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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
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
Mon 7 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
Mon 7 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
Mon 7 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
Mon 7 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 Mon 7 Jul 2008 by Sara Peak Convery

Tony Comstock
Mon 7 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
Mon 7 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
Wed 16 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
Sat 19 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.


Carlos Gomez
Sun 20 Jul 2008Link

I'm one of the least experienced people here Amira, but one thing that helps me when editing is to first think of what I want to say and then look for the footage I can say it with, instead of going the other way around, which would be something like asking yourself what can I say with all this footage?

Obviously you need to become very familiar with the footage first. Try to be open minded when you're watching it. Then forget about it, just "close your eyes" and "conjure up" your story. Then just try to tell it clearly with the footage you have. This can keep you from being overwhelmed and falling in love with footage you don't need.

As to narrative vs journalistic styles I'd say don't worry about that. Just make sure you know what you're trying to say and that you're saying it. You'll develop your own style over time.


Larry Vaughn
Sun 20 Jul 2008Link

Back in 1984 or so I went to Guatemala with 3 other people and photographed some activities of the Guatemalan army and medical volunteers who traveled from the USA to give aid to the locals there. I stayed with the Guatemalan Army in Nebah, in the mountains, at the Sanidad Militar. At the time I was working for a newspaper but retained the rights to the photos. I still have a quantity of the 35mm Ektachrome slides which I can make available to people who might have an interest.


Larry Vaughn
Sun 20 Jul 2008Link

In reply to Joe Moulins's post on Tue 24 Jun 2008 :

True, I have a MacBook bought 6/2007. Despite what Apple says, I have 3 gigs of ram in it, so you might as well max out the ram as well. The current ones will use 4 gigs. FCP works too, although Motion won't.


Larry Vaughn
Sun 20 Jul 2008Link

In reply to Wolfgang Achtner's post on Fri 23 May 2008 :

I picked up a new Maxtor 300 gigabyte external hard drive with Firewire 400 and USB 2 ports from Office Max back in April for $79.00. It was not advertised but there it was on the shelf. Works fine with my MacBook.


Ramona Diaz
Sun 20 Jul 2008Link

Hi Amira,

After you've logged your footage, come up with a ten best list, or twenty to start and then go down to ten. The ten best list should be comprised of the golden moments of your film – the "I can't believe we got that on film" moments, the moments that you still talk about after hours and months of filming. This is where you should really be disciplined because you can't really have a top fifty list, or forty or thirty, even twenty is pushing it. Then arrange those moments in order (depending on your narrative structure – linear, non linear etc) and the rest is filling the gaps to lead up to those moments in the most effective, dramatic, and magical way. And along the way you'll move things around and loose some moments too.

I know I'm making it sound easier that it seems. It's tough but this is one way to not get overwhelmed by your footage and to somehow get on top of it.


Lora Covrett
Mon 21 Jul 2008Link

Is anyone working on a project at the Democratic National Convention?


Jo-Anne Velin
Mon 21 Jul 2008Link

Ramona, that's a brilliantly simple way of explaining how to work backwards. Ten sounds right.


Erica Ginsberg
Mon 21 Jul 2008Link

Lora, see the hidden section below for something I recently posted in the Classifieds (though I think I only posted in the Members-Only Classifieds). It's not my project – just passing the world along.

Show hidden content

Andrew David Watson
Mon 21 Jul 2008Link

Lora, I'll be shooting at the DNC for the IFC. We are set with crew but if i hear of anything i'll post it here. Denver is going to be a mighty interesting place come aug 25th!


Marilyn Perez
Mon 21 Jul 2008Link

Hello wonderful community.
It is great to connect again especially now since I find myself looking for a magician and am very behind schedule.
Most of all I need a senior EDITRIX OR EDITOR.

Pressing Onward in spite of setbacks "SMOKE SCREEN" the documentary is (like a virtual cigar) quite oceanic. In all of this there is a particular magic to articulate real or imagined separations between people in Cuba and people in the USA while at the same time revealing many similarities and shared interests.

The character of this isolated island of Cuba is seen not so much in the great moments, but in the small ones. Most folks know that in 1962 Kennedy declared a blockade against the island but he died tragically before he could reverse the embargo.

I've got over 70 hours of footage. In places I open aperture allowing for a transporting feeling through the people I meet especially farmers. I feel grateful to experience being under the radar of this 'evil eye' that wants to steal attention from Cuba and latch tight another notch in the harness of the mask that binds and blinds.

My "Papi" suggested to me that there is magic, mirth and mischief in those intricate swirling gossamer vapors appearing form the tip of his beloved cigar. My travels to Cuba go against the tide of many other Cubans. There are people who refuse to help me because this film is about Cuban cigars, community and family oceans apart. (Pedestrian protest rallies against smoke are not about to subside any time soon.)

This doc has the potential to unite the folks who abide in 'el Che' together with the exile embittered embargo backing folks like my sweet aunt!

