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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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Wolfgang Achtner
Mon 7 Jan 2008Link

Darla,

Allow me to suggest you might want to pass by Barnes & Nobles and buy a text book or two, in order to familiarize yourself with all you'll need to do when you get back.

You should consider one or both of these: Barry Hampe, Making Documentary Films & Videos (my favorite) or Rabiger, Directing the Documentary. I'd also suggest one of these: Rice & McKernaan, Editing Digital Video or Button, Nonlinear Editing.

Second, if you do a quick Google Search you should be able to find a glossary of digital terms. Here I've done it for you.

http://videoexpert.home.att.net/artic1/glosbold.htm

http://www.videoforums.co.uk/guide-glossary-77.htm

http://www.altera.com/end-markets/broadcast/glossary/bro-glossary.html

http://www.high-techproductions.com/glossary.htm

http://www.acvl.org/acvl_manual/video_terms.html

http://www.kodak.com/US/en/motion/support/glossary/glossary.jhtml?id=0.1.4.15.20&lc=en

I'm going to make a note that you should read now or before you start anything when you get back. This regards editing, but I'm writing it here because you have a tendency to do things first and then ask for advice: WRONG WAY!!!!

After shooting, to "capture" your video, i.e. to pass your video from tapes onto a hard disk drive, you can use any PAL miniDV camera or a SONY DSR deck (PAL/NTSC switchable).

Regardless of whether you'll be editing in PAL or NTSC, you'll need to purchase a hard disk drive (this is where you store all your video and it can be attached or removed to any computer laptop or table top, as well as to the computer that you'll be using to edit. This allows your editor to work on other projects and allows you to have "portability." Since external hard drives are so cheap, I'd suggest buying a 250 GB or 500 GB hard disk drive. Lacie is a good brand and these drives have always worked well for me. You could also look for a hard drive that has a ventilator. In any case, a top quality 500GB disk drive will cost you less than US$200,00. This is enough storage to store the edited version and all the media (the video and audio files that you have captured) of at least two documentaries.

One last suggestion: I always capture ALL the media in low resolution at first for the various edits (you will get slightly lower quality video and audio this way, but you'll save a lot of space on the hard disk) and re-capture the media (with Media Manager) at Standard or High Definition (whatever the maximum resolution level or your shooting material is, in your case, SD) only AFTER I've completed the final cut (and adjusted audio and video levels, added subtitles, graphics, etc.). This won't mean anything to you now, but your editor will understand.

Please note that the "logging phase" is associated witht the capture phase, in fact I (and many others) log and capture together, whereas others prefer to capture first and then log. "Logging" is the procedure whereby you list and describe every single shot on a tape. You want to make sure you use stars (for example) to mark your best video and you'll want to take care that you also note your best nat sound.
You will group similar shots in "bins." You can learn the basics of editing – i.e. the part YOU need to know, on a good text book and working with your editor.

Please note that this – LOGGING – is the most important phase – and the one that will determine the edit and the final outcome of your documentary. You must have the patience to log every shot correctly. This procedure allows you to see what (video, shots) you have available and to memorize your video (don't ask me how it happens because I don't know, but the logging process allows me to memorize, effortlessly, every single shot in 60 or more hours of video).

The logging process is something that you and your editor must do TOGETHER, so you both get to know all the video that is available. This allows you to map out your story and write an outline and will also allow you, during the edi,t to build sequences (because you know all the video that you have and where it is located).

It's easier than it sounds – and fun, at least for me – but make sure that you do some studying BEFORE you start any work when you return home otherwise you'll never be in control of what you're doing.

Also, Christopher has made a very good point. An editor is NOT to be considered like another piece of hardware. A good editor makes the difference, aside from the fact that he/she can save you non-withstanding mistakes you may have made. You should try to find someone who has edited one or more stories, similar to yours in a way that you like. Especially in your case where you know zip, a more-experienced editor will save your behind, teach you as you go along and make magic (if the material you've shot allows her/him to do so). I'm certain that you'll be able to get many suggestions regarding experienced editors from the members of D-word and/or asking for help from members of the IDA (International Documentary Association).

If anything, this is where you need to spend some extra money. A good editor is worth every cent and in your case they will also be acting as your producer, teacher, babysitter and fairy godmother. A top notch editor can make a great doc (if your material permits it) or at least save your butt and carve out something passable if you have the minimum required elements. Don't try to save the odd few bucks here because you'd be screwing yourself!


Darla Bruno
Mon 7 Jan 2008Link

Excellent, you guys. Thank you SO much!


