No need to sign your posts, Matt. It's done automatically.
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.
The situation: We're starting post-production on our fist feature documentary, which tells the story of what happens when the filmmaker (my partner) puts his same-sex wedding announcement in the local paper of his ultra-conservative small home town. It includes casual interviews with people on both sides of the debate about gay rights, verite footage of the filmmaker engaging with the local "Family" Association and School Board, and several interesting characters.
The need: A creative collaborating editor who can look at our 100+ hours of footage and help shape it into a coherent story with the appropriate tone and voice: think Jesus Camp meet Roger and Me.
The problem: although our hometown of Washington DC has many talented editors and a wonderful documentary community, nobody with the exact right mix of skills, interests, political outlook and time available to work on this project has emerged. We are in discussions with some really terrific, experienced people in New York, Philadelphia and elsewhere – but the question is, how does it work to edit a project when you live in different cities? Should we expect to move there for a few weeks? Or months? Have any of the experts had experience editing long distance? I'd appreciate your thoughts and any advice on how to work together over a distance.
To Matt- Re Adobe versus FCP – From a technical point the two programs are extremely similar, as are the layouts and even many of the keystrokes. In my experience the critical question is: who are you going to be collaborating with? Adobe seems to be used mostly by event and corperate-style videographers whereas FCP is used by almost all academic institutes and many indie filmmakers. If you're going to work completely by yourself it doesn't make much difference, but if you're going to collaborate on graphics, color, music etc., best to find out what your collaborators prefer. As to disadvantages, the big problem with Premier has always been instability; it shuts down a lot – maybe thats changed with the newest version. As to FCP, the biggest disadvantage used to be the price of MACS – but that has already changed with the new Mac Pros.
Thanks Robert. That's a very helpful point. No need to drill down through endless menus. I'll be sure to learn some of those critical keyboard shortcuts!
Dean, I don't want to underestimate the amount of skill required to do the various parts of post-production (as well as filming) or disrespect the great amount of skill required to make a memorable, moving documentary.
But my films are primarily going to be focused on content, not technical wizardry. I'm working with stories which move me very deeply that I believe will resonate with others deeply as well.
I will be doing most of the post work myself, as difficult as I know that will be. I am a quick learner and relish all the various challenges that I surely will face.
Dean, I'm not sure if you've done this or not, but get your interview footage transcribed. It's a lot of work up front, but it pays huge dividends down the road.
It may be best to sit down with a writer instead of an editor. Figure out the story you want to tell and the structure you want to use. You probably already know the story you want to tell, so write it out. Heck, you basically nutshell the story each time you post on the topic. As an editor, I don't need to watch a hundred hours of footage to get to that basic statement.
Starting with your basic statement, make a one or two page synopsis. Then make a treatment/paper edit, including what visuals, narration, music, etc. that you think will go into different places. Then sit down with a documentary writer or editor to look over what you have and get feedback from them. You can post what you come up with here and get excellent feedback.
Don't put it on your editor to reinvent the wheel. Especially if you know exactly what kind of wheel you want. If it's some Goodyear XKG All Season radials with white side walls, 205/85, etc., then say so.
Take a look at your Need and Problem statements again. You're setting your editor up for failure. I even have the 3 reasons why they will fail – not creative, not collaborative, and/or not the right mix. We could rewrite the statement to read – unprepared filmmaker seeks editor to do the hard work and accept the responsibility for things not working out right.
Editors are creative and collaborative and they don't need to be the "right" mix. The more specific you define the mix, the harder it is for anyone to meet the criteria. It's the filmmakers job to be the "right" mix, that's why they are telling a unique story.
It's really the filmmaker, especially the less experience they have, that lacks those qualities. It's not that the filmmaker isn't creative, or collaborative, rather without the experience, it's more difficult for them to clearly see the vision floating in their head, and then to clearly communicate that. The problem arises when the editor is unable to "divine" what the filmmaker is "seeing".
