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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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Monica Williams
Wed 2 Jul 2008Link

Thank you to John and Jo-Anne :-)

Jo-Anne, I would really appreciate your offer of help as I want to come to Berlin and I'm not sure exactly where to go. I can send my one page treatment to you. I'm not sure how to email you, but you can email me through my website, www.knowingevil.com. Thanks again and talk to you soon.


Mike West
Sat 5 Jul 2008Link

Hey guys,

I'm about to embark on my first documentary, and I'd like to know what gear you guys use.... I was thinking of using an HVX, lavs and just practical available lighting as its more of an urban themed documentary.

Am I missing anything?


Andrew David Watson
Mon 7 Jul 2008Link

A good shotgun mic might help catch some of the action. The HVX isnt the best low light camera so depending on the shoot maybe consider some type of lighting. Tripod? Extra batteries? Camera Bag? Those can be important as well. With that said, dont worry to much about gear and focus on the story.


Mark Barroso
Mon 7 Jul 2008Link

Books, DVD's, websites for techy info, unless you're doing art for family and friends. Volunteer to shoot weddings, ballgames, rodeos to learn to work under pressure.

And yes, you're missing a lovely intern.


Timothy S. McCarty
Mon 7 Jul 2008Link

I agree with ADW! Don't wory about technical stuff, they're just tools to tell your story. Mike, especially for your first doc, really focus on your story and what the slant is. Target audience? Who will you interview to give your doc credibility? Who is your "expert" on your subject? Think about the kinds of answers you want and then develop really open-ended questions to get those answers (and more!) in the on-camera interview...

Focus heavily on all aspects of pre-production; locations, setting up interviews, scheduling b-roll shoots when, where etc... By doing all of this pre-production, you begin to establish your technical requirements, i.e. that the HVX isn't the best low light camera, 30p or 24p? That I'm gonna needs lights, a boom mic if I've got multiple folks talking during interviews, or, I need a lav mic, or a wireless mic system etc...

As I tell my high school and college video students, there's no such thing as too much planning! Good luck!


Mark Barroso
Mon 7 Jul 2008Link

Yes. It's called the 6 P's: Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance.

That includes learning the technical stuff. I disagree with you, Tim. Real filmmakers don't use the Auto-everything setting, just as real photographers don't use point and shoot cameras. To use your analogy, anyone can buy tools, but a true craftsman learns how to use them from a master – in person or from books/DVDs. It can save you a lot of time and frustration.

Practice, practice, practice.


Sara Peak Convery
Mon 7 Jul 2008Link Tag

I would like advice about mounting a camera inside a moving car, for view through the front window. I was able to rig my tripod in the passenger seat, which worked fine as long as the road I was driving on was smooth--not usually the case with rural highways, certainly not with gravel roads. Wondering if anyone has a good suggestion for 'shock absorbers' for the camera. I have tried this with a PD100 and VX2000. I tried handheld but found there was more overall camera movement than I wanted though less 'jittery-ness'.

Edited Tue 8 Jul 2008 by Sara Peak Convery

Erica Ginsberg
Mon 7 Jul 2008Link

Sara, have you thought of getting one of these


Tony Comstock
Mon 7 Jul 2008Link

In reply to Sara Peak Convery's post on Mon 7 Jul 2008 :

When I used to do ariels we'd sometimes use a multidimensional bungie cord rig. You could cobble something together from home depot for lessthan $20.

Also you might simply try adding weight to yoru PD100. I've got a pair of well used PD100a camera. Great little camera, but so light they "twitch" a lot when handheld. Try mounting on a 20lbs plate and handhold. You'll be surprise how much the added intertia dampens the motion.

HTH.


Wolfgang Achtner
Mon 7 Jul 2008Link

Sara,

If the road is VERY bumpy, as in off-road conditions, (almost) any kind of rig will get some bumps.

It the conditions aren't that bad, the cheapest way to do this is to hold your arms attached close to your chest and hold the camera with your left hand beneath it and your right hand on the right side. If you've preset your focus and have pre-framed your shot, ideally NOT on maximum telephoto but as wide as possible (but not so wide that you'll be including the inside of car in the shot), and you concentrate and relax, without stiffening your arms, this grip will allow you to act as a natural shock absorber.

