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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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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.


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