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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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Sean Riddle
Wed 23 Apr 2008Link

I'm in the education field overseeing students making their films. Occasionally I have students interested in Documentaries and they often have questions about legally using images, people, etc... is there a website or anything that kind of lists when you do and don't need to get release forms on people in your documentary? Or, for example the legality of using images from Scientology, that were shown in public, but using them for your film without approval from Scientology? Or taking images from websites such as YouTube and putting them in your film?


Mark Barroso
Thu 24 Apr 2008Link

Sean, maybe your students will like this comic book written for filmmakers http://www.law.duke.edu/cspd/comics/zoomcomic.html.

But the bottom line is, are they likely to sue you? Scientology, yes. Wilma from Walla Walla on you tube, no.


Sam Rabeeh
Mon 28 Apr 2008Link

In reply to Mark Barroso's post on Tue 22 Apr 2008 :
thank you Mark for the additional info. I'm trying to gather as much info as I can so I Can set some realistic boundaries.


Garret Savage
Thu 1 May 2008Link

Mark, that comic book is awesome! Thanks for sharing it.


Ralph Lindsen
Mon 5 May 2008Link

Very good find Mark, best reference to copyright isseus i ever saw.

Anyway, i'm about to make my first big investment in a camera. My budget is around 2000 bucks. For standard def i was thinking about a sony p170 or a panasonic AG-DVX100B. For High def i was thinking about a sony HDR-FX1 or the Canon XH-A1.

It's going to be used for interviews en concert footage. But it's also gonna be used for school assignments and who knows what i'll like in the future.

Advice would be greatly appreciated. Ow, if you have other suggestions, feel free to state them.

And as exchange i have a good tip for everybode > www.vimeo.com a great place to put yr vids/trailers/whatevers online


Robert Goodman
Mon 5 May 2008Link

Standard definition is dead. I'd look at the Canon HV20 and buy a good microphone. It's never just the camera. You need monitoring, batteries, tripod, case, microphones, isolation headphones, etc.


Rob Appleby
Tue 6 May 2008Link

Ralph, you might want to take a look at the Sony A1E. Poor low light focussing, but very useable otherwise. Should be within your budget.


Jarrod Whaley
Tue 6 May 2008Link

In reply to Ralph Lindsen's post on Mon 5 May 2008 :

Ralph, camera choice is a pretty personal thing, and depends as much on your own style of working and/or visual style as it does on your budget. Among the cameras you've suggested though, my own recommendations would be the DVX100B and the XH-A1, because both will give you many more creative options than the PD170 or the FX1 (progressive frame rates, gamma selections, fine picture adjustments, etc.). You may or may not use a lot of those functions now, but it's good to have the option in case you find your style evolving or working on a project that needs those effects.

Again though, it ultimately boils down to which camera is best for you, and I suggest playing around with some (if not all) of those cameras a bit, if you can, before you make a decision.

Good luck!


Joe Moulins
Tue 6 May 2008Link

But don't buy an SD camera.


Peter Brauer
Tue 6 May 2008Link

I am with Joe on that one. If it takes you two years to make a doc, it will be unmarketable in standard definition. Everything will have to be HD by then.


Jarrod Whaley
Tue 6 May 2008Link

In reply to Joe Moulins's post on Tue 6 May 2008 :

I'm not 100% sure I agree with you, Joe. On the surface what you're saying makes sense, but if you look a bit deeper, it's sort of like saying "don't buy a super-8mm camera under any circumstances because 16mm is better." More resolution is not necessarily better--some shooters might be after the look of SD for their own aesthetic reasons, or might find that they can get more manual control for their money in an SD camera than they can get in an SD camera. I'd argue that manual controls and flexibility are a far more important factor than resolution. Flexible HD cameras are becoming more and more affordable, true, but when you factor in the possibilty that people like Ralph might also have to spend $1,000 or more upgrading their computers to be able to handle HD footage, the cost shoots up quite a bit.

I guess what I'm saying is that blanket statements like "don't do such and such" or "do do this and that" are rarely applicable across the board. SD is not "dead," it's just losing popularity as a format. There's a subtle but key distinction to be made here.

