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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.

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Wolfgang Achtner
Fri 23 May 2008Link

Hey guys, I really didn't think I was committing a capital sin by pointing out to Darla that we'd already answered her question.

Please notice that I made this observation at the end of my answer to her question.

I happen to work in communications so I try to pick my words carefully.

Since others – as well as myself – had given Darla good advice the first time around, it seemed logical to suggest that she ought to check out the old posts.

Regardless of what you may think Rob, this hardly constitutes making "a big deal" about anything, much less "churlish" behavior.


Tony Comstock
Fri 23 May 2008Link

Wolfie, you're a blowhard and a bully who can't remember what you've said from one day to the next, let alone showing any evidence of being able to pick your word carefully. Rather than Darla re-reading your old posts, how about you go back and read your own bloviating post about your supperlative interview technique and tactics.


Wolfgang Achtner
Fri 23 May 2008Link

Tony,

I have no difficulty admitting that some of my posts were long-winded. But does that make me a "bully?"

And you didn't even take off your shirt for me...

Guys, allow me to say my intentions were – are – good and I feel that I've been misinterpreted. Anyway, for me 'nuff said.

If you all don't mind, I'd prefer to drop this matter and get back to ... answering questions and reading interesting answers.

Edited Fri 23 May 2008 by Wolfgang Achtner

Erica Ginsberg
Fri 23 May 2008Link

Guys, guys. I'm not sure if you are all going back and forth in good fun or not, but we should remember that the mentoring room is part of the D-Word public forum, so whatever is posted here may show up anywhere. Not everyone in here knows our backstories, backposts, or personality quirks and it may not make some folks feel welcome to have fighting in here nor any discouragement of questions or discussion.

I'm no topic cop, but might make a citizen arrest to suggest any further discussion of who is in the right or wrong be taken to the private forum parking lot, so we can focus here on providing constructive advice.


Doug Block
Fri 23 May 2008Link

Erica's right. You're certainly welcome to meet in the Parking Lot and go 15 rounds (you could even take your shirts off first). One of the pleasures of professional membership.


John Burgan
Fri 23 May 2008Link

Good work, Citizen Ginsberg :-)


Darla Bruno
Fri 23 May 2008Link

Totally not sure what's up here. Wolfgang, you answered a question I never asked.

Doug, is there a limit on posts?

I asked a question that I never asked before – how best to get my footage into a format with time codes to give to the translator. Sometimes, since I'm very new at this, I don't always know how to ask the question most eloquently.

Yikes.


Darla Bruno
Fri 23 May 2008Link

By the way, thanks Rob, and Erica, and Christopher – and of course, all of you.

My footage is on PAL (yes, I know you all know this), so I've gotta get someone with a PAL camera deck to run my tapes through FCP and then do time codes (assuming I will also edit in PAL) and put all that back out on either DVDs or Quicktime files to give to my translator. I think I'm understanding this correctly.

I'm close to NYC, so I guess I can just pay someone to do this for me. I really don't have too many other resources (no camera, no FCP).


Wolfgang Achtner
Fri 23 May 2008Link

Darla,

If your tapes are DVCAM, a DSR 11 deck will do and these are easy to find (rent). You would also need a laptop with FCP.

If you know someone or have a friend who has a Mac with FCP, they could capture for you. Then it would be simple for them to burn DVDs with timecode. And then you could mail or ship the DVDs to your dp in Italy. For safety, keep copies for yourself.

Allow me to suggest that, while you're at it, you might want to buy a small external disc (200 GB would do and is relatively cheap, US$299.00).

http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/418526-REG/LaCie_301089U_Little_Big_Disk_200GB.html

This way, you'll have a backup and – more importantly – you'd already have your video ready to be logged, whenever you decide to do the edit. Furthermore, a 200 GB hard disc will provide more than enough space to edit your doc.


Sam Rabeeh
Sat 24 May 2008Link

To everyone who replied, thank you for your time. I know I have to be diligent and creative. It's that now I have to walk the walk of documentary making. For me personally feeling all those things is different than understanding them, or studying them first. i.e. storylines wavering. Thanks for the inspirational kick in the rear from Erica, Jennifers and everyone else.

