opps...I should read the back pages more...
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.
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.
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?
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. ;=)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I agree w/Erica. WE've all been there. Keep shooting. I know that I had more than 70 hours of footage. It seems like a lot and believe me it is when you start transcribing. But it 's worth it. Know as well that you may start out with one purpose and then when going through your footage something else comes through the back door if you know what I mean and you might see your doc going in a slightly different direction. Don't panic. This is normal. Making a doc is like writing a book. You have many different versions/drafts. Characters are important. Their stories will bring what you want to convey across in a more accessible way for your audience. There's my 2 cents.
peace and good luck
Logistics . . .
So my dp has the files, and I only have DVDs with no time codes (we did this for back-up at the last minute).
If I go to hire a translator (someone here kindly explained to me) I'll need DVDs with time codes. I asked my DP to do this (he's in Milan) and then my potential translator can watch the footage and put their translations with time codes. But my DP is kind of whining about the time it will take to do this (we have 16 hours of footage).
Is there another way?
Sam, I wonder if you should be a character in your film. It's not appropriate for every film and can often be seen as an overly easy way to tie a loose storyline together, but, in this case, you are a bit of the bridge between cultures and stereotypes, so that might also be interesting to explore. Or at least have on tape, which you can later decide to keep or scrap. (I say this, having produced a film with an emigree director going back to his homeland where he didn't make the conscious decision to include himself as a character until he returned and could not afford to go back, so it was a lot of patchworking to bring him in as a character after-the-fact).
"Someone" was me (or, at least, I was one of those who answered you).
If you search all the old posts that I wrote several months ago, you'll find that I'd pasted examples of how I do transcriptions.
ONCE AGAIN, you're asking the same questions. I don't mind helping you – to the contrary, I'm quite happy to help you (and I'm sure that this is true for everyone else) – but since it takes time and concentration to answer a question I don't think it's appropriate for you to have the generous people who participate on this board waste their time by asking the SAME questions, several times. As a matter of courtesy, you ought to check old postings first, as I pointed out to you just a couple of weeks ago.
Yes, you'll need DVD's (or VHS videocassettes or whatever) with time codes.
First of all, someone, the translator (in this case) needs to transcribe the entire content of each cassette containing interviews.
When writing down the transcription, the translator needs to indicate time code corresponding to the BEGINNING AND TO THE END OF EACH AND EVERY PARAGRAPH.
Then, passage number two, the translator writes out the translation maintaining the same time codes at the beginning and at the end of each paragraph.
The reason you MUST do this is that – when you'll have written your story outline or the script – you'll be able to find any soundbite you are interested in, within a few seconds time. If you don't have time code, it could take you a long time to find the 'bite.
Immagine that you might build your documentary (as I have in some cases) without any voiceover narration. In a situation like this, your script will rely totally on the soundbites of your character(s).
When you start editing and you build the story, it'll be easy to find and assemble – in the correct order – all the relevant soundbites along the timeline. If, at any time, you should decide to substitute a given segment with another, it'll only take you a few seconds to identify and grab it.
What is your dp whing about?
A) Having to do the translation?
B) Having to indicate time codes?
It may take a while – especially if one person has to do it all – to translate and transcribe 16 hours of interviews and it will take a lot of hard work and concentration. That's why people who have to do this – unless you're doing it yourself (not in this case) – want to be payed well. But, if he's accepted to take on the job, you must have already covered this issue.
It may take him several weeks time to complete the translation, but ince you're not in a rush, who cares. Of course, he might prefer to be out shooting, that's why you have to pay him!
If he's referring to B), it only takes a few extra seconds time to write down the time codes.
I'm putting up a topless avitar to see if it makes Wolfgang any more eager to help me!
I don't get your sense of humor. And it's not the first time.
I'm more than "eager" to help Darla or anyone else; in fact, I answered her question.
I just pointed out that Darla has a habit of asking the same things more than once. I wrote: "As a matter of courtesy, you ought to check old postings first, as I pointed out to you just a couple of weeks ago "
What's your problem with that?
Wolfie, I'm just hurt that you've (more or less) dimissed me as being unwilling to make real sacrifices to pursue my cinematic vision; drawing unfavorable comparisons between me and John Cassavettes. I thought maybe if I took off my shirt, you'd give me a second chance! ;-)
I hate to disappoint ya. I didn't draw any comparisons between you and anyone, in fact I never mentioned you.
I wrote that I didn't pay for interviews and my experience has taught me that (with rare exceptions) it's possible to convince people to talk without paying them. It just takes a lot of patience and time and perseverance or whatever skills to convince them.
In any case, you don't have any hopes at all. You're not my type.
Wolfgang, I acknowledge your generosity. But if you're tired of answering the same questions over and over again, why not just try not answering?
And Darla, honestly, your domination of this topic is getting tiring. It's not all about you. Pick your spots and please don't repeat yourself, okay?
Darla – is there any way you can import the dvd footage to quicktime? There is software which enables you to punch in the timecode while you're transcribing (Inqscribe, for instance) while running a quicktime movie. Don't quite know how it all works, but you can also set a timecode offset, so if you know the start timecode of your original footage, you can sync it with the transcription quite painlessly.
