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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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Monica Williams
Wed 25 Jun 2008Link

Is anyone familiar with the use of European and American art (17th-20th century) in documentary film? If so, I am looking for any information that will be useful as I make preparations for a trip to Europe to gather images. I have talked with The Bridgeman Art Library (a provider of high-res images for a price) but I'm wondering if there are cheaper ways to get rights to use images from museums. Is something older than 200 years, passed its copyright? Do I still need permission to use these older images? Is it fairly easy to obtain permission or a minefield? Any information regarding this area of documentary will be highly valued.


John Burgan
Wed 25 Jun 2008Link Tag

I think you should be OK for old paintings, but you probably would need a license from the photographer/museum to use the photograph although the work of art itself is in the public domain.

If you have a few hours free, you might wish to browse through this link: http://www.law.harvard.edu/faculty/martin/art_law/image_rights.htm
Edited Wed 25 Jun 2008 by John Burgan

Jo-Anne Velin
Fri 27 Jun 2008Link

Monica, if you are shooting a painting hanging in a European museum, just contact their press person and explain the not for profit nature of, etc., if this is the case. Over here they might treat you like a regular journalist and allow you free or almost free use within your film, if the images are presented a certain way (I am guessing criteria will change from place to place). As you know, you'll need to get releases and whatnot, no matter what.

Stills: some museums have been digitising some of their collections, but not all.

If you want to share where you are going in Europe, great.

If to Berlin, and if to shoot specific pictures or objects, you're welcome to email me and I can phone around for you here to get a starter answer and contacts' names for you. (You'll also need to send me your film's story and provide any other amunition to help open doors).


Terri Hartley
Sun 29 Jun 2008Link

I've read through lots of the posts before making my own and I am curious. There have been a few people who shoot loads of footage and then seem to review it to find their story later. Stupid question, and I dont mean to sound like an ass, but dont you go in with a (if not the) story already in mind? I was half (and not the creative half) of a karaoke doc some years ago. I was the person getting releases signed, lining up the next interview, working the crowd, manning the equipment, and operating the camera. The vision of what that story would be was not mine, not my project. I shot what I was told to shoot.

Now I am shooting in Thailand where the story is whatever I find and want to tell. How common is it that the doc is shot in such a way that you just get as much footage in general as you can and decipher the story later? I like to have a plan but I would say that is working against me here.


Wolfgang Achtner
Sun 29 Jun 2008Link

Terri,

It can happen that you may start to shoot a story without a precise idea of where it's going. You haven't really explained what you're doing so it's hard to know how to help.

First of all, it may sound obvious but, as a general rule, it's not a good idea to try to tell more than one story at a time.

Secondly, don't expect that if you shoot a lot when you return home you'll automatically have a story. You might end up with a lot of (pretty) wallpaper and nothing else.

This much I can say: since the best stories are usually character driven, I would suggest that – while you are on location – you ought to try to find one or two subjects who will be the protagonists of your story.

Try to tell the the small story as a way of telling the bigger story; what I mean here is that by telling the in-depth the story of your subjects, you should be able to tell the bigger story or how whatever it is relates to them, influences their lives, etc.

If you want more – and more helpful – suggestions, you need to go into greater detail as to what you're doing, why you're doing it and what you expect to say. The answers to these questions might help you restrict your field of action and help you come up with a specific story idea. In any case, if you find one or two strong (and interesting) characters, you'll most likely be able to find out whatever story it is that you ought to be concentrating on.


Terri Hartley
Sun 29 Jun 2008Link

Thank you very much for your reply. Your comments are very helpful.

To give you more detail, there is a guy from the states who basically chucked everything he had stateside (penthouse apt, Lexus, very cushiony job in advertising) and now lives very much hand to mouth, operating a legit charity overseas. I am trying to get the story of what drives a person to make a decision like that. Turns out he is a super SUPER quirky individual, not in a nutcase way, but in a very funny way. I've interviewed his family stateside already and they also are very personable on camera. The other volunteers, also very camera friendly. My problem has been this guy. The MAIN GUY! HE goes all deer-in-the-headlights as soon as the camera comes out of the bag.

