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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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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.


Tony Comstock
Fri 9 May 2008Link

Absent money, try flattery, perrsuasion, coercion, persistence. If that doesn't work, try showing him your tits.


Darla Bruno
Fri 9 May 2008Link

Of course I'd pay him, but he's gotten dp jobs at $800 a day now, and I know he knows I can't pay him a rate like that, so . . . I think he's just not down with it.

What's a going rate for good translation and how do I know how long it would take to translate 10-16 hours of footage (that he shot)?


Mark Barroso
Fri 9 May 2008Link

Don't believe Tony. I tried showing my tits once and it didn't work.


Tony Comstock
Fri 9 May 2008Link

I tried flattery, perrsuasion, coercion, persistence, and didn't get anywhere with those either.

Edited Fri 9 May 2008 by Tony Comstock

Wolfgang Achtner
Fri 9 May 2008Link

Tony,

As I wrote before, I used "flattery, perrsuasion, coercion, persistence" because I had to tits to show and no money to spend.


Mikal Jakubal
Sun 11 May 2008Link

Oh, such abuse a poor girl has to endure to get her film made! Don't be offended, Darla, just consider it mild preparation for dealing with the distribution phase.

On a serious note, could you negotiate a fixed price with your DP that would be enough to entice him to do the work? If so, then you could go out and fundraise for it. Depending on who you know and are related to, a good way to raise modest amounts of money is to send a nice letter to your entire friends and family list explaining your project and asking for donations. Be specific and say "I now need $XX to pay for YYY part of the project." I'm personally terrible at asking for money, but the few times I've done it, having a specific amount for a specific purpose has been more successful than a general request.

Good luck!


Darla Bruno
Sun 11 May 2008Link

Hmmm....Mikal, good idea. I think I'll save my fundraising for when I really need it--to go back to Italy to finish shooting and everything else following that (tons more translation, editing, etc....)

I want to propose this to my DP, but I want to give him something reasonable. I'm canceling a dream trip to Alaska this summer to do it.

I just want to get an idea from others on timeframe and cost estimate.


Tara Hurley
Mon 12 May 2008Link

This is how I did my translations. It is the cheapest way I could think of, and I had hours and hours of Korean to translate. I went to school's websites to find my translators and interviewers. I live near Brown University so I went to their school's student union web site and found Korean Student Association. I am sure they have the same type thing for Italian. The first translator I paid $10 an hour. Because of my topic being related to woman studies the second semester she was going to work for credit only, but she went abroad, and I had to find a paid replacement. So I say find a student, they are cheap or free, and you can teach them how to subtitle.


Wolfgang Achtner
Mon 12 May 2008Link

Darla,

Tara has given you a good idea. I'm not sure about where you live, but in NY there are several universities with Italian institutes. Aside from a small fee, you can always promise to list them as "intern" or whatever in the credits section of your doc


Darla Bruno
Mon 12 May 2008Link

Sorry, I don't mean to turn this into the All-About-Me Room, but while I did like Tara's idea, I just wonder about the quality and level of translation. Wolfgang, you yourself had written quite a lot on the subject of hiring a talented translator. My characters are in a small region in the mountains of Abruzzo and don't speak "regular" Italian and are often difficult to understand; I'm sure many of the words and usages in their diction are archaic.

To me, this might take more than a college student for $10 an hour. I mean, it's definitely definitely a good resource. But I have tons of friends who speak Italian . . . just word about the issue of "dialect" (it's more a regional issue than a dialect, but it's easiest to put it that way).

Thanks, though, to both of you!


Mikal Jakubal
Mon 12 May 2008Link

How about negotiating a fixed price up front with your DP but paying him off at some set rate/month that you can both live with, like a mortgage. Think he'd go for that?


Lenville O'Donnell
Mon 12 May 2008Link

Find a college student in the U.S. from the region, or one who has some familiarity with the argot there. Is there a university in the Abruzzo... with an exchange program with an American University? Worth some digging and posting on university websites. Or, perhaps a college professor who is familiar with the dialect? They have to be out there....


Penelope Andrews
Mon 12 May 2008Link

Mikal
lets not always call the DP a he! I know only 6% of women are in the industry but lets not rub it in...


Mikal Jakubal
Mon 12 May 2008Link

In this case, he is in fact a "he," which is why I used the word.


Rob Appleby
Mon 12 May 2008Link

Just to put it into context: I'm a talented translator, I've made my living doing it for ten years, been living in Italy since 91, but I wouldn't touch the dialect of my own region with a bargepole, let alone that of another region.

