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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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Doug Block
Wed 20 Nov 2002Link
Yes, you're naive, Heather. But that's not a bad quality for a
documentary filmmaker. Nor is stubborness or persistence. If your
heart is set on this, you should just plow forward and try not to take
no for an answer from anyone -- including anyone here at this forum.

Robert Goodman
Thu 21 Nov 2002Link
conventional wisdom makes bad docs.

Laurie Trombley
Mon 2 Dec 2002Link
Hi everyone,
My name is Laurie and I am new here. I have been working on a feature
documentary with a friend for the past 3 1/2 years. This film is
about the life and music of a musician who has passed away. This is
the first film for both of us--so we are a bit inexperienced and have
just run into a problem we were unaware of when we started editing a
year ago:

All of our interstitials (photos, journal entries, artwork) are
digitized tiff files. The Avid's ability to manipulate digital stills
(panning, zooming, various effects) is poor. People have suggested we
use Boris Effects, but we don't have the money to purchase this
software, nor the expertise to use it. So we're not sure if it's a
worthy investment. Our editor is someone who works on weekends and
after hours so the Avid is not "ours" and we probably couldn't
install the software anyway.

Is it conceivable to use After Effects and integrate into our Avid
timeline? Any advice and/or suggestions about professionally
integrating our interstitials is much appreciated.

Thanks in advance for your time. LT

Robert Goodman
Tue 3 Dec 2002Link
I'd ask the person who's Avid it is whether they have After Effects
or Boris. Also if working on XpressDV, there's a pan and scan plug.
Another option is StageTools - a plug-in that's available on the web.
Hard to believe anyone has an avid without one of these tools.

The last option is to print out your files - shoot them with your
camera and cut the footage into your show. That works too.

Laurie Trombley
Tue 3 Dec 2002Link
Thanks Robert. I am going to bring you e-mail to my editor and see
what her Avid has. I really appreciate your advice!

Elise Green
Mon 16 Dec 2002Link
Bay Area Video Coalition Vs Film Arts Foundation

We are in the process of pitching for sponsorship from FAF and BAVC
in the San Francisco area. Does anyone know whether BAVC can equate
with FAF in terms of the following:
- working connections in public TV, private networks and festivals
for docs
- successful films they have supported
- industry success ie similar brand name

Thanks in advance.
Regards,
Elise

Robert Goodman
Tue 17 Dec 2002Link
Elise,

Not sure that fiscal sponsorship will make your film more or less
attractive to PBS, festivals, et al. One or the other may carry more
weight with particular funders which is why you'd make the decision.

Also, I would venture a guess that both orgs will say nice things
about you and your film if they like the film to people in the
business because you are from their neighborhood.

Syeda Abedin
Wed 18 Dec 2002Link
Hello everybody,
I am currently directing a documentary about the Bengali community
here in Dundee,(Scotland) focusing on the dance group of young
children. As this is part of my project at university, I have been
asked to write an in-depth treatment of my documentary, as part of my
modular work. Could anyone point me in the right direction please? Of
how to write a treatment? This would be a great help! Thank you!
Sy.

Doug Block
Thu 19 Dec 2002Link
Syeda, a treatment for a doc is difficult (if not impossible) because
you can't predict what will happen once you start taping. So I don't
know why your university is asking for one. A project description or
synopsis makes a lot more sense. But if you must, I suppose you can
describe what you hope and expect might happen, and talk about your
directing approach.

Syeda Abedin
Thu 19 Dec 2002Link
Hi Doug,
Thats what I thought,but I wasnt to sure exactly what a treatment
was, so therefore i wasnt about to knock it without trying... heheh
Now instead of trying to force my documentry to fit the module, I am
doing another project for it. Thanks for your help Doug, hopefully
things like these wont keep forcing me away from my doc.
Thats all I wanna Do!!!!
Syeda.

