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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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Darla Bruno
Fri 21 Dec 2007Link

Thanks, Nick! Just so you're clear. I'll be there with the dp. I'm not operating the camera . . . and I'll have my hands free. So I'm just wondering if there's a way I can help if I have a boom mic.


Doug Block
Fri 21 Dec 2007Link

I was gonna suggest you do your own booming when necessary, Darla. On camera mic can work in many situations but unless you're trying to be really inconspicuous, booming is better.


Darla Bruno
Fri 21 Dec 2007Link

Okay. I shadowed some filmmakers once, and I get the point of how to hold the mic toward what's being filmed, but all those dials and channels – no idea. Is this really something I can do if I borrow a boom mic? (I'm feeling heartened.)


Erica Ginsberg
Fri 21 Dec 2007Link

Darla, can you pay a soundman a half day of pay before you go to train you in how to use the dials and channels? For what you want to do, it really is not as daunting as it may look. And, once you're there, perhaps do a test run interview to start so you can get comfortable with the boom before going into the keepers.


Darla Bruno
Fri 21 Dec 2007Link

Thanks, Erica! I think largely I'd like to use wireless mics for our interviews, yet, when I think about those I want to interview for this shoot, many will be women who I want to be in the kitchen cooking or preparing something or a cafe owner being behind the bar of the cafe (there might be clanging of dishes) – so in these instances, could we get away with wireless, or is it best to use boom? Anyway, I think you're right. I'm going to see if I can get a quick-and-dirty lesson and find the equipment. I've still got some time.


Christopher Wong
Fri 21 Dec 2007Link

darla, you should be fine doing boom. a reasonably intelligent monkey could do it – i should know because i've boomed many of my shoots. what is not so easy is the sound mixing. again, it's not rocket science, but if you are a boom novice, then you probably don't want to be taking one hand off of the boom to adjust levels.

the main thing is to be sure of what you are shooting. if you absolutely know that you will only be shooting broll and interviews, you can forget about the boom pole. but if there's even a chance that there will be improptu conversations between two or more people, bring along the boom pole, and record sound directly into the camera. If you and your DP don't want to be tethered together by a sound cable, you can also look into getting a wireless boom setup. this is kind of the best of both worlds (for you) where you don't have to adjust levels (the DP can do that), and you have freedom to roam around.


Darla Bruno
Fri 21 Dec 2007Link

Great, Christopher. This sounds really promising. So I can handle the boom mic and I really don't need to worry about sound mixing? If I have a boom mic with cables, I'm tied to my DP; if I have a wireless, I'm free to roam. (But then how does DP adjust levels in either case?)

I do imagine there'll be situations where I will definitely need it. Thanks for the great advice!


Christopher Wong
Fri 21 Dec 2007Link

here's where my ignorance with sound will be very clear... and i really hope someone like rafael jumps in quickly with advice. but i do know that it's fairly easy to rig one of your wireless mic systems so that your wireless receiver is plugged straight into the camera where the DP can then adjust levels. (small word of warning: some DPs are not accustomed to adjust sound levels while they are shooting...) on the other end, you'll connect the wireless transmitter directly to the boom mic, but you'll need to make sure you have the right kind of cable that can go between. i recommend you ask your sound guy for advice.

good luck!


Marianne Shaneen
Fri 21 Dec 2007Link

Hi again, film folk,
I'm making my first feature doc and I'm in post-production, talking with potential producers about raising finishing funds and helping put together a post team and complete the film. I'm wondering if anyone can give basic suggestions for how such deals are typically structured? Does the producer get a salary, a deferred fixed payment, a percentage, points, part ownership? Perhaps all of these things are done but as the doc is in the editing stage I'm not sure what's appropriate or standard. If anyone could share their experience/knowledge on this, I'd really appreciate it!
Thanks!!!!


Doug Block
Sat 22 Dec 2007Link

There is no standard, Marianne. At least in the U.S. A typical scenario, and one I've used when I've come on a film part-way through as a co-producer, is to get a fairly low guaranteed fee (deferred) vs. a percentage of funds raised. And I mean all funds raised from that point on, not just funds the producer raises. And, perhaps, a profit share. Obviously, if the producer raises more money than the guaranteed fee, they get the higher. I should add this also includes revenue that comes in from sales until the film gets into profit (should it be so lucky).