So here's a different suggestion. Why don't you wait until you're back in Italy (you said you're going back in the summer and you're not in a great hurry), then get someone from the community you're documenting to help you with the translation? I'd imagine that people would like to be involved in your process, it would probably greatly increase your access and integration. Dialect is a huge problem for translation, but on the other hand, people are very proud of it and getting the characters themselves involved would be a great way to show them that you are very committed to what is so particular about their lifestyle and community.

[Start dodgy suggestion] In the meantime you could cut a very short teaser for picture alone, put some music over it and wild track perhaps. And if what they're doing/saying is most likely not of great dramaturgical impact (when cutting up the pig, for instance), then you could even subtitle what you imagine they're saying (like, hand me the bucket, careful not to get blood on your shoes, etc.). This would work for a teaser until you can get the real thing. [End dodgy suggestion]

Edited Mon 12 May 2008 by Rob Appleby

Wolfgang Achtner
Tue 13 May 2008Link

Darla,

Re my previous answer, what I had written you in the past is, in fact, correct.

The idea re using a student translator – and mind you, I'd choose a graduate student who speaks the language fluently (that's why I mentioned cultural Institutes like the ones at NYU and Columbia); I didn't mean someone studying Italian – is still a good one to help you save money.

The student (who needs to be fluent and competent) could probably provide a good first draft of a translation of most of the dialogue and you could then have an expert (especially in reference to the dialect), verify it afterwards. This would allow you to save money.


Corey Wascinski
Tue 13 May 2008Link

this is a reply to Darla, and another question to all.

Darla – I posted for a translator on the good ol' craigslist and was surprised on how many responses I received. In all I got 6 hours of beautifully translated (spanish to english) with time code references for a couple hundred dollars.

To all – I'm in post production on my first feature doc. and need to find a music contract pertaining to world wide film festival usage. I'm trying to avoid contacting an entertainment lawyer because of the cost.
Any Ideas?

Corey


Darla Bruno
Tue 13 May 2008Link

Thanks, y'all. In fact, the dp is a he (I think I mentioned that a few times). And I just wrote to him today to ask . . . I said he can take his time, and I'd pay him slowly . . . (so thanks for the mortgage metaphor, Mikal). And I'm just keeping my fingers crossed – though, he lives in Milan, and accepts only euros; in this case, if it doesn't work out, I won't be too upset, b/c the exchange rate right now is why I can't go back and shoot in the first place (until I have more funding).

So, I'm not actually planning to go back until August 2009 (Rob thought it was this summer). . . and I do have time on my side here. If the dp accepts, I'll be good to go. If he doesn't, I'll ask the photographer (who was also with us and had a good grasp on the regionality in the language). Short of those two, I love the idea of Craigslist.

So that's what I'll do.

The teaser idea was cute, Rob.

Thanks, everyone!


Darla Bruno
Tue 13 May 2008Link

Hey Corey,

I tried to find your e-mail address. . . would you mind contacting me off list at editor@darlabruno.com? I need some advice on the CL post.

Thanks!


Penelope Andrews
Wed 14 May 2008Link

opps...I should read the back pages more...


Tara Hurley
Thu 15 May 2008Link

Just to let you know, I loved working with the students. I have to admit that before this project I was not at all familiar with Korean culture. You might be more familiar with Italian culture, and probably are, but there was much more to know than just the language. My students did more than just translations for me. One student even did footnotes for me on the translations that were worth probably more that what I would pay an actual translator. I would learn things in the footnotes that I could bring up in future interviews. Even if you do not get a student, you should ask if it is possible to get some kind of footnotes on the translations. My footnotes had historical and cultural information.


Evan Thomas
Fri 16 May 2008Link

Hi all,

Anyone know where i can find some info on the perils and pitfalls of selling my own DVD over the internet? Website or a book perhaps?

Ta


Tony Comstock
Fri 16 May 2008Link

In reply to Evan Thomas's post on Fri 16 May 2008 :

There are no "perils and pitfalls". Make a run of a 1000 units (shouldn't cost you much more than 1000 pounds, probably less). Put up a Zencart-based website. (Zencart has a huge, enthusiastic and free support community.)

Oh wait, there is one "peril and pitfall". Even if you happen to sell five or ten thousand copies, a lot of people will not take what you've accomplished seriously. They'll always have a reason why the movie you made/sold is different from the movie they want to make/can't sell; why it was easier for you than it is for them. You may find this annoying. It may even hurt your feelings. ;=)

Good luck!


Peter Brauer
Fri 16 May 2008Link

Tony, you are such a maverick. What ever you do, don't let the nay sayers wear you done. I can't imagine sex sells, cause I have never paid for a sexy video in my life. What you are doing is an inspiration to us all. Or me at least.