Stephanie Davy
Fri 10 Jan 2003Link
Hi- Here I am , new to this place- and thrilled to find it!, wanting to
hear that I am not completely insane to want to put a doc
together BY MYSELF. Have people done this? Gotta camera, got
programs, got a MAC, got subject, got music, got editing skilld.
Shouldn't I be able to do this? I'm seeing some scary posts, and
doing a search for info is either giving me lots of companies that
do docs (no thanks, I've already got one...), or links to all the
places that make this seem awfully difficult. I'd like to hear from
anyone who has put something together him/herself. As I asked
in my introduction on the "introduction" page...Am I nuts?
Thanks!

Scott Peehl
Fri 10 Jan 2003Link
I am new to this too. Accidentally made my first documentary last
year. Since then I have made two short docs that have screened at
festivals. I recently completed my first feature doc...a year of
work, frustration and lessons. I might suggest a person for
audio...the most challenging part of editing has been fixing the poor
sound quality that came from the on board mic. If you believe in the
project enough you can do anything. You also might want to bring in
an editor also if you do not have prior editing experience. The
reality is that technology has made it possible for a one person doc
crew.

In answer to your question, yes...you are crazy. You would have to
be to want to make a documentary film. Welcome to the club.

Doug Block
Sat 11 Jan 2003Link
Good advice, Scott. I agree. Also suggest you do a lot of practice
practice practice on your camera work. And if you're editing
yourself, wise to spend the money on a very good, very experienced
editor to look at your scenes from time to time and offer feedback.

Stephanie Davy
Sat 11 Jan 2003Link
Lucky for me, I hope, I have worked in vid editinmg, and YEARS
in audio- am polanning to do some separate sound
recording-though not on interviews, because I don't wanna deal
with time code. Doing the actual camera work is probably where
I'll nedd the most work- so I intend to spend lots of time with my
cats(that oughta give me some practice!)-and I'll make my poor
daughter be an interviewee for a while-she'll love that!
Any suggestions- books or sites to go and learn more about all
of this and putting together? And anyone whose got things I can
look at on web would be great! Let me know. Thankyou all so
much for everything so far!

Ben Kempas
Sun 12 Jan 2003Link
Wait ... in an inteview situation, it can be most useful to have a
separate sound recordist, because you'll have other things to focus on
in that moment. You're already asking the questions, operating the
camera, and, most importantly, listening to your interviewee.

This doesn't mean that the sound has to be recorded on a separate
medium and thus cause timecode worries. The soundman's signal can
still go straight into your camera, no?

Erica Ginsberg
Mon 13 Jan 2003Link
Also it's good to have a sound recordist because he or she is REALLY
listening to your interview and may actually be paying more attention
to the content than you are, as you are concentrating on making sure
the subject is speaking in useable soundbites and thinking about
seguing into the next question. I always let my soundman have the
last question of the subject and he never disappoints with a good one.

Stephanie Davy
Mon 13 Jan 2003Link
Aha- Very good points! I assume (tho' I know what happens
when you assume) that I have an aux audio on the camera. My
husband does audio for a living (as I have done in past) I will tap
hiim, then, there by insuring a reasonable sound without
timecode- you people are so wonderful! And I start shooting next
week- so this is all really great - I also realized I can set up a
mike and mixer, and set all to start (camera and mike at same
time) once I am ahppy with audio and video levels. This will all
be fairly static shots w/tripod/mike stand- so even if I decide to
change positions here and there for some alternate angles, I
should be able to do it- I just was telling the spouse about your
input, and he suggested we do dry runs of this possible set-up
at the house to see whether I can do it...Does that sound
sensible?
Again- your input is really priceless, I can't thank you enough!

Stephanie Davy
Mon 13 Jan 2003Link
Another ?- any of you in NY or even Long Island? Maybe I could
pick some brains, if anyon's willing at all- I'd also love to
meet/speak with others who are no doubt far more able than I at
this, and just soak it all up!

Scott Peehl
Mon 13 Jan 2003Link
Stephanie, I am in New York - East Village(no "RENT" jokes please).
Not sure what I would have to offer at this point...still sort of new
but I could share the lessons learned so far. Feel free to email me.

Leslie Bielanski
Fri 24 Jan 2003Link
Hi there. I have a fundraising question of sorts. I am doing a
Holocaust related doc-My first doc. Where can I find non-profit
sponsors to help me raise money for the doc as going it alone at the
moment has not yielded me much funding. Grants seem to tak to long
as this story is time sensative and being that this is my first doc
it has been really hard. Thank you all for any advice.