I'd also be very clear about credit. They get producer credit if they stay on through the distribution of the film. If they leave after post but before the distribution, they might get a co-producer or executive producer credit.

But it's all negotiable...

Edited Sat 22 Dec 2007 by Doug Block

Tony Comstock
Sun 23 Dec 2007Link

I understand the budget for this project is stretch thin, none the less you might want to consider diverting at least a portion to a t-shirt or two, espeically if you're going to be doing boom work.


Wolfgang Achtner
Sun 23 Dec 2007Link

Darla,

Allow me to give you some advice that will be different than what you may have heard and want to hear.

As I wrote you previously, and Nick has confirmed, you should have NO need for a soundman. Just make sure that your cameraperson/DP is always wearing headphones so they are constantly able to keep track of the quality of the sound being recorded.

That said, I don't understnad how – if your crew will be just yourself and the DP – how you think that you could be recording sound, especially during interviews. Who''l be asking the questions?

Even when you're out and about shooting B-roll, you should be watching what your DP is shooting and watching everything that's going on around you. I'm convinced that it would be a big mistake for you – if you're an absolute beginner, as you've described yourself – to worry about recording sound. There are many other far more useful things that you could be doing instead.

First of all, during interviews, concentrate on the process: make sure that you are listening carefully to your subjects, make sure that you're getting the answers you need, that you've asked all the right questions, etc.

When the DP is shooting B-roll, you should be keeping a checklist on shots, thinking if you've got everything you need, about what else you need, how the different elements (visuals, interviews, etc.) will work together, thinking about how to shoot a particular scene so it will fit in with your story etc.

Some key points here.

1) Preparation work and research can be the make-it-or-break-it factor for any documentary. Have you researched your subject well enough? Do you know what to look for, where to find it? That said, learn to be alert and open-minded because many times, in the field, a story can take an unexpected turn and you need to be ready to see it happen and follow the story down a different lane than the one you'd expected.

2) Do you have a story concept, do you know why you are shooting this documentary and what you want to show us? If you do, you certainly haven't told us! Do you know how to visualize that concept? Have you decided what visual elements you will need? Have you prepared a hypothetical shot list based on your concept? Remember the golden rule: "Show me don't tell me."

3) Treatment. Have you written a treatment? Barry Hampe in his MUST READ "Making Documentary films and videos" writes that a treatment "sets forth the idea of the documentary comprehensively enough to be understood , but with enough flexibility to allow for chance, change, and the occasional flash of creativity. A treatment is often referred to as an outline for a documentary. But it's much more than that. It's really an explanation of the documentary. It describes the content of the documentary and the style in which it will be shot. What it is about. What will be included. How it will be shot. And what il will look like. It includes all the elements – the people, places, thinsg and events – whihc must be a part of the documentary. And it tells how the documentary will be organized to communicate with the audience."

3) Communication. In addition everything else, communication between you and your DP is a crucial factor. Unless you have told her/him everything about the story, what you want to tell and how you intend to tell the story, s/he is shooting with a partial blindfold.

4) Ask for advice. Find someone who has already directed/produced several documentaries that you can trust and be open about what you want to do. Tell them what you would like to do and seek advice.


Doug Block
Sun 23 Dec 2007Link

You shouldn't be monitoring the sound levels, I suppose, but there's no reason you can't be holding the mic. Gives the camera person more freedom and you'll get better sound.


Darla Bruno
Sun 23 Dec 2007Link

Hey Tony – T-shirts? Huh? Why did I get lost on that one?

Wolfgang – Thank you kindly for this super helpful information. Sorry I wasn't more clear to begin with, but I was just posting on sound. This round of footage is essentially part of my research. I just wanted a camera person there with me (since I'm not well-versed or experienced in using a camera yet) while I conduct some interviews, get some b-roll, and aim to put together a trailer when I return, then write a treatment, edit the footage, and begin looking into grants and sponsors. So, maybe this isn't the traditional way, or a little backwards, but it's all learning to me.