Sam Rabeeh
Tue 20 May 2008Link

Hello everyone, I've been in Egypt now for several weeks and been filming, recording and photographing Egyptians in their daily lives in my home village. I'm discovering I have to work hard at listening and not jumping the gun in my interviews, everyone is afraid of my still camera not to mention my video camera. I've interviewed Muslim and christian farmers, professionals working together for generations and feel inspired that i've discovered more about Egyptian Identity. Yet I can't help but feel lost in the process. As though I don't know what I'm looking for or what it is I'm trying to achieve.

I started by wanting to discover more about our Identity and break several myths about Egypt and Egyptians in general. But with only 7 hours of tape, and several hours of recorded audio I feel as though it's not enough, or as though I haven't accomplished anything yet. To put it simply it's frustrating as I think it will take much more time to really discover more of the issues, not to mention more deeply. I know I need to be patient but does anyone have any advice or contacts in Egypt (documentary) that I might talk or hash out my fears? wishes? I guess a large question in my mind right now is, how long of a story do I want to tell? I don't want to glance over the issues. I'll be heading to the Banff T.V. festival in June and have meetings with documentary producers there and plan on listening to hear what their demands, wishes are. But if anyone can help me out with the "position" i'm in it would be greatly appreciated.


Rob Appleby
Tue 20 May 2008Link

God, am I really the right person to offer advice? Probably not, but here goes.

I would recommend writing a "white paper" laying out as briefly as possible the issues you're interested in. Then try to imagine what characters you need to explore those issues. Like, an issue might be that farmers are out of touch with international commodity price fluctuations (!), if you're dealing with cash crops. Well, then you might have a farmer who is actively trying to get information about that on-line and is adjusting his crop accordingly, or one who has a bumper crop of something that has suffered a severe price drop – or is about to have a great year because of a rise in prices. If you have a character or two around each issue – and better yet if they overlap – then you can illustrate the issues by following their fortunes.

That sounds very mechanical; but the more you get interested in the individuals you have identified in this way, the more you will find them, and be able to make them, engaging even independently of your issues. And then your audience will care more about how the issues affect them.

That's how I would go about it, anyway. But issue based films are not really what gets my juices flowing, which is why I suggest getting deep into your characters.


Erica Ginsberg
Tue 20 May 2008Link

Sam, I don't think your position in which you find yourself is specific to Egypt. We've all at times felt lost like we are not sure what we are looking for or seeking to achieve.

I would say there are four elements you need to succeed: purpose, identity, patience, and community.

PURPOSE
Maybe it would help to tell us a bit more what is the story you are hoping to tell. You mention something about breaking myths about Egyptians. What are these myths you hope to break? Who do you see as your audience? Cairo-based Egyptians? Others in the Middle East? Europeans? Americans? What preconceptions is your target audience coming to the film with that you hope to dispel?

IDENTITY
Are you yourself living in Egypt and simply returning to a village from the big city? Or are you an emigree coming back to the home country? Whether you are a character in the story or not, your own identity – real or imagined by your subjects – can color the production process in terms of the level of trust and access you can get with your subjects.

PATIENCE
You say you have been there for several weeks and shot seven hours of footage. But if you are really trying to get to the heart of the place and the trust of your characters, you may need more time. Do your best not to be overly constrained by production schedules, money, or time. Continue to work hard at listening – and not just when the camera is rolling. Perhaps what you have already shot is simply research or practice. Maybe the real story will emerge as you spend more time. And this does not necessarily mean you have to live in this village for a year. It may be a process where you make repeat visits over a period of time to see how things develop with your characters or the life of the village.

COMMUNITY
Yes, it is tremendously helpful to have others with whom to share your experiences, gain new knowledge, and simply have a place to vent the joys and frustrations which accompany any creative endeavor. D-Word can certainly help you in terms of some virtual community. And I have no doubts that there is a community in Egypt which can help fill that need in a more face to face manner. You can search the D-Word database for other filmmakers by country to see if there are some fellow Egyptians to e-mail directly (since not everyone checks into this forum frequently). And others here may have some more specific advice.

In any case, best of luck. It sounds like an amazing project.


Mikal Jakubal
Tue 20 May 2008Link

Great advice from Erica!

For what it's worth, feature length docs routinely require 20-100 hours of source material. Not to suggest you be careless with rolling tape, because that will only be burden later, but if you're still in the research stage with only seven hours shot and no clear direction, it's no huge deal yet. You just don't want to come home with 40 hours of tape and no clear story focus or structure.

You might consider approaching subjects with only a mic (good quality!) and do all your initial interviews audio-only. That way, you can assess what someone has to say, how "listenable" they are, the level of rapport you might be able to develop and whether or not you will want to have them in the film. Audio-only is much less intimidating than a camera for most people and you can always use that as voice-over later if someone says something brilliant and you decide you want to keep that person as a character.

Good luck!


Wolfgang Achtner
Tue 20 May 2008Link

Wow Erica!

Kudos to you.


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