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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.

Amish Nishawala
Sun 11 Jul 2010Link

Hello D-Word! I'm going to India for 3 wks to interview my father's friends and relatives to make into a documentary. I have no experience with filming, but do have some experience with DSLRs for still photography. My filmmaker friend recommends the Sony ex 1, but I want something more portable, but still shoot in a resolution good enough for theatrical release (I can dream!).
I'm thinking about the Canon 7D for all the interviews and the Panasonic HDC-700K for hand held shots. I'm not planning to use any steadicams or dollys, just external mics. The guy at B & H said this would be fine but I should record with a Nano Flash. (Which I found out costs more than either camera I was considering!)
I was blown away by City of Lakes which was entirely shot w/ DSLRs.
Thanks!


Phoebe Brown
Mon 12 Jul 2010Link

In reply to Amish Nishawala's post on Sun 11 Jul 2010 :

If you search posts for "7D" you'll get lots of technical advice from this board. You might also want to look at the Canon T2i which is less money for the body and pretty much the same video quality. It is a lighter camera body but in your case that might be a plus. It does shoot absolutely beautiful footage but do your research before you commit--the biggest issue is that 12 minutes is the longest single take you can shoot. The camera reboots pretty quickly but you'll have to restart the camera frequently.
But again--search this board and the web and you'll get all kinds of technical feedback.

When and where will you be in India? Me and my small crew leave on Tuesday--also for a doc shoot in India. Maybe we'll cross paths.


Amish Nishawala
Mon 12 Jul 2010Link

In reply to Phoebe Brown's post on Mon 12 Jul 2010 : Thanks for the quick reply and info. Yeah, I'm not sure how the City of Lakes guys got around the 12 min limit issue. We'll be in Mumbai this December. Good luck on your shoot!


Nick Brown
Mon 12 Jul 2010Link

Hello all. I just joined this forum this morning and have been reading up on the last few months of posts. This looks like an awesome venue for newbies like myself to learn from others, so I just wanted to post a general shoutout for feedback and see what comes in. A buddy and I have been shooting a documentary about a local community opera company for the last 5 months and we're just a few weeks away from wrapping up the majority of filming. We had absolutely no idea what we were doing when we started this, and have been learning from a combination of googling stuff and our own mistakes along the way. We've been shooting on 2 DVX-100a's, sennheisier shotgun mics, and using FCP to edit on a suped-up Hackintosh system with about 200 hours of footage (I've been calling it the monkeys-with-type-writers approach). We're at the point now where we've got all this footage: a combination of rehearsals, performances, interviews, production meetings, set-building, etc. (about 40% of it has been ingested and logged into FCP so far) and it's time to start story-boarding the project. I was thinking of budgeting about 8 weeks (80-100 hours of evening/weekend work around the day job) to create the outline/script before we get into the thick of editing, and then 6-9 months of editing before we try submitting to a few film festivals. I figure we have enough material for an 80-90 minute movie about this group of people working to stage an opera that could be compelling – this is a character-driven documentary with some good moments of conflict, funny things, a look into the eccentricities of the opera world as a microcosm for how people work together, that sort of thing. We found some template releases off the web and have adapted those to have everyone sign them (that has been a struggle at times as two folks with career-related concerns have asked to review any footage that includes them). We'll also be looking to obtain rights for some archival footage of Leontyne Price singing at the White House back in 1976 that looks to be owned by PBS, so I imagine that will be an interesting process to go through as well. I do have some Fair Use related concerns as there are some pieces of dialogue we have that took place in a coffee shop with canned pop-music that can be heard in the background, as well as some scenes shot in public with folks walking by in the background. I'd also love general ethical/professional advice people have on portraying the "characters" in a film such as this. We have about 7 individuals who we're focusing on in-depth, and we've obviously had to forge some close relationships with them over the last several months to get them comfortable with revealing those dramatically-compelling parts of themselves on camera. I'm curious how others have worked to do an honest portrayal of their character's strengths and weaknesses under similar circumstances. We've also got some technical hang-ups from our own inexperience, as some of our footage was shot in 29 FPS vs, the 24 FPS we'll be editing in, as well as 4:3 aspect ratio vs. the 16:9 we'll be editing in. I guess just a lot of cropping and rendering work? And though we're likely still closer to the beginning then to the end of this project, any advice on how to submit to festivals and protecting the finished product would be appreciated. So far this project has just been the two of us, and completely self-financed with a budget of about $5k so far (any major unanticipated expenses I should worry about on the horizon?). Also curious to know what should be the most important questions/considerations we should be thinking about at this point in the process, as we've pretty much exhausted the "how to film a documentary" search results. Cheers and thanks.