Erica, I contemplated including myself in the story but I don't want it to be about me, or run through me. I'm actually scared of bringing the attention, or focus on myself. I want it to be about Egyptians. I guess want and get may be two different things but I hope not in this case.

p.s. transcribing english takes a heck of alot of time. I'm awesome at english, and humble ;-). I think I need to start transcribing even though I don't have alot of hours. Not to mention there is audio.....

Did I mention d-word rocks?

Ma' Assalam from Sharm El Sheik


Doug Block
Sat 24 May 2008Link

No limit yet, Darla. But we're getting ideas ...


Lucia Duncan
Mon 26 May 2008Link

I'm going to be directing short interviews with people at a union convention. This might lead to short videos about a theme or union campaign. We are trying to figure out what kind of backdrop and lighting to use for the interviews. One idea is to use a white backdrop, lit fairly flat, and change up frame lengths – inspired by the look of Errol Morris's Move On ads: http://www.errolmorris.com/content/election04/main.html
Another option would be to use a purple backdrop – the union's color. The lighting kit that's been reserved by the conference organizers includes one 350 fresnel, one 150 fresnel, a 650 fresnel, plus chimeras and gels. I don't know a lot about lighting, so I'm looking for advice about whether these lights are appropriate for achieving this kind of a "natural" look. Whether a white backdrop will be more challenging to light than purple... also, what to use as the backdrop – cloth draped somehow or a firm backdrop of some kind? Thanks for any suggestions!


Jamie Cochrane
Mon 26 May 2008Link

Hey guys,

What's the best way to organize footage to prepare for editing? Do you rely on creating paper cuts, or do you have a better system?

(Since you were previously on the subject of transcripts, I also do transcriptions with time code and if anyone has questions about it, you can email me directly at jamie@multimediatranscripts.com)


Rob Appleby
Mon 26 May 2008Link

Lucia – if you were to shoot a greenscreen, you could make up your mind afterwards, or even use other footage/photos as a backdrop if the project really took off.


Mark Barroso
Mon 26 May 2008Link

Lucia: You didn't ask, but make sure you have a quiet room and good mics – I've been hosed on audio in this kind of situation before. As for lighting, you won't be shining a light on the background if you're trying to achieve the look of the erol morris link. You only light a backdrop if you're trying to create texture or a pattern. You need to read up on the three point lighting technique, or better yet, practice in your living room with a real person.

Jamie: I found this training video from Creative Cow usefull.


Laurence Peters
Fri 30 May 2008Link

I am in the business of filming people's lifestories but no one takes their lifestory that seriously it seems--and certainly not seriously enough to pay me to make their films (again it would appear from a bit of market research). What great ways do you think I could use to kick start the idea that everyone should consider putting their lifestory on video?
I imagine a bunch of talking heads telling them that it is a good idea and putting that on the web won't work too well. Any creative thoughts?


Mark Barroso
Tue 3 Jun 2008Link

I know a couple of people who tried to do this and never found the right formula to make it cost effective. The clients want a lot and pay very little.

My suggestion to make it worth your while is to be the guy who shows up at family reunions and tapes people talking to each other. Good audio is the key, because it will be a noisy situation – camera mics won't work. But the oft-told stories will be great and everyone will feel comfortable doing it. Plus, you get everything in a day.

Memorial videos are another idea if you can work fast. Still photos to music. I was hired once to set up in a room away from the memorial service and folks came in and talked about their memories.

The common denominator is to be where families naturally gather.


Tony Comstock
Tue 3 Jun 2008Link

I did some memorial videos. What a great feeling when you get it right!


Laurence Peters
Tue 3 Jun 2008Link

Thanks Mark for that suggestion. I agree with Tony--it can be satisfying when you get it right! That is what keeps me going.


Melissa Dopp
Fri 6 Jun 2008Link

Laurence-have you checked out the Association of Personal Historians ? If you search their membership directory, you'll find companies that also create video biographies. The APH also holds an annual conference that members rave about on their listserv.


Claire Gellard
Mon 9 Jun 2008Link

Hi Everyone :)

I was wondering if anyone would be able to give me some advice please? I have just graduated from University with a BA Hons English. Very keen to get involved in doc filmmaking and am currently writing on mental health. Any ideas as next step into the industry?