Doug Block
Fri 24 Jan 2003Link
Would help to know where you live, Leslie. If it's NY, there's NYFA,
for starters. Regardless, they have a great website that'll give you
some helpful info: www.nyfa.org.

Erica Ginsberg
Fri 24 Jan 2003Link
Leslie, you might want to partner with a more experienced filmmaker
as producer or co-producer and apply for grants that way. As you
have learned the hard way (as have many of us), there are few funders
willing to take a chance on first-timers. If your story has a Jewish
theme, one place to consider (but you would need someone with a track
record to apply with you) is the Fund for Jewish Documentary
Filmmaking (http://www.jewishculture.org/docs/film_fund.html)

As for non-profits, we would need to know more about the angle of
your story to give better advice. Also worthwhile to look at the
credits of other Holocaust docs, check out donors to the Holocaust
Museum, etc. etc. to get ideas of organizations to approach. Also
important to know whether you looking just for a pass-through for non-
profit status or an organization that wants to take an active
interest in fundraising because your project could benefit them.

But do know that while taking on a co-producer or an NGO as a partner
may help you get access to funds, it may also take away some of your
freedom in how you want to tell your story. Especially with an NGO,
you want to ensure that you are on the same wavelength as to the
purpose, angle, and distribution strategy for the project (not to
mention clarifying who gets paid and how much).

I am reading between the lines that your story is only time-sensitive
because it involves interviewing a Holocaust survivor(s) who may not
be long for this earth. You may be able to find a kindred spirit who
would be willing to help you out on a deferred pay basis or a service
barter to shoot the interview/s. But again you need to say more
about your project so that the world knows what makes your Holocaust
story unique?

Leslie Bielanski
Mon 10 Feb 2003Link
Okay so now let's say I have found someone interested in financing
the remainder of the budget for my film. However this budget
includes salaries for myself and my husband as producers etc. Is it
unrealistic to expect this person to pay salaries? We need the
money from the salaries to pay rent etc. but this person has said
that our personal needs are not her problem she is only interested
in paying what it would cost minus the saleries to get this done.
Advice is greatly welcome.

Erica Ginsberg
Mon 10 Feb 2003Link
Is this a grant-making organization or a private donor and has
he/she/they already seen the detailed budget? If the sentence: "In
order to complete this project on time and on budget, we will have to
devote ourselves fulltime to it" is not enough to stop an otherwise
intelligent person from confusing livelihood with personal needs,
maybe you need to find another line item other than salary to ensure
that you get paid (my, those post-production expenses have gone up,
haven't they?). I'd only do that though if it isn't an organization
where an accountant-type will be bean counting every expense.

Robert Goodman
Tue 11 Feb 2003Link
depends on the salaries. I'd offer the following deal -
include the salaries and the project will be completed by the
following date. No salaries, it will proceed in between all the
other projects we will have to do to earn our living.

So if you are willing to wait 3-7 years for us to finish the project
and get your money back, because you don't want to pay any salaries
that's fine. Or you can fast track it. I won't recommend burying
salary in another line item because it only means there will be an
unintended surprise later on.

Elise Green
Thu 13 Feb 2003Link
Hi all,
I have a couple of outreach questions - ones I couldn't find answers
to in the archive of Robert West forum (please direct me to it if
I'm wrong).

Context:
I have a completed doc and am seeking distribution through direct
sales with broadcasters and specific distributors. I have strong
outreach partner relationships and am finalizing my outreach
program.

Everyone on the outreach side is raring to go but I don't have a
distribution deal yet! I don't want to lose momentum or make a
costly mistake re: distribution.

Questions:
- If I screen the film at community locations and some local film
theatres will this harm my chances to do a TV or distributor deal?
- if I give copies of the film to people involved in the film and
people I want to win over in the local community before I get a
distribution deal with broadcaster or distributor is this bad?
- what is the optimal timing for rolling out the outreach program ie
should I wait until I have distribution with someone before I roll
out the outreach?