I hope I don't come across as harsh, and it's definitely not my intent, but one of the most common problems I see over and over again is the filmmaker him/herself getting in the way of making their film as good as it can be. And I'm the first to admit that I've been guilty of that on more than one occasion! But no one said the learning curve was easy or pleasant...
Anyways, my $0.02 – which won't even purchase fumes at the gas station :-)
Dean, part 2 of your question – working remotely with an editor. While it's not ideal, I think the technology today makes it much easier. One solution would be to have duplicate drives and file structures. As the editor works on a cut, they can send the project files to you so you can view what's going on. There's also tools such as Skype, etc. that would allow you to videoconference in and also see a virtual desktop.
There are times when an editor just needs to work alone to actually implement changes that have been discussed with the director. This is especially true in the rough cut stage. As you near a fine cut, there is more value in being there day to day. It all varies and depends on lots of factors.
Thanks Boyd – I'm also a first-time filmmaker and am struggling in post. I think a lot of what you've said could apply to me too – v helpful. Cheers!
Has anyone here entered a documentary in the Cannes Film Festival?
What was your experience like? Does entering in Cannes have advantages over entering it in Sundance?
JB, that SyncVUE is amazing. We should post about that in The Future of The D-Word topic and its potential for future collaborative projects.
Matt, Cannes shows very few docs, especially if you're not named Michael Moore. And much more expensive than Sundance, which is mighty expensive itself. Cannes has a market, too, but that's mostly for distributors selling shlocky films.
Hey I have a lot of respect for Cannes EXCEPT for the fact that they practically disregard the entire genre of documentaries. I take it Michael Moore has some direct connections.
Hahahaha yeah, plus it's the French. Oh well c'est la vie!!!
I've really been enjoying digging through this site since I joined a few weeks ago. Thanks to these forums and your profiles, I've gotten to know lots of documentarians and films though your posts and links to your respective websites. I've also been scouring the public areas of the site to gain more insight into the world of documentary filmmaking. Unlike most of you, I am a fan of the genre rather than an aspiring filmmaker. I admire the fact that so many of you are willing to share your experience and knowledge with others in such a supportive, non-condescending way. I'd like to ask a "What would you do if you were me?"-type question that pertains to documentaries. Since it requires some explanation and may be long, I'll leave most of it hidden. Thanks!
Hi Doug, I just saw 51 Birch Street and congratulations!
What a courageous film. For me, courage is such an admirable and rare quality in film nowadays and I'm delighted I saw it.
I had one of those rare life experiences laughing and crying at the exact same time when you clasped hands with your dad at the end.
That's quite a combo, to laugh and cry at the exact same instant; thanks so much for that!!
I have kind of a dumb technical question. When you were behind the camera participating in interviews, did you have a lavalier mike for yourself and a shotgun mike for the talent?
Robert Goodman, I just saw Stone Reader and loved it! I know you didn't direct this (you were the producer) but one of my favorite parts of the movie was the recurrence of various footage of butterflies throughout the film. Was this done to mark out different "chapters" of the movie?
This continual insertion of butterflies into the film reminded me of the recurring scene in Bunuel's Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie where the protagonists are repeatedly seen talking and walking in the French countryside....
Again Stone Reader is great film, with lots of unexpected twists and turns. Some great political points too (about ITT and the purchase of the publishing house) very subtly and ably presented.
Thanks so much for helping to bring that to the public. Because I'm a huge fan of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, I think I'm really going to enjoy the book The Stones of Summer, the subject of the movie.
Mossman's quite the scholar.... evidently 1605 was THE year for Shakespeare!!!
I plan to attend a local sports-related consumer show next month, with
an eye toward getting interviews and other shots. I'll use footage shot
in a public-access TV show, and for other things. Any tips or hints?
The eqpt will be loaned to me by the public access station. I will have
interviewees sign releases.
What sort of open-ended questions should I ask? What sort of shots? I'm
brand-new at this, so any help is appreciated.
In order to help you, you need to provide us with more information.
What do you mean by "sports-related" consumer show? Is this a fair, a sort of market with equipment on sale/ What sport(s)? Who do you want to ask questions? People selling equipment, members of the public, buyers?
