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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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Kaoru Wang
Fri 16 Apr 2010Link

Hi! I'm a first time documentary filmmaker and was hoping to get some examples of grant applications that have been funded. I'm applying for a grant and I'm not sure how to answer questions in regards to my plans for distribution aside from a hybrid DIY and film festival strategy. I'm more familiar with the online DIY side of things but am not sure about which festivals and networks I should be aiming towards.

In addition I'm unsure about how to address visual approach and special ways to shoot interviews that lends itself to the topic. If I can get some examples, that would be so useful. Thanks!

By the way, the logline of the film is: when a society is being educated for a world that doesn't exist,
can a young college grad find the rebirth of education within "The Killer App?"


michael gatti
Sun 18 Apr 2010Link

Hi, I am making a documentary about retail and the horrors of customer service and I am just having the damndest time with finding someone or some group to give me a lil funding money. Shooting is going well, I have gotten a lot of footage that I need. But the funding is important so I can buy some stock footage that would help me out.


Doug Block
Sun 18 Apr 2010Link

michael, you know the old time/money/quality equation, right? you can get two of the three. so given that it's gonna be great, be prepared that it will take a long time. just hang in there.


jade wu
Sun 18 Apr 2010Link

In reply to Kaoru Wang's post on Fri 16 Apr 2010 :

Kaoru, as I had mentioned before you went to Sundance, you have a great idea and how you tell the story is more important than getting grant app samples. If you can mold a compelling story, the grant will come. How you write a grant for your app will be different from someone else's project. I'd focus on galvanizing the story and be innovative on your distribution strategy. Most of us are still swimming in DIY confusion, so if you think you have a handle on it already, then write it down. I also think your logline is still too vague. I think "Society" and "a world that doesn't exist" are too general. Once you get a better handle on your story, then the logline will be easier to write. Mostly, funding takes time. We all get rejected, sometimes multiple times, before landing funding. If your heart is in the story, it'll get done, with or without, funding.


Ethan Steinman
Wed 21 Apr 2010Link

In reply to Marina Pessoa's post on Mon 5 Apr 2010 :

Marina, in Lima and Arequipa you don't need to bother with permits unless you're looking to film in a national park. The Peruvian national parks usually ask for between US$ 500 and US$ 1,000 a day. If you are in that situation, get in touch with the park beforehand as there is almost always a way of working around these fees. As for a van driver in Lima, unless you are planning on setting up to shoot from the van, you're best off just using taxis. You will never be without one in Perú.


Elayne McCabe
Wed 21 Apr 2010Link

Hi, I am currently directing a documentary film on the Indian side of Kashmir on local artists in the aftermath of the conflict. I was wondering if any filmmakers had any fool-proof methods to list and organize Mini-DV tapes and also to import and organize footage on FCP? I feel like somtimes I don't know whether I am organizing things properly and in a useful manner for when I start to edit. Anyone have any tips?Thank you!


Mark Barroso
Thu 22 Apr 2010Link

You are smart to think about this now. It will save you a lot of frustration down the road. I don't know your level of knowledge, but make sure you number the tapes and change the "reel number" when digitizing so that the clips correspond with the tapes. Use the log notes or comment section since they are searchable. Name the clips by subject, date or however you want to organize your movie.

There are loads of tips out there, and I bought this DVD to get me started. It's pretty good, albeit overpriced, but I was desperate at the time.


Noam Osband
Sun 25 Apr 2010Link

I'm a PhD student who's a budding visual anthropologist/documentary filmmaking. I've saved up money for a camera, and I'd love some advice.

I've saved close to 10k for a camera. That being said, I won't be doing the bulk of my shooting for my dissertation for another 2-3 years. I'm tempted to spend around 2k for a camera now, save my money, and make the big splurge in 2-3 years time. I figure the technology will be better for the price if I wait.