Thank you very much,
Claire


Tony Comstock
Mon 9 Jun 2008Link

RUN AWAY!


John Burgan
Mon 9 Jun 2008Link

Don't listen to the elderly patients in this institution, Claire. Have you any practical experience in making docs? It's pretty easy these days to get hold of a DV camera. What's the mental health idea? Do you have a concrete subject or is it more a general idea at this stage?


Tony Comstock
Mon 9 Jun 2008Link

John's right. Any idiot can make a doc. I am exhibit "A". I had no practical experience when I started (probably obvious if you watch one of my movies.) I still don't have any.

Some practical advise. Get a DV camera. You can get one for about $250.

Get a Macintosh computer. It will cost you about $1000. It will come with iMovie. I use FinalCut Pro, but any of the films I've made I could have made on iMovie.

Two best pieces of advise I ever got about making movies:

1) Watch old movies and study how they get people in and out of rooms.

2) Anything that's worth doing is worth doing poorly.

Lastly

RUN AWAY!


Peter Brauer
Tue 10 Jun 2008Link

You could also get an internship at a small doc house. You could see how they do things, and then decide if its worth going broke to make a movie. I worked in reality TV a while and learned about cameras and sound. get your hands on a camera and practice. Realize this career generally leads to poverty. what can an internship hurt, and you would be helping some one who needs your help.


Evan Thomas
Tue 10 Jun 2008Link

I graduated with a similar degree a couple of years ago and took out a graduate loan to pay for an introductory film making course in London. Cost about 800 quid at the time and if i'd lived in London it would have been ideal (although it did give me some practical experience for my cv and showed i'd got involved) I didn't live in London (still don't) so i signed up with shootingpeople and was contacted to help out as runner on a short over one weekend.

I should add that this was over a couple of years and also involved lots of dull temping and talking about working in film & television instead of doing it. If you're in London (Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol etc) clearly there are more opportunities – If you like London as a place to live – it's personal preference.

I would say just jump in and get involved. Every project you work on you gain more experience meet more people and gather momentum.

Ultimately my wife worked with someone whos ex worked as a producer and i got their email address and got in touch. Attached my CV had an interview, got a few weeks work experience, then a few more and now i'm full-time. I work as a production coordinator by day and try to work on my own project after work and at the weekend to satisfy my creative aspirations.

Just show them that you are enthusiastic and capable and willing to start early and stay late.

Good luck!


Steve Yu
Mon 16 Jun 2008Link

Hi – I'm not sure if this this is the right place to ask...I did do a search and didn't find any info on finding television commercial archives for use in a doc – we're stumbling a bit through the process of making our film, www.inspiredthemovie.com – and need some good footage of diet ads... any tips? We've gone the route of getting a dvr, but that is so random...would love to find a place that can get us what we need! Thanks in advance...


Mark Barroso
Mon 16 Jun 2008Link

Hi Steve! We met at the Doc Dr's workshop a few months ago. This guy has a great film.

Can you legally use ads in an independent film without their consent? I suppose you've answered that question. If you need their consent anyway, maybe the diet companies will send you their ad. Doesn't hurt to ask. You just need one, right? Have you tried taping during soaps and The View, etc.?

Good to see you on this forum.

Edited Mon 16 Jun 2008 by Mark Barroso

Steve Yu
Mon 16 Jun 2008Link

Hey Mark! We are planning to "fair use" some of these assets. Not yet sure if there will be a cost involved or not – you should check out Bigger, Stronger, Faster at Midtown Art and see how much archival stuff they used! I was surprised at all they used, but I'm guessing they spent some pretty good money on it, because of their producers.

I'm probably going to get an HD DVR to capture more on my own in the meantime! Thanks for your suggestions...


Mari Heavey
Wed 18 Jun 2008Link

Hi, I am new to the D-Word and relatively new to film making. I do have a multi-media background in experiential marketing – business theater mostly. I am looking for a relatively inexpensive video camera to take onsite to Peru to do some B-roll filming. Any suggestions?


