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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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Lucia Duncan
Wed 6 Feb 2008Link

I'm looking for advice about how to film a scene that shows a group of tourists flying to a remote destination to do whale-watching. I'm thinking of doing this in two parts. First, filming the tourists in the plane looking out the window. Second, flying in a plane with no tourists, so I can ask the pilot to circle around a couple times in order to film the ocean/desert below. (Am I being unrealistic in thinking I could get this right in a couple of takes?) I'm shooting with a Panasonic DVX100b, 24P. Would appreciate any suggestions.


Erica Ginsberg
Wed 6 Feb 2008Link

How long does it take the plane to drive over the interesting land/seascape? Could you not save yourself time and presumably money by shooting both shots on the same trip by getting yourself a window seat for the beauty shots and then standing up to shoot the tourists looking out the window? Or shooting the tourists on your way in and the land/seascape on the way out?

Edited Wed 6 Feb 2008 by Erica Ginsberg

Matt Dubuque
Wed 6 Feb 2008Link

Let's say this takes place in Baja California, which has a mix of whales, desert and water. Would you consider renting a seaplane for the second portion where you give the grand overview of the whole scene?

If you are in fact doing it in Baja, you could probably charter one at a reasonable price out of Loreto and you would get some amazing footage, shot from a lower altitude.

Just a thought.


Peter Brauer
Thu 7 Feb 2008Link

On Second Skin, whenever we traveled to a location via plane, we shot tons of stuff out the window. Several of our characters took flights during the movie, so this stuff was really useful. You can get a lot out of airliner windows, especially right before landing and right after take off.

The whales raising young in baja are something everyone should see first hand. Talk about an animal that makes you want to save the world.


Lucia Duncan
Thu 14 Feb 2008Link

Thanks for the suggestions regarding aerial shots. Here's a sound question. I've been shooting with a relatively inexperienced boom operator. When I still had access to school equipment we used a breakaway cable between the camera and the boom/headphones. How do those of you who do not use a mixer allow for boom op and camera op to monitor sound? I have a cheap 8 pin splitter and I've thought of getting a 8 pin female/male stereo cable that would serve as an extension to my boom op's headphones. But I'm afraid the splitter might reduce sound a lot and the cables may cut out. I've been reluctant to use a mixer because I think it's a lot for the inexperienced boom op to handle. Would love to know how others handle this.


Kevin Morrow
Fri 15 Feb 2008Link

Hey, everybody. I'm a freelance photo researcher trying to find work in the documentary film industry. Can anyone think of a good way to find work of this sort? Even trying to find listings of documentary film companies is difficult, because they are usually in password-protected members-only sections of websites for various professional organizations whose membership dues are in the three figures!


John Burgan
Fri 15 Feb 2008Link

Welcome Kevin. You might like to check out Docs in Progress , a Washington DC initiative started by D-Worders Adele Schmidt & Erica Ginsberg.


Kevin Morrow
Fri 15 Feb 2008Link

Thanks for the good tip! I just talked to Adele Schmidt at Journeyfilms, and she was very helpful.


Susan Hoskins
Fri 15 Feb 2008Link

Legal Question: We sent out an announcement for our documentary premiere and have received a request from a University Library for a library order. We licensed all our clips, photos and music. Can we sell our dvd now? What else do we need to do?


Erica Ginsberg
Sat 16 Feb 2008Link

John, thanks for the plug. Kevin, glad you talked to Adele. Docs In Progress actually has an event tomorrow night at Busboys & Poets and would love to see you there. In the Intro topic, I also suggested some other DC-area organizations which would be worth the membership dues for you.


Matt Dubuque
Sat 23 Feb 2008Link

Has anyone read the book:

Kino-Eye: The Writings of Dziga Vertov?

It's at:

http://tinyurl.com/yrb48k

I just read a short passage from one of Vertov's articles he wrote for Film Truth magazine that was excerpted in Documentary: A History of the Non-Fiction film by Erik Barnow, an awesome book written by the fellow who used to be Chief of the Library of Congress Motion Picture Division.

