelling as well.
Whenever you decide to shoot something, you must ask yourself; "What am I shooting?" and "why am I shooting it?
Then your story must always answer the 5 Ws and 1 H: "Who, what, why, when, where and how."
Everything you need to do (what to shoot, who to ask questions, what to ask) depends on the answers to these questions.
Matt – I will pass along your comments to Mark. There are so many layers in the film it is hard to know where to begin. I can only say that I am very proud to have helped bring Stone Reader to audiences.
First, let me say this won't be a documentary per se, although I hope to earmark some footage for a project I've dreamed of for years.
This is an annual golf show in Minneapolis. It is a fair, where golf courses, club vendors, and a few related others get together on a snowy Feb. day to help people get the snow off their feet and dream of spring.
I'm mainly interested in doing interviews of folks from the golf courses that will appear, doing the 5W and an H in shorter clips. First end product would be a show for local public access TV, with saved footage for the other project I mentioned. After all, they'll be gathered in one location so it'll save time driving all over searching them out.
There will be demos here, and it's in the Metrodome, the huge playing field for the Minnesota Twins and Vikings.
Thanks for the questions. I've written and photographed for magazines for years, but this will be my first foray into the visual documentary-related forum.
regardless of the duration of your story, the mechanics are always the same.
Ideally, each story should have a beginning, middle and an end and answer the 5Ws and 1 H. Given that you intend to do several shorter pieces, you could do one more generic piece and several others, each of which could deal with a particular aspect of the fair that you and/or your audience might be interested in.
It seems like you should be able to put several interesting pieces together.
If you know anything about golf – and I presume that you do – if you answer the questions I outlined (What is this story about and what do I want to show you) it should be rather simple to come up with some interesting questions to ask. You can ask the equipment vendors about gear, the players about form and playing tips, the visitors about ther expectations for the new season, etc., etc.
From what I imagine you'll find there you should be able to put togteher some visually interesting and exciting stories. Try to put some nat sound pieces together.
I can already visualize dozens of stories. Try to imagine YOUR stories visually and that should help you figure out what to shoot.
Chris, quickly read through your proposal. Leaving aside the odds against pulling it off, are you aware of a feature doc that came out a few years ago called My Date With Drew? If not, check into it. It was a small but charming film, came and went and barely made a blip commercially.
In all honesty, hard to imagine any established docmaker being tempted by your proposal. In the end, though, who are any of us to tell someone not to dream?
Thanks for your kind words, Matt. As for the mic, I used a Senheisser ME 63 mounted on the camera. It has the ability to screw on a number of mics with different patterns. I used one with a figure 8 pattern, that captures sound equally in front and behind the camera. So one mic was able to record both of us talking. Came in very handy. Only problem is if I film verite for long stretches without talking myself (and I never know when I might), it picks up a lot of extraneous room noise from behind.
In reply to Chris Hinrichs's post on Mon 28 Jan 2008 4:16 UTC :
Chris, I'd make a couple of quick suggestions. First would be to reframe your proposal in tone and presentation.
By tone, I'd suggest not looking at all the reasons why it shouldn't work. I noticed on your site that you're an architect. Think about the proposal in the same way you propose something to a client. You don't tell them all the things that will go wrong (being overcharged by contractors, termites, fire, water damage, floods, famine, family arguments, etc...).
By presentation, while it's okay to have a paragraph teaser, I want to know what the story is. If it's not part of the story, don't tell me. Currently the way you build it up I'm expecting the greatest idea I've ever heard and no idea can live up to that. Obstacles that need to be surmounted are not part of the story, unless...
...that is the story. Which would probably make a very interesting documentary – "Guy faces insurmountable odds to make incredible idea a reality. Does he or doesn't he?"
I would also recommend trying to hook up with someone in your area, a friend with a camera or an aspiring filmmaker, and work together on moving the project forward. As Doug mentions, it's unlikely that established docmakers would be tempted, or being tempted, it may not be in the way that you're envisioning.
You also may want to start smaller. Instead of an A-list star, why not a local celebrity in your area. They're much more approachable and the idea would be the same. It might make the idea more attractive to more established filmmakers and celebrities.
Doug, Thanks for taking a quick look. If you read the whole thing I specifically address My Date With Drew and how the two are very different films. Perhaps I need to do a better job of articulating just how different it is. Believe me, I know it's an incredibly tough sell. I know the chance of it ever getting made is next to zero. That's what intrigues me the most – the impossibility of it. I hope you find the time at some point to look at more of the material, but I completely understand that it's not for everyone.
By the way, I wanted to compliment you on 51 Birch Street. I saw it a while back and thought it was excellent. I recommend it often.
Boyd- Thanks a lot for your thoughts. It's the kind of feedback I'm looking for. I will consider the things you've said. Your comments about the tone are well-taken.
I suppose the best thing is for people who have thoughts to e-mail me directly so I don't hijack this forum. You can e-mail me @ firstname.lastname@example.org
chris, in an effort to procrastinate from further fundraising activities, i read your entire proposal for your "dream doc".
i can safely say that you're CRAZY! having said that, i think it's a good kind of crazy, and the shared gene that most of us aspiring and established docmakers possess. plenty of people have been told their projects have absolutely no chance – and a fortunate few have actually persevered and finished their projects with great success.
however, i would really challenge you to re-evaluate WHY you are doing this project. at the same time, i would challenge you to think about why you are not doing a DIFFERENT documentary project. To me, this project seems too frivolous and insubstantial for someone like you, who admits to admiring the direct cinema and verite work of masters like Maysles, Kopple, James, etc... i'm no psychoanalyst, but you seem like you might have a more "worthy" doc in you to produce. by "worthy", i don't mean that it has to be intensely depressing or socially conscious – it can have humor and spontaneity and whatever else fits your personality – but it has to have something at its core that inspires you.