But another option to consider, is to simply create a new audio track in fcp (or avid, whatever) and then translate with a voiceover to that track.
I have used both methods and they both have their advantages. Good luck.
As for asking a question again and again, I think it is slightly churlish to make a big deal out of it. If we (I say "we", but I am as much in need of help as anyone) are prepared to help someone with a technical issue, then we should just help. These are all complicated issues and there are many solutions, so it isn't always evident which is the best way to go about things the first time round.
In this case, I think transcribing from a DVD or cassette without using widely available specialised software would be a real waste of time and energy. But that's just me, no doubt Wolfgang doesn't agree.
darla, go ahead and keep posting in here whenever you need help. if someone feels like they've already answered your question, they don't need to respond again. or, if you prefer, you are always welcome to send an email to any of us who have offered helpful advice before. it's not easy starting out on your first project – especially one with an international bent – so we definitely want to encourage you on your way.
Hey guys, I really didn't think I was committing a capital sin by pointing out to Darla that we'd already answered her question.
Please notice that I made this observation at the end of my answer to her question.
I happen to work in communications so I try to pick my words carefully.
Since others – as well as myself – had given Darla good advice the first time around, it seemed logical to suggest that she ought to check out the old posts.
Regardless of what you may think Rob, this hardly constitutes making "a big deal" about anything, much less "churlish" behavior.
Wolfie, you're a blowhard and a bully who can't remember what you've said from one day to the next, let alone showing any evidence of being able to pick your word carefully. Rather than Darla re-reading your old posts, how about you go back and read your own bloviating post about your supperlative interview technique and tactics.
I have no difficulty admitting that some of my posts were long-winded. But does that make me a "bully?"
And you didn't even take off your shirt for me...
Guys, allow me to say my intentions were – are – good and I feel that I've been misinterpreted. Anyway, for me 'nuff said.
If you all don't mind, I'd prefer to drop this matter and get back to ... answering questions and reading interesting answers.
Guys, guys. I'm not sure if you are all going back and forth in good fun or not, but we should remember that the mentoring room is part of the D-Word public forum, so whatever is posted here may show up anywhere. Not everyone in here knows our backstories, backposts, or personality quirks and it may not make some folks feel welcome to have fighting in here nor any discouragement of questions or discussion.
I'm no topic cop, but might make a citizen arrest to suggest any further discussion of who is in the right or wrong be taken to the private forum parking lot, so we can focus here on providing constructive advice.
Erica's right. You're certainly welcome to meet in the Parking Lot and go 15 rounds (you could even take your shirts off first). One of the pleasures of professional membership.
Totally not sure what's up here. Wolfgang, you answered a question I never asked.
Doug, is there a limit on posts?
I asked a question that I never asked before – how best to get my footage into a format with time codes to give to the translator. Sometimes, since I'm very new at this, I don't always know how to ask the question most eloquently.
By the way, thanks Rob, and Erica, and Christopher – and of course, all of you.
My footage is on PAL (yes, I know you all know this), so I've gotta get someone with a PAL camera deck to run my tapes through FCP and then do time codes (assuming I will also edit in PAL) and put all that back out on either DVDs or Quicktime files to give to my translator. I think I'm understanding this correctly.
I'm close to NYC, so I guess I can just pay someone to do this for me. I really don't have too many other resources (no camera, no FCP).
If your tapes are DVCAM, a DSR 11 deck will do and these are easy to find (rent). You would also need a laptop with FCP.
If you know someone or have a friend who has a Mac with FCP, they could capture for you. Then it would be simple for them to burn DVDs with timecode. And then you could mail or ship the DVDs to your dp in Italy. For safety, keep copies for yourself.
Allow me to suggest that, while you're at it, you might want to buy a small external disc (200 GB would do and is relatively cheap, US$299.00).
This way, you'll have a backup and – more importantly – you'd already have your video ready to be logged, whenever you decide to do the edit. Furthermore, a 200 GB hard disc will provide more than enough space to edit your doc.
To everyone who replied, thank you for your time. I know I have to be diligent and creative. It's that now I have to walk the walk of documentary making. For me personally feeling all those things is different than understanding them, or studying them first. i.e. storylines wavering. Thanks for the inspirational kick in the rear from Erica, Jennifers and everyone else.
Erica, I contemplated including myself in the story but I don't want it to be about me, or run through me. I'm actually scared of bringing the attention, or focus on myself. I want it to be about Egyptians. I guess want and get may be two different things but I hope not in this case.
p.s. transcribing english takes a heck of alot of time. I'm awesome at english, and humble ;-). I think I need to start transcribing even though I don't have alot of hours. Not to mention there is audio.....
Did I mention d-word rocks?