The passage that I read of Vertov (about 500 words) was a real revelation for me. Amazing!

I don't think I can obtain copies of the magazine (because it is from the 1920s and probably in Russian as well), so I wanted to ask if anyone here was familiar with this book.

It's a bit pricey, so I thought I'd ask around before purchasing it.

Any thoughts?

Thanks!

Edited Sat 23 Feb 2008 by Matt Dubuque

John Burgan
Sun 24 Feb 2008Link

Definitely worth checking out. You can find second-hand copies via http://www.abebooks.com/


Fredric Lean
Sun 24 Feb 2008Link

Hello,
what would be the best options in terms of camera to shoot a shoestring budget feature length documentary which requires a lot of outdoor shootings following a subject discreetly in different local public places and some indoors for interviews- (pretty much guerilla/ news style)?

here are the options:
-Panasonic DVX 100b
-Panasonic AG-HVX200(P2 cards + camera =outside our budget range-unless somone knows a great place to buy it cheap)
- Sony HDR-FX1 (someone told me good but not so great)
-Sony HVR-A1U
-Sony HVR-Z1U

now i have been told, since the film style will be pretty much hidden camera style (almost) , to use may be a high end HD consumer camera so i can hide it even in pocket.
does anyone know anything about the quality of these cameras below:
-Panasonic HDC-HS9 (HD & 24p)
Canon HV20 HDV (HD & 24p)
Panasonic AG-HSC1
Sony HDR-CX7

any suggestions or help?

thank you


Joe Moulins
Sun 24 Feb 2008Link

for a no-budget production I'd go with the Canon HV20, recording sound to a separate recorder.
Something like this . There may be better audio recorders for the price, but any of these recorders should give you better sound than you'd get with any of those camcorders.
If and when you move up to a better camera, the audio recorder will still be a good and useful tool.

Add a wireless mic and you'll have a kick-ass guerilla kit for half the price of a z1U.


Chris Hinrichs
Mon 25 Feb 2008Link

In reply to Chris Hinrichs's post on Mon 28 Jan 2008 : Hello all! Some of you may remember me from the post linked above. For those of you who are interested or have some time to kill, I have overhauled my presentation, using some of the suggestions I recieved here. In order not to clutter up the Mentoring Room, I'll hide the rest of my message...

Show hidden content

Andrew David Watson
Mon 25 Feb 2008Link

Does anyone know of any job websites just for documentary projects? i have picked up a number of freelance gigs from sites like www.mandy.com www.mediamatch.com and local Craig's List but am looking for more documentary specific jobs. Thanks!


Matt Dubuque
Thu 28 Feb 2008Link

Thanks John, I just bought it! Abebooks (which is now my first place to look!) also had this awesome "The Man With the Movie Camera The Man with the Movie Camera: A Cinematic Analysis by Vlada Petric that has an incredible scene by scene analysis of Vertov's timeless masterpiece.

Now I'm just trying to find a copy of Vertov's "One Sixth of the World". I'll keep looking!


Le Sheng Liu
Fri 29 Feb 2008Link

Andrew, you can also try RealityStaff.com http://www.realitystaff.com/home/index.php?section=JOBS&left=Jobs

Their focus is on reality shows, which overlaps with documentary/television. Hope that helps. I have been looking for documentary-specific job sites myself and that is the best I have come across. I am also browsing Craiglist, mediamatch, and Mandy everyday!!! Good luck with ya. It's a tough world out there finding work!!


Andrew David Watson
Fri 29 Feb 2008Link

thanks Le Sheng, do you ever check http://www.entertainmentcareers.net/jcat.asp?jcat=109

There are some alright jobs on there from time to time.


Le Sheng Liu
Sat 1 Mar 2008Link

Haven't been on there in a long time. Do they charge a subscription fee? That might be one of the reasons I don't go there. MediaMatch does too but I get the $5/month student membership.


Brian Boyko
Sun 2 Mar 2008Link

This is an ethics question.

