make sure you get a two-monitor setup. makes a big difference when editing...
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.
In this part of the world we prefer PCs but, yes, Macs with Final Cut Pro are the trend where you are :)
You definitely need a two monitor set-up no matter what the system is.
Thank you for your response. When I read the book I could see it visually. I had been entertaining the idea of a documentary film that would explore the work of Hannah Arendt and when I read Evil in Modern Thought and saw Neiman's interview with Bill Moyers' I had an aha moment and haven't quit obsessing since, as I was convinced that I could adapt this book as a documentary film (I wonder sometimes at my naivete!) I have succeeded in the writing and my proposal and treatment explain the techniques I want to use. The theme is centered on how 4 catastrophic events in western history have shaped the way we think about and approach the world, and is not a biopic. The Philosophers and their work surrounding the problem of evil will add to the structure, only as their work relates to the events i.e. Voltaire's coming of age novella Candide will be animated as he is naively headed to the Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 (which was the symbol for evil at this time period, as nothing else could kill so many people at once.) There are many engravings and paintings from this era. I have many more visuals but I don't want to take up this space! My connection to this subject is a long story - basically I've been concerned about the problem of evil in philosophy, most of my conscious life - without knowing that this was what I was concerned with until my last couple of years of college. I've since come to realize that most of us are, though we may not frame our concerns in this way and I want to connect an audience to the great philosophers and writers of the modern world as a way of validating our human experience against the overwhelming insanities of history.
Thank you Robert!
You need to explain how this film plays on screen because to a professional it seems better suited to a dissertation or magazine article. and it's always necessary to explain your connection to the story so people understand why you are willing to spend the next 7 years of your life making this film.
A vote for adobe. In terms of editing systems there can be no doubt that final cut has become the standard. But if you are looking to save money PC editing is the way to go in my opinion. A comparably powered PC is normally half as much as its mac counter part. I use the adobe suite. This includes premier, after effects, photoshop, and encore. They all work well together and can create just as good a final product as final cut. In most ways premier and aftereffects are very similar. Premier just has a much more narrow group of users. This can be an issue when bringing in an outside editor. I can run premier perfectly well on a 575 dollar HP desk top I bought at best buy. Just make sure not to use windows vista, as it uses way to much of your computer's ram and slows everything do. Windows XP still works great.
As for cameras, I highly recommend the panasonic dvx100b. it creates beautiful images and is moderately priced. If this is beyond your range a lot of consumer cameras can do. I have seen stuff shot on 400 dollar cameras that looks just fine in a gritty lo-fi type of way. Just make sure to get a 3 CCD camera. Also Audio is really important, so make sure what even you get has the ability to control audio levels, take a mic input, and have a head phone jack. Any camera looks as good as the lighting allows it. Its just that better cameras look better in worse shooting conditions.
Thank you for the advice Robert. I think I do get ahead of myself when explaining it. It's basically a historical documentary, told through the lens of philosophy and the classical problem of evil. Susan Neiman is my star and I have 8 hours of footage already shot with her. I will be interviewing other literary and political analysts about the historical events that have shaped the world in order to find new perspectives. We will look at four major historical events that have had a lasting impact on modern social and political consciousness. I do have a strong structure - the trials of Adolf Eichmann will be used as we consider Auschwitz, the book Black Rain will narrate Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and Israeli and Arab writers will be interviewed from the Middle East as the film looks at the war of Good v. Evil that is raging today. As for my connection to the film, I'm convinced that Susan Neiman's book will soon be considered a classic and it has been called "the book for this world political hour." I'm very nervous for the world right now for various reasons and I'm committed to bringing her work to a wider audience. I have tons of other personal reasons.
Hi guys, another new member, so hallo to all...
I'm glad my first question is such a doozer. This has been keeping me awake at night. I'm currently producing a doco I hope will eventually be shown on British TV. I came across an author who's book dovetails very neatly with the theme of my film. I contacted him with a view to him contributing to the film, which he was very happy to do. He then contacted me asking if, in return for a credit (such as Associate Producer) in the titles, he could help produce the film. On the one hand, I could really use his help - he is an expert in his field and has contacts in his industry who could also be very useful. On the other, is there an ethical issue having one of your contributors also be a credited producer - could the documentary be open to accusations of simply being a platform for his views? He wants no money for his work and has agreed that creative control and copyright will remain with me.