Please help make this 'socially irreverent' and 'highly relevant' film find its audience now!

I have 2 versions one 42 minutes and another 50 minutes and both lack the "ability" to insist on being noticed by the vast audience that this topic deserves. Also if you know of any slight of hand tricks please don't hold back!

I am open to receiving help.
You are invited to participate at any level.
I thank you for your time.


Elizabeth A. Dillion-Stelling
Mon 21 Jul 2008Link

Any suggestions on where to look for a possible camera person to work with me on my project, I checked craigslist.com which someone suggested but nothing there. Any films schools in NJ you might recommend, otherwise I am running around with a new handcam scaring the beheba's out of all my friends trying practice on my own.


Robert Goodman
Tue 22 Jul 2008Link

contact the Philadelphia Film Office or the New Jersey Film Office for lists of camera operators.


Michael Beckelhimer
Sat 26 Jul 2008Link

Hello. I recently bought an XH-A1 and I'm looking for recommendations on microphones. I need a lav and a shotgun. I have been directing a documentary and using professional shooters and equipment, but on my next shoot I'd like to use my own equipment. Most of the audio will be interviews in controlled environments, with some interviews conducted as we walk through the city. My budget is flexible. I was thinking $500-$800 per mic. Also, someone in an earlier post mentioned the possibility of wireless mics experiencing interference or having problems in Europe. Is this a widespread problem? How can it be avoided? (I am filming in Russia.) Thanks!


Michael Jacoby
Mon 28 Jul 2008Link

Hi,

I'm a first time documentary filmmaker who just completed a feature doc called Ten More Good Years about the challenges lgbt elders face in America today. I've licensed the film to The Sundance Channel and Logo for five years giving up only national broadcast rights. I want very much to self distribute the film to universities, institutions, libraries, etc. I was hoping to get into New Day, but was denied. Is anyone aware of a good distribution solution? I am happy to do the work myself, but would like time to move on to my next project. If there is another co-op of filmmakers that distribute educationally I would love to know about it. Hell, if anyone knows of a decent distribution company that won't bend me over backwards and take 75% of the profits that would be good. I've had offers from several distribution outlets but the deals seem way to off point for me.

Any suggestions from seasoned veterans?

Best to you! Mike
www.tenmoregoodyears.com


Michael Wisniewski
Fri 1 Aug 2008Link

Hi, beginning editor here, getting into it with my rear end facing the wrong direction if you know what I mean. I would love to hear what techniques you use to organize large amounts of footage for the editing process, think 200+ hours of footage. And what other practical things do you do to help the editing process be more efficient?


Mark Barroso
Fri 1 Aug 2008Link

I found this tutorial from a Creative Cow moderator useful to me. If you want, I'll sell you my copy of Shane's DVD at half price. Whoops, is that allowed here? Email me at mbarroso@mindspring.com. There's also Ken Stone and others.


Mark Charles Berlin
Tue 5 Aug 2008Link

Hello.
Anyone from michigan that could tell me of some good film festivals in the state.


Doug Block
Wed 6 Aug 2008Link

Well, you just missed Michael Moore's Traverse City Film Festival ...


Chico Colvard
Wed 6 Aug 2008Link

hey michael,

i'm only 6-7 years into filmmaking... but my advice to you is to organize your footage by 1) characters or subjects in the film 2) then interviews of those people vs. verite footage of them 3) next i'd separate the footage by topic or themes that you/director have identified and 4) b-roll: driving footage – night/day... kentucky, new york, interior mom's house, exterior prison, etc... AND of course you'll have separate folders for your stock/archival footage/pics

hope this helps. good luck

In reply to Michael Wisniewski's post on Fri 1 Aug 2008 :


Erica Ginsberg
Wed 6 Aug 2008Link

Mark, if you like experimental film, Ann Arbor has a good fest. I would imagine there is also a festival in Detroit itself.


Mark Charles Berlin
Fri 8 Aug 2008Link

Thanks Doug and Erica,
I heard about the travese city film fest but ann arbor. I didn't know. Yes there is the Detroit-windsor internationa film Fest. If you ever get the chance. Thanks again gang.


Darla Bruno
Fri 8 Aug 2008Link

Been a crazy summer, but I'm back and need to get my footage (on PAL – sd) digitized/time codes . . . that's the first step. Then I can translate/edit.

I don't have Final Cut, (just PC/MovieMaker) but someone offered to put everything (using a PAL camera deck – if I buy or rent it) into FinalCut for me and give it back to me on a hard drive (and I might ask him to throw everything on DVD as well – if I can get that with time codes).

So I'd have to pay him around $400 to do this. It's 16 hours of footage, plus buy a hardrive from BestBuy ($100) and rent or buy the PAL camcorder.

Since I'm not prepared to get/buy a MAC/Final Cut right now, I think this might be my best option for having my footage digitized.

