the worldwide community of documentary professionals
You are not signed in.
Log in or Register

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.

Matt Dubuque
Mon 28 Jan 2008Link

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?


Boyd McCollum
Mon 28 Jan 2008Link Tag

I just transcribe 2 hours of interview footage using an app called MovCaptioner. It was 20 bucks or so. Here's the link:

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?

Christopher Wong
Tue 29 Jan 2008Link

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...

Jo-Anne Velin
Tue 29 Jan 2008Link

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 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).

Jo-Anne Velin
Tue 29 Jan 2008Link

Dean It's too late for me to go into the previous message and make a change: if working directly from tapes, I can't help you. I would need DVD(s) with burned in time code (or could improvise from the player's time code – not ideal but not a big deal if this is the first cut from the raw tapes: you'd find your place easily enough).

Boyd McCollum
Tue 29 Jan 2008Link

Christopher, I'm thinking exactly what your transcribers are doing, with the uhs and long pauses. Do they or can they notate when there is a change in tone within a sentence? I've noticed sometimes that a person will start a sentence, have a thought and change gears in the middle. It still looks like one sentence on paper, but is actually two distinct thoughts (and couldn't work as a sentence.)

As for shot descriptions, I do that myself when I log the tape, and I'll highlight things that standout, even with dialogue that might be transcribed later. The type of shot within an interview doesn't matter, only if there's unusable camera movement.

I've also done variations, with no transcription, but more detailed logging – where with an interview I'll write down what topics they are talking about, with timecode, and transcribe specific passages that come across well. In FCP I'll use markers and subclips to divide things up into specific bins.

One cool side benefit of doing translations – with the workflow I use – is that towards the fine cut stage, I end up with dedicated video tracks with subtitles using the FCP outline text generator. I can actually export those and come up with a word document with all the text and timecode. That way as I near a finer cut, I can basically export a "script". It's great to be able to read it and see how the cut I have is developing as a story or where there may be gaps.

Doug Block
Tue 29 Jan 2008Link

Matt, try The Grapes of Wrath and Sullivan's Travels.

Dean Hamer
Tue 29 Jan 2008Link

Thanks for all the suggestions about transcribing. I don't think I need super-detailed transcripts, just the basic dialogue in a searchable digital format so when I want to find every comment about "subject X" I can easily locate them.

But I am a little confused about the best format to use for the clips – I want something easily shared, with reel# and timecode, visual as well as audio, and easy for the transcriber to start and stop. I was going to just make low resolution QT clips with timecode burned in and assume the transcriber can play them back and forth as needed. Does that work? That way I could share everything by ftp. Thx!

Christopher Wong
Tue 29 Jan 2008Link

boyd, i haven't asked for the transcriber to notate any "tone changes" in a subject's speech, but i'm sure that would be helpful to have somewhere. but i'm assuming that would add time and money to the transcription. the only tone change that would be easy to note would be a "..." between words.

dean, what you've described would definitely work. the only disadvantage of that method is that it's going to take you awhile to render BITC to each clip, and then export out each compressed file. but if you've got the time, any transcriptionist should be able to handle your footage perfectly well.

one alternative is to buy a cheap hard drive, load all of the full resolution QT clips you want transcribed on that drive, and then send that to your transcriber. using that method, you don't have to include BITC, b/c QT can automatically bring up each clip's native TC in the viewing window. (btw, if you compress your clip, we've found that you lose that track that remembers the native TC.) if you choose to do this, then just be sure that your transcriber has the same system (Mac or PC) that you have. if you have a Mac and they have a PC, then you'll have to buy a copy of MacDrive ($40) so that they can read your drive properly. That's what we ended up doing, and MacDrive works like a dream (despite what some of the reviews said).

Erica Ginsberg
Tue 29 Jan 2008Link

Matt, presume you already know most of Pare Lorentz' work:

Dean, wish I could offer you advice beyond the great ideas others have already shared here. I actually transcribe my own films...which is one of many reasons they take so long. I don't do it out of thriftiness alone but also because it makes me more familiar with the nuances of the material. What you may want to do with all your footage is to do a first look-through and jot down notes of key quotes you like maybe with a system of keywords (your "subject x"). Then narrow that down to the tapes you know you want to use and give that to a professional transcriber.

Join this discussion now. You need to log in or register if you want to post.