What is your motivation for filming this event? Why is it important? Is there anything special about the event or the equipment being sold/exhibited here? Is this the first time or is this a yearly event? Is there any special significance for the locals? Will any (sports) celebrity be attending?If so, you need to obatin info about this person(s).
Will someone be demonstrating a sport using some kind of equipment? How big is the arena/sports ground, etc? Why are the organizers putting on this event?
These are things I would try to find out if I had to film this event and in order to figure out what to film and what questions to ask.
The following guidelines are the A, B, Cs of news coverage and they apply to documentary storytelling as well.
Whenever you decide to shoot something, you must ask yourself; "What am I shooting?" and "why am I shooting it?
Then your story must always answer the 5 Ws and 1 H: "Who, what, why, when, where and how."
Everything you need to do (what to shoot, who to ask questions, what to ask) depends on the answers to these questions.
Matt – I will pass along your comments to Mark. There are so many layers in the film it is hard to know where to begin. I can only say that I am very proud to have helped bring Stone Reader to audiences.
First, let me say this won't be a documentary per se, although I hope to earmark some footage for a project I've dreamed of for years.
This is an annual golf show in Minneapolis. It is a fair, where golf courses, club vendors, and a few related others get together on a snowy Feb. day to help people get the snow off their feet and dream of spring.
I'm mainly interested in doing interviews of folks from the golf courses that will appear, doing the 5W and an H in shorter clips. First end product would be a show for local public access TV, with saved footage for the other project I mentioned. After all, they'll be gathered in one location so it'll save time driving all over searching them out.
There will be demos here, and it's in the Metrodome, the huge playing field for the Minnesota Twins and Vikings.
Thanks for the questions. I've written and photographed for magazines for years, but this will be my first foray into the visual documentary-related forum.
regardless of the duration of your story, the mechanics are always the same.
Ideally, each story should have a beginning, middle and an end and answer the 5Ws and 1 H. Given that you intend to do several shorter pieces, you could do one more generic piece and several others, each of which could deal with a particular aspect of the fair that you and/or your audience might be interested in.
It seems like you should be able to put several interesting pieces together.
If you know anything about golf – and I presume that you do – if you answer the questions I outlined (What is this story about and what do I want to show you) it should be rather simple to come up with some interesting questions to ask. You can ask the equipment vendors about gear, the players about form and playing tips, the visitors about ther expectations for the new season, etc., etc.
From what I imagine you'll find there you should be able to put togteher some visually interesting and exciting stories. Try to put some nat sound pieces together.
I can already visualize dozens of stories. Try to imagine YOUR stories visually and that should help you figure out what to shoot.
Chris, quickly read through your proposal. Leaving aside the odds against pulling it off, are you aware of a feature doc that came out a few years ago called My Date With Drew? If not, check into it. It was a small but charming film, came and went and barely made a blip commercially.
In all honesty, hard to imagine any established docmaker being tempted by your proposal. In the end, though, who are any of us to tell someone not to dream?
Thanks for your kind words, Matt. As for the mic, I used a Senheisser ME 63 mounted on the camera. It has the ability to screw on a number of mics with different patterns. I used one with a figure 8 pattern, that captures sound equally in front and behind the camera. So one mic was able to record both of us talking. Came in very handy. Only problem is if I film verite for long stretches without talking myself (and I never know when I might), it picks up a lot of extraneous room noise from behind.
In reply to Chris Hinrichs's post on Mon 28 Jan 2008 4:16 UTC :
Chris, I'd make a couple of quick suggestions. First would be to reframe your proposal in tone and presentation.
By tone, I'd suggest not looking at all the reasons why it shouldn't work. I noticed on your site that you're an architect. Think about the proposal in the same way you propose something to a client. You don't tell them all the things that will go wrong (being overcharged by contractors, termites, fire, water damage, floods, famine, family arguments, etc...).
By presentation, while it's okay to have a paragraph teaser, I want to know what the story is. If it's not part of the story, don't tell me. Currently the way you build it up I'm expecting the greatest idea I've ever heard and no idea can live up to that. Obstacles that need to be surmounted are not part of the story, unless...
