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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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Linda Wasson
Mon 31 Jan 2011Link

Martin,

first q – you should always be editing off a firewire drive for many reasons, much of what has to do w/how FCP operates. also it doesn't have to be a 5400; I have 2 of those and 1 7200 drive; they all work pretty much the same. However, if you are editing HD, then you will probably see a difference w/the 7200 but your processing speed will likely be the limit rather than the external.

you can actually run into some problems with a USB drive so please do stay away from those when running FCP.

your backup files should be on your hard drive; it's called the Autosave vault and you should find it in your documents dir which is the default when you loaded FCP unless you changed it. you can set it in your system preferences in FCP.

next q about transcoding files – didn't really understand what you were referring to until someone mentioned App Prores 422; I export all my files in this codec even if I've imported into FC as another such as H.264. just import the files and change it in your settings; you can also click on the timeline, then go to your settings for your sequence (go to Sequence, settings, you have to be in the timeline or it will be grayed out) and set your codec there for prores or whatever.

fyi, if you join D-word as a member you can post over in the FCP section as well as editing.


Linda Wasson
Mon 31 Jan 2011Link

In reply to Randy Lee's post on Mon 31 Jan 2011 :

your backup is in Autosave vault which is on your hard drive; you set it in your FCP preferences so yes, you do have a b/u on a different drive.


Errol Webber
Tue 1 Feb 2011Link

Your opinion guys. I know some production people in the film industry may not take well to unsolicited contact about video work, but if you were to stumble upon a production company of which you like their work and would like to shoot for them on their upcoming projects, what is a good way (notice I said "good" way, because there's probably no "best" way) to approach them so they aren't initially turned off by your unsolicited contact? A phone call first? An email first? Both consecutively? A phone call to set up a meeting (if they are in the same city/state?) I have an approach I've used for years, which works out fine most times, but I want to know your opinions.

Ever since I started doing video in '03, I've worked mainly from referrals, so my former clients usually do the trumpet-blowing for me when it came to future projects with other directors/producers. But every once in a while I will find a project that I'm interested in and would like to work on, and I sometimes scratch my head, thinking of how to approach this particular person/production company.

What are your thoughts? If you ran a decent-sized production company that's been around for years or was a producer of a newly conceived film, how would YOU prefer potential shooters contacting you? Would you even mind them contacting you? And if you WOULD mind, what was the turn-off?


Randy Lee
Tue 1 Feb 2011Link

Do you know of anywhere that someone involved hangs out? Or a group that they're a member of? I'm a member of MCA-I here in Madison, WI, and have been able to get a foot in the door on several great projects by keeping in contact with people that I've met through the meetings.

Otherwise I can't see an email with a phone call follow-up hurting – have a reel or website ready, of course, but it can't hurt. Some places don't want outside involvement, or don't keep track of good people until it's time to hire, but some do, and are happy to keep your card in the rolodex – I'd say at least try contacting someone there. Research the place a little first, see if there's a particular person who you should ask for, and take it from there. I know that at the company that I work for, if someone calls when we don't have a call out for resumes, they'll be sent to some middle-management guy who's goal is to send you on your way as quickly as possible. If you know the name of our DP, though, or an editor, and ask for one of them, you're in in no time.


Errol Webber
Tue 1 Feb 2011Link

Thank you, Randy. Some good information, especially that note at the end about how big production companies think.


Doug Block
Tue 1 Feb 2011Link

Errol, it's hard to imagine someone being turned off by an email genuinely expressing appreciation for my company and wanting to become a part of it. They may not respond enthusiastically (and that's their loss), but why would they be upset?


Neil Orman
Wed 2 Feb 2011Link

Can anyone advise me on the simplest way to light interview subjects, as a one man band? Next week I'm doing a shoot in a house with lots of windows and pretty good light. Whenever possible, I hope to take advantage of natural light. But I just want to be prepared should I need to throw some light on a subject. In the past I've used kinoflos and lit people with the people of a PA, but this time I need to keep it to just me. And I don't want to be messing with c-stands, sandbags and the like. Any advice would be hugely appreciated.


Ron Osgood
Wed 2 Feb 2011Link

Neil – try to use the natural light as your main source and add a reflector to the opposite side. Or use a soft box, umbrella or diffused light as your key and the window as your fill. Don't forget to use CTB to match to daylight. Of course figuring out how to add a back light is important.


Neil Orman
Wed 2 Feb 2011Link

Much appreciated, Ron.


Avery Morgan
Thu 3 Feb 2011Link

I am making a short (10 minute) historical documentary. I have all of the important information, but so far the documentary is a little boring. Any advice on how to make it a little more interesting while still professional?


Laura Moire Paglin
Thu 3 Feb 2011Link

I'd have to know a little more about what it's about. But the key with any documentary is to remember that you are still telling a story. The story is more important than imparting facts and information.Think about Ken Burn's documentaries. Also figure out why you're using a visual medium to tell the story. What can you communicate in a visual way? Watch lots of historical documentaries. Try to figure out what makes you like them and figure out how you can apply that to your project.

Edited Thu 3 Feb 2011 by Laura Moire Paglin

Avery Morgan
Sat 5 Feb 2011Link

Thank you very much for your help. I will try to keep that in mind and will follow your advice before I start filming and putting together information. Also, the documentary is on Susan B. Anthony and her work as a suffragist for Women's Rights if that helps.