What do you think?
Hi Neil, standards vary by country so please UK-based producers contribute -- but the bottom line is: your author is the author of a book and will act as an advisor who may open doors. The job of an associate producer is something quite different.
Also, you want to retain the freedom to add other advisors later on without even feeling awkward about it. You need to protect your editorial control. Bringing him aboard as a partner is liable to make this more difficult. If you feel like all you need for your film is his book, without a great deal of other research, you could make it a doc based on his book, but it seems to me this is not what you are striving for as it would potentially compromise your editorial control. Whatever you do -- make sure to have a contract that clearly defines his role (whether he ends up getting a fee or not).
In general, you want to be careful with promising credits that are not absolutely bog standard like camera or editor etc. Credits are ususally subject to the approval of the broadcaster. All international contracts I have handled say something along the lines that the distributor tries to ensure credits are shown by their buyers but they can't promise anything. I.e. if your broadcaster thinks your credits are too long or not in line with their credit standards they will demand the right to edit them at their sole discretion.
Friederike, it might be different in Germany for you but I've been a producer on 3 different ZDF/Arte co-productions and never once been questioned about the credits. Or by any other broadcaster, for that matter. Not saying it never happens. Just not in my experience.
Does anyone have any books they would recommend on the art of interviewing? I'm producing a narrative historical documentary using the disciplines of literature and philosophy and want to perfect my ability to get the right pieces to my puzzle. Thanks!
Books? The Craft of Interviewing, by John Brady, a classic journalism school selection of approaches.
Doug, arte is more relaxed about credits. Especially La Lucarne. With ARD member stations or ZDF's main programme it is very often an issue. Most of the time the complaint is that credits run for too long.
Monica, check out Directing the Documentary by Michael Rabiger. It's not exclusively about interviewing, but he does give some very good tips.
Thanks for the advice on interviewing! One more question - What is the best way to approach and engage advisors? I know who I would like to ask, I'm just concerned about their workload. What is the relationship like between filmmaker and advisor? What can I ask them to expect? They will most likely be interviewed for the film, but I can't promise anything.
I have three advisors for my film, all professors whose field of inquiry is relevant to my subject matter. Usually, all you have to do is just ask, and if the person is interested, they'll be happy to help. In my experience, a professor who's accumulated a lot of knowledge in the area your asking for advice in will usually be glad to get involved and share their expertise.
In building the relationship with an advisor, I assume that the onus of the work and the contact maintenance is on me. Even in some intense research situations, I usually don't need to speak to my advisors more than once/twice a month. In my case, the best value an advisor can provide is an assessment of how valid my research conclusions are and whether my presentation of various topics in the film is consistent with their historical setting, etc. Out of three advisors I have, I only plan to interview one for the film. Hope this helps. Best of luck with your work!
I am new to this forum and have a few questions to ask. My current project is a full-feature documentary about Israel. I have done my preliminary research, made an 12-minute long promo for fundraising, assembled a crew (a DP and a sound engineer) and will start filming in two weeks. My main camera is HVX200, and here are the questions I have:
1. What is the best way to archive HD footage? Is it possible to burn it on blue-ray or HD-DVD disks and not keep stored on hard drives? I expect to have a lot of footage to store, and carrying around several terabytes of drive space can be daunting.
2. Even though I have a DP, I hope to do some filming work myself. Could you suggest any books, tutorials or other resources to read about camera work?
3. Could you suggest a minimal lighting package that would be portable enough to be carried by one person, along with the camera?
Look forward to your advice!
1) I'll let the HD experts step in here, but I think you'll find that cost-wise hard drives will work out cheaper than burning to disks. Have you actually done a calculation on how much space you will need?
2) Hmmmm. Why not just let your DP get on with their job? Books won't tell you how to shoot, and it doesn't sound like this is meant to be just an exercise.