Tara Hurley
Wed 18 Jun 2008Link

Hi everyone, sorry I have been out of the loop for a while. In response to Darla, I had to deal with the time code issues too. I am not sure the semantics of all languages as I had to deal with Korean, but let me just suggest again that the fastest, cheapest way I found to do subtitling is buy getting a foreign exchange student in that language and teach them how to subtitle. Use them as an intern (sometimes you can get them for free if they are interested in your project) or pay 10-$20 and hour. That is way less than paying someone to translate, then pick what you want to use as clips. I felt I got to know my "Characters" better this way because I would watch the whole interviews on dvd. It is just a suggestion, but after I spent six months doing it the way you are doing it(on paper), I spent the rest of the time right to dvd and the project ran better.


Monica Williams
Wed 18 Jun 2008Link

Hello everyone,

I haven't posted for a while. I'm currently working on my trailer for www.knowingevil.com. Is there any way to gather high quality images for free? I'm looking for art from the Enlightenment era in Western history, also footage from WWI & II and the Holocaust. Thanks again to Len, for helping with September 11th a while back :) Any help will be most appreciated.


John Burgan
Wed 18 Jun 2008Link

Rights are a huge minefield, as I'm sure you've gathered. The slight advantage here is that you're putting together a trailer which will not be broadcast – or is it for your website?

There was a similar request here a while back – see hidden section for suggestions on WWII material

Show hidden content

Katinka Kraft
Wed 18 Jun 2008Link

I am wondering if anyone might have any recommendations for a tech problem that I am having. It has come to pass that the audio jack in my Canon GL1 camera is not working anymore. I tried to get it fixed once, to know avail. The camera has a little life in it left for fun projects, and we have decent mics.... thus, I am considering venturing into the secondary audio recording unit audio as a match up for the camera. I don't know much about field audio. Does anyone have any recommendations for a hard disk recorder in the reasonably affordable range?


Steve Yu
Wed 18 Jun 2008Link

In reply to Mari Heavey's post on Wed 18 Jun 2008 :

Mari – Take a look at the Canon HV20 with a Beachtek audio adapter...should be able to get one pretty reasonably these days. Not like the pro gear, but the picture quality is pretty amazing for an inexpensive camera. Look at BHPhoto.com Buydig.com, or even at Circuit City...

Good luck!

-Steve


Mark Barroso
Wed 18 Jun 2008Link

In reply to Katinka Kraft's post on Wed 18 Jun 2008 :

I recommend the Zoom for secondary recording. Don't forget the slate slap.


Mark Barroso
Wed 18 Jun 2008Link

In reply to Katinka Kraft's post on Wed 18 Jun 2008 :

The expanding mini-plug jack is an easy fix. Whoever tried to do it didn't know what they were doing. I would send it to an official repair shop.


Monica Williams
Thu 19 Jun 2008Link

In reply to John Burgan's post on Wed 18 Jun 2008 :

Thanks very much John. And it is not for the website, only for funding, so I am lucky to avoid the minefield for now :-)


Monica Williams
Fri 20 Jun 2008Link

I am making a trailer to privately raise money with. If I use this trailer to apply for grants, will I get in trouble if I don't have all of the rights to the material used? I'm not sure if I need to consult a lawyer for this one, but any help will be most appreciated.


Christopher Wong
Fri 20 Jun 2008Link

you won't get in any legal trouble, monica, and people do this ALL the time... the only "trouble" you might get into is if the clips you are using are well-known and absolutely indispensable to your film. The grant agency may question whether you can raise enough money to use such clips. for instance, if you wanted to use MLK's "Dream" speech... but if you use a photo of an old Model-T car, no one's going to blink an eye.


Mikal Jakubal
Sat 21 Jun 2008Link

Another thing to consider is how the owner of the rights to the clips would feel about you using their material to raise money for your film. If it were some corporate newscast or promo film of some mega-bucks rock band, I'd say don't worry about it. <puts on flame-retardant suit> On the other hand, friends of mine—starving documentary filmmakers who risked life and limb to get dramatic footage—have had people cherry-pick their films to make fundraising trailers for their own films, sort of conveniently forgetting to mention to funders that they haven't shot an inch of tape themselves. It really sucks to find out that others are using your work for their fundraising while you yourself are living below the poverty line.