Please, no flames. :)


Jarrod Whaley
Tue 6 May 2008Link

In reply to Peter Brauer's post on Tue 6 May 2008 :

No offense, Peter, but people have been saying exactly this for several years and it has yet to come true. :) Yes, things are moving toward HD, but I'll point out that BD sales have barely increased at all since HD-DVD bit the dust, just to give one example. The world at large is not lapping up HD as fervently as camera people are. They will, of course, but it's not as if someone who buys an SD camera right now is necessarily an utter moron, as you guys seem to be suggesting. :)

Edited Tue 6 May 2008 by Jarrod Whaley

Peter Brauer
Tue 6 May 2008Link

This is not about DVDs. This is about theatrical and TV. I know SD can look good. I mean Second Skin is shot on a DVX100a, tons of people ask if it is HD. But for certain markets HD will be mandatory. I think this will especially be the case after the US shifts everything to digital broadcast. I am not saying anyone is a moron. I am saying, I will not buy another SD camera. I am lucky that we already have a good SD camera. When we got our camera several years ago we could make money as a DP with our own camera. Now everyone wants a DP with an HD camera. It just seems to make good business sense to recommend HD over SD any day.


Jarrod Whaley
Tue 6 May 2008Link

I don't really disagree with you as much as you might imagine; I wouldn't buy an SD camera right now either. However, what's good for the goose is not always what's good for the gander, and no sweeping generalization is going to apply in all cases.

Likewise, it may not be about DVD's to you, but someone else might be planning entirely on self-distribution and not at all worried about the needs or requirements of theatrical distributors, broadcasters, etc. And my point with the BD thing was simply meant to illustrate that HD is not exactly being adopted as widely as we might like to believe. And bear in mind that when U.S. broadcasters make the switch to digital broadcasts in 2009, it doesn't necessarily mean that all television will suddenly be in HD--it just means that analog receivers will no longer work. Who knows what the cable channels will be doing?

Again, your situation doesn't apply across the board, and yet it kind of sounds like you're suggesting that it does.

"I would not buy an SD camera right now" is not the same as "YOU should not buy an SD camera right now." That's all I'm saying.

Edited Tue 6 May 2008 by Jarrod Whaley

John Burgan
Tue 6 May 2008Link

But how would you choose between a goose and a gander?


Jarrod Whaley
Tue 6 May 2008Link

In reply to John Burgan's post on Tue 6 May 2008 :

It depends on how hungry I am. :-D


Peter Brauer
Tue 6 May 2008Link

I agree.

Actually I am constantly telling young people seeking my advice to buy a cheapy camera for practice. If you don't have the money to go HD, don't worry about it. Just make a movie. It is the only way to learn. My first video camera was a 3 years out of date DV camera. It looked like crap next to what was good at the time. I still managed to make an award winning instructional video on it. The video quality was low, but the subject spoke for itself in the disability community.


Tony Comstock
Tue 6 May 2008Link

Shoot your concert footage on a K-3. Much better in the high-contrast lighting environment.

Any video camera will work well for interviews if you've got a good DP, good gaffer, and a good make-up artist.


Joe Moulins
Tue 6 May 2008Link

In reply to Jarrod Whaley's post on Tue 6 May 2008 :

I'm not sure what "the look" of SD is exactly.

As the happy owner of a Sony A1, I'd recommend the Canon HV20 and a good microphone. And maybe pick up a cheap SD camcorder to rewind tapes with. :)


Tony Comstock
Tue 6 May 2008Link

RE: "the look" of SD

Who doesn't love interlace zippers!


Jarrod Whaley
Tue 6 May 2008Link

Right, because there are no interlaced HD formats at all. ;)

SD does have a look that is distinct from most HD formats. The DV codec comes with its own kinds of artifacts, macro-blocking, etc., and whether most people really "see" them or not, they do at least subconsciously contribute to the way in which the image is perceived.

My point was that a lot of times people shoot on super-8 as a way of suggesting "old home movies," and that filmmakers might begin using mini-DV in a similar way as HD gains more and more ground.

Anyway, no need to belabor this point any further.

Edited Tue 6 May 2008 by Jarrod Whaley

Darla Bruno
Wed 7 May 2008Link

Hi,

This is about finding my story –

I've shot 16 hours of footage (in Italian, of which I'm not fluent) and need to cut a trailer for fundraising.