...that is the story. Which would probably make a very interesting documentary – "Guy faces insurmountable odds to make incredible idea a reality. Does he or doesn't he?"
I would also recommend trying to hook up with someone in your area, a friend with a camera or an aspiring filmmaker, and work together on moving the project forward. As Doug mentions, it's unlikely that established docmakers would be tempted, or being tempted, it may not be in the way that you're envisioning.
You also may want to start smaller. Instead of an A-list star, why not a local celebrity in your area. They're much more approachable and the idea would be the same. It might make the idea more attractive to more established filmmakers and celebrities.
Doug, Thanks for taking a quick look. If you read the whole thing I specifically address My Date With Drew and how the two are very different films. Perhaps I need to do a better job of articulating just how different it is. Believe me, I know it's an incredibly tough sell. I know the chance of it ever getting made is next to zero. That's what intrigues me the most – the impossibility of it. I hope you find the time at some point to look at more of the material, but I completely understand that it's not for everyone.
By the way, I wanted to compliment you on 51 Birch Street. I saw it a while back and thought it was excellent. I recommend it often.
Boyd- Thanks a lot for your thoughts. It's the kind of feedback I'm looking for. I will consider the things you've said. Your comments about the tone are well-taken.
I suppose the best thing is for people who have thoughts to e-mail me directly so I don't hijack this forum. You can e-mail me @ firstname.lastname@example.org
chris, in an effort to procrastinate from further fundraising activities, i read your entire proposal for your "dream doc".
i can safely say that you're CRAZY! having said that, i think it's a good kind of crazy, and the shared gene that most of us aspiring and established docmakers possess. plenty of people have been told their projects have absolutely no chance – and a fortunate few have actually persevered and finished their projects with great success.
however, i would really challenge you to re-evaluate WHY you are doing this project. at the same time, i would challenge you to think about why you are not doing a DIFFERENT documentary project. To me, this project seems too frivolous and insubstantial for someone like you, who admits to admiring the direct cinema and verite work of masters like Maysles, Kopple, James, etc... i'm no psychoanalyst, but you seem like you might have a more "worthy" doc in you to produce. by "worthy", i don't mean that it has to be intensely depressing or socially conscious – it can have humor and spontaneity and whatever else fits your personality – but it has to have something at its core that inspires you.
The "impossibility" of making something is not reason enough to try. You need to combine "impossible" with "irresistible" to really have a film worth making. if you write a proposal that convinces everyone why you "can't NOT make this film", then you actually might have a chance. right now, i read your proposal, and just see a guy who says "why not make this film"? there's a big difference.
i don't want to discourage you, just refocus you... btw, if i didn't think you had it in you to actually make a doc film, i wouldn't have wasted my time writing this reply. good luck!
In reply to Doug Block's post on Mon 28 Jan 2008 :
I'm intruiged by those Sennheisers. I like the modular concept very much, the interchangeability. It did an excellent job of picking up your voice from behind!
When you didn't speak for long periods and extraneous noise made it on to the sound track, did you squelch it in post?
What do you think of my proposed setup of a Sennheiser shotgun mike (i.e. unidirectional) with a lavalier corded mike on myself, since I will be tethered to the camcorder anyway?
I was thinking this might solve the problem of excess noise coming from the back end.
Your thoughts? Thanks for your help!
Re- looking for an editor,collaborating at a distance, transcription.
Boyd, thanks for your suggestions.
Everybody else- thanks for the tips.
Question: everybody seems to agree that it's a good idea to have interviews transcribed. Have people had luck going on Craigs list? I know there are professional services but they seem to run $150+ per hour of tape, and we have a lot of tape. Since the transcripts are just a searchable tool not a finished product, I am wondering if this is one case where cheap = good??? Thanks!