Please feel free to direct me to previous, similar Q&A on the D-word
site if they exist. And thanks to the D-word, it's been a real
source of information and support.

Steve Mennie
Fri 21 Feb 2003Link
Barging in here with what might be a ridiculously simple minded
question to be asking of 'working pros' but then again..who else?

I've been a working artist (painter, printmaker) for 30 odd years and
am now determined to move into a new (for me) media, digital video.
So, assuming I know nothing about editing but have used a video
camera in a somewhat haphazard manner in connection with my work as a
painter..should I lay out a whack o' dough and purchase a 3 chip
camera (say, Canon G1), a big computer with something like Adobe
Premiere 6.5 etc. etc. or should I perhaps get the big computer, but
go for a high-end single chip camera and something a little cheaper
in the soft-ware..

I'm wondering if using simpler cheaper equipment will result in more
frustration and disappointment and be a less than positive
introduction to this medium or would it be worth it to have higher
end stuff?

thanks,

Steve

Doug Block
Fri 21 Feb 2003Link
Impossible to answer your question, Steve, without knowing how much
you have to spend and what your priorities are. A great image? A
more powerful edit system?

If you can afford it, higher end is always better. And these days,
there isn't much price diff between higher end and low end.

Steve Mennie
Fri 21 Feb 2003Link
Doug..

Thanks for taking the time with this..I have roughly priced
out 'higher' end stuff and would be around 15 thousand bucks
including 3 chip camera..would be a considerable stretch to go for
that and was wondering about staying with the higher end editing
capabality and going with a single chip camera to sort of feel my way
around and in the process develop some small projects that could be
used to raise money..grants etc..That would cut 5 grand off the top
and make it much more doable..

At the same time I'm concerned that the single chip would
compromise 'quality' and perhaps render these small projects useless
for such purposes. I guess I'm wondering if it's possible to get
one's feet wet cheaper and be able to produce something that could be
used to generate interest (income) that would then translate into the
possibility of upgrading to a 3 chip camera?

thanks,

Steve

Doug Block
Fri 21 Feb 2003Link
Steve, you can get a top of the line Final Cut Pro edit system, G-4
dual processor, all the memory and hard drive space you'll need for a
feature length doc, two monitors, etc. for under $7,000. You can buy
a state-of-the-art 3-chip digital camcorder like the Sony VX2000 or
PD-150 or the new Panasonic 24P camera for around $3,000. You can get
everything you need for under $10,000 if you shop around.

Margot Roth
Fri 21 Feb 2003Link
Steve, where do you live? Perhaps you want to rent a camera for a
weekend and use your local public video/film coop to edit... you can
prob. take an editing class at your local access station or something?

Then decide where you want to spend your money... nothing wrong w/ a
one-chip camera. Just depends what you wanna do w/ your stuff...

Steve Mennie
Fri 21 Feb 2003Link
You're right on the money, Doug..You're talking American dollars I
presume inwhich case 10k US translates to about 15k Cdn. As i am just
getting into this, Margot, I'm quite sure where the hell I'll be
going with it. I'm certainly committed to doing this and I want to
produce 'quality' projects so am wanting to get good stuff to work
with.

One problem for me is that I live in the interior of British
Columbia, Canada and have little access to professional help although
I do know a couple of people involved with the medium and one of whom
is quite professional having moved to this location from Toronto..

The local cable station has moved all of its video equipment to the
local high school to be used in a audio-visual class..I've checked
out the program at the school and although the teacher involved is
fairly clueless as to how to use the editing software (they hava a
new system with Adobe Premier 6.5, there are a couple of students who
do seem to know their way around on the system and have agreed to
give me some free tutorials. I'm hoping i can work my way into
getting access to the system and spend some time there perhaps
cutting up some old home movies to get a feel for the editing.
I suppose in a general sense, I'm interested in community and in
focusing on the 'particular' as apposed to the 'corporate'..in paying
attention to what is lost in communities when international
franchises move in and give communities the 'same as everywhere else'
look and feel.