Should I do that, what is a good camera in the 2k range? I'd love something with two audio inputs and something gives me multiple options for fps and something with a detachable lens. I'm guessing a 2/3rds chip is insanely greedy given my price range, although if it wasn't too much more or if people thought it was that much better, I'd think about it.

Any thoughts? I've been making movies for a year, so the world is still new to me, but I'm trying to learn as much as I can so any word of advice would be appreciated.


Jeffrey Radice
Sun 25 Apr 2010Link

In reply to Noam Osband's post on Sun 25 Apr 2010 :

Noam, my advice is to save your money until you are ready to make the big purchase. The technology landscape is changing so rapidly that postponing your purchase for 2-3 years until you need the gear will save you money and buy you significantly more product when you are finally ready to spend. If you must get your hands on something now I would suggest one of two routes.

(1) Get the Canon Rebel DSLR (T1I), and a decent lens or two for it, and start getting comfortable with the format and the shortcomings. That's what I would do if that money was burning a hole in my pocket. Then in a couple of years you can upgrade to the best bang for your buck equivalent to the 1D/5D/7D and you'll already be comfortable with the format and have lenses that fit your upgrade. You will not go wrong with DSLR as a format choice. The adoption rate there with filmmakers is phenomenal.

(2) Alternately, go low end and get a flip HD camera. It is small, cheap, and gives decent enough output. The advantages are that you are more likely to carry it with you, and it would not be obtrusive when you do break it out. This would allow you to cheaply spend the next couple of years getting comfortable busting out your video camera and thinking about shooting always. In my opinion, documentary is as much about the quality of the equipment as it is about the visual eye of the cinematographer and just being there with a camera shooting. This would allow you to spend a few years learning on the cheap and developing a visual eye, so when you are ready to spend more bucks you have developed a better sense of what your priorities are.

Also don't neglect sound in your budget. You'll need an external sound recorder and higher end mics, which means less to spend on a camera. If you did end up spending $10k on a setup, I'd recommend 60:40 ratio of spend on video to audio at least. Audio is far too neglected by new filmmakers, and it's at least half of your presentation in a film.

Edited Sun 25 Apr 2010 by Jeffrey Radice

Noam Osband
Tue 27 Apr 2010Link

I'm skeptical of the DSLR's because you can only shoot 12 minutes at a time. Similarly, the HD camera is way below what I want equipment-wise, both in terms of image quality, but far more importantly, sound. I'm hoping to find a camera that has XLR inputs. With that in mind, are there any cameras you can think of that do HD, have XLR inputs, and get good HD images in the 2-2.5k range?

thanks for the help!


Jeffrey Radice
Tue 27 Apr 2010Link

In reply to Noam Osband's post on Tue 27 Apr 2010 :

I was skeptical of the 12 minute limit too, but it's proven to be less of a practical concern than I anticipated. There is a long history (and workflows) for dealing with those types of issues ... super-8 and 16 both had carts with similar constraints. You are doing yourself a disservice ruling out the platform for that reason alone. Also, the Panasonic GH1 does not suffer from the exact same issue.

I don't know of anything that meets your criteria. Any camera in that price range, even if it has XLR in, is going to make audio sacrifices. You're better off with an external recorder and sync sound, using the camera for dual-system to make the sync easier in post.

Don't rule out a flip video camera either. If you spend the next two years indoctrinating yourself to bring the camera everywhere and to use it always and focusing on your technique, you'll get a lot more for a lot less – and you'll know exactly what you want/need when the time comes to buy the full setup. It's less about the gear and more about the mindset and "eye" than you might think.


Noam Osband
Wed 28 Apr 2010Link

Thanks for help with thinking about a camera. Some audio advice would be helpful too. Vis-a-vis audio, my thinking is that I'd like a shotgun mic, two wireless lavs, and a sound mixer. I'm thinking of a shotgun attached to the camera and not a boom pole because much, if not most, of the shooting I'll be doing in the near future will be a solo job.