Dean Lenoir
Tue 8 Feb 2011Link

Hey, can anyone provide some general advice on which of the following cameras would be better to use:

Canon XH A1
or
Canon EOS 7D

Someone is letting me borrow the XH A1 for a couple of months to shoot a documentary I'm working on, but I can also get access to a Canon 7D through school. I also have access to professional lighting and audio equipment through school, compatible with both cameras, so I don't see that as much of a factor (although I am new to filmmaker, so maybe it is).

The lens that I have for the 7D are the following:
Nikon DX Af-S Nikkor 35mm 1:1.89
Canon EF-S 18-135mm lens

In terms of image quality, which do you all think is best? Also, do you think that I could use both, or would there be a noticeable difference between the two?

I am really new to film-making, so any advice here would help!


Nigel Walker
Tue 8 Feb 2011Link

If you are really new to filmmaking I would strongly recommend the XH A1. The DSLR's have a variety of issues that have been well documented and although there are work arounds for many of them I would focus all your energy into making a film not dealing with the equipment.


Dean Lenoir
Tue 8 Feb 2011Link

Great point Nigel, indeed I think I will go with the XH A1. Thanks for the advice :)


Errol Webber
Tue 8 Feb 2011Link

Dean, I would get neither. The XH A1 only shoots HDV, which is QUICKLY becoming less favorable. I would recommend getting a Sony EX1R if you're a beginning filmmaker. It shoots XDCAM which isn't disappearing for a while, shoots at a significantly higher bit rate and gets a truer white balance in MY opinion.

Video shot on a Canon XH A1 Video Camera tends to have this greenish brown tinge to it even when you supposedly have correct white balance. There is a technical reason for this, but I won't go into that detail. Also, with the Sony EX3, you have more handling options thanks to its ergonomic hand-grip.

But yeah, if the ONLY options were XH A1 or 7D, I'd choose the XH A1 for the same reason Nigel said.


Randy Lee
Wed 9 Feb 2011Link

I would definitely make use of the 7D while you've got it available though, too. It's a great tool when used properly, and there are enough people using it that avoiding using it is a bad idea, because you never know when it'll pop up as what you need to use. But as far as focusing on telling a story and learning video gear go, definitely the XH A1.


Angela Snow
Mon 14 Feb 2011Link

I've been approached by a distribution company in Europe regarding my first documentary film.

I've never gotten to this stage before and am looking for advice on international distribution. I would really appreciate any and all information, from basic to specific.

My main specific questions are
-Is it normal / OK to give exclusive distro rights for all of Europe or internationally to one company? Do you often pick distributors based on countries and break it up that way?
-What are some questions that I can ask them to discover what level of a distributor they are? WHAT SHOULD I KNOW? How can I make sure they have the contacts / experience / can get my film out there...
-What % is normal for a distributor to take as a commission of sales and pre-sales?


Doug Block
Mon 14 Feb 2011Link

Angela, first of all, congrats for getting your first film made, and for doing it well enough for there to be interest from a distributor.

For U.S. filmmakers, it's pretty typical to have a distributor (and sometimes even a sales agent, if there's theatrical potential) for domestic distribution and another company handling sales for international distribution (especially, broadcast). Since most of your international sales will be to broadcasters, you don't need a distributor in each country. You just need one sales agent who can approach all the broadcasters at markets like the EFM in Berlin and MIP in Cannes.

The best ways to tell if this company is legit are to check out the films they have in their catalogue, check out their website to see how well they promote the films online and contact the producers of some of their films and see what their experience has been like. Did the company work hard for them and make sales? Have they been reliable in their reports and payments? Were they easy to communicate and collaborate with? Stuff like that.

I've found it pretty typical for an international sales agent (or distributor acting as one) to charge a 30 to 35% fee for their sales. I think it's generally less for pre-sales (25%?), but I'm not sure how common it is anymore for them to actively look for pre-sales.


Angela Snow
Mon 14 Feb 2011Link

Doug,
Thanks so much, that's the best feedback I've gotten thus far in my quest. So, it is normal to contact past producers that worked with them? I've gotten this advice before. Most are European films that I'm having trouble hunting down contact details for, would I / could I ask the company for referrals?

This company is pretty small, so trying to determine if that can be a good / ok thing.

THANKS!


Laura Moire Paglin
Mon 14 Feb 2011Link

Angela – It's absolutely acceptable and normal. And if the company is reluctant – that ought to be a red flag.


Doug Block
Mon 14 Feb 2011Link

I agree with Laura, and they'll steer you to the producers who they know are happiest. You might want to use your internet detective skills to track down other producers they don't list.

In the meantime, you should register for professional membership here, which will give you access to all 50 of our discussion topics.


Daniel McGuire
Tue 15 Feb 2011Link

And don't forget the overhead clause...<http://vimeo.com/14071168>


Mark Barroso
Tue 15 Feb 2011Link

that's some funny stuff


Jo-Anne Velin
Tue 15 Feb 2011Link

In reply to Angela Snow's post on Mon 14 Feb 2011 :

... where you can list a couple of titles, and we in Europe may know the people who made the films.


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