the worldwide community of documentary professionals
You are not signed in.
Log in or Register

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.

Resultset_first Resultset_previous 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 Resultset_next Resultset_last
Dean Hamer
Mon 21 Jan 2008Link

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.

Matt Dubuque
Wed 23 Jan 2008Link

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.

Edited Wed 23 Jan 2008 by Matt Dubuque

Boyd McCollum
Thu 24 Jan 2008Link

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 :-)

Boyd McCollum
Thu 24 Jan 2008Link

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.

Lisa Salem
Fri 25 Jan 2008Link

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!

John Burgan
Sat 26 Jan 2008Link

As well as Boyd's suggestion of the freeware Skype there's an even more ambitious (not free) app called SyncVUE which allows those working on editing in different locations to hook up and work together online.

Matt Dubuque
Sat 26 Jan 2008Link

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?


Doug Block
Sat 26 Jan 2008Link

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.

Doug Block
Sat 26 Jan 2008Link

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.

Matt Dubuque
Sat 26 Jan 2008Link

OK, many thanks Doug!

Le Sheng Liu
Sun 27 Jan 2008Link

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.

Doug Block
Sun 27 Jan 2008Link

harvey whine-stein?

Le Sheng Liu
Sun 27 Jan 2008Link

Hahahaha yeah, plus it's the French. Oh well c'est la vie!!!

Chris Hinrichs
Mon 28 Jan 2008Link

Dear D-Worders,
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!

Show hidden content

Matt Dubuque
Mon 28 Jan 2008Link

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?

Edited Mon 28 Jan 2008 by Matt Dubuque

Matt Dubuque
Mon 28 Jan 2008Link

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!!!


Edited Mon 28 Jan 2008 by Matt Dubuque

Dale Archibald
Mon 28 Jan 2008Link

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.

Wolfgang Achtner
Mon 28 Jan 2008Link


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.

Wolfgang Achtner
Mon 28 Jan 2008Link


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.

Robert Goodman
Mon 28 Jan 2008Link

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.

Dale Archibald
Mon 28 Jan 2008Link

Hello, Wolfgang

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.

Wolfgang Achtner
Mon 28 Jan 2008Link


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.

Doug Block
Mon 28 Jan 2008Link

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?

Doug Block
Mon 28 Jan 2008Link

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.

Boyd McCollum
Mon 28 Jan 2008Link

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.

Good luck!

Chris Hinrichs
Mon 28 Jan 2008Link

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.

Chris Hinrichs
Mon 28 Jan 2008Link

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 @

Christopher Wong
Mon 28 Jan 2008Link

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!

Matt Dubuque
Mon 28 Jan 2008Link

In reply to Doug Block's post on Mon 28 Jan 2008 :

Thanks Doug-

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!

Edited Mon 28 Jan 2008 by Matt Dubuque

Chris Hinrichs
Mon 28 Jan 2008Link

A response to Christopher Wong:

Show hidden content

Dean Hamer
Mon 28 Jan 2008Link

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!

Doug Block
Mon 28 Jan 2008Link

Matt, your setup sounds fine. Probably better than mine, actually. I just like to put the camera down from time to time.

Christopher Wong
Mon 28 Jan 2008Link

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.

Matt Dubuque
Tue 29 Jan 2008Link

Thanks Doug!


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!

Edited Tue 29 Jan 2008 by Matt Dubuque

Matt Dubuque
Tue 29 Jan 2008Link

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?


Boyd McCollum
Tue 29 Jan 2008Link Tag

I just transcribe 2 hours of interview footage using an app called MovCaptioner. It was 20 bucks or so. Here's the link:

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?

Christopher Wong
Tue 29 Jan 2008Link

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...

Jo-Anne Velin
Tue 29 Jan 2008Link

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 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).

Jo-Anne Velin
Tue 29 Jan 2008Link

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).

Boyd McCollum
Tue 29 Jan 2008Link

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.

Doug Block
Tue 29 Jan 2008Link

Matt, try The Grapes of Wrath and Sullivan's Travels.

Dean Hamer
Tue 29 Jan 2008Link

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!