But I'll still need to give it to a translator with time codes, so I can prob. ask this guy to put it on VHS/DVD whatever for me. . . that way I can also watch it (on my PC) and log the footage.

Does this make sense/sound like a deal?

Thanks! (Please excuse semi-newbie language)


Doug Block
Sat 9 Aug 2008Link

If you're really looking to edit, I'd just take the plunge and get a Mac and FCP. You'd save $400 right off the bat by not having to pay this dude. Are you making a film or not?


Darla Bruno
Sat 9 Aug 2008Link

Wow, Doug, that is quite a plunge for me. But I appreciate the candor/simplicity of your answer. Thanks!


Christopher Wong
Sat 9 Aug 2008Link

darla, i really, really hope that you are not thinking about cutting your film (even the first version) on PC/Moviemaker... that would be disastrous for you in terms of wasted time and energy.

if you really can't afford to get FCP now, then the $400 arrangement sounds fair. to load 16 hours of DV tape takes about 2 days, and that's worth it. if you can get that person to get you DVDs of all the material (with timecode stamp) – perhaps for an extra $100-200? – then that also sounds reasonable.

but if there's ANY way that you can get your hands on a very cheap iMac or MacBook laptop ($1000 for cheapest model), you should definitely do so. and if you have a friend who can lend you a "trial" version of FCP – no, i'm not advocating piracy – then that might be a good way to see if FCP works for you. if you don't have such a "friend" available, email me and i might have a suggestion for you.


Gita Pullapilly
Sat 9 Aug 2008Link

Advice on showing the main characters in your film the final cut?
I have heard varying opinions...show them alone...show them the film at a festival (so they can see how the audience responds)....we are debating how to do this and would appreciate any advice. Thanks!


John Burgan
Sat 9 Aug 2008Link

Darla – for a DV project you can't go wrong with Final Cut Express which is cheaper than, yet fully compatible with its more powerful sibling.


Doug Block
Sat 9 Aug 2008Link

Gita, generally showing the film to your main characters before the public sees it is better and more considerate. They'll probably need the first screening just to absorb it. It's not an across-the-board rule, but if they're even somewhat exposed or vulnerable in the film it's good to let them have their own private reactions first.

Edited Sat 9 Aug 2008 by Doug Block

Wolfgang Achtner
Sun 10 Aug 2008Link

Hiya Gita,

Doug has given you good advice.

On the other hand, there is no simple answer to your question.

Many different factors may came into play. Just to mention one or two: what kind of story you've told, what kind of relationship you have with your subject, what role your subject has in the documentary, the way you've told their story, etc., etc.

In some cases I'd say it would be best NOT to show it to them before your film comes out (goes to a festival, airs on tv, is released in the theaters, on DVD, etc.), in others, there wouldn't be any valid reason not to show it to them privately.

Unless you give us some additional details about your film and your relationship with your main character, it's almost impossible to say what might be best or more appropriate in this particular case.

Edited Sun 10 Aug 2008 by Wolfgang Achtner

Roderick Taylor
Sun 10 Aug 2008Link

I work as a clinical counsellor for children and youth. As a volunteer project I help youth make their own documentary films. Our current film is about the perception of female body image and its correlation with eating disorders. For our b-roll, we added motion to images that we downloaded from the internet and scanned from magazines. These images are often advertisements or pictures from fashion magazines. In addition, we have included clips from movies and music videos as part of our b-roll. For example, a kid is talking about the stupidity and sexism in music videos while we show a clip from a 'Girlicious' video.

Question:

1) Is my use of these copyrighted images and sources of media legal seening how I am making an educational/research based film.

2)If I am allowed to use the aforementioned images in my film, am I allowed to alter them in any way. For example, I took a photo from the internet of a best buy advertisement which showed a skanky looking model. I used the image of the model as part of my b-roll but, in doing so, I used adobe after affects to delete part of the ad(words and other pictures}?


Paul Miil
Mon 11 Aug 2008Link

Is it possible to make a biography on a famous musician without their permission?

If so, can I use their name in the title?

I have intentions of distributing to Canada & USA.

I contacted their management and this was their reply--I removed their identity.

"xxxx is a very private person and isn't looking for this type of recognition.
In view of how xxxx would feel about the whole thing, we would not be allowed to license any music nor would the band be available for interviews."


Ramona Diaz
Mon 11 Aug 2008Link

Well you could argue that the musician is famous and therefore you can make this film about the public persona. BUT how can you make a film about a musician without access to his/her work – i.e. the music? If management and the band are unwilling to give you permission to use the music, you can't use it. What would be the point of the film?


Paul Miil
Mon 11 Aug 2008Link

So, simply because someone is famous I can make a doc about them without their permission?

Would I be able to show the inside of previous homes and schools that he mentioned in his books or is that too private? Where is the line?

They say he is a private person and yet he's a celebrity who has written several books with intimate details about his private life.


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