My film is about Adama Bah, one of two 16-year-old Muslim girls from New York who were arrested by the FBI in 2005 after they were accused of being "potential suicide bombers." The FBI made no attempts to reveal what evidence they had on these girls and only released them after the New York Times published a series of articles about the 2 girls that led to intense scrutiny and public pressure. One girl was deported, and the other-the subject of my film-was allowed to stay, albeit, with an ankle bracelet and a gag order.
For the past two years her life has pretty much unravelled-her father was deported, her mother has suffered several nervous breakdowns, children's services is constantly threatening to place Adama's four younger siblings in foster homes. The government is now also trying to deport her. On top of this, Adama has been forced to become the primary breadwinner for the family. Her friends all graduated last spring and left for college this past fall (her best friend is at Smith right now) as Adama works, what she calls, "immigrant jobs-" babysitting, house-cleaning, etcetera.
I'm looking for an executive producer (as well as editors) and wondering if there's any interested parties out there, or someone who might be willing to pass on contact info of a good EP/editor fit. I've been shooting for almost two years and am ready to begin post-production. As far as fundraising, I have a fiscal sponsor and am preparing my grant applications, but would like to have a partner help me secure a reasonable budget. This is my first-time working on a full-length documentary and although I've been tempted to downsize it and produce it as a 30 minute piece, I think the story demands to be given at least an hour, if not feature length. My editor is based in California and hasn't been able to work much with me, and is eagerly waiting for funding to come through so he can come to New York and get to work. In the meantime, I'm looking for a New York based editor to help me with my sample. (So far, the sample seems to get such a wide range of responses that I think it's time to begin a new approach. Maybe I could post it here and see what people think...)
Anyway, I know this is a lot to put out there but I thought it would be best to put it all in one place rather than attempt to think of all the relevant topics where these issues could be posted. I would be supremely grateful for any advice veteran doc bystanders are willing to sling my way.
david, your doc sounds fascinating, and definitely deserving of more than a 30-minute treatment. it really helped me out on my doc to get an executive producer on board... before you proceed, however, have you answered the question of where you want the piece to be broadcast? On PBS? Theatrical? Non-PBS TV? This will dictate what kind of grants you go after, and thus, what kind of EPs will be best for your project. For instance, my EP is Renee Tajima-Pena who has done extensive work with POV, which is exactly the place I want it to air after festivals, theatrical, etc.
In reply to John Burgan's post on Mon 12 Nov 2007 :
Thank you for your response. You are right, it's definitely not meant to be just an exercise :) I will need approximately 2.5 terabytes of storage space.
With respect to the shooting, I agree too - the only problem is that I want the film to have a very specific visual atmosphere and so far my DP and I haven't reached a complete agreement on it. Also, I won't be able to have the DP with me every day and sometimes I go to places in Israel where one just needs to pick a camera and capture a unique moment. I wanted to try and prepare myself for that as best I can.
Thank you for the advice!
I really love the extensive work that PBS has done to create a strong web-partnership with their films, and although it would be great to have a more mainstream tv audience (via HBO, Cinemax, etcetera) I think PBS has such a strong outreach program that the issues I'm addressing in the film will have a real landing pad, and a chance to significantly and substantially affect an audience, rather than briefly triggering a flash of guilt/sympathy/pity in people's frontal lobes, as seems to be the case with mainstream films that make a splash but aren't sustained by any broader effort to create change.
That said, I think I'm aiming for PBS as well after festivals (and, hopefully, theatrical release). How did you make contact with your EP?
through a great seminar at the WGBH Producers Academy, i made contact with a really helpful person at PBS (Kathy Lo). When I told Kathy that I was looking for an EP, she then introduced me to a bunch of different people who would make sense for my project (e.g. Freida Lee Mock, Renee Tajima-Peña, Steven Okazaki). After she made the intro, then I made contact with them through email. Renee turned out to be the best fit.
what i might suggest for you is to find a PBS film (or 2 or 3) that you really like, do some research to see how it was funded, and then if it's a good fit, go and track down that person. if you need help, i can always give Kathy Lo a call on your behalf.
lastly, are you applying for Sundance's next funding round? they are really good at giving first time filmmakers a shot at the money. if your footage is really compelling, and you get funding from them, that really makes it easier to get an EP on board.
i'm sure the more experienced vets here have better suggestions than i.