So far, I have shot around him but its do or die time for me. It is like he is pure gold...as long as the camera is not rolling. But he clams up and is like a sack of potatoes if he thinks I am recording. I am wondering how much of a story I might salvage if things continue this way. Would it be possible to build a story around an "absent" character if enough input is given by those in his immediate orbit? The main struggle this guy faces is how he can get more traffic to his website, which is his only source of funding for charity projects, and all the stuff he goes through in that struggle (such as a live webcast of a record breaking karaoke event coming up). Thank goodness I am not having to pitch this idea because my words dont do it justice really. But he is everything you would dream of in a central figure for character....all except for that teensy issue about being a garden stone when I'm rolling.

I do have a secondary storyline of sorts...not storyline so much as a profile of two young students he found in the streets and was able to get in to a school again after not being able to go for two years. That was supposed to be my "touching" serious segment against the main comedic line the rest of the doc dances with. I've been following their progress from the streets to the classroom and how they are adjusting.

So there is a tiny bit of it. Any other comments to help me deal with this obstacle would be greatly appreciated. I very much like the comment about telling the smaller story as a way of telling the bigger story. Gives me something to consider there.


Robert Goodman
Sun 29 Jun 2008Link

My suggestion is to follow the guy around long enough that you and the camera disappear. Don't interview him shoot him going through the course of his day. At first he will freak out but after a week or two you'll become background wallpaper. Get his cooperation and promise him that you'll protect him despite his fear of the camera.


Doug Block
Sun 29 Jun 2008Link

Terri, Wolfgang has great advice and I agree with Robert's suggestion, too. I would add that instead of thinking of an interview as something sit-down and formal, that you pop the occasional question to your subject as you're filmming the b-roll. Often doing something physical relaxes a subject, and it often makes for more interesting and intimate interviews.


Paul Kloeden
Mon 30 Jun 2008Link

Just remember the sound. Mike him up in the morning with a lapel mic and then just film around him. You'll be surprised at what he says when the camera (but not the mic) is pointing in a different direction. Think of sound and vision as potentially separate elements.

And don't forget to make sure that any red recording light on the camera is turned off.


Terri Hartley
Mon 30 Jun 2008Link

All comments are appreciated. I have tried following him, even sneaking the camera out while on the back of his motorbike as he was pulled over and talking to me over his shoulder. He turned his head and mid-sentence said "OH! That's on?!" and shut up. If I wasnt so aggravated, I would find that funny.

I will give all suggestions a shot (no pun intended). Thanks!


Tony Comstock
Mon 30 Jun 2008Link

Try sleeping with him. I hear it sometimes works.


Terri Hartley
Mon 30 Jun 2008Link

Edit: I will try all but Tony's suggestions. There is, fortunately or unfortunately, a limit to what I will do for my craft. ;)


Mark Barroso
Mon 30 Jun 2008Link

He's worried your camera/doc will reveal something he's hiding or running away from. Whether a pimple on his nose or a past as an ax murderer, something's going on in there. If you don't want to dig around and find out, ask him straight out what's the frickin' problem here, dude?

Edited Mon 30 Jun 2008 by Mark Barroso

Doug Block
Mon 30 Jun 2008Link

On camera, of course ;-)


Mark Barroso
Mon 30 Jun 2008Link

Of course.


Terri Hartley
Tue 1 Jul 2008Link

HA! I'll keep working on it. I have his tentative agreement not to fight this thing and hopefully, his personality won't take a vacation in the interim.


Theresa Tall
Tue 1 Jul 2008Link

I was told you can't buy an ibook, you have to buy a macbook pro becasue the ibook doesnt support final cut pro. that's what apple told me...i'd double check that though. good luck!