I note that you mention getting Final Cut and a G4, Doug. I know that
deciding wether or not to get a Mac or a clone pc is probably more
difficult than finding a proof for God..but what is your take on the
pros or cons of going with one or the other?

thanks again for your time,

Steve

Doug Block
Sat 22 Feb 2003Link
I'm not the best to ask, Steve. All I know is me and the rest of the
world use FCP. You want a clone pc? Be my guest but lotsa luck with
support.

Ben Kempas
Sat 22 Feb 2003Link
Ehm.... the rest of the world uses FCP? Wait for this:

http://www.avid.com/company/releases/2003/030107_AvidFreeDV_prod.html

Erica Ginsberg
Sat 22 Feb 2003Link
Steve, you should see if there is some way (even a journey to
Vancouver or freebie downloads) to test out both Final Cut and Avid.
From my limited experience (I am not an editor), Final Cut has an
easier interface as an editing program if you have little editing
experience (and especially if you are interested in doing lots of
artsy overlay type effects), but, as a committed PC person who has
never found Macs more user-friendly, I knew that I had to get a
program that worked effectively on a PC so I invested in Avid XPress
DV. The main problem I've found with the Avid is that the
instruction manuals seem to presume the folks using it are
experienced with Avids and are simply new to having one at home. The
Final Cut instruction manuals I've seen don't presume you have any
editing experience.

Margot Roth
Sat 22 Feb 2003Link
STeve, maybe you could borrow someone's Mac and test out iMovie??
I've never used it but it comes free on Mac and whittles down editing
to the essentials.

For someone just getting into video, a 1-chip camera and iMovie (or
that new free Avid software Ben mentioned) would let your experiment
and have a lot of fun...

then after you've started up the learning curve, you'll have a better
idea of where to invest your money... fancier edit system, or fancier
camera (or both). Your 1-chip camera will always be handy to have...
you can use it to load footage instead of a deck later, e.g.

Also, for someone who is an artist/printmaker, I imagine the smaller
the camera the better... you can get more artistic and experiment
more... carry it w/ you everywhere... there's something about a more
expensive camera that might make you afraid to throw snow at it or
whatever...

Erica- there are so many "unofficial" editing manuals out there (for
FCP at least).. The bookstores here have whole sections of 'em. Did
you ever find an Avid manual to help you?

p.s. Steve, if you're wanting to do interviews, you will have to
invest in a microphone as well, eventually.

Steve Mennie
Sat 22 Feb 2003Link
Thanks everyone for your time and info.. Margo,Is it possible to
combine footage shot with a one chip and a 3 chip..would the cheaper
camera be useful in that way in the future? After what you were
saying about the portability etc of the smaller camera, I'm thinkin'
yah..that could be good.

I know i have to get a microphone but I was leaving that for now
while I fretted about the system and camera etc. Is there a
particular microphone that one should get/avoid??

Man, this is so great to be able to get information like this..altho
if this list wasn't available I would probably have been overwhelmed
with the difficulty etc and gone quietly back to the brushes thus
saving myself much travail..not to mention money..

Does anyone have an opinion about the Pinnacle products? The fellow
I'm talking to about a computer is yakking up the Pinnacle capture
card and Adobe Premiere 6.5..

Once again, thanks for info and time

Steve

Margot Roth
Sat 22 Feb 2003Link
real quick, am running out door...

-You really want a Mac, not a PC clone, for what you wanna do.
Believe me.

-You don't need a capture card--if you get a Mac, you just plug the
DV camera into the computer (via Firewire) and you can load footage...
It's very simple. You don't need to know about Pinnacle cards, etc.

-Any level of new Macintosh computer (including laptops) and a cheap
DV camera (one-chip) will let you get started w/ what you wanna do.

-yes, you can combine 1-chip and 3-chip footage, no problem.

In terms of Final Cut Pro... you should look at a newer product
called Final Cut Express instead... it's way cheaper than FCP, and
omits all the crap you won't need anyway.