I think the footage that was shot is very "trailer-friendly," but I do still need to find my story. And while I directed what we shot, I can understand about twenty percent of it (language barrier).

So, what I'd like to do is get the 16 hours of footage translated then watch the footage and find my story (at the same time eliminating hours so that when I go to an editor, I can have less to sort through).

But someone suggested it would be cheaper to sit with an Italian-speaking editor and cut the trailer.

The thing is, an Italian-speaking editor I'm talking with is asking me what my story is – . . . see?

So, is it possible for me to sit with the editor (while she knows what's being said and I don't) and find my story or . . .

Blugh. Okay. I hope what I'm asking is clear: two avenues (and maybe a third I'm not seeing?) a) translate all footage and look through it myself and find my story and "tag" what I want to use for the trailer, than bring it to an editor or b) start with all 16 hours and an Italian-speaking editor.

Which is more realistic? Cost-effective?

Thanks!


Rob Appleby
Wed 7 May 2008Link

Darla – you're the director, so you need to get the footage translated/transcribed. Otherwise it'll end up with the editor or whoever does understand the footage directing it – which isn't what you want. Get it transcribed with time code and then go to the edit. I can't see any other way to do it.


Darla Bruno
Wed 7 May 2008Link

Okay, Rob. So then I need a tranlsator who can also transcribe.

Know anyone? :)


Wolfgang Achtner
Wed 7 May 2008Link

Darla,

If you look back I'd already answered this and many other questions before – or just after – Christmas, if I remember correctly. The answers remain valid.

As I wrote you then, you would have been much better off having someone transcribe the tapes in Italy. Anyone could have done that for you over there. Then you could have chosen to have the transcripts translated in Italy or over here.

Check the old posts.


Darla Bruno
Wed 7 May 2008Link

Thanks, Wolfgang – some things have changed, though. One being that I'm not in Italy any longer, so I can't really look at "should haves" at this point.


Rob Appleby
Wed 7 May 2008Link

Well, another option would be to go over all the footage with the editor, which I'm sure you're going to do anyway, and log it with notes on what is valuable in terms of dialogue. Make quick notes while you're in capture, for instance. Lots of your material will probably get thrown out because of image problems anyway, most likely. So then you can get the pick of the material transcribed/translated. But you'll probably regret not having it all when you come to think about voiceover possibilities – when the track from substandard or problematic picture might still be very valuable. The best route is just to bite the bullet and get it all done.

Do I know anyone – well, contact me offline if you want to discuss it.


Tony Comstock
Wed 7 May 2008Link

"The best route is just to bite the bullet and get it all done."

While all the while telling your self that money has nothing to do with filmmaking.


Darla Bruno
Wed 7 May 2008Link

Rob, What would be "biting the bullet" in this case? I wasn't clear (sorry, newbie). Also, I did try e-mailing you at the address on your site, but the e-mail bounced. I'm at editor@darlabruno.com if you'd like to contact me.


Tony Comstock
Wed 7 May 2008Link

"biting the bullet" = paying money to have your tapes transcribes/translated.

BTW, I'll be very interested to see how this turns out for you.

For a variety of reasons, I'd like to do one of my "hardcore love stories" with a spanish-speaking couple. But while I speak spanish well enough to travel in Mexico, I can't image editing in Spanish, at least not the way I edit my english films.


Darla Bruno
Wed 7 May 2008Link

Well, Tony, if I jump off a bridge in the midst of this . . .

My gut is telling me to have it all transcribed in English with time codes – that I spend my money there rather than with an editor.

I trust my editing (although I'm a book editor) to at least get my first 16 hours into a trailer (with some help) and get a better grasp of my story.

Ideally, I could sit with someone . . . but I just don't have a bazillion dollars right now. I have like twenty bucks :)

Really, I'd put out a couple thousand, but not like five.

So I don't know if this plan/gut is reasonable. I think so.


Rob Appleby
Wed 7 May 2008Link

Tony, that's an interesting remark. BTW – I'd love to get ahold of your films, they really look fascinating.

Having just completed 18 months work in Hindi, Gujarati and Tamil (none of which I speak, except Hindi I understand maybe 30%) I'd be interested to know why you wouldn't be able to edit in a language you understand like you do in English. Once you have transcriptions and so on, what other problems would you be facing?