Theresa Tall
Tue 1 Jul 2008Link

Hey there –- still haven't combed through many of these posts, confused about order. I'm hoping someone can help. The series I want to create is a three part series – one of the parts involves just shooting one subject talking for about 20 muinutes in a setting like a park or an office. I dont have a camera, lighting kit, lavalier or anything. Since this part of the production is fairly straightforward (hardly any subject movement, same location, only one subject being shot) I was going to put out an ad to get some grad film student with gear or access to gear to shoot it with me present to work with the subject. I can buya new computer so the person I hire can store the footage (I will be working with multipple subjects/different shoots, so the footage will add up), is it reasonable for them to get an assciate producer credit if i am not paying them? i am not paying them becasue i dont have money but of course I'd liek to make this worth their while as well.
also, I just took an intensive guerrilla fillmmaking class (taight me some basics) where they said in Febriary 2008 the new US standard for all TVS is HD, all the networks have to switch over (so he says). So if I plan to air this on internet with the thought in the back of my mind that one day this may be aired on network or cable television and also screened on a big screen, should I put in the ad that the people who aplpy for this job MUST have a HD camera, and also do all HD cameras do a good job of being able to have great picture quiality on the web AND on tv/big screen? I know, newbie questions. please help, thanks!


Monica Williams
Wed 2 Jul 2008Link

Thank you to John and Jo-Anne :-)

Jo-Anne, I would really appreciate your offer of help as I want to come to Berlin and I'm not sure exactly where to go. I can send my one page treatment to you. I'm not sure how to email you, but you can email me through my website, www.knowingevil.com. Thanks again and talk to you soon.


Mike West
Sat 5 Jul 2008Link

Hey guys,

I'm about to embark on my first documentary, and I'd like to know what gear you guys use.... I was thinking of using an HVX, lavs and just practical available lighting as its more of an urban themed documentary.

Am I missing anything?


Andrew David Watson
Mon 7 Jul 2008Link

A good shotgun mic might help catch some of the action. The HVX isnt the best low light camera so depending on the shoot maybe consider some type of lighting. Tripod? Extra batteries? Camera Bag? Those can be important as well. With that said, dont worry to much about gear and focus on the story.


Mark Barroso
Mon 7 Jul 2008Link

Books, DVD's, websites for techy info, unless you're doing art for family and friends. Volunteer to shoot weddings, ballgames, rodeos to learn to work under pressure.

And yes, you're missing a lovely intern.


Timothy S. McCarty
Mon 7 Jul 2008Link

I agree with ADW! Don't wory about technical stuff, they're just tools to tell your story. Mike, especially for your first doc, really focus on your story and what the slant is. Target audience? Who will you interview to give your doc credibility? Who is your "expert" on your subject? Think about the kinds of answers you want and then develop really open-ended questions to get those answers (and more!) in the on-camera interview...

Focus heavily on all aspects of pre-production; locations, setting up interviews, scheduling b-roll shoots when, where etc... By doing all of this pre-production, you begin to establish your technical requirements, i.e. that the HVX isn't the best low light camera, 30p or 24p? That I'm gonna needs lights, a boom mic if I've got multiple folks talking during interviews, or, I need a lav mic, or a wireless mic system etc...

As I tell my high school and college video students, there's no such thing as too much planning! Good luck!


Mark Barroso
Mon 7 Jul 2008Link

Yes. It's called the 6 P's: Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance.

That includes learning the technical stuff. I disagree with you, Tim. Real filmmakers don't use the Auto-everything setting, just as real photographers don't use point and shoot cameras. To use your analogy, anyone can buy tools, but a true craftsman learns how to use them from a master – in person or from books/DVDs. It can save you a lot of time and frustration.

Practice, practice, practice.


Sara Peak Convery
Mon 7 Jul 2008Link Tag

I would like advice about mounting a camera inside a moving car, for view through the front window. I was able to rig my tripod in the passenger seat, which worked fine as long as the road I was driving on was smooth--not usually the case with rural highways, certainly not with gravel roads. Wondering if anyone has a good suggestion for 'shock absorbers' for the camera. I have tried this with a PD100 and VX2000. I tried handheld but found there was more overall camera movement than I wanted though less 'jittery-ness'.