Christopher Wong
Tue 29 Jan 2008Link

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).

Erica Ginsberg
Wed 30 Jan 2008Link

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.

Darla Bruno
Wed 30 Jan 2008Link

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).


Doug Block
Wed 30 Jan 2008Link

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.

Darla Bruno
Wed 30 Jan 2008Link

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?)

Boyd McCollum
Wed 30 Jan 2008Link

Darla, I've edited extensively in Chinese and my grasp of the language is really poor so I've come up with a method that works for me (and your mileage may vary).

Not sure what system you're using, I use FCP, but this method should work in other NLEs. I put each captured tape or clip in its own sequence. I then go into the Text Generator and select Outline Text. You may want to spend a little time here playing with the font, size, and outline. Don't make it too big or too small. And watch your placement in the canvas – you want to stay title safe.

I then drop that onto track 2. I try to work in small increments, with 3 seconds being about average. In longer sentences, I could have 2 or 3 or more text clips. On the timeline, these are very easy to duplicate with Option+drag. If there is more than one speaker, I dedicate separate tracks for each one. I try to stay with one line, maybe two lines of text, but never more than 2 lines per subtitle.

I start each text clip on the frame they start speaking, and end it on the frame they end speaking. While that's not what I'd necessarily do for the final subtitling, it's important for the initial edit.

The text generator is very graphics intensive and I find after about 10 minutes or so, each clip needs to render and my computer starts running slow. At this point, I'll split up the clip (depends on how long your captured media is).

The last thing I'll add is the TC reader. Once that's in, I'll export each sequence out as a QT movie. Then I"ll reimport that movie back into the project. I now have my translation on the media and I can edit it like any other dialogue footage. I don't need to reference back to a paper translation and try to figure out which word means what.

As I near a fine cut, using the time code on the QT files, I can go back to the original sequences, and cut in the original footage with the subtitles. Again, depending on how many subtitles you have, this may be graphics intensive. For my last project that was 45 minutes long and had a ton of subtitles, I created sequences for each chapter, then nested them, so my main sequence had 9 nests in it.

Some additional thoughts. You may want to have more than one translator look at your footage. There are subtleties in language that are really important in editing. What a person says and what a person means can be two different things and a straight translation often doesn't help you with that. Speaking only for myself, I base a lot of editing decisions, and story development, on the meaning and subtext of the words, not only on the words themselves.

The other part of this equation is that a verbatim translation may be disjointed in English, so there is a trick to constructing the English phrasing, that sounds good, with good word choices, that is faithful to what was actually said. It depends how good the translator is, and how fluent they are in both languages.

Anyways, just one workflow option. May not be the best, but it works for me.

Paul Hayes
Wed 30 Jan 2008Link

Can anyone recommend digital production software for a PC. Adobe and Avid seem to be the top of the line. I'm a newcomer, so maybe I'd be able to get by with a prosumer version, before moving on to the higher level professional grade stuff.

I suppose the most important features would be multiple video/audio track import and editing (with storyboard interface) and a comprehensive selection of web conversion tools.

Wolfgang Achtner
Wed 30 Jan 2008Link


Whoever writes your translation needs to transcribe the material exactly as you'd do if it were in English. This means that you need to write the timecode corresponding to the begininng of each sentence (or paragraph, then you write the text corresponding to the sentence or paragraph and immediately after you write the timecode corresponding to the end of this bite of dialogue/commentary.

In this manner, your editor has the "in" and "out" points for each sentence/paragraph just as she/he would if they were editing in English, so it makes no difference at all.

This is a sample of a transcript in Italian of commentary by actor/director Nanni Moretti (he's telling a story in a theater in Pescara (from a documentary of mine about Nanni Moretti).