I have a mini-production schedule for when I go, a wish-list shot list, and necessary shot list. My days are filled. My aim is to contrast simple village living with the influence of modern life. That will sharpen and take form after this round of footage but that is my beginning angle.

Beyond that, the sound is a concern of mine right now. My DP and I have a similar vision, but our sound man backed out, and while the DP wants to move forward, I'm being particular about sound. I'd CRY if we ended up with bad sound.

I can hold a boom in some situations, but no, it's not ideal for me.

Anyway, I also just noticed that my DP is working in PAL. Yikes. Another issue. So while we have a similar vision, it's the technical aspect of things that are a bit overwhelming at the moment.

I just realized he has a lavalier, so I wonder . . . well, here's what he has . . .

Filming equipment: Sony PD 170 (PAL, grandangular lense, rain/snow cover) + Manfrotto 128RC tripod (I have heavier ones, but this is probably the best choice for the type of work on the field we'd be doing in XXXX) + Sennheiser Wireless Trio 100 G2 Series (full audio kit with a lavalier and a directional microphone).

Edited Sun 23 Dec 2007 by Darla Bruno

Megumi Nishikura
Mon 24 Dec 2007Link

Hi, I'm young emerging filmmaker who has a few short documentaries under her belt. I want to make a documentary director's reel and I was wondering if anyone could give me any tips or direct me to some online director's reels.
Thank you and have a happy holidays!


Wolfgang Achtner
Mon 24 Dec 2007Link

Darla,

Just for your information – and eventually that of other newbies (this is not meant to scold you) – your last post is a perfect example of why one needs to prepare and, in the case of a total beginner, more than anything this means to seek advice BEFORE embarking on a project.

For example, you write: "I also just noticed that my DP is working in PAL. Yikes. Another issue. So while we have a similar vision, it's the technical aspect of things that are a bit overwhelming at the moment." Case in point. Any one who's ever worked overseas would have known that this is an issue that would present itself for a US_based person working outide the US.

Being a non-technical person (as well as the fact that you don't want unnecessary details to get in the way), I will try to limit my exploration of this topic to minimum vital aspects. The US uses an analog TV system called NTSC, France uses SECAM and almost everyone else (excepting Japan) uses PAL. All you need to know is that PAL has a better image compared to NTSC (it has greater resolution because each frame has 625scan lines vs 525).

This "problem" leads to several options. You may want to shoot everything in PAL and only after your final edit, convert your completed project to NTSC. Or, you might shoot PAL this time and NTSC next time around.

Converting video from PAL to NTSC, if at all necessary, is no longer a big deal. Today, if you really needed one, you could buy a cheap converter, otherwise, if you just need to convert a few minutes worth of tape, you can rent or go to a company that provides the service.

The PAL vs NTSC issue was a major concern in the days of analog TV and the early days of digital, but is hardly a big deal, especially with regards to HDTV.

First of all, if you'd been shooting in HDTV, most (or all, I honestly don't remember) videocameras have a switch that allows you to shoot in either NTSC or PAL. I see from your post that you're not shooting in HDTV, otherwise your DP would have told you about the possibility.

Also, the SONY PD170 will give you a 4:3 image and I'm not sure that this is the best way to start off a new project. I'm still shooting my current doc on 4:3 aspect ratio because I'm using a videocamera that I have been using for 7 years now and, especially, because I started shooting it this way 3 years ago. I think you might be best off shooting in native 16:9 (I'm referring to the fact that all modern TV screens have a wider image).

By the way, have you thought of asking your DP to rent a HDTV videocamera? They are easy to find here and that would allow you to overcome the PAL/NTSC issue. Furthermore, have you talked to anyone about whether or not – in consideration of a particular kind of future use – you might want to be shooting this project in HDTV?

In any case, if you decide to edit using Final Cut Pro, you'll be able to edit using both systems, so you'd only need to convert edited segments at the very end.