Wolfgang Achtner
Mon 7 Jan 2008Link

For the log and capture process, Erica Ginsburg has a DSR11 deck; maybe you can rent hers!


Erica Ginsberg
Mon 7 Jan 2008Link

Wow, Wolfgang posted just before me. I do have a DSR-11, but it's in use right now at my editor's as I plod along on my edit, so not available for rental unfortunately. Plus, it would be much easier for you to find one to rent in New York which is closer to you.

I was going to add that the DSR-11 deck which Chris recommends renting (and which is preferable to using the valuable heads of your camera for logging/capturing) can be used for PAL DV footage, but you will need to make sure your editor has a PAL monitor. As others have said much better than I ever could, you are probably better off picking either PAL or NTSC for shooting (or, if you have to do some of each, get the tapes converted to your preferred editing format before logging so they are all consistent). I produced a project which had both NTSC and PAL footage. We ended up editing and outputting in NTSC, but got the tapes converted BEFORE we started editing.

Edited Mon 7 Jan 2008 by Erica Ginsberg

Darla Bruno
Mon 7 Jan 2008Link

Erica,

So you converted how? With your own software or professionally? How did the conversion turn out?

Darla


Erica Ginsberg
Mon 7 Jan 2008Link

Well we were in a very similar situation to you moneywise, so we could not afford to get them converted at a dub house, which would obviously be the preferred method. This was also in the days when we were just starting to transition from Beta-SP to DV, so the PAL tapes were all Beta PALs and had to be converted to DV NTSC. Our soundguy (who was also a co-producer) knew lots of kooky characters in the industry from his freelance sound work, so he called up a friend who had accumulated dozens and dozens of different decks in his basement and he did the conversion for us at a fairly reasonable rate and a fairly slow turnaround. But the quality was good enough for what we needed.


Wolfgang Achtner
Tue 8 Jan 2008Link

Darla,

Contrary to Erica's suggestion (Erica, please forgive me!) I advise you NOT to convert your material BEFORE the edit.

You might have, for example, to convert 20 sixty minute shooting tapes whereas, AFTER the edit, only 52 minutes TOTAL ( if your doc is a one-hour-long format) or even less than that if part of it was shot in NTSC.

Also, if you're only shooting in Italy, it'll all be PAL. If you'll be doing some shooting in US, shoot in PAL (if you can) or shoot NTSC. It won't make any difference as you do a rough cut; convert at the end and splice it all together.

If you check B&H you'll notice that – in a worst case scenario – converters are cheap today.

If you do a search on the B&H website www.bhphotovideo.com using the words "PAL NTSC standards converter" you'll find several models listed including the AV Toolbox CDM-660 Standards Converter that costs only $179.95. There are several other models that cost between $359 and $539.

I don't see why the cheaper one couldn't do the job. In any case, I imagine – as a worst case scenario – that it would be cheaper to buy than convert all the tapes.

I'd advise you – for the moment – not to keep worrying about what comes next. Concentrate on your upcoming shoot in Italy and enjoy yourself.

If you MUST worry about something, worry about finding an excellent editor! :-)


Wolfgang Achtner
Tue 8 Jan 2008Link

Darla,

By thye way, if you edit using a MAC laptop or desktop monitor, you can use PAL.

A regular TV monitor needs to be PAL or NTSC or both, but the advantage of using digital video on a computer screen is that PAL or NTSC makes o difference. This is why you can play DVDs originating form video sot in either NTSC or PAL on any computer monitor.

I have edited severa docs on a MAC laptop with a 17 inch screen, so – if you're trying to save money – I don't see why you couldn't do the same.


Wolfgang Achtner
Tue 8 Jan 2008Link

Darla,

Excuse the garble in the previous post, I punched post too hastily, about to go to bed (it's 2 AM here).

Corrected version: By the way, if you edit using a MAC laptop or desktop monitor, you can use PAL without any problem.

A regular TV monitor needs to be PAL or NTSC or both, but the advantage of using digital video on a computer screen is that PAL or NTSC makes no difference. This is why you can play DVDs originating from video shot in either NTSC or PAL on any computer monitor.

I have edited several docs on a MAC laptop with a 17 inch screen, so – if you're trying to save money – I don't see why you couldn't do the same.


Darla Bruno
Tue 8 Jan 2008Link

Thanks, Wolfgang. My DP actually has a convertor, a MAC, FCP. Though, I'm not choosing him for editing, but I know he can help convert if need be.