I'm finding that I've got great interviews but as my subject is really explaining an electoral system (I.e., the "Inconvenient Truth" model) rather than documenting a series of events (I.E., the "Super Size Me" model) I wanted to ask you about the ethics of truth and such.

What I'd like to do create a "frame" around the footage that I've gathered that is essentially a parody of "An Inconvenient Truth" I'd basically rent-out or borrow a classroom with projector on the weekend, and invite my improv comedian friends to be "feeding" me questions. I would make it obvious that the audience is portrayed by actors – first with a disclaimer up front which states: "While the subject is truthful, the audience portrayed in the film are paid actors."

Then during the shooting, I was actually thinking that the first question would be along the lines of: "Yeah, Brian, you said that if we came here and pretended to be an audience that is actually interested in this stuff that you'd give us 20 bucks." (Interruption from the back) "And cake! Where's the cake?!"

Is it ethical to make a documentary with obviously staged scenes to increase the entertainment value and, supposedly, to get more people interested in it, without crossing the line into "mockumentary?"


Fredric Lean
Sun 2 Mar 2008Link

SOUND HELP for documentary shooting on Canon HV20.

Has anyone had shot a doc on canon HV20 or knows well the camera?

I went to a store in NY specialized in video. I told them i needed a broadcast quality sound for the consumer HV20 Canon. it's for a doc , reality TV like.
The shooting style will be handheld mostly. On person crew (so no boom) and only one person (the subject) can be wired up but I still need to pick up the sound of people the subject will be talking too. So i will also need a shotgun mic i presume.
There''ll be indoor and outdoor (public places) shoot.
Here's the package the seller at the store, came up with:

Sennheiser EW 100 wireless lavaller $500 +tax
Beachtek XLR $179
Rode NTG 2 shotgun $269
Headphones $160.

Total = over $1000

1) is this a good package for sound quality?

2) is there anyway to get the same type of quality sound (assuming it is a good one with this package) but a bit on a lower price?

any other suggestions?


Wolfgang Achtner
Sun 2 Mar 2008Link

Brian,

My 02.c worth. What you describes seems very much a mockumentary to me.

I don't think it has to do anything with ethics, rather it's a question of what kind of a story you want to tell and whatever way you believe is best to tell that particular story.

A documentary can very well be interesting and entertaining without using gimmicks. It very much depends on the story and how you want to tell it.


Christopher Wong
Sun 2 Mar 2008Link

brian, a mockumentary is really just a fiction film posing as a documentary. i think what you seem to be worried about is your doc descend into something so silly that the main point about something serious (i.e. the electoral system) is lost.

while i'm not completely convinced that your scene (as described) will work effectively, there's nothing ethically wrong with it, especially since you seem to be taking great pains to tell the audience "This is a setup!" but if you compare your scene to some of the animated scenes in, let's say, "Bowling for Columbine", it's essentially the same thing. the only difference is you've got animated characters standing in for paid actors – the humor, the pre-written lines, and the method are the same.


Brian Boyko
Sun 2 Mar 2008Link

In reply to Fredric Lean's post on Sun 2 Mar 2008 :

Fredric, I'm also shooting on the HV20, and my next purchase is for a beachtek adapter and some new XLR mics – but I've found I've got good audio from this combo:

Audio Technica ATR55 Shotgun Mic ($50)
Shock Mount ($20-40)
A bracket to move the microphone away from the camera. ($10)

I don't use wireless mics.

There are two problems with this setup. One, handling noise – even handling the wire connected to the camera – transmits easily. But I've actually found it to get really, really good sound.

Get that setup if you can afford it – don't try to cheap out on the sound, and that actually sounds like the best option.

You may also want to spend $200 on a Samson Zoom H2 to get a second source of audio if you're doing sit-down interviews.

A deadcat/fluffydog will be useful for cutting out wind noise.

With my setup, here's the audio I got.

Outside, w/Crowd Noise: http://vimeo.com/736167
Outside, w & w/out crowd noise: http://vimeo.com/378059
Outside, w/out crowd noise: http://vimeo.com/377215


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