Erica Ginsberg
Sat 22 Feb 2003Link
Margot, I am holding out for the Visual Quick Pro manual since the
one for Final Cut seemed to be pretty helpful. The Avid one was
supposed to come out by the end of 2002, then got pushed to April
2003, and now I see on Amazon, the release won't be until June.
Crap. My main issue is that my background is all in Media 100 and
Avid doesn't use the same terminology at all, so when I look up in
the manual or online guide something like "split clip," it doesn't
exist and I simply don't have the same sense of logic as whoever
created Avid to figure out its terminology. That said, I have
actually finished one simple piece for my office on the Avid, so I'm
hardly giving up on it yet. If anyone else here has any other
recommendations for good Avid XPress manuals, that would be welcome.
The online Avid User Forum is OK, but the interface is way too
unwieldy for the amount of questions generated there that good
responses are few and far between.

Robert Goodman
Sat 22 Feb 2003Link
Erica - Buy my book "Editing Digital Video" - if only for the translations from Media 100 to Final Cut terminology. Whole section. Should help - if it doesn't let me know why. The Visual guide is nothing more than a mediocre rewrite of the Apple manual with slightly better arrangment.

Steve- buy my book and the little digital video book by michael rubin. That should help you understand what to think about before you go spend thousands in US or Canadian dollars.

here's a link if you want to check it out. www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0071406352/qid%3D1033683221/sr%3D2-2/ref%3Dsr%5F2%5F2/102-4080661-8154522


Ben Kempas
Sun 23 Feb 2003Link
Yes, Robert, we really should have put the plug for your book. It is
essential reading.

Erica, if you have any questions about your XDV, you know where to
ask them... {LINK NOT IMPORTED}.... There's quite a bunch of Avid
editors among D-Worders.

Erica Ginsberg
Sun 23 Feb 2003Link
Robert, your book has been on my Amazon wishlist for months. My
birthday is Tuesday. Hint hint. (But does it give translations from
Media 100 to Avid? I'm not using Final Cut.) And, of course, I know
I can always ask questions in the Community. Just didn't want to
come across as the dumb dumb Avid newbie that I am. A pride thing, I
guess. :-)

Robert Goodman
Sun 23 Feb 2003Link
translations from m100 to Avid included.

Erica Ginsberg
Mon 24 Feb 2003Link
super!

Steve Mennie
Mon 24 Feb 2003Link
Thanks Margo, Erica, Robert et al...Your book is ordered Robert and I
will put off any further exploration until I have had a chance to
read it..thanks again all..

Steve

Maria Nicolás
Thu 13 Mar 2003Link
Hi ! We are an independant group who are making a documentary about
Eva Peron. We almost finished the 48 minutes version and now we are
contacting distributors and networks to sell it around the world.
Many of them just watched the trailer (posting on our web site) and
are asking for us to send them the full version to analyse it and
then send a proposal. My question is regarding of international
rights: We have regustered the documentary here in Argentina, but we
don´t know exactly how it works for the rest of the world, we should
register in every country ? Do we have to get any papel for export
the video ? We are not a company yet, so we have no idea how to
manage the commercial issues...
Thank you very much ! Maria

Doug Block
Thu 13 Mar 2003Link
No need to register elsewhere, Maria. You license your film to
broadcasters on a territory by territory basis. Or you find a
distributor or sales agent who will contact the broadcasters.

Since you are intending to enter into contracts one way or the other,
I suggest that you form a company. Or, at the very least, you need a
lead producer who will sign any contracts on the group's behalf.
Sounds like a company might be better, if only to force your group to
come to terms with the business end of the biz.

Robert Goodman
Sat 15 Mar 2003Link
and I wouldn't send anyone a tape -ever.
The purpose of a tape is to allow distributors
to say we saw that - it's no good. You
need to take the trailer to a market, show
em that only, and make a deal or not. No
deal no show. The alternative is to take
the completed doc to an A list festival
and win a prize. Then let them approach
you with a deal.

Sending tapes out is the kiss of DEATH!

Paul Butler
Tue 18 Mar 2003Link
I am currently completing an historical documentary and am having a
hard time locating guidelines for what to include in the credits and
in what order. Any resources or suggestions would be greatly
appreciated. Thanks.

Robert Goodman
Tue 18 Mar 2003Link
there aren't any standards for credits. Suggest you look at a few
other films you admire - and copy.

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