Tony Comstock
Wed 7 May 2008Link

The best advice I ever got (as far as indie filmmaking goes) was "If something's worth doing, it's worth doing poorly."

FWIW. I never use transcripts, or haven't since I bought my own edit suite about 15 years ago. I just watch the stuff over and over and over and over and over and over until it's all completely memorized. Probably not the most cost effective way to do it, and probably completely impossible in your transliterated case. Of maybe not. Maybe if you watched long enough you'd learn italian.

Which is why I'm curious to hear how it all turns out for you.

Good luck. And you still need a shirt and/or sweater, I'm cleaning out my closet. I could send something to you.


Tony Comstock
Wed 7 May 2008Link

Rob, as mentioned above I don't use transcript. Originally this was a cheap ass cost saving measure. But over time I came to feel that having a vivid sense of how something was said was at least as important as knowing what was said. Transcripts just don't convey that for me.

Also, despite being told on many occasions that spending so much time watching footage and scanning footage to find what I was looking for was a big waste of time, I've had too many "happy accidents" where I've stumbled across the key to the whole film while looking around trying to find something I thought I remembered someone saying. (I recently read that Walter Murch feels the same way about scanning, so I feel vindicated.)


Darla Bruno
Wed 7 May 2008Link

Tony, you inspire me. I want to learn to edit myself. I think I'd love it.

Anyway, I think you can keep doing what you're doing but with transcripts and translation, no? I mean, in the case of your Spanish film, you can memorize what's been said (once you have the footage translated).

All right, I'm just going to worry about my own problems here.


Tony Comstock
Wed 7 May 2008Link

The mechanics of editing are not especially difficult, expecially now with things like FCP. Probably it's sort of like writing a novel. I'm sure you've heard the aphorism that everyone has one novel in them; probably everyone has one film they could edit in them, person connection and passion an adequate substitute for art and craft.

I'm still waiting for the world to catch on to the fact that I probabyl the most ham-handed hack ever to make a "career" for himself in film. Hopefully by the time they do I'll have enough rental properties and t-bills it won't matter!


Peter Brauer
Wed 7 May 2008Link

My best Spanish lesson was making a film in Spanish. I did 7 hours of interviews in Spanish. Then I transcribed everything they said in Spanish over the course of one long day. Then I spent another longer day translating everything into English. In an editing program were you can watch and rewatch what some one says, it is amazing how much easier it is to follow a sentence. After putting all that work into the 7 hours of interview, I realized I had nothing of what I wanted. I was making a training video for people who suffered a spinal injury. Ultimately I took the best bits of the interviews and asked my subjects to make them much more concise. Together we crafted a script. The words were theirs, but I kept them on point. At the beginning of the process my Spanish was bad, by then end I was down right okay. Now it is bad again, but that is just for lack of practice.

As for editing, just do it. Get imovie, final cut, premiere or whatever. Have someone explain basics to you in one afternoon. Ultimately it is just cutting and pasting stuff together. You will learn the nuances as you go. But you shouldn't be afraid to mess around with out help. I mean what's the worst that can happen. I went to film school, but I learned nearly all my editing skills outside of the classroom by playing around with friends.


Tony Comstock
Wed 7 May 2008Link

agreed

back when cuts only offline editing costs $50/hour it was expensive to fuck around and try to edit. Now you've got the basic tools on your laptop.

Give it a go! You've got nothing to lose and everything to gain.


Darla Bruno
Wed 7 May 2008Link

Peter,

Wow. That's impressive. I should add that my subjects speak in wacky proverbs and often don't have teeth (which makes it even harder for me to understand them) and also have a lot of regionalness – not necessarily dialect – so this would be extremely difficult for me.

When I worked with them, and was near them, it was much easier for me, but I actually really long to know what they're saying, so for the, I think the translation would be a gift.

I thought something like FC is $800 or more. . . ? Maybe I'll consider it. (Yes, cheaper than film school – and I already paid my way through writing school.)


Peter Brauer
Wed 7 May 2008Link

Victor, the producer/writer on Second Skin, still regularly cuts small projects on imovie. When he made a daily vlog for our south by south west premier he entirely used imovie. variety blogged about our vlog strategy and posted our youtube link. So imovie does give results.

There are very often less then honorable ways of getting software for free. Maybe you can convince someone to share their discs with you. All I am saying is one should not have to pay to learn. Granted, I pay for my software now.