Jo-Anne Velin
Mon 12 Jul 2010Link

Wow. First, good for you to take this on. You hit on many key issues in documentary filmmaking first time at bat.

My only tiny comment is that people walking past a camera in a public place incidentally are not going to be a concern, especially if the context wasn't controversial. Maybe others will disagree, but another way of looking at it is, will they come after you later? Will they hurt your chances of getting the film insured?


Nick Brown
Mon 12 Jul 2010Link

In reply to Jo-Anne Velin's post on Mon 12 Jul 2010 :

Ah, yes, thanks. No, there's no reason we know of that strangers in the background would have a problem with an incidental appearance. Though during this process, a stage manager at one of the theaters where they were performing mentioned that she had run into a problem once with a film crew coming in and someone they caught on camera was in the witness protection program and it caused all sorts of problems. Obviously we have no control over that, but maybe the best solution is to get a good lawyer on retainer or something (though is that even worth the price?) to deal with any potential issues like that? And that's also a hairy issue I guess: what is the definition of a "public place"? Obviously a park is, but what about a restaraunt? Or a theater? And what's this you say about insurance? That's something I've never read about needing to do so obviously I will... before or after submitting to festivals? Thanks a bunch!


Jo-Anne Velin
Mon 12 Jul 2010Link

The insurance is to cover getting sued due to errors and omissions by the filmmaker/producer. E&O. Google E&O documentary film – there's good starting material on that there.


Nick Brown
Tue 13 Jul 2010Link

In reply to Jo-Anne Velin's post on Mon 12 Jul 2010 :

ah thanks a bunch! that could prove to be very valuable advice.


Christopher Wong
Tue 13 Jul 2010Link Tag

nick, welcome to the d-word. sounds like you and your co-director have an interesting piece. it also sounds like you are in a similar position to many first-time filmmakers – lots of good footage, but not much knowledge about what comes next (other than a lot of editing). the d-word is definitely the right place for you to start learning...

i'll tackle a few of your questions, and let some others handle the rest:

1) regarding the shooting format differential, there's a really great (and inexpensive) piece of software called Nattress which does an awesome job of converting 29.97 footage to 23.98, which is what you want to edit in. for only $100, you get really great looking footage.

2) regarding Fair Use, you don't have anything to worry about regarding pop songs playing in the background of a cafe. as long as you don't use the pop songs in any "creative" way to enhance your scene(s), you are absolutely covered here. no need to buy licenses for the use of such music.

3) i think you have a good estimate for what it will take to finish the film, but you should really budget closer to 9 months of editing than just 6. things ALWAYS take longer than you think. normally, i would actually budget for about a year of editing with that much footage, but since your story is pretty chronological, that removes some of the storytelling hurdles.

4) you didn't mention the extra expenses of color correction, audio mix, and music score. i assume you already know about them, but those will all be fairly expensive items at the end of the game. Color correction averages around $10-12k, audio mix about $8-12k, and original music about $10-15k. and those are the low-to-mid-range estimates. it can be much more expensive depending on whom you use.

anyways, good luck, and feel free to post more questions. you'll get more responses if you just post one query at a time...


Nick Brown
Tue 13 Jul 2010Link

In reply to Christopher Wong's post on Tue 13 Jul 2010 :

wow, thanks Christopher, that's really helpful.
1)awesome. If it comes recommended for only $100, totally worth it.
2)cool. I remembered hearing a story from On the Media where a doc filmmaker got in trouble for using a scene where a character's cell phone went off and it had a pop-song ringtone on it so he got sued. But maybe it was used in some creative context – I can't find the story anymore.
3) cool. yeah, I guess it's just done when it's done....
4) Most helpful. I am embarrasingly naive about this stuff (though that's probably a good thing, because we might not have started it at all if we'd had a realistic view of how much work it would be). I spent some time last night reading about both color correction and audio mixing. I watched a few tutorials about doing all this on your own using the Color and Soundtrack programs in the Final Cut Suite, so I am thinking of trying to go that direction. I figure if we can use YouTube tutorials to teach ourselves FCP we can probably use them for Color and Soundtrack too? Or are they way more complicated to learn? As far as original music I'm actually pretty stoked about that. We have a few friends who do hip-hop mixing or are in local indie bands, so we were gonna try to get them on board to let us use their stuff for free. We've kind of been taking the approach with people that "this will most likely never make money, but if it somehow does, and you help us out, you'll get a cut of it." I know it probably makes lawyers' stomachs churn, but so far people have seemed to be cool with it. Though I do wonder if that may bite us in the ass some day...
Thanks again!


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