Edited Tue 8 Jul 2008 by Sara Peak Convery

Erica Ginsberg
Mon 7 Jul 2008Link

Sara, have you thought of getting one of these


Tony Comstock
Mon 7 Jul 2008Link

In reply to Sara Peak Convery's post on Mon 7 Jul 2008 :

When I used to do ariels we'd sometimes use a multidimensional bungie cord rig. You could cobble something together from home depot for lessthan $20.

Also you might simply try adding weight to yoru PD100. I've got a pair of well used PD100a camera. Great little camera, but so light they "twitch" a lot when handheld. Try mounting on a 20lbs plate and handhold. You'll be surprise how much the added intertia dampens the motion.

HTH.


Wolfgang Achtner
Mon 7 Jul 2008Link

Sara,

If the road is VERY bumpy, as in off-road conditions, (almost) any kind of rig will get some bumps.

It the conditions aren't that bad, the cheapest way to do this is to hold your arms attached close to your chest and hold the camera with your left hand beneath it and your right hand on the right side. If you've preset your focus and have pre-framed your shot, ideally NOT on maximum telephoto but as wide as possible (but not so wide that you'll be including the inside of car in the shot), and you concentrate and relax, without stiffening your arms, this grip will allow you to act as a natural shock absorber.

Usually, this method has worked just fine for me. Some bumps are "natural"; by this I mean that if it is clearly visible that there are bumps in the road, the occasional bump won't disturb the viewer because they will see that you are travelling on bumpy terrain.

As a matter of fact, all of those mounts – from the indicated web site – are quite rigid and would work well only on a normal, smooth, highway.

I'm quite confident that if you're not using a large camera for this shot – I normally use my small (second camera) in these cases – the indications I have given you should allow you to manage just fine, unless (as I pointed out above) you're travelling on really bumpy terrain.

Edited Mon 7 Jul 2008 by Wolfgang Achtner

Wolfgang Achtner
Mon 7 Jul 2008Link

Sara,

Of the two cameras you mentioned, I'd use the PD100 for this shot.

As I said, relaxation is the key. Breath slowly and hold the camera firmly but loosly. To get the idea, try holding your hands (without the camera) in the position I indicated and move them slowly up and down (as though they were attached to a big spring). You'll notice that you can move them smoothly and without shaking.

Do the same thing when you're holding the camera and you'll be able to absorb most bumps.

To check your shot, open the side viewfinder and tilt it upwards so you can control your shot just by glancing downwards, every now and then.

Once you've found the appropriate height (one that allows you to see the road without framing the dashboard, position your hands close to your chest (you don't want the muscles in your arms to tense up) , hold the camera firmly while keeping your hands loose so they will cushion the eventual bump and off you go!

Remember to stay relaxed because if you tense up you won't be able to cushion the camera and compensate for the bumps!

Edited Mon 7 Jul 2008 by Wolfgang Achtner

Timothy S. McCarty
Tue 8 Jul 2008Link

In reply to "Mark Barroso's post on Mon 7 Jul 2008:

Mark,
Apologies for the misunderstanding... I never mentioned using any gear in auto. Nor did I mean to imply one (editorial vs technical) was more important than the other. My point was, as ADW pointed out, for this first timer to focus his efforts first on honing his story. I did not mean said effort should come at the expense of technical mastery. That's a parallel and ongoing effort.

And as to your notion of "real," as you said so well, 'prior planning..." I always carry a point and shoot (I prefer the term 'Happy Snap') camera in my bag (Canon S50), it lives right next to my Mark IIn. I've used it many times when playing the "tourist" and needed to get the shot. I've yet to have an editor ask, "Did you shoot that with a 'real' camera?"

Lets agree he should 'practice, practice, practice' both!


Sara Peak Convery
Tue 8 Jul 2008Link

In reply to Wolfgang Achtner's post on Mon 7 Jul 2008 :

thanks for the detailed description--I was starting to think i would need to resort to that to get what i am looking for. I was hoping to figure out a way to run the camera while i was driving solo, but i think i will have more luck finding a driver than a perfectly smooth road.


Sara Peak Convery
Tue 8 Jul 2008Link

In reply to Tony Comstock's post on Mon 7 Jul 2008 16:23 CST :

I am curious about how you rig that--could you describe? Is there a person holding the rig or can it run remotely?