I'm no longer worried. I think it's people who give me advice like "find another DP" or get an NTSC camera, that get me all worked up. My DP is the one for this film and his equipment is what it is. The whole thing will be shot in Italy and mostly likely with him and his camera (unless something happens to him between trips – the next one won't happen for a while).

Beyond that, I'm going to enjoy for now. I'm about to meet the best cook in all of (the village that I'm shooting in). So I really can't go wrong as far as I'm concerned :)


Wolfgang Achtner
Tue 8 Jan 2008Link

Good. Since you're shooting everyting in Italy and in PAL, convert at the end, if need be.

Since your DP has a converter I'm certain that you'll be able to find a simple and cheap way to deal with this when you've completed your final cut (by the way, that's where FINAL CUT PRO got the name).

By the way, this talk of the best cook is making me hungry! I feel if your story isn't taking place too far away from Rome you ought to invite me over for lunch!


Darla Bruno
Tue 8 Jan 2008Link

Yes, it'll be good . . . it's in Abruzzo -


Robert Goodman
Tue 8 Jan 2008Link

Wolfgang – thanks for including Editing Digital Video in your list. One correction – Brian McKernan and John Rice did not write the book. The book was part of a series of books about video that they were supposed to brand. I co-authored the book with my good friend Patrick McGrath.


Wolfgang Achtner
Tue 8 Jan 2008Link

Robert,

Of course!!! I'm an idiot – in my haste, and half asleep (it was past 02.00 in the morning) – I copied the names of the series advisors of the book cover and not the authors!

By the way, in your book I discovered my favorite definition of a documentary film.

"A documentary is a film without women. If there is a women, it's a semi-documentary," according to Harry Cohn, the head of Columbia Pictures, as quoted by Fred Zinneman in his autobiography.

I love that one!

Darla, I guess you better run out and buy this one (or get it on Amazon), 'cause Robert is watching!!!


Erica Ginsberg
Tue 8 Jan 2008Link

Hmmm, Wolfgang, I was going to accept your previous apology, but now I'm not so sure... ;-)


Wolfgang Achtner
Tue 8 Jan 2008Link

Erica,

What I mean is that it is so off the wall. I can almost visualize this gruff sort of studio legend, barking out a sentence like this. I guess you have to imagine the setting and the context to enjoy it properly.

Also, what he probably means is: "Boring, no sex, no drama." Or something of the sort. I must confess that I thought that it was hilarious!


Erica Ginsberg
Tue 8 Jan 2008Link

I dunno. I like what Eddie Izzard said at last night's Critics Choice Awards after riffing on the Writer's Strike in purposely broken English:
"Documentaries are nice but not got car chases, so pooh. People who make them have no pants so please give them cash in bags or golden prizes like in running race."


Wolfgang Achtner
Tue 8 Jan 2008Link

Cool. Great idea. Doubt I'll ever have to worry about prizes but cash is certainly better than medals or trophies.


John Burgan
Wed 9 Jan 2008Link

Ha! I knew RG nicked that Zinneman/Cohn quote from my post back in May 2002!


Robert Goodman
Wed 9 Jan 2008Link

perhaps you reminded me since the biography is in my collection?


John Burgan
Wed 9 Jan 2008Link

Yessir! (smile)


Leon Coleman
Thu 10 Jan 2008Link

Hello all, my name is Leon Coleman and I write under the name Lord Baltimore. I know absolutely nothing and need a ton of help.

Long story short, I want to follow a girl's 18 and under volleyball team for one entire 6 month season beginning now and culminating in their championships in July 08. The owner of the club team loves the idea, has given me full access to his team, practices and games. I have enlisted the aide of a very experienced sound/camera man.

And by the way, if this is not the place to ask this question, i apologize to all...

Anyway, the first thing I need to know is if anyway has a sample clearance form I can provide to the coach and players/parents so I can proceed. After that I have some general questions about crowd shots, competition against other girls (who are not cleared) etc. Thank you.

(I posted in "introduce" as well before i knew about this room. sorry.


John Burgan
Fri 11 Jan 2008Link

Google "release form" + documentary and you should find something that fits. Maybe best to check wording with your lawyer to be on the safe side


Joe Moulins
Fri 11 Jan 2008Link Tag

This should do it, Leon.


Leon Coleman
Sat 12 Jan 2008Link

Thank you both very much. I downloaded the form Joe suggested and will do a google seacrh. This is sort of a daunting process. Once I get the girls, coaches and parents, I still have to figure out how to handle it when I shoot a game where that relates to releases from members of the other teams. Any insight or suggestions? From what I have read, if I film a sporting event and don't highlight the opponents, I may not be required to obtain their releases. Your thoughts are welcome.


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