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The Mentoring Room - Ask the Working Pros

This is a Public Topic geared towards first-time filmmakers. Professional members of The D-Word will come by and answer your questions about documentary filmmaking.

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Doug Block
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 @ someguy@andsomeguy.com


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!

Dean-

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?

Thanks!


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: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?


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 velininberlin@arcor.de 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:
http://xroads.virginia.edu/~1930s/FILM/lorentz/front.html

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).

Thanks!


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.


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