Usually, this method has worked just fine for me. Some bumps are "natural"; by this I mean that if it is clearly visible that there are bumps in the road, the occasional bump won't disturb the viewer because they will see that you are travelling on bumpy terrain.

As a matter of fact, all of those mounts – from the indicated web site – are quite rigid and would work well only on a normal, smooth, highway.

I'm quite confident that if you're not using a large camera for this shot – I normally use my small (second camera) in these cases – the indications I have given you should allow you to manage just fine, unless (as I pointed out above) you're travelling on really bumpy terrain.

Edited Mon 7 Jul 2008 by Wolfgang Achtner

Wolfgang Achtner
Mon 7 Jul 2008Link

Sara,

Of the two cameras you mentioned, I'd use the PD100 for this shot.

As I said, relaxation is the key. Breath slowly and hold the camera firmly but loosly. To get the idea, try holding your hands (without the camera) in the position I indicated and move them slowly up and down (as though they were attached to a big spring). You'll notice that you can move them smoothly and without shaking.

Do the same thing when you're holding the camera and you'll be able to absorb most bumps.

To check your shot, open the side viewfinder and tilt it upwards so you can control your shot just by glancing downwards, every now and then.

Once you've found the appropriate height (one that allows you to see the road without framing the dashboard, position your hands close to your chest (you don't want the muscles in your arms to tense up) , hold the camera firmly while keeping your hands loose so they will cushion the eventual bump and off you go!

Remember to stay relaxed because if you tense up you won't be able to cushion the camera and compensate for the bumps!

Edited Mon 7 Jul 2008 by Wolfgang Achtner

Timothy S. McCarty
Tue 8 Jul 2008Link

In reply to "Mark Barroso's post on Mon 7 Jul 2008:

Mark,
Apologies for the misunderstanding... I never mentioned using any gear in auto. Nor did I mean to imply one (editorial vs technical) was more important than the other. My point was, as ADW pointed out, for this first timer to focus his efforts first on honing his story. I did not mean said effort should come at the expense of technical mastery. That's a parallel and ongoing effort.

And as to your notion of "real," as you said so well, 'prior planning..." I always carry a point and shoot (I prefer the term 'Happy Snap') camera in my bag (Canon S50), it lives right next to my Mark IIn. I've used it many times when playing the "tourist" and needed to get the shot. I've yet to have an editor ask, "Did you shoot that with a 'real' camera?"

Lets agree he should 'practice, practice, practice' both!


Sara Peak Convery
Tue 8 Jul 2008Link

In reply to Wolfgang Achtner's post on Mon 7 Jul 2008 :

thanks for the detailed description--I was starting to think i would need to resort to that to get what i am looking for. I was hoping to figure out a way to run the camera while i was driving solo, but i think i will have more luck finding a driver than a perfectly smooth road.


Sara Peak Convery
Tue 8 Jul 2008Link

In reply to Tony Comstock's post on Mon 7 Jul 2008 16:23 CST :

I am curious about how you rig that--could you describe? Is there a person holding the rig or can it run remotely?


Sara Peak Convery
Tue 8 Jul 2008Link

I am also wondering about ways to rig for a car interview (presuming a relatively smooth road), in particular, trying to get a 2 shot, frontal view... or am i just dreaming? Does anyone have personal experience with any of the filmtools rigs mentioned above for this?

Edited Tue 8 Jul 2008 by Sara Peak Convery

Tony Comstock
Tue 8 Jul 2008Link

Oh. Solo. I didn't get that part.

The key is mass and dampening. The mass is provided by the weight of the camera and whatever weight you add. The dampening is a combo of bungies (like springs in a car) and the operator (sort of taking the shock absorber role.) Sort of a poor-mans fixed steadicam rig. I don't see it working solo

I think your best option is maffer clamps and magic arms, and short focal length. The wider the angle of view, the less noticiable the bouncing and shaking will be. Play around to find a wide to shoot yourself wide angle that doesn't look too distorted.

I don't think two angles is a pipe dream. In fact, it's probably a good idea (The reason I bought my pair of PD100a cameras was so that I could have two angles in a shoulder carryable kit.)


