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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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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.


Sam Rabeeh
Wed 21 May 2008Link

Thank you so much everyone,
I've known I would hit this wall but you are all providing small steps to overcome it.

Purpose: Egyptian Identity – Are Egyptians Arabs? Myth Breaking – Who are Egyptians really? The camel riding arab in the Sahara? Are Christians a minority under duress and assault in Egypt? I imagine some of the additional myths are that Medicine, Dentistry, Pharmacology did not begin here in Egypt, these are some of the vague ideas so far.

Identity: I left Egypt when I was very young and grew up in Canada. I've been back several times. The village is my home town, I was born in my grandfathers house, it's special to me in a way I can't describe. How many of us can say we sleep in the same bed we were born in? My family is originally Fellahin, farmers. I can't count how many times people have dismissed Egyptians as terrorists, thugs, thieves............When you see my family and friends, young and old, working in the hot sun, all day, cutting wheat, prepping the ground later for rice, I can't help but be overwhelmed that the greatest things in the world come from the ground, especially the people.

Patience: I realized the other day that there are many opportunities to record audio only and open the door with many people, and I did not capitalize on it due to illness, lack of sleep, or some other sad reason. Perhaps my frustration also comes from the fact I am realizing that I will have to work on this for a longer period. And to film in Churches has led me to require the proper paperwork which I will need to prepare, for the next trip.

Community: I found two contacts and one has old information but I will endeavor to dig deeper into the database to see what comes up. I'm closer to the internet for the next four to five days so I have that will assist. But just as quick feedback, D-Word rocks.


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