The "impossibility" of making something is not reason enough to try. You need to combine "impossible" with "irresistible" to really have a film worth making. if you write a proposal that convinces everyone why you "can't NOT make this film", then you actually might have a chance. right now, i read your proposal, and just see a guy who says "why not make this film"? there's a big difference.
i don't want to discourage you, just refocus you... btw, if i didn't think you had it in you to actually make a doc film, i wouldn't have wasted my time writing this reply. good luck!
In reply to Doug Block's post on Mon 28 Jan 2008 :
I'm intruiged by those Sennheisers. I like the modular concept very much, the interchangeability. It did an excellent job of picking up your voice from behind!
When you didn't speak for long periods and extraneous noise made it on to the sound track, did you squelch it in post?
What do you think of my proposed setup of a Sennheiser shotgun mike (i.e. unidirectional) with a lavalier corded mike on myself, since I will be tethered to the camcorder anyway?
I was thinking this might solve the problem of excess noise coming from the back end.
Your thoughts? Thanks for your help!
Re- looking for an editor,collaborating at a distance, transcription.
Boyd, thanks for your suggestions.
Everybody else- thanks for the tips.
Question: everybody seems to agree that it's a good idea to have interviews transcribed. Have people had luck going on Craigs list? I know there are professional services but they seem to run $150+ per hour of tape, and we have a lot of tape. Since the transcripts are just a searchable tool not a finished product, I am wondering if this is one case where cheap = good??? Thanks!
Matt, your setup sounds fine. Probably better than mine, actually. I just like to put the camera down from time to time.
dean, no reason to have to pay $150/hr for transcription work. i've found quite a few for $115/hr and under. in fact, there are some who charge per hour (only $20-25) and since they usually don't take more than 4 hours to transcribe each tape, it's the most affordable for me to be billed per hour of labor.
it also depends on what kind of footage you have. if it's all interviews, then pretty much anybody who can type fast (and who has the capability to insert TC simultaneously) can do it. if it's verite footage, and you actually want descriptions of how people are moving, what kind of shots are being employed, and every single comment noted, then i do think it matters who your transcriptionist is. but most people either don't have that kind of footage, or don't need it transcribed.
if you need some references to transcriptionists, i'd be happy to email them separately to you. you can then contact them yourself, and have them send you samples that you can review to see if they're a good fit.
You might try going to Craigs list and doing a search for experienced legal secretaries between jobs/assignments.
They are highly literate (having worked in law offices) and are used to doing lots of transcription from recordings that I know are lower quality than yours.
For example, the average legal secretary salary in the SF Bay Area is 75,000/yr. which works out to $37.50/hr., assuming you work 2000 hours a year.
This should save you big bucks and provide very high quality.
Hope that helps!
Hi, I'm very interested in United States documentaries/political movies from the 1930s, most especially US depression era cinema with political content. I need them to be US only; my studies of Soviet montage and Riefenstahl is a separate and intense study.
I just saw Our Daily Bread (1935) which had some excellent cinematic qualities and the climax with the irrigation ditch being completed is truly fantastic cinematography with some real live action surprises.
Any other recommendations?
I just transcribe 2 hours of interview footage using an app called MovCaptioner. It was 20 bucks or so. Here's the link:http://www.slidesnow.com/movcaptioner/
The great feature is that it has a loop function so it plays over and over again sections until you get them right. One idea is to put all your footage (copies) and a copy of the application on a drive and let the person you get to transcribe your stuff use it. Then have them give the drive back to you.
Not sure how others work, but I transcribe much of my material, since a lot of it is in Chinese and I need to translate it at the same time. I find it's helpful to note pauses, repeat words, cross talk, etc. as it helps in the paper edit. I'll even mark specific sections that I know are definitely going into the film.
One thing to remember, even with a transcript, you still need to sit and watch everything – how a thing is said is as important as what is said.
Christopher – when you have your stuff transcribed, to you get a verbatim transcript?
boyd, when you say "verbatim" transcript, what exactly do you mean? do you mean one that includes notations for all the pauses, stuttering, and other odd noises that occur during the subject's interview or conversation? do you also mean one that describes each shot as it changes?
for my project and my budget, i only have interviews and the most important conversations transcribed. my transcribers generally include notations for long pauses, "uhs", and stammering in their transcripts. i do not have them include shot types or any background conversation that happens simultaneous to the subject's voice(s). incidentally, i also send hard drives to my transcriptionists – it's slightly more expensive in the short run, but it really pays off in the end in convenience and in the number of clips i can include in one mailing.
btw, that app MovCaptioner sounds great. i really like that play over function that you described...
Dean, I've done this before for translations/interpretations and break it down a little differently than for an elaborate shot list that requires lots of visual cues. But if you need mainly spoken and audio cue text, with some key visual cues, you're welcome to email and perhaps we can work something out. Please use email@example.com if so. What are your deadlines? I am not operational 01 – 17 Feb, and a colleague needs help (I will start on his as soon as it arrives – not expecting it to take too long).