Matt, your setup sounds fine. Probably better than mine, actually. I just like to put the camera down from time to time.
dean, no reason to have to pay $150/hr for transcription work. i've found quite a few for $115/hr and under. in fact, there are some who charge per hour (only $20-25) and since they usually don't take more than 4 hours to transcribe each tape, it's the most affordable for me to be billed per hour of labor.
it also depends on what kind of footage you have. if it's all interviews, then pretty much anybody who can type fast (and who has the capability to insert TC simultaneously) can do it. if it's verite footage, and you actually want descriptions of how people are moving, what kind of shots are being employed, and every single comment noted, then i do think it matters who your transcriptionist is. but most people either don't have that kind of footage, or don't need it transcribed.
if you need some references to transcriptionists, i'd be happy to email them separately to you. you can then contact them yourself, and have them send you samples that you can review to see if they're a good fit.
You might try going to Craigs list and doing a search for experienced legal secretaries between jobs/assignments.
They are highly literate (having worked in law offices) and are used to doing lots of transcription from recordings that I know are lower quality than yours.
For example, the average legal secretary salary in the SF Bay Area is 75,000/yr. which works out to $37.50/hr., assuming you work 2000 hours a year.
This should save you big bucks and provide very high quality.
Hope that helps!
Hi, I'm very interested in United States documentaries/political movies from the 1930s, most especially US depression era cinema with political content. I need them to be US only; my studies of Soviet montage and Riefenstahl is a separate and intense study.
I just saw Our Daily Bread (1935) which had some excellent cinematic qualities and the climax with the irrigation ditch being completed is truly fantastic cinematography with some real live action surprises.
Any other recommendations?
I just transcribe 2 hours of interview footage using an app called MovCaptioner. It was 20 bucks or so. Here's the link:http://www.slidesnow.com/movcaptioner/
The great feature is that it has a loop function so it plays over and over again sections until you get them right. One idea is to put all your footage (copies) and a copy of the application on a drive and let the person you get to transcribe your stuff use it. Then have them give the drive back to you.
Not sure how others work, but I transcribe much of my material, since a lot of it is in Chinese and I need to translate it at the same time. I find it's helpful to note pauses, repeat words, cross talk, etc. as it helps in the paper edit. I'll even mark specific sections that I know are definitely going into the film.
One thing to remember, even with a transcript, you still need to sit and watch everything – how a thing is said is as important as what is said.
Christopher – when you have your stuff transcribed, to you get a verbatim transcript?
boyd, when you say "verbatim" transcript, what exactly do you mean? do you mean one that includes notations for all the pauses, stuttering, and other odd noises that occur during the subject's interview or conversation? do you also mean one that describes each shot as it changes?
for my project and my budget, i only have interviews and the most important conversations transcribed. my transcribers generally include notations for long pauses, "uhs", and stammering in their transcripts. i do not have them include shot types or any background conversation that happens simultaneous to the subject's voice(s). incidentally, i also send hard drives to my transcriptionists – it's slightly more expensive in the short run, but it really pays off in the end in convenience and in the number of clips i can include in one mailing.
btw, that app MovCaptioner sounds great. i really like that play over function that you described...
Dean, I've done this before for translations/interpretations and break it down a little differently than for an elaborate shot list that requires lots of visual cues. But if you need mainly spoken and audio cue text, with some key visual cues, you're welcome to email and perhaps we can work something out. Please use email@example.com if so. What are your deadlines? I am not operational 01 – 17 Feb, and a colleague needs help (I will start on his as soon as it arrives – not expecting it to take too long).
Dean It's too late for me to go into the previous message and make a change: if working directly from tapes, I can't help you. I would need DVD(s) with burned in time code (or could improvise from the player's time code – not ideal but not a big deal if this is the first cut from the raw tapes: you'd find your place easily enough).
Christopher, I'm thinking exactly what your transcribers are doing, with the uhs and long pauses. Do they or can they notate when there is a change in tone within a sentence? I've noticed sometimes that a person will start a sentence, have a thought and change gears in the middle. It still looks like one sentence on paper, but is actually two distinct thoughts (and couldn't work as a sentence.)
