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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.

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.

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