Sara Peak Convery
Tue 8 Jul 2008Link

I am also wondering about ways to rig for a car interview (presuming a relatively smooth road), in particular, trying to get a 2 shot, frontal view... or am i just dreaming? Does anyone have personal experience with any of the filmtools rigs mentioned above for this?

Edited Tue 8 Jul 2008 by Sara Peak Convery

Tony Comstock
Tue 8 Jul 2008Link

Oh. Solo. I didn't get that part.

The key is mass and dampening. The mass is provided by the weight of the camera and whatever weight you add. The dampening is a combo of bungies (like springs in a car) and the operator (sort of taking the shock absorber role.) Sort of a poor-mans fixed steadicam rig. I don't see it working solo

I think your best option is maffer clamps and magic arms, and short focal length. The wider the angle of view, the less noticiable the bouncing and shaking will be. Play around to find a wide to shoot yourself wide angle that doesn't look too distorted.

I don't think two angles is a pipe dream. In fact, it's probably a good idea (The reason I bought my pair of PD100a cameras was so that I could have two angles in a shoulder carryable kit.)


Mark Barroso
Tue 8 Jul 2008Link

Sara:
Depending on how important the two shot is for you, I would rent a three point suction rig and mount on the hood of the car, which can be seen on the same page Erica sent you to. It's a lot easier to use than it looks.
For inside or outside of the car, you should use a wide angle adapter – even fisheye lenses look good used from the passenger seat.


Tim:
I've seen too many docs where the filmmaker had a great story but killed it with poor technical skills. I don't know Mike, or you, so maybe my advice was unwarranted, but my first reaction to first timers (including myself) is to learn the camera before you start shooting. Point and shoot is an aesthetic that works for some situations, but not all. It would suck to be in one where that look won't work for you.


Timothy S. McCarty
Tue 8 Jul 2008Link

Hey Mark,
I'm sure there are just as many bad scripts attempted to be shot by really good camera ops (probably both of us have done it many times) who knew their gear and their stuff, and still couldn't save them. I'm sticking with honing both skills.

And I'll let ya know how many times I sneak out my 'happy snap' in lieu of my Mark II in Beijing...

As to knowing me, I'd at least bet we know some peeps in common 'round the NC area.


Sara Peak Convery
Tue 8 Jul 2008Link

Again-thanks all! will try out the suggestions...


Andrew David Watson
Thu 10 Jul 2008Link

okay okay, what i more so meant was not to worry about having the newest or best gear. For example, cant afford a shotgun mic? Figure out how to get the best sound with the on camera mic mix with the lav mics. Yes, you gotta know how to use your gear, but some people (and mike this has nothing to do with you) worry wayyyyy to much about having the latest camera and hottest gear. The best camera isnt going to help if a) your story sucks b) you have no idea how to use it.


Timothy S. McCarty
Fri 11 Jul 2008Link

agreed.


Marshall Burgtorf
Wed 16 Jul 2008Link

Our latest project is on violence in youth sports. I found a package that aired on Good Morning America last year while surfing Youtube. Does anyone know the best way to approach GMA about the use of their archival footage? My Producer spoke with our film commission and all they said was that we would not be able to afford it. I think she was talking about stock footage in general though. Any ideas?


Mark Barroso
Thu 17 Jul 2008Link

I think ABC charges $65 a second. GMA's video is with ABC in NY. Call 212-456-4040 and ask for archives. It's pretty straight forward, no inside deals.


Marshall Burgtorf
Thu 17 Jul 2008Link

Thanks! I give them a call and see what we can work out.


Amira Dughri
Sun 20 Jul 2008Link

Hi all!