I am planning on applying to Sundance but I thought that Sundance was rolling. is there a deadline coming up?
As far as your other comments, I have been looking at a few PBS films and eyeing the EP credits, although my experiences in the past with cold-calling people has been a bit frustrating. Perhaps I'll update my list of potential EPs and run them by you to see if Kathy would possibly be willing to be a middle-(wo)man. Thanks for your advice Chris.
as far as i know, the sundance documentary fund has two funding cycles per year. though they don't have any official deadlines, they usually issue funding announcements around January and in June -- which is obviously around the time they have their committee meetings where they make the decisions. just make sure you have a good 20-30 minutes of continuous edited footage before you apply... if you want, the D-Word is a good place to get some feedback on your work-in-progress.
David, Chris, I suggest you carry this to the WIPs because many others do not read this thread.
And, David, if you want to try and contact some of the Muslim Associations in America or something of that sort for funding, probably I can link you to a friend who can help.
In reply to Doug Block's post on Thu 11 Oct 2007 :
So, it's taken me a while (shooting, good old grant apps), but here I am. I like the 10 Rules of personal documentary filmmaking, especially the how-much-to-put-yourself-on-camera debate. Gahd. I'm already in mine more than I had hoped and looking kind of bleary-eyed at that.
Say, Doug, did you or anyone else who has made a personal doc ever feel like the story is really about what goes on when the cameras are off (i.e. how difficult it is to make a doc about your family?)
I'm having a bit of trouble seeing the larger picture with this one. Think I need the help of a good editor!
Hi Leah. Saw your post here and couldn't help but want to respond. I think that "losing site of the big picture" is just a normal part of the process with doc making -- particularly, if you are going it alone and with minimal collaborative feedback. My advice would be to simply put the project away for a period of time (the longer the better). Take an extended break from it. You will be amazed at just how much more of a refreshed perspective you will have (with respect to your story) once you return to working on it. Good luck!
Good to meet you and thanks for the advice. The trick is, the doc is about my father learning to fly airplanes again after 40 years. He hasn't had his license all this time, there is a long stoy behind why. The idea was that I would follow him until he got his license again and dip back into some of the issues behind why he was barred from flying - encounter with mental illnes, loss of two loved ones in plane crashes. Good idea in theory.
It turns out that he contacted transport Canada and they just reinstated his license. They send it to him in the mail, just like that. Gahd. This despite the fact he told me it would be a long process to get it again. Then I find out today that he's been booking classes behind my back! Sneaky devil. I think he's tired of having film crews around poking into his life. Fair enough.
So the thing is, I do feel a certain pressure to follow the story.
What's keeping you busy right now?
Leah, for sure there's a story about my family's reaction to being filmed, but I don't think it's nearly as interesting or significant as the story at hand. That's why I saved it for the dvd. But nobody wants to hear the filmmaker whining about how hard it all is (other than fellow filmmakers). Because it's a whole lot harder for your family members dealing with a lens in their face.
Oh, my mistake, Leah. Something about your post caused me to think you were in post-production.
In regards to your circumstance:
I think so much about [verite/direct cinema] doc making is just placing yourself in situations and circumstances where your gut tells you a compelling story might take shape. It certainly seems to me that your idea for this doc was a good one. Obviously, it is difficult (if not impossible) if your subject is reluctant.
As for me, I am patiently chipping away, one tiny little baby step at a time, towards completion of my humble little doc, Blue Devils. Thanks for asking! :)
Okay, this is a big one.
I've got enough material together to start cutting together a 6-12 minute promo of a 55-minute piece, and I want to start shopping it around to get development grants for post-production. (I have found that it takes more than final cut pro and hope to master the nuances of video editing, and that I should probably get some help...)
However, even though I'm not a member of the Writer's Guild, AND I only work with unscripted non-fiction, if I'd be crossing the picket line by pitching.
Now, I don't intend to
sell the movie until the Writer's strike is resolved, but I don't know if it's okay to move forward with it.
One more thing - I'm thinking about applying to ITVS for finishing funds, but this is my first documentary. Where can I find a documentary co-producer that I can apply with in my area?