As for shot descriptions, I do that myself when I log the tape, and I'll highlight things that standout, even with dialogue that might be transcribed later. The type of shot within an interview doesn't matter, only if there's unusable camera movement.
I've also done variations, with no transcription, but more detailed logging – where with an interview I'll write down what topics they are talking about, with timecode, and transcribe specific passages that come across well. In FCP I'll use markers and subclips to divide things up into specific bins.
One cool side benefit of doing translations – with the workflow I use – is that towards the fine cut stage, I end up with dedicated video tracks with subtitles using the FCP outline text generator. I can actually export those and come up with a word document with all the text and timecode. That way as I near a finer cut, I can basically export a "script". It's great to be able to read it and see how the cut I have is developing as a story or where there may be gaps.
Thanks for all the suggestions about transcribing. I don't think I need super-detailed transcripts, just the basic dialogue in a searchable digital format so when I want to find every comment about "subject X" I can easily locate them.
But I am a little confused about the best format to use for the clips – I want something easily shared, with reel# and timecode, visual as well as audio, and easy for the transcriber to start and stop. I was going to just make low resolution QT clips with timecode burned in and assume the transcriber can play them back and forth as needed. Does that work? That way I could share everything by ftp. Thx!
boyd, i haven't asked for the transcriber to notate any "tone changes" in a subject's speech, but i'm sure that would be helpful to have somewhere. but i'm assuming that would add time and money to the transcription. the only tone change that would be easy to note would be a "..." between words.
dean, what you've described would definitely work. the only disadvantage of that method is that it's going to take you awhile to render BITC to each clip, and then export out each compressed file. but if you've got the time, any transcriptionist should be able to handle your footage perfectly well.
one alternative is to buy a cheap hard drive, load all of the full resolution QT clips you want transcribed on that drive, and then send that to your transcriber. using that method, you don't have to include BITC, b/c QT can automatically bring up each clip's native TC in the viewing window. (btw, if you compress your clip, we've found that you lose that track that remembers the native TC.) if you choose to do this, then just be sure that your transcriber has the same system (Mac or PC) that you have. if you have a Mac and they have a PC, then you'll have to buy a copy of MacDrive ($40) so that they can read your drive properly. That's what we ended up doing, and MacDrive works like a dream (despite what some of the reviews said).
Matt, presume you already know most of Pare Lorentz' work:
Dean, wish I could offer you advice beyond the great ideas others have already shared here. I actually transcribe my own films...which is one of many reasons they take so long. I don't do it out of thriftiness alone but also because it makes me more familiar with the nuances of the material. What you may want to do with all your footage is to do a first look-through and jot down notes of key quotes you like maybe with a system of keywords (your "subject x"). Then narrow that down to the tapes you know you want to use and give that to a professional transcriber.
I'm back . . . well, not really back . . . I'm shooting this week and next, and things are going really well so far. Better than I could expect, yet there are things I didn't anticipate, like how hard it is to direct when you don't speak the language!
So, now that I'm working in a context, I need to revisit a question I posted a few weeks back. I'm shooting in small village in Italy and while the Italian spoken here is not necessarily dialect, it's . . . well, it's its own thing.
But my dilemma was that my DP goes back to Milan when we're finished, and I go back to the States. I'd like to begin editing when I get back but I'll need to hire someone fluent in Italian (and especially astute to pick up this particular Italian spoken here).
How does it work with you're shooting in a language that's not your own in terms of translation? How does the editor work in another language?
I'm back to wondering if I should just work with my DP on this – like stop the shoot a few days early and sit with him and edit (it's the only way we can be together) (otherwise, he goes back to work the day after the shoot is over) . . . or do I go back to the States and find an Italian-English speaking editor?
We'll have about 20 hours of footage on PAL (we don't need to go into that again).
Darla, why not simply find someone who understands the dialect to help you make english transcripts from the footage? Plenty of editors cut footage referencing the transcripts but without speaking the language.
Good idea, Doug. That's what I'm thinking – so I'm going to ask a very basic question now. . . how would I do that? Give them the footage? Sit down with them? Would they type it out? Record it (so essentially it would be like dubbing?)