Ma' Assalam from Sharm El Sheik
I'm going to be directing short interviews with people at a union convention. This might lead to short videos about a theme or union campaign. We are trying to figure out what kind of backdrop and lighting to use for the interviews. One idea is to use a white backdrop, lit fairly flat, and change up frame lengths – inspired by the look of Errol Morris's Move On ads: http://www.errolmorris.com/content/election04/main.html
Another option would be to use a purple backdrop – the union's color. The lighting kit that's been reserved by the conference organizers includes one 350 fresnel, one 150 fresnel, a 650 fresnel, plus chimeras and gels. I don't know a lot about lighting, so I'm looking for advice about whether these lights are appropriate for achieving this kind of a "natural" look. Whether a white backdrop will be more challenging to light than purple... also, what to use as the backdrop – cloth draped somehow or a firm backdrop of some kind? Thanks for any suggestions!
What's the best way to organize footage to prepare for editing? Do you rely on creating paper cuts, or do you have a better system?
(Since you were previously on the subject of transcripts, I also do transcriptions with time code and if anyone has questions about it, you can email me directly at email@example.com)
Lucia – if you were to shoot a greenscreen, you could make up your mind afterwards, or even use other footage/photos as a backdrop if the project really took off.
Lucia: You didn't ask, but make sure you have a quiet room and good mics – I've been hosed on audio in this kind of situation before. As for lighting, you won't be shining a light on the background if you're trying to achieve the look of the erol morris link. You only light a backdrop if you're trying to create texture or a pattern. You need to read up on the three point lighting technique, or better yet, practice in your living room with a real person.
Jamie: I found this training video from Creative Cow usefull.
I am in the business of filming people's lifestories but no one takes their lifestory that seriously it seems--and certainly not seriously enough to pay me to make their films (again it would appear from a bit of market research). What great ways do you think I could use to kick start the idea that everyone should consider putting their lifestory on video?
I imagine a bunch of talking heads telling them that it is a good idea and putting that on the web won't work too well. Any creative thoughts?
I know a couple of people who tried to do this and never found the right formula to make it cost effective. The clients want a lot and pay very little.
My suggestion to make it worth your while is to be the guy who shows up at family reunions and tapes people talking to each other. Good audio is the key, because it will be a noisy situation – camera mics won't work. But the oft-told stories will be great and everyone will feel comfortable doing it. Plus, you get everything in a day.
Memorial videos are another idea if you can work fast. Still photos to music. I was hired once to set up in a room away from the memorial service and folks came in and talked about their memories.
The common denominator is to be where families naturally gather.
I did some memorial videos. What a great feeling when you get it right!
Thanks Mark for that suggestion. I agree with Tony--it can be satisfying when you get it right! That is what keeps me going.
Laurence-have you checked out the Association of Personal Historians ? If you search their membership directory, you'll find companies that also create video biographies. The APH also holds an annual conference that members rave about on their listserv.
Hi Everyone :)
I was wondering if anyone would be able to give me some advice please? I have just graduated from University with a BA Hons English. Very keen to get involved in doc filmmaking and am currently writing on mental health. Any ideas as next step into the industry?
Thank you very much,
Don't listen to the elderly patients in this institution, Claire. Have you any practical experience in making docs? It's pretty easy these days to get hold of a DV camera. What's the mental health idea? Do you have a concrete subject or is it more a general idea at this stage?
John's right. Any idiot can make a doc. I am exhibit "A". I had no practical experience when I started (probably obvious if you watch one of my movies.) I still don't have any.
Some practical advise. Get a DV camera. You can get one for about $250.
Get a Macintosh computer. It will cost you about $1000. It will come with iMovie. I use FinalCut Pro, but any of the films I've made I could have made on iMovie.
Two best pieces of advise I ever got about making movies:
1) Watch old movies and study how they get people in and out of rooms.
2) Anything that's worth doing is worth doing poorly.
You could also get an internship at a small doc house. You could see how they do things, and then decide if its worth going broke to make a movie. I worked in reality TV a while and learned about cameras and sound. get your hands on a camera and practice. Realize this career generally leads to poverty. what can an internship hurt, and you would be helping some one who needs your help.
I graduated with a similar degree a couple of years ago and took out a graduate loan to pay for an introductory film making course in London. Cost about 800 quid at the time and if i'd lived in London it would have been ideal (although it did give me some practical experience for my cv and showed i'd got involved) I didn't live in London (still don't) so i signed up with shootingpeople and was contacted to help out as runner on a short over one weekend.
I should add that this was over a couple of years and also involved lots of dull temping and talking about working in film & television instead of doing it. If you're in London (Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol etc) clearly there are more opportunities – If you like London as a place to live – it's personal preference.
I would say just jump in and get involved. Every project you work on you gain more experience meet more people and gather momentum.
Ultimately my wife worked with someone whos ex worked as a producer and i got their email address and got in touch. Attached my CV had an interview, got a few weeks work experience, then a few more and now i'm full-time. I work as a production coordinator by day and try to work on my own project after work and at the weekend to satisfy my creative aspirations.
Just show them that you are enthusiastic and capable and willing to start early and stay late.
Hi – I'm not sure if this this is the right place to ask...I did do a search and didn't find any info on finding television commercial archives for use in a doc – we're stumbling a bit through the process of making our film, www.inspiredthemovie.com – and need some good footage of diet ads... any tips? We've gone the route of getting a dvr, but that is so random...would love to find a place that can get us what we need! Thanks in advance...