I will be starting the dig for archival materials for my historical documentary. I'm noting which archives the historical docs that I love use, but does anyone have any other advice on where to start and how to avoid archives that require a Ken Burns budget? My film looks at four events in modern history - The Lisbon Earthquake of 1755, Auschwitz, Hiroshima and Nagasaki and September 11th.
Thanks Katya for your advice on advisors!
One more - There are about three songs that I really want for my film. I've seen many documentaries with popular songs and I know that we don't usually have the budgets of hollywood. Are there any tricks to gaining the rights to use these songs without breaking the budget?
Brian - what's your film actually about? Also, what stage are you in now - it sounds as if you have shot already.
Monica - archive and music rights can be very, very expensive - that's exactly why Ken Burns has those $$$$ budgets.
Monica - Re archive footage, you'll pay an awful lot if you go the traditional route of archive libraries/banks. Your best bet is to either find private collectors who own the rights to the footage and would be happy to let you use them for free or a small discreet donation. Other than that, you can also try to approach small local museums/trusts/organisations/TV stations that would not be as greedy as big commercial cos.
Music - check this D.I.Y guide: http://www.clearance.com/get_yourself.htm
Alternatively, you could get someone (friend/student in need of portfolio) to create something for you that sounds "similar" for your film, and sign the rights off to you.
In any way, budget constraints always send you on long and tortuous roads.
Brian, since you are in Austin, recommend you join the Austin Film Society if you are not already a member. There have a healthy doc membership and it would be a great way to network and potentially find a more experienced producer who's interested in your project. As far as the Writer's Strike, not sure I see how you would be crossing the picket line to pitch. Unless you already have a lead, there's relatively little development money from networks or cable entities for first-time filmmakers. You'd probably be better to go the grant route. Like John, we'd want to know more about your film to advise further.
Monica, D-Worder Robert Richter's last film was about the A-bomb in Japan. If he doesn't answer here first, suggest you look him up in the People link above and e-mail him about his experiences finding archival from Nagasaki and Hiroshima. For Auschwitz, recommend trying the National Archives and the U.S. Holocaust Museum.
In reply to Danielle Fautrat's post on Wed 14 Nov 2007 :
Thank you very much Danielle for your great advice - this is just what I needed.
In reply to Erica Ginsberg's post on Wed 14 Nov 2007 :
Thanks for the great tip Erica - I will be sure to look him up.
John and Erica - The documentary is called "Makers."
If you'll recall, I'm doing the feature-length documentary interviewing Prime Ministers and such in New Zealand. I know I'm in over my head so I thought I'd get some experience by filming events at an event in Austin - the Maker Faire, and turn it into a 28 minute piece. I mean, I thought, it's a bunch of cool looking stuff that is strange and the people who build it, right?
But there's also an additional issue that came up - the entire thing looked like it was a countercultural movement - like Burning Man. And I wanted to examine that more, so after I got all my footage (shot in a weekend - the event was only two days long) I started working with the idea that trends in our current society are forcing what was once considered "American Ingenuity" into a counter-culture.
I got the participation of Mark Frauenfelder (editor of Make Magazine - I interview him this Friday), Bruce Schneier (Security consultant), and Adam Savage (Mythbuster) to talk about the DIY Counterculture.
(Savage takes the point of view that eventually the DIY counterculture will, like rock and roll enthusiasts, become the culture, while Schneier takes the point of view that since 9/11, underqualified security personel are treating "different as a stand-in for dangerous because no one knows what dangerous actually looks like."
They're all willing to let me film them, but without development funds I can't afford to fly out to them, so the rough cut I want to shop around to grant-making solutions will simply have their voices recorded on the phone. Additionally, I've got some pretty unique stuff - for example, the Star Wheel, a pedal-powered moving ferris wheel. Sure, other cameramen were there filming it, but I don't think they got the moment that the thing ran into a powerline. (No one was hurt.)
I've put up a couple of promotional preview clips - one of them has already gotten 5000 views due mainly to a link from Fark.com. You can view them all here in 720p H.264 streaming.
Oh, and as for progress - the event's over so I can't go back and film more footage. I
think I have enough for 57 minutes, but I can always scale back to 28 if I don't. (Truth be told, I think this would probably fit best in 45...)
