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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.

jade wu
Sun 18 Apr 2010Link

In reply to Kaoru Wang's post on Fri 16 Apr 2010 :

Kaoru, as I had mentioned before you went to Sundance, you have a great idea and how you tell the story is more important than getting grant app samples. If you can mold a compelling story, the grant will come. How you write a grant for your app will be different from someone else's project. I'd focus on galvanizing the story and be innovative on your distribution strategy. Most of us are still swimming in DIY confusion, so if you think you have a handle on it already, then write it down. I also think your logline is still too vague. I think "Society" and "a world that doesn't exist" are too general. Once you get a better handle on your story, then the logline will be easier to write. Mostly, funding takes time. We all get rejected, sometimes multiple times, before landing funding. If your heart is in the story, it'll get done, with or without, funding.


Ethan Steinman
Wed 21 Apr 2010Link

In reply to Marina Pessoa's post on Mon 5 Apr 2010 :

Marina, in Lima and Arequipa you don't need to bother with permits unless you're looking to film in a national park. The Peruvian national parks usually ask for between US$ 500 and US$ 1,000 a day. If you are in that situation, get in touch with the park beforehand as there is almost always a way of working around these fees. As for a van driver in Lima, unless you are planning on setting up to shoot from the van, you're best off just using taxis. You will never be without one in PerĂº.


Elayne McCabe
Wed 21 Apr 2010Link

Hi, I am currently directing a documentary film on the Indian side of Kashmir on local artists in the aftermath of the conflict. I was wondering if any filmmakers had any fool-proof methods to list and organize Mini-DV tapes and also to import and organize footage on FCP? I feel like somtimes I don't know whether I am organizing things properly and in a useful manner for when I start to edit. Anyone have any tips?Thank you!


Mark Barroso
Thu 22 Apr 2010Link

You are smart to think about this now. It will save you a lot of frustration down the road. I don't know your level of knowledge, but make sure you number the tapes and change the "reel number" when digitizing so that the clips correspond with the tapes. Use the log notes or comment section since they are searchable. Name the clips by subject, date or however you want to organize your movie.

There are loads of tips out there, and I bought this DVD to get me started. It's pretty good, albeit overpriced, but I was desperate at the time.


Noam Osband
Sun 25 Apr 2010Link

I'm a PhD student who's a budding visual anthropologist/documentary filmmaking. I've saved up money for a camera, and I'd love some advice.

I've saved close to 10k for a camera. That being said, I won't be doing the bulk of my shooting for my dissertation for another 2-3 years. I'm tempted to spend around 2k for a camera now, save my money, and make the big splurge in 2-3 years time. I figure the technology will be better for the price if I wait.

Should I do that, what is a good camera in the 2k range? I'd love something with two audio inputs and something gives me multiple options for fps and something with a detachable lens. I'm guessing a 2/3rds chip is insanely greedy given my price range, although if it wasn't too much more or if people thought it was that much better, I'd think about it.

Any thoughts? I've been making movies for a year, so the world is still new to me, but I'm trying to learn as much as I can so any word of advice would be appreciated.


Jeffrey Radice
Sun 25 Apr 2010Link

In reply to Noam Osband's post on Sun 25 Apr 2010 :

Noam, my advice is to save your money until you are ready to make the big purchase. The technology landscape is changing so rapidly that postponing your purchase for 2-3 years until you need the gear will save you money and buy you significantly more product when you are finally ready to spend. If you must get your hands on something now I would suggest one of two routes.

(1) Get the Canon Rebel DSLR (T1I), and a decent lens or two for it, and start getting comfortable with the format and the shortcomings. That's what I would do if that money was burning a hole in my pocket. Then in a couple of years you can upgrade to the best bang for your buck equivalent to the 1D/5D/7D and you'll already be comfortable with the format and have lenses that fit your upgrade. You will not go wrong with DSLR as a format choice. The adoption rate there with filmmakers is phenomenal.

(2) Alternately, go low end and get a flip HD camera. It is small, cheap, and gives decent enough output. The advantages are that you are more likely to carry it with you, and it would not be obtrusive when you do break it out. This would allow you to cheaply spend the next couple of years getting comfortable busting out your video camera and thinking about shooting always. In my opinion, documentary is as much about the quality of the equipment as it is about the visual eye of the cinematographer and just being there with a camera shooting. This would allow you to spend a few years learning on the cheap and developing a visual eye, so when you are ready to spend more bucks you have developed a better sense of what your priorities are.

Also don't neglect sound in your budget. You'll need an external sound recorder and higher end mics, which means less to spend on a camera. If you did end up spending $10k on a setup, I'd recommend 60:40 ratio of spend on video to audio at least. Audio is far too neglected by new filmmakers, and it's at least half of your presentation in a film.

Edited Sun 25 Apr 2010 by Jeffrey Radice

Noam Osband
Tue 27 Apr 2010Link

I'm skeptical of the DSLR's because you can only shoot 12 minutes at a time. Similarly, the HD camera is way below what I want equipment-wise, both in terms of image quality, but far more importantly, sound. I'm hoping to find a camera that has XLR inputs. With that in mind, are there any cameras you can think of that do HD, have XLR inputs, and get good HD images in the 2-2.5k range?

thanks for the help!


Jeffrey Radice
Tue 27 Apr 2010Link

In reply to Noam Osband's post on Tue 27 Apr 2010 :

I was skeptical of the 12 minute limit too, but it's proven to be less of a practical concern than I anticipated. There is a long history (and workflows) for dealing with those types of issues ... super-8 and 16 both had carts with similar constraints. You are doing yourself a disservice ruling out the platform for that reason alone. Also, the Panasonic GH1 does not suffer from the exact same issue.

I don't know of anything that meets your criteria. Any camera in that price range, even if it has XLR in, is going to make audio sacrifices. You're better off with an external recorder and sync sound, using the camera for dual-system to make the sync easier in post.

Don't rule out a flip video camera either. If you spend the next two years indoctrinating yourself to bring the camera everywhere and to use it always and focusing on your technique, you'll get a lot more for a lot less – and you'll know exactly what you want/need when the time comes to buy the full setup. It's less about the gear and more about the mindset and "eye" than you might think.


Noam Osband
Wed 28 Apr 2010Link

Thanks for help with thinking about a camera. Some audio advice would be helpful too. Vis-a-vis audio, my thinking is that I'd like a shotgun mic, two wireless lavs, and a sound mixer. I'm thinking of a shotgun attached to the camera and not a boom pole because much, if not most, of the shooting I'll be doing in the near future will be a solo job.

A few questions then:
1 – In looking at a camera, should I only want something with XLR inputs or is something like a Beachtek sufficient if the camera has no XLR inputs

2 – Even if it does have XLR inputs, is an audio mixer a good idea? It seems from speaking with the people I've spoken to that it is.

3 – In many ways, what I buy depends on my budget which isn't yet set. I'm willing to spend a couple thousand on audio if it is that much of a step up from cheaper things, although I'm not planning on buying top of the line. I have no sense for how much better a $1,000 shotgun is from a $500. With that in mind, any recommendation for any of the audio equipment?

In terms of what I'm shooting, I'd like versatility. The longer project/dissertation is a documentary about migration to Arkansas which will include both individual interviews and crowd scenes at events. I'd love to have versatility with my equipment so I feel like I can have a decent chance at getting good sound no matter what I'm shooting.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated!!!!


Jeffrey Radice
Thu 29 Apr 2010Link

In reply to Noam Osband's post on Wed 28 Apr 2010 :

Noam, my best advice is find an audio geek local to you, pick their brain, and see if they can demonstrate the differences in quality of different pieces of gear to you.


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