I am so amazed by how helpful everyone is on this forum. I am just finishing up college and about to enter the world of documentaries and this feels like a friendly community to mull about in. Well, I'm posting because I'm working on my first 'real' docs. I have made a 5 minute doc in the past but that was more of an exercise. Now, I'm currently in post-production on a documentary (my final college endeavor) about one of the nation's top college magazines, Flux. I am the director and editor and was one of the camera crew. Anyway, we followed 40+ students, focusing on a handful of people, for apprx 3 months and shot apprx 150 hours of footage. I have only worked on short pieces with around 20 hours of footage. Now I've got 150 hours? Oh geez, this is a whole new ball game. I also have about 30 hours of interviews. I have done my research and read a lot on how people organize footage with scene boards and colored post-its and xml sheets. I even read Walter Murch's book on how he edited Cold Mountain using Final Cut Pro. I decided to log in Avid (which is unfamiliar to me but love how I can organize footage) and export the logs as PDFs for reference as I capture the footage in FCP. I've written a rough outline of all the footage and what I think are the main points so far. But I'm getting a bit overwhelmed with all the footage and the fact that I don't know how to use it to tell a story. I go to a journalism school where I've learned how to report the news. Now, I want to tell a more narrative story through video but don't know even how to begin developing characters and plot. I know story is the key. I know about the basic elements that make a story. But how do I apply those rules I learned in English class to video? Anyone with previous cinema verite documentaries or, well, anyone with any advice as I move into the process of a) logistically organizing the footage and b) using that footage to tell a story would be sooo very much appreciated.


Carlos Gomez
Sun 20 Jul 2008Link

I'm one of the least experienced people here Amira, but one thing that helps me when editing is to first think of what I want to say and then look for the footage I can say it with, instead of going the other way around, which would be something like asking yourself what can I say with all this footage?

Obviously you need to become very familiar with the footage first. Try to be open minded when you're watching it. Then forget about it, just "close your eyes" and "conjure up" your story. Then just try to tell it clearly with the footage you have. This can keep you from being overwhelmed and falling in love with footage you don't need.

As to narrative vs journalistic styles I'd say don't worry about that. Just make sure you know what you're trying to say and that you're saying it. You'll develop your own style over time.


Larry Vaughn
Sun 20 Jul 2008Link

Back in 1984 or so I went to Guatemala with 3 other people and photographed some activities of the Guatemalan army and medical volunteers who traveled from the USA to give aid to the locals there. I stayed with the Guatemalan Army in Nebah, in the mountains, at the Sanidad Militar. At the time I was working for a newspaper but retained the rights to the photos. I still have a quantity of the 35mm Ektachrome slides which I can make available to people who might have an interest.


Larry Vaughn
Sun 20 Jul 2008Link

In reply to Joe Moulins's post on Tue 24 Jun 2008 :

True, I have a MacBook bought 6/2007. Despite what Apple says, I have 3 gigs of ram in it, so you might as well max out the ram as well. The current ones will use 4 gigs. FCP works too, although Motion won't.


Larry Vaughn
Mon 21 Jul 2008Link

In reply to Wolfgang Achtner's post on Fri 23 May 2008 :

I picked up a new Maxtor 300 gigabyte external hard drive with Firewire 400 and USB 2 ports from Office Max back in April for $79.00. It was not advertised but there it was on the shelf. Works fine with my MacBook.


Ramona Diaz
Mon 21 Jul 2008Link

Hi Amira,

After you've logged your footage, come up with a ten best list, or twenty to start and then go down to ten. The ten best list should be comprised of the golden moments of your film – the "I can't believe we got that on film" moments, the moments that you still talk about after hours and months of filming. This is where you should really be disciplined because you can't really have a top fifty list, or forty or thirty, even twenty is pushing it. Then arrange those moments in order (depending on your narrative structure – linear, non linear etc) and the rest is filling the gaps to lead up to those moments in the most effective, dramatic, and magical way. And along the way you'll move things around and loose some moments too.

I know I'm making it sound easier that it seems. It's tough but this is one way to not get overwhelmed by your footage and to somehow get on top of it.


Lora Covrett
Mon 21 Jul 2008Link

Is anyone working on a project at the Democratic National Convention?


Jo-Anne Velin
Mon 21 Jul 2008Link

Ramona, that's a brilliantly simple way of explaining how to work backwards. Ten sounds right.


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