The point is that even if you intend to license the footage at market rates later, if you're using footage owned by a real person who is not a multi-millionaire or faceless corporation, you should have some arrangement with them. Yes, you can probably get away with it, but it's not ethical.


John Burgan
Sat 21 Jun 2008Link

Yes, but hardly relevant here as Monica's looking for historical images – see her original post & project website.


Mikal Jakubal
Sat 21 Jun 2008Link

Oops, I did read the original post, but forgot since it was a couple days ago and never got around to taking a look at the site.


Katinka Kraft
Sat 21 Jun 2008Link

Thank you Mark! I really appreciate your input. Sadly it was Canon who we sent camera to for repair and it worked for 3 months and then malfunctioned again.


Mark Barroso
Sat 21 Jun 2008Link

In reply to Katinka Kraft's post on Sat 21 Jun 2008 :

I sent my DVX out for repair once – for a similar problem, actually – and the shop did a lousy job (Repair Specialists in Tennessee). I found the Panasonic service rep for the entire southeast and he agreed with me, told me which shop I should REALLY send it to (on his dime) and chewed out the shop that failed to fix it properly. "Squeak! Squeak!" said the wheel.


grinner hester
Mon 23 Jun 2008Link

make a reel and get busy.
Take the first job offered and never stop looking for better paying gigs.
My first tv job paid a whopping 3.35 per hour. My next one paid 18k a year at 70 hour work weeks. I did not look at it as being exploited. The year before I was paying good money to learn this craft and now I was getting paid to learn much much more.
sweet.
With every addition to the family, I simply had to quit and get rehired at a different level elsewhere. At one point in my career, I moved my family to five states in as many years, salary climbing and dream-chasing. I worked my way into a six figure salary, a bald head and an ulcer or two.
I'm self employed now. Still love what I do. I pay bills by editing and shooting for clients and I still dream chase by making labor of love productions on a constant basis.
Don't stay in one place too long. It'll make ya feel secure.
I think my record for a staff gig was 2.5 years.


Monica Williams
Mon 23 Jun 2008Link

Thanks for the valuable advice Christopher, Mikal and John :) This takes some of the pressure off.


Eric Klein
Mon 23 Jun 2008Link

Alright: I'm a radio reporter, and I want to buy enough video gear to start making movies next week. These would be short docs for the internet. I want to spend less than $10,000 total on a camera, computer, and software.

I am forming a plan that includes the Canon HV20, an iBook (my apt is too small for a new desktop), and Final Cut. Then I figure I want a wireless lavaliere to supplement my existing "radio" gear. I have a zoom h4.

Keeping in mind that I'd love to upgrade my gear once I pay off this round of credit card debt, where's the best place to cut corners now?

If I'm very proud of a movie that has started life on youtube and then I want to submit it to festivals, what should I know?


Mark Barroso
Tue 24 Jun 2008Link

Eric:
Before you start making any more movies, there's a secret to filmmaking that we all had to learn the hard way, or in my case, pay thousands of dollars. But since you asked, I will tell you. You always should rghopdjjjjjjjjjjjjjj (chokes on pork rind, keels over dead).

Edited Tue 24 Jun 2008 by Mark Barroso

Joe Moulins
Tue 24 Jun 2008Link

Eric...Speaking as a radio reporter who started making movies a few years ago, I'd say you're on the right track. You can make the move for a lot less than $10,000. More like three thousand.

You could make do with Final Cut Express, rather than Pro. It's still an amazingly powerful app, and you'll get a discount when you upgrade to Pro.

Get a Macbook rather than a Macbook Pro, with the smallest drive and the bare minimum of RAM. Upgrade the RAM and hard drive yourself. You can Get 2gb of RAM and 300 GB internal storage for less than $300. Buy a 30 dollar external case for the extra hard drive, which is now your "traveling" media drive. The Macbook will run a 20 inch monitor. Get a couple of massive firewire drives, one for media and one for backup.

With all the money you save, splurge and buy a great microphone.

You'll still be using it long after the Macbook and the Canon camcorder are a memory.

Equipment-wise, this is a great time to be starting out.


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