As for translation, if you came to my neighborhood, Astoria, looking as topless as you do in your photo, there would be a line of men begging for the opportunity to translate it for free.

As for my experience, let me say all of my subjects were paraplegics and quadriplegics, meaning they spoke perfectly. My last grade in spanish was C+ in spanish 2. But I had completed 2 months of immersion Spanish lessons with the two quadriplegics in the film. Needless to say if anyone wants a remarkable effective and inexpensive place to learn spanish, check out http://www.projimo.org.mx/


Wolfgang Achtner
Wed 7 May 2008Link

Dearest Darla,

People like you drive me nuts – no offense meant :-) – because you ask for advice (sometimes on different boards), you don't take it and then you ask the same questions again!

Re your translation dilemma, check the hidden section, I reprinted my previous answers (you could have looked them up in mentoring room yourself).

Next, when you decide to ask more questions about editing, check the answers Chris Wong and I already gave you (in the Mentoring Room) on that subject! :-)

Show hidden content

Darla Bruno
Wed 7 May 2008Link

Mr. Brauer, as far as I know, I am wearing a shirt, albeit strapless . . . but I might consider your offer to walk the streets of Astoria with my footage needing translation.

Wolfgang, I will not bypass your hidden content. I'm sorry to have overlooked it. And, if it's any comfort, I even annoy myself sometimes.


Peter Brauer
Wed 7 May 2008Link

I assumed it was strapless. But part of the d-word is having fun. No-offense intended.

Seriously half of my neighbors are native Italian speakers. I live on the same block as George Costanza's parents live on Seinfeld. No joke their house has a unique look that could only be my block. I know one old guy down the street who only speaks Italian. We say hi and wave, but that is about it.


Christopher Wong
Wed 7 May 2008Link

darla, if it makes you feel any better, peter's not wearing any pants...


Peter Brauer
Wed 7 May 2008Link

Its true, I avoid them whenever I can.


Darla Bruno
Thu 8 May 2008Link

Hahahaha . . . oh, you boys!

All right, well, I'm taking heed (Wolfgang) and I think I'm going to find myself a good translator. Ideally, it would be one of the italians I worked with – they were there. They know the nuances of the language and got the wacky proverbs.

I understand why many people recommended that I just go in (with or without a pro editor) and start cutting – but I think this is an opportunity for me to really sit with what I shot, get to know my characters (and finally learn what was said!) and get a better grasp on my story. And being a Capricorn, an editor, and a writer . . . I think I'm interested in learning myself, first, what my story is, before someone sits and tells me (though I do enjoy collaboration).

So I think that's how I'll move.

Thanks, all!


Wolfgang Achtner
Thu 8 May 2008Link

Carissima Darla,

You'll find that you won't regret having a real pro do it. In reality, it has to be someone really good, it's not enough to know the language.

All the more, if your documentary is going to be based on these interviews, you can't afford to loose the nuances.

I have done some translations of the sound track of documentaries (same issue except on finished products) and I speak Italian perfectly, so you'd be surprised to find out how many shitty jobs are out there. Sometimes, minor misunderstandings leadot translations that are actually saying the contrary of what was said.

Translating from English, the most common problems regard the mis-translation of American idioms or expressions. When you can't translate literally you need to know how to adapt the sentence to the other langauge and or culture, etc.

getting back to your stuff, you need someone who understands the language and the culture, so they can transalte the fine points without loosing any of the texture, if you know what I mean.

Good luck!

When you've done this part, before you start editing, re-read my posts on the editing phase.

Enjoy!!! :-)

Edited Thu 8 May 2008 by Wolfgang Achtner

Darla Bruno
Fri 9 May 2008Link

Yes, Wolfgang. I know . . . the problem is, how to find this person who is going to do this. Ideally, it would be my DP – he knew the people, loved them, got their proverbs, and has an excellent command of English. But he's not terribly excited by the prospect.


Tony Comstock
Fri 9 May 2008Link

Money


Wolfgang Achtner
Fri 9 May 2008Link

Darla

Tony is right.

If you offer to pay him enough he'll probably accept the job.

Furthermore, it would probably be much easier for him (in Italy, if I remember correctly) to find people to transcribe – with time code references – your interviews.


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