00.12 Allora… Io proverò a raccontare il mio rapporto con la politica… Poi […] mi interromperò tra un pò quando arriverà Luciano D’Alfonso per il suo saluto. Proverò a raccontare il mio rapporto con la politica in questi ultimi trent’anni, naturalmente soffermandomi di più sull’ultimo anno e mezzo che, imprevedibelmente soprattutto per me- mi ha visto in prima persona persona impegnarmi in politica… Non me lo sarei mai aspettato da me stesso… 00.54

00.54 … Ecco quindi incomincerò molto da lontano, andrò molto veloce… Naturalmente anche… E andrò veloce anche perchè il mio rapporto con la politica è stato così… Intermittente come quello di tanti cittadini, a volte più interessati, a volte meno… A volte delusi, a volte impegnati in prima persona… 1.18

1.20 …Ecco, il sessantotto –credo che molti di voi siano nati dopo il sessantotto- il sessantotto è arrivato un pò troppo presto per me, io ho fatto politica un pò a scuola… gli ultimi tre anni di liceo dal ‘70 al ’72. Nel sessantotto la mia giornata tipo era la mattina a scuola dove abbastanza mi annoiavo… 1.50

1.50 …Il pomeriggio al cinema Nuovo Olimpia, che era un cinema d’Essai molto famoso a Roma – ogni giorno cambiava film, vecchi film, classici… – e la sera in piscine: giocavo a pallanuoto… Tra parentesi: la mia ultima partita di pallanuoto l’ho giocata proprio qui a Pescara nell’estate dell’86, chiusa parentesi. 2.13

2.13 Ecco quindi questa era la mia giornata tipo nel ’68 e… Diciamo che ho cominciato un pò a interessarmi… Un pò a fare politica qualche anno dopo: gli ultimi due o tre anni di liceo. E devo dire che almeno per quanto riguarda così la…La Sinistra extra-parlamentare di cui io facevo parte… 2.41

Here's an example of a transcript in English (from my documentary on The Transition).

Wilton Wynn – part 1

00.28 WOLF: Ok, go ahead Wilton…

00.30 WYNN: I was in the piazza the evening that Pope John died, watching his window, and the contrast – he was very loved, as you know: a lovable Pope, very popular… he had been ill a long time and now he died, but… There was a crowd in the corner of the Piazza- …Nothing, nothing… Nothing to compare with the vigils over there during John Paul’s last illness as a reflection of the tremendous impact of the person, of the man…

1.35 WOLF: You were mentioning that with the death of JPII something changed in your life too, what exactly were you talking about?

2.04 WYNN: Well… I’ve been a newsman for more than forty years, a foreign correspondent. I retired twenty years ago but I’ve continued to keep an eye on things and to do some writings, contributions to different magazines. But my last great story was Pope John Paul the Second and with his death, that brought an end to my career. That was it.

2.35 There is nothing more. I don’t follow things as a newsman anymore, I read the newspapers and watch tv, but I’m not there myself, I’m not in contact myself with these news sources. And I hadn’t realize that it would make such a difference, but I see it now!

2.58 WOLF: But Pope John Paul made a great difference even in your life. I remember once you told me you became Catholic after covering JPII…

3.11 WYNN: Very interesting… The newspaper USA TODAY at the time of the Pope’s funeral carried, half a page, a story about how an old newsman like me became a Catholic after covering trips of the Pope and getting closer to him. It was… he never tried to convert me, we’ve talked together about his thoughts, his ideas and so on… he never…

3.45 WOLF: Tell me how it happened.

3.48 WYNN: I started with his first trip to Mexico, just two months after he was elected Pope, and you know… I’ve flown with Pope Paul before him – a couple of trips and Pope Paul used to come to the press section of the plain and his secretary would read our name-tags and introduce us and the Pope would say “Happy to have you on board. Thank you. Welcome,” and go on.

4.18 And I’ve wondered “Would this Pope be the same?”, but we heard he was coming back to talk to us. And we all were lined up to meet him, one at a time. I happened to be there, I think I was number 2. When he came in, I didn’t know: should I ask a question or should I just do the greeting? I decided I’ll ask him a question to see if he’s ready to talk.

