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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.

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.


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

Darla,

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).

MORETTI A PESCARA 1/3

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.

WORKING TITLE: “THE TRANSITION: FROM THE DEATH OF POPE JOHN PAUL II TO THE INSTALLATION OF POPE BENEDICT XVI.”
Copyright by Wolfgang Achtner

FIRST DRAFT: DEC 10, 2005

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.

SCRIPT: “THE TRANSITION: FROM THE DEATH OF POPE JOHN PAUL II TO THE INSTALLATION OF POPE BENEDICT XVI.”
© 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.


Wolfgang Achtner
Wed 30 Jan 2008Link

Darla,

re translation Boyd wrote:

"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."

Translation is a vey important item. Working in Italian and/or English I don't have any problem because I'm fluent in both (I write books in both languages). If your grasp of a language is not this good you need to get the best translator you can; it may cost you but it's definitely worth every cent. Unfortuneatly in Italy they always try to save money – but you get what you pay for – so I've heard terrible translations even on important channels like Dicovery or History channel in Italian where the translation completely missed the point.

You need a great translator and this person also needs to know how to write extremely well in English so your English dialoge will be perfect.

What I mean is, one doesn't take liberties with the meanings but you need to render dialogue exacly as if those people were speaking in English themselves.

That means understanding complex sentence constructions that might be the opposite of English, with the verb at the end or vicevresa and it also means understanding complex techncial verbiage (medical or legal) if need be, and last but not least, the abilty to render in proper English the correct equivalent of Italian idiomatic expressions, proverbs, syaings, etc.

Your dialogue in English must be perfect, exactly as if the people had been speaking in English. Get the best, most competent, professional translator you can find!!!


Andrew David Watson
Wed 30 Jan 2008Link

Question for those producing docs, how much of your work falls under WFH (work for hire)? and how much of your work do you retain copyright too? I'm just trying to figure out (mostly for myself as a freelancer) when work for hire is okay and when i should be demanding better terms. I'm mostly referring to producing a full piece from start to finish. I know work for hire is fairly standard if you are working as a shooter, or editor, but what about when you are doing it all and the original story idea is yours? Does it make a differents who the client is? whether it is a NGO or network? Any insight on this would be great!


Joe Moulins
Wed 30 Jan 2008Link

Paul...go with Adobe. I'm not sure if they have a Premiere "lite", but if you stay on a PC you'll eventually work with Adobe software. Better to invest your time and energy in one interface that will be the standard for years to come.

Or, this might be the time for you to switch to a Mac....


Christopher Wong
Wed 30 Jan 2008Link

wolfgang, i'm sure you've got some very solid advice there for darla, but i think it might be better if you use the "Hide" function next time (especially for the super-long transcripts you included). thx.

andrew, if you are doing signficiantly more than just shooting/editing, but actually directing and producing the entire piece, you should definitely be demanding better terms than your normal work-for-hire rates. that could be whatever you negotiate (e.g. back-end points). of course, your client always has the option of saying "no", so be prepared to respond appropriately... if they don't want to give you a share of the project, then ask for a higher dayrate.


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