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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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Wolfgang Achtner
Thu 22 May 2008Link


"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.

Tony Comstock
Thu 22 May 2008Link

I'm putting up a topless avitar to see if it makes Wolfgang any more eager to help me!

Edited Thu 22 May 2008 by Tony Comstock

Wolfgang Achtner
Thu 22 May 2008Link


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?

Edited Thu 22 May 2008 by Wolfgang Achtner

Tony Comstock
Thu 22 May 2008Link

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! ;-)

Wolfgang Achtner
Thu 22 May 2008Link


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.

Tony Comstock
Thu 22 May 2008Link

Then I guess I can take down this silly picture.

Doug Block
Thu 22 May 2008Link

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?

Edited Fri 23 May 2008 by Doug Block

Rob Appleby
Fri 23 May 2008Link

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.

Christopher Wong
Fri 23 May 2008Link

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.

Wolfgang Achtner
Fri 23 May 2008Link

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.

Tony Comstock
Fri 23 May 2008Link

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.

Wolfgang Achtner
Fri 23 May 2008Link


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.

Edited Fri 23 May 2008 by Wolfgang Achtner

Erica Ginsberg
Fri 23 May 2008Link

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.

Doug Block
Fri 23 May 2008Link

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.

John Burgan
Fri 23 May 2008Link

Good work, Citizen Ginsberg :-)

Darla Bruno
Fri 23 May 2008Link

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.


Darla Bruno
Fri 23 May 2008Link

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).

Wolfgang Achtner
Fri 23 May 2008Link


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.

Sam Rabeeh
Fri 23 May 2008Link

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

Doug Block
Sat 24 May 2008Link

No limit yet, Darla. But we're getting ideas ...

Lucia Duncan
Mon 26 May 2008Link

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:
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!

Jamie Cochrane
Mon 26 May 2008Link

Hey guys,

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

Rob Appleby
Mon 26 May 2008Link

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.

Mark Barroso
Mon 26 May 2008Link

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.

Laurence Peters
Fri 30 May 2008Link

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?

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