4.45 I asked an innocuous question: “Would you ever like to visit United States?” He stopped, he looked down at the floor and thought a moment, and then he said: “I think it will be necessary though the date has not yet been set.” 5'00

When you get to the editing stage, you arrange the translated paragraphs of transcript in the desired order just as you'd do if it were English dialogue. You write the tape number and the timecode of every selcted sentence/paragraph, that way, your editor just cuts and pastes each soundbite as though it were English. Working in such fashion, there is no need for you – or the editor – to understand the foreign langueage in which your subjects have spoken.

The "In" and "out" points also give you precise reference points for the beginning and end of corresponding subtitles or translated dialogue.

Herewith you can see a small bit of version 1 of the script of The Transition. In this case, there were 7 different versions of this script, in others there have been many more.

Copyright by Wolfgang Achtner


Thursday, March 31, 2005 – Graphic re Vatican statement

Wilton Wynn 1
17.28 WYNN: At the beginning I thought he would recover, because I had gone through so many of these cases where, [as you say], he would collapse or he would have to be rushed to the hospital. And then there would be days of uncertainty. And then, in the end, he would emerge. And I, somehow, had the feeling he would come through this one, as well. I kept vigil when he was shot back in 1981, I guess it was. Well, we didn’t know then: he was between life and death. And then he went on and on. All his illnesses, his operations, his falls, and so on, 18.12 So that we were kind of used to his going to hospital and having medical bulletins every day, and all that. And then, he’d slowly emerge.

18.24 So, it was of course – as days went by, you know – it became clearer that this probably would be the end. Especially when the Vatican made no secret of the fact that it was extremely serious. But at the beginning I thought he had pulled through.

John Thavis 1
4.30 [I think it was interesting because] even the Vatican, at that point, was preparing everyone for the Pope’s death. And yet as the Pope hang on, for another day or day and-a-half, we in the Vatican press-room began looking at each other and thinking “Is this gonna be another round? Are we going to see him come back to the window one more time perhaps?” Well, it was not to be.

4.56 But the fact is: this Pope bounced back from so many physical adversities that we’d become kind of used to it. And there was a sense, even among reporters – who had been waiting for the end for so many years – that maybe they weren’t there yet.

John Allen part 1
30.26.0 Well, for one thing, John Paul II hadn’t been just suffering in the last 6
months of his life, he’d been suffering for the last several years of his life. f, at all the different times people had written him off, that he had actually gone off the stage, he would have died a thousand deaths. So, I think part of it was, it wasn’t clear until the very very end that this was going to, in fact, be the end. A lot of us who had been tracking this fully expected him, even in February, when he went to the Gemelli, even in March, when he went back, we fully expected that he would pull through and continue. I fully expected to be accompanying him to Cologne, last August. 31.00.04

And so, I think one point is that he, I don’t think that he himself probably understood until 48 hours, 72 hours before his death, that this was, in fact, his final act. This has always been a very determined Pope and so on. Probably, the most fundamental variable here is that John Paul was determined to allow his suffering to play out on the public stage because he saw it as a teaching moment. That is, he thought he understood himself to be teaching the world how to accept death. With grace and with dignity. 31.35.03

John Thavis part 1
2.18 THAVIS: I think really that’s how his entire pontificate was lived. On the world’s stage from the very beginning. And it would not have been in character for him to go and hide behind the curtain in the final stages. I think he also had a spiritual message here and (…) he knew that he was going to be suffering. He knew he had a disease that was going to keep him down, if not out, for several years. And I think he probably made the decision that he would not hide behind the Vatican walls, that he would allow the world to share in this as well as it shared in the early more energetic phase of his pontificate.

John Allen 1
31.35.03 In a culture that worships youth, and worships efficiency, and worships beauty and so on, I think he probably felt that this was a powerful counter example. 31.45.04

Here you can compare – just for your curiosity – the final version of the feature-length version (105 minutes) of the documentary; I also did another 52 mnute version. As a matter of fact, whenever I do a feature-length version of a documentary, I also ALWAYS do a 52 minute version. There are different markets for the different types of durations.

© 2006 by Wolfgang Achtner

Attn.: English translation included under original text (in Italian) of homilies.