I'm sure others here who are used to working in the NTSC world can give you all the necessary advice and, luckily – as I wrote – today this is only a minor problem. Again, a good example of X other problems that could be solved, or better yet avoided, by talking to the experts BEFORE you jump.

Unfortunately, the equipment we use to day is so simple that anyone thinks they can use and, as a matter of fact they can, point and shoot. Period. Documentary filmmaking is something completely different.

To make my point clear, in many countries today, almost everyone has a videocamera, so in our minds it has become a simple ubiquitious instrument, almost like a ballpoint pen or a pencil. Everyone could afford a pencil but that didn't automatically make them a Michelangelo or Shakespeare.

Enthusiasm is great but remember that documentary filmmaking is a very complex craft that deserves a little bit of respect. Just because it's cheap – or at least a lot cheaper – than before doesn't mean that it is easy. In fact, in many ways, the possibility to work solo, or in small teams has made projects cheaper and, therefore, in many cases more feasible and it has opened up to the masses a world that was previously reserved to very few people and power centers (this is the more interesting aspect of the so-called "digital revolution") but it has also made things a lot harder than they were before because you need to know learn many skills and perform all of them well.

Also, appropriate research could allow you to find out that it might be better to plan your trip at a time that allows you to shoot a certain popular festivity or activity that takes place at a given time of year, etc., etc.

Regardless of how easy or cheap it seems to fly to Italy to do whatever you want to do, remember you don't want to be wasting your precious time and/or your own hard-earned money unnecessarily, as well as the fact that – even though you might not be aware of it now – you may have a one-off chance to shoot certain events or people (for various reasons) and you need to do it "right" the first time.


Athanasios Palos-Papantonopoulos
Mon 24 Dec 2007Link

In reply to Darla Bruno's post on Fri 21 Dec 2007 20:03 EET :

Darla,
Get the necessary training to use effectively the lavalier wireless mic you've got.
Thanos


Darla Bruno
Mon 24 Dec 2007Link

Thanks, again. This really started out as a question about sound.

My DP has agreed to shoot in 16:9 format. The PAL conversion isn't a concern at this point. My DP is Italian and only works overseas.

Wolfgang, again, thank you for your help. My learning curve really comes around the technical stuff, which is why I hired someone, but since the sound person backed out, I'm left scurrying around to find a solution. Again, my original post.

I can assure you that there is a festival I'm going there for in January; hence, the decision to shoot at that time (otherwise, why freeze my butt off?!) I have interviews set up, a b-roll list, a wish list, an idea for a trailer, a tentative treatment. I'm not sure what gave you the impression otherwise. And I'm not really hung up on any outcome, luckily. This is a true interest and passion and learning the ropes right now is worth every penny I'm spending. (My schooling was in writing and film theory, not shooting/editing/or anything technical), so I'm devouring the information and so glad to be learning and for the people who have given their time generously to help me.


Tony Comstock
Mon 24 Dec 2007Link

January? In that case you'll probably want at least one sweater. Maybe a jacket too.


Wolfgang Achtner
Mon 24 Dec 2007Link

Great.

I just had the impression from your posts – maybe just my interpretation – that you seemed worried by overcoming a problem with taping sound when, if anything, that will be the least of your worries.

As I mentioned before, I don't think it's a good idea (nor is it necessary) for you to worry about sound, especially in an interview situation when your responsibility has to be listening carefully to the interview.

Make sure that throughout your trip you keep your eyes open for unexpected opportunities and first and foremost: ENJOY YOURSELF!


Thomas Beach
Tue 25 Dec 2007Link

I have spent the last several weeks conducting format research etc. Thanks to all who have offered opinions. I have settled upon shooting 720p with the P2 and have found a good camera rental in my area.

With this issue completed, I have some other questions regarding software that I would appreciate input on.

My doc will be photo-driven, meaning that I will be telling my story primarily with original pictures from archives. Additionally, I will be using on-camera interviews, character V.O.'s as well as narration. My question is this: Can I replicate traditional "camera moves" with still photos via Apple's FCP Studio 2? Specifically, Motion 3? I need to be able to zoom in/out, reframe for CU's etc on existing photos during my editing. I believe everyone here understands what I'm getting at. Can I accomplish these photo manipulations within FCP Studio 2 or must I perform these actions with yet another program such as Photoshop and/or Aperture?