A few questions then:
1 – In looking at a camera, should I only want something with XLR inputs or is something like a Beachtek sufficient if the camera has no XLR inputs

2 – Even if it does have XLR inputs, is an audio mixer a good idea? It seems from speaking with the people I've spoken to that it is.

3 – In many ways, what I buy depends on my budget which isn't yet set. I'm willing to spend a couple thousand on audio if it is that much of a step up from cheaper things, although I'm not planning on buying top of the line. I have no sense for how much better a $1,000 shotgun is from a $500. With that in mind, any recommendation for any of the audio equipment?

In terms of what I'm shooting, I'd like versatility. The longer project/dissertation is a documentary about migration to Arkansas which will include both individual interviews and crowd scenes at events. I'd love to have versatility with my equipment so I feel like I can have a decent chance at getting good sound no matter what I'm shooting.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated!!!!


Jeffrey Radice
Thu 29 Apr 2010Link

In reply to Noam Osband's post on Wed 28 Apr 2010 :

Noam, my best advice is find an audio geek local to you, pick their brain, and see if they can demonstrate the differences in quality of different pieces of gear to you.


Noam Osband
Mon 3 May 2010Link

So, I’ve been doing research all week on buying my first shooting setup, relying in part on the friendly advice from this site, and I think I’m close to making decisions and I figured I’d ask to see what people thought.

Camera:
Panasonic AG-HMC40 and its XLR adapter (I considered the Panasonic AGHMC70U, but reviews I read seemed to steer me in the other direction. Let me know if you disagree!)

I’m going to get a bunch of SDHC-6 cards. I have not heard any recommendations about brand.

Tripod:
Either the Manfrotto TRIREMOTEKIT Aluminum Video Tripod Kit or Manfrotto BO055XB503H 055XDB Pro Tripod with 503HDV Fluid Video Head. The first one has the ability to do remote panning and tilting, although I wonder if that’s a feature I’d ever use.

Audio equipment:
For a shotgun mic, I’m deciding between the Rode 2 or 3. I have the money for the 3, and I’m inclined to do so for that reason.

For wireless lavaliers, I’m thinking either Senn Evolution G3 100 wireless or the Sony UWP-V1. Both have been recommended to me.

I’m also tempted to bring around a handheld mic for interviews on the go, when I can’t wire someone with a lav. I’d use the shotgun on the camera and have them hold a handheld. In that case, I’m considering either buying a EV-RE50 or just using the Shure SM58 I have at home for music recording.

Regarding cables, are there any brands one recommends for XLR cables?

As for my work, I’m doing documentary work in rural Arkansas and will often be shooting solo, so I’m not going to get an audio mixer.

Regarding all of the above, I have more money to spend if someone thought I really should upgrade something. However, I’d just as soon not spend it so that I have money for more gear in the future. I’m planning on buying a much higher quality camera in about two and a half years, and any money I don’t spend now can go to that. I also think I'm going to buy new and look for used for peace of mind, although if someone thinks that's dumb, please don't hesitate in telling me so.

Thanks!


Andy Schocken
Mon 3 May 2010Link

Sennheiser G3 is solid- used on plenty of pro productions, which the Sony isn't. Get yourself some manicuring scissors and moleskin, and do a little research to learn how to best mount the lav- that will make a bigger impact on your sound than the choice of brand. Wouldn't recommend having subjects hold a mic. If you don't have time to place a lav, just get your Rode on-cam mic as close as possible (keeping in mind the pickup pattern of the mic) and try to find the quietest place nearby. You'll probably need a sound-isolating shock mount for your Rode or you'll hear camera handling noise and possibly lens noise. And you'll need wind protection for it if you'll be shooting outside- get something like this that fits your mic. Turn off auto gain control on your cam and set levels manually.

D-word can help with tech stuff, but is better suited for creative issues. You'll find more detailed tech advice at a place like dvinfo or dvxuser. Good luck, and come back and post some of your work when you're ready!