Crowds in St. Peter’s Square

SUPER: Friday, April 1, 2005

John Irvine, ITV correspondent – standup

IRVINE “Here in St. Peter’s Square, where the Pope so nearly lost his life to an assassin’s bullet,”

SUPER: John Irvine, ITV

IRVINE “at the start of his papacy, there is a growing certainty that that life and that papacy are now growing to a close. A remarkable life, ebbing slowly away, up there, in the papal apartment, where John Paul has lived for the last 26-and-a-half years.”

SUPER Wilton Wynn, Author, “Keepers of the Keys”

WYNN: At the beginning I thought he would recover, because I had gone through so many of these cases where he would collapse or he would have to be rushed to the hospital. And then there would be days of uncertainty. And then, in the end, he would emerge. And I, somehow, had the feeling he would come through this one, as well. I kept vigil when he was shot back in 1981, I guess it was. Well, we didn’t know then: he was between life and death. And then he went on and on. All his illnesses, his operations, his falls, and so on. So that we were kind of used to his going to hospital and having medical bulletins every day, and all that. And then, he’d slowly emerge.

WYNN So, it was of course – as days went by, you know – it became clearer that this probably would be the end. Especially when the Vatican made no secret of the fact that it was extremely serious. But at the beginning I thought he had pulled through.

THAVIS Even the Vatican, at that point, was preparing everyone for the Pope’s death. And yet as the Pope hang on, for another day or day and-a-half, we in the Vatican press-room began looking at each other and thinking “Is this gonna be another round? Are we going to see him come back to the window one more time perhaps?” Well, it was not to be.

ALLEN Well, for one thing, John Paul II hadn’t been just suffering in the last 6
months of his life, he’d been suffering for the last several years of his life. If, at all the different times people had written him off, that he had actually gone off the stage, he would have died a thousand deaths. So, I think part of it was, it wasn’t clear until the very very end that this was going to, in fact, be the end. A lot of us who had been tracking this fully expected him, even in February, when he went to the Gemelli, even in March, when he went back, we fully expected that he would pull through and continue. I fully expected to be accompanying him to Cologne, last August.

ALLEN Probably, the most fundamental variable here is that John Paul was determined to allow his suffering to play out on the public stage because he saw it as a teaching moment. That is, he thought he understood himself to be teaching the world how to accept death. With grace and with dignity.

Crowd at night in St. Peter’s Square

You will notice that in Version 1 there are NO indications regarding video and that's because I've mapped out the video on a separate sheet(s) of paper. After the logging process, I have memorized EVERY SINGLE SHOT – in this particular case it was more than 60 hours of video – and I've written the script in accordance to the rough video outline that I've drawn up indicating how the video should be used.

I have noticed that, as a rule, once I've memorized all the video and transcribed all the dialogue it only takes me a few hours to write the script of the documentary. Once I've written the script, I may later make minor changes in to it in several places (leading to different versions) as I go along, but I've already constructed the documentary in what pretty much corresponds to its final shape.

It can take me 7 to 10 days or up to two-and-a-half weeks to log all the video, but then the first part of the hard work is done. Equally important is obtaining a complete transcript of ALL dialogue. That's the second part of the hard work. Once I have all the transripts, I usually need only one or two days to write the script. As I wrote earlier, the actual writing process only takes me a few hours, once I decide how to use the video. With the video outline in mind I build the script paragraph by paragraph picking form the transcripts of all the dialogues and writing eventual commentary (in those rare cases it might be necessary).

At that point, I can usually edit the first cut of a documentary in under three weeks if I'm in a hurry (I usually edit approximately 10 to 12 hours a day), and – in most occasions – make the final cut in 6 weeks time.

Initially, with regards to the video, I write down a note referring to a rough sequence and once I start editing I cut every sequence in detail, that means I lay out every shot in the desired order.

Usually, I start editing at the beginning, even though the beginning may sometimes change (in certain documentaries it changed several times), and I keep editing on a straight progression towards the end; the end may change itself several times. Actaully, on documentaries where the story is ongoing, I have often continued to shoot after I'd already started editing and usually the end was discovered during this additional shooting phase. In the case of my last documentary, this was true also for the beginning.

Join this discussion now. You need to log in or register if you want to post.