Additionally, I presume the archived photos at my disposal which are only 600x600 dpi are not sufficient for HD broadcast parameters as well as zooming in. What dpi rez rates must I have them scanned at, at minimum in order to avoid pixelation etc. within my project?

Thanks in advance for your help here.


Thomas Beach
Tue 25 Dec 2007Link

In reply to Darla Bruno's post on Fri 21 Dec 2007 :

Darla,

After reading all of these posts regarding sound, I felt a need to chime in.

Although I am a novice with a camera (that's why I'm hiring someone to shoot for me!), I am a professional production sound recordist with many years of experience. With all due respect to Mr. Wong, it is uninformed opinions like these (a trained monkey could do it) which end up killing more films due to horrible production sound. And in the case of doc work, it is, most likely, unfixable in post. Interestingly enough, I never see such flippant remarks tossed about regarding shooting with a camera. After all, isn't camera op'ing nothing more than pushing buttons and turning dials? Of course not! It requires knowledge and a specific skillset. Believe it or not, so does good production sound. If you own Rabiger's book "Directing The Documentary", take a peek at his comments regarding Sound.

That said, please know that you need to treat both camera AND SOUND with the same level of importance. Fail to do this and you're setting yourself up for failure, technically speaking.

Think of taking a half-day crash course in camera op'ing. Sounds rediculous doesn't it? Same goes for good production sound gathering.

If you can at all afford to do so, hire an experienced sound recordist. He/She will not only have the skills needed, but will also have the professional gear to accomplish the task at hand, knocking out problems such as wireless work, location issues, laving and booming and proper mixing and channel assignment for the greatest options in post. And in anything but the most controlled environment, an experienced sound person will be worth their weight in gold.


Wolfgang Achtner
Tue 25 Dec 2007Link

Just for the record, I agree with the gist of Thomas' post: good sound IS just as important as good video.

That said – maybe on account of many years working in news where a sound person has become a luxury – I am convinced that in a variety of situations, especially such as controlled interviews as Darla seems to be intent on obtaining and some additional B-roll, one can manage without a sound person.

That's why I've insisted Darla should concentrate on her own tasks rather than "mess around" with the sound. It's much better to try to do one thing well – furthermore, paying attention to the interview will be complicated enough on its own for a beginner – than two things poorly.

Also, I find the idea (mentioned above) of hiring a sound person for half a day in order to learn the task a joke. One might as well go so far as to suggest: "Hire a camera person for a day to learn how to do that job as well."


Wolfgang Achtner
Tue 25 Dec 2007Link

Thomas,

Re scanning, here are a couple of links you may find useful.

http://www.bosfcpug.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=73&Itemid=58

http://www.scantips.com/

http://www.scantips.com/basics1c.html

Re the moves part of your question.

Depending on the size of the original photos, if you have the opportunity, I don't see why you wouldn't want to shoot the photos yourself, at least wide & tight (focusing on different areas of the photo each time, if warranted) because there could be certain cases in which you might choose to use a simple cut instead of a move.

That said – and please note that my experience is limited to the use of only a few photos – I noticed that the most recent version of FCP allowed us to do any kind of move we were interested in and also gave us the possibility of controlling the speed of the move.


Erica Ginsberg
Tue 25 Dec 2007Link

Wolfgang and Thomas, just to clarify: I wasn't suggesting to Darla that hiring a soundman for half a day for training would transform her into a master sound mixer. What I was suggesting was that having someone show her the ropes of the equipment would help her feel more comfortable using it. The ideal situation, of course, would be to hire a professional and let the director focus her complete attention on directing. But, as Darla has indicated, that's not feasible right now, so we were all making suggestions as to how she can make it work the best under non-ideal circumstances. I totally agree that it's best not to skimp on sound. In fact, I think a good story with poorly shot video can survive better than a good story with poorly recorded sound.


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