Intro - 2 min. ROUGH CUT COMPLETE
"The Counterculture Becomes the Culture" - 8 minutes (Adam Savage talks about curiosity and the DIY culture, robot builders show off computer technology) ROUGH CUT COMPLETE
"A Bigger, Better Mousetrap" - 4 minutes (Footage of a Life Sized Mousetrap Game) ROUGH CUT COMPLETE
"Who but a Subversive would Make something?" - 8 minutes (Bruce Schneier talks about fear, security, and the danger of being different - some of the more dangerous exhibits are shown)ROUGH CUT COMPLETE
"The Ferris Wheel that Got Away" - 4 minutes The Star Wheel is a fun-looking contraption that accidentally runs into a powerline when the cameras are rolling. ROUGH CUT COMPLETE
"Ain't Those Freaks Just Grand?" - 8 minutes - Talking about the relationship between performance art and invention. ROUGH CUT COMPLETE
"These are our people" - 4 minutes - EepyBird talks about the science of the "Diet Coke and Mentos Experiments," followed by a live recreation. ROUGH CUT COMPLETE
"[Quote to be determined]" - 8 minutes - Mark Frauenfelder on running Make Magazine and devoting his life to the subculture. NEEDS MORE FILMING
"[Quote to be determined]" - 4 minutes on hybrid car conversion. FILMING COMPLETE
"Everything is Miscellaneous" - 7 minutes - an unapologetic break from the narrative to look at all the strange things that didn't really fit in with the narrative but which are interesting enough in their own right to be included. (for example, case modders, craft makers, model rockets, musical tesla coils, self-replicating robots...) FILMING COMPLETE
Conclusion - 2 minutes recapping the lessons learned and what I took away from it. FILMING COMPLETE
Monica - check out D-Worder Denise Ohio's advice on music clearance
Brian - it's very unclear (to me at least) what the above description has to do with "interviewing Prime Ministers and such in New Zealand".
Do you have a 100 word description of your project? A sentence?
Oh, no, it doesn't have anything to do with that. That's a separate project.
"Following Alexis West" is the "real deal." It's the movie I
really want to make and it's the movie I'm spending my life savings on.
"Makers" is the project I'm cutting my teeth and making my mistakes on - a project that I took on mainly to familiarize myself with the equipment I'd be using on FAW, and figure out what I need to do. It was chosen as a subject because it was only 3 days of filming at most.
As for the 100 word summary:
Makers is a 2007 short-subject documentary directed by Brian Boyko about the "do-it-yourself counterculture." With interviews from Mark Frauenfelder (editor of "Make:" magazine,) Bruce Schneier (Security consultant,) and Adam Savage (Co-Host of "Mythbusters,") Boyko asks what the emergence of this counterculture of "making" says about our mainstream culture of "consuming." Are the “makers” on the bleeding edge of the future? Or are they being pushed to the fringes of society because of post-9/11 fear of the unusual? The interviews range from people who build musical Tesla coils, two-story-tall robots, pedal-powered amusement park rides, a giant game of Mousetrap, and more.
In the spirit of Alexis de Tocqueville, the Frenchman who examined American democracy in the 19th century, American director Brian Boyko travels to New Zealand to examine its democratic system. “Following Alexis West” examines the unprecedented peaceful change of New Zealand's American-style two-party system to a European-style proportional representation system in 1993 - and the effects of that change 15 years later. Through interviews with former Prime Ministers and current party leaders, it will show how New Zealand’s “MMP” system prevents problems that we have in the United States, including gerrymandering, negative campaigning, civic disengagement, and undue influence of powerful lobbies.
In reply to Doug Block's post on Tue 13 Nov 2007 :
Ya, point well taken. I was kind of kidding about the how-hard-it-is-to-make-a-doc-about-your-family angle. I've decided that the best thing for right now is just to follow the story and see where it leads. I'm curious what the NYU student response was to your talk on Personal Docs. It's a genre that really seems to divide audiences.
The response was really enthusiastic, Leah. There was clearly a lot of interest. I've actually talked at a few other schools recently and it was similarly great. Doing another NYU class on personal docs tonight (subbing for Thom Powers) and one at the New School on Monday.