Mark Barroso
Tue 8 Jul 2008Link

Sara:
Depending on how important the two shot is for you, I would rent a three point suction rig and mount on the hood of the car, which can be seen on the same page Erica sent you to. It's a lot easier to use than it looks.
For inside or outside of the car, you should use a wide angle adapter – even fisheye lenses look good used from the passenger seat.


Tim:
I've seen too many docs where the filmmaker had a great story but killed it with poor technical skills. I don't know Mike, or you, so maybe my advice was unwarranted, but my first reaction to first timers (including myself) is to learn the camera before you start shooting. Point and shoot is an aesthetic that works for some situations, but not all. It would suck to be in one where that look won't work for you.


Timothy S. McCarty
Tue 8 Jul 2008Link

Hey Mark,
I'm sure there are just as many bad scripts attempted to be shot by really good camera ops (probably both of us have done it many times) who knew their gear and their stuff, and still couldn't save them. I'm sticking with honing both skills.

And I'll let ya know how many times I sneak out my 'happy snap' in lieu of my Mark II in Beijing...

As to knowing me, I'd at least bet we know some peeps in common 'round the NC area.


Sara Peak Convery
Tue 8 Jul 2008Link

Again-thanks all! will try out the suggestions...


Andrew David Watson
Thu 10 Jul 2008Link

okay okay, what i more so meant was not to worry about having the newest or best gear. For example, cant afford a shotgun mic? Figure out how to get the best sound with the on camera mic mix with the lav mics. Yes, you gotta know how to use your gear, but some people (and mike this has nothing to do with you) worry wayyyyy to much about having the latest camera and hottest gear. The best camera isnt going to help if a) your story sucks b) you have no idea how to use it.


Timothy S. McCarty
Fri 11 Jul 2008Link

agreed.


Marshall Burgtorf
Wed 16 Jul 2008Link

Our latest project is on violence in youth sports. I found a package that aired on Good Morning America last year while surfing Youtube. Does anyone know the best way to approach GMA about the use of their archival footage? My Producer spoke with our film commission and all they said was that we would not be able to afford it. I think she was talking about stock footage in general though. Any ideas?


Mark Barroso
Thu 17 Jul 2008Link

I think ABC charges $65 a second. GMA's video is with ABC in NY. Call 212-456-4040 and ask for archives. It's pretty straight forward, no inside deals.


Marshall Burgtorf
Thu 17 Jul 2008Link

Thanks! I give them a call and see what we can work out.


Amira Dughri
Sun 20 Jul 2008Link

Hi all!

I am so amazed by how helpful everyone is on this forum. I am just finishing up college and about to enter the world of documentaries and this feels like a friendly community to mull about in. Well, I'm posting because I'm working on my first 'real' docs. I have made a 5 minute doc in the past but that was more of an exercise. Now, I'm currently in post-production on a documentary (my final college endeavor) about one of the nation's top college magazines, Flux. I am the director and editor and was one of the camera crew. Anyway, we followed 40+ students, focusing on a handful of people, for apprx 3 months and shot apprx 150 hours of footage. I have only worked on short pieces with around 20 hours of footage. Now I've got 150 hours? Oh geez, this is a whole new ball game. I also have about 30 hours of interviews. I have done my research and read a lot on how people organize footage with scene boards and colored post-its and xml sheets. I even read Walter Murch's book on how he edited Cold Mountain using Final Cut Pro. I decided to log in Avid (which is unfamiliar to me but love how I can organize footage) and export the logs as PDFs for reference as I capture the footage in FCP. I've written a rough outline of all the footage and what I think are the main points so far. But I'm getting a bit overwhelmed with all the footage and the fact that I don't know how to use it to tell a story. I go to a journalism school where I've learned how to report the news. Now, I want to tell a more narrative story through video but don't know even how to begin developing characters and plot. I know story is the key. I know about the basic elements that make a story. But how do I apply those rules I learned in English class to video? Anyone with previous cinema verite documentaries or, well, anyone with any advice as I move into the process of a) logistically organizing the footage and b) using that footage to tell a story would be sooo very much appreciated.


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