Eli Brown
Mon 3 May 2010Link

Also, take a listen to your mics before you invest in them. They'll last you awhile and you don't want to get stuck with one that doesn't sound as good as it might seem from reading a review. I just did that with a MKH-416, NTG-3, and NTG-2. And while I liked the sound of the MKH-416, I couldn't justify its price in relation to the other two, and of the two Rode mics, I was surprised to find that I liked the NTG-2's sound quality better for what I was planning to do (and ended up saving even more money that I used for a boom, shock mount, softie, etc.). If you make a trip to NY in the future, Pro-Sound in NYC will let you audition a bunch of different mics. There might be a place in Philly that will even do that (a rental house, perhaps), though I can't speak to that from experience. Good luck!


Jill Morley
Tue 4 May 2010Link

B and H in New York will also let you test all the mics that you consider. THey have an audio room.


Robert Goodman
Tue 4 May 2010Link

You could go to Videosmith in Philadelphia. They are a dealer for Sennheiser, Lectrosonics, and other manufacturers. In the past, they've come very close to matching B&H prices with the added advantage of being local and offering local support. Tell Chris I sent you.


Yixi Villar
Wed 5 May 2010Link

Hi everyone I am in need of some guidance. I am working on a documentary "Life In The Balance" and so far we have received over $30,000 in grants and have a funding trailer set up and 501(c)(3) status through our fiscal sponsor, Fractured Atlas. yeay...BUT we need more money and soon, we wanted to shoot this summer so we can get into post by the fall ... Does anyone one have any advice on where to go for money, who to ask.. our project focuses on a testing procedure that can determine what cancer treatment will actually be effective to the the individual, basically tailored chemotherapy. Any and all advice will be welcome..Follow the link below to view our funding trailer which we created from research footage shot on a basic consumer camera If you or anyone you know are interested i will certainly send more info and a proposal your way..
http://tomgriffineditor.com/LITB_Trailer2-2.mov
i have also provided a link to our information/donation page through Fractured Atlas
http://www.fracturedatlas.org/site/fiscal/profile?id=2524


Christopher Wong
Wed 5 May 2010Link

perhaps you know this already, but since you are working in NYC, you should probably start applying for funds from both the NY Foundation for the Arts and the Jerome Foundation . there's no way that you would get money from them in time to shoot this summer, but it's good to get those applications in the queue now. since your doc also deals with science, you might want to try for funding from the Sloan Foundation


Yixi Villar
Wed 5 May 2010Link

thanks so much I'm going to look into those 3 straight away, i have heard of them but i know that they won't provide funding in time... i think im gonna have to hold some fundraisers if you or anyone out there know of people who would like to invest in such a project let me know..
:)


Doug Block
Fri 7 May 2010Link

Yixi, you have enough experience to register for full membership here. It will give you access to our discussions on fundraising and many many more.


Stephanie Caruso
Fri 14 May 2010Link

hi everyone! i'm currently a grad student in new york (working on my mfa for doc studies), but i'm coming home to the boston area for summer. anybody have any suggestions for summer work?


Doug Block
Fri 14 May 2010Link

Babysitting?

But seriously, Stephanie, if you mean an internship or, heaven forbid, paid work with a Boston area doc filmmaker, I recommend you post something in the Classifieds topic. And give people here a good reason to want to hire you.


Chris Bell
Tue 18 May 2010Link

In reply to michael gatti's post on Sun 18 Apr 2010 :

Michael Gatti...My suggestion to you if you need stock footage to make your film complete, gather the footage from any source you can find and cut the movie that you want to make. Later on down the road, you can show the finished film to investors or you may find that you can fair use that footage if it meets the right criteria. Don't let stock footage hold you back. Watch Bigger Stronger Faster and look at all of the big movie clips we were able to use and not get into trouble. A great lawyer can go a long way...I really think your doc is a great idea. It's something that frustrates me everyday...maybe people at the call center in India can also help you with your dilemma...haha...Good Luck!


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