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!
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.
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.
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?
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!
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.
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.
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...
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...
I'm currently outputting video in H.264 format with my Canon 5d Mark II.
I'm informed that if I import the footage into Final Cut Pro it will need to be transcoded. I know there are various transcoders available, including from Canon.
I'm also informed if I import this same footage into Adobe Premiere Pro that zero transcoding will be necessary.
I can use either program. I am comfortable with each.
I just want my end result to be the highest quality image and I don't want to start off on the wrong foot by introducing more distortion and noise into the process than is absolutely necessary.
Isn't it true that every time you introduce transcoding or format conversion into a process that you will harm the image, even if it is in some minor way?
I'm very well aware of the relative merits of FCP and Adobe Premiere. My question is only about this initial transcoding step.
The Apple folks tell me there is zero harm to the image caused by this transcoding.
Must I believe them?
Thanks so much!
I don't know anything about premiere, but I wouldn't worry about transcoding to prores for FCP (except how much *%&! time and disk space it will take). If you have FCP7, use prores lt, if you have FCP6, use prores. Nearly everyone using the 5d is doing it this way.
Hi Andy, thanks for responding!
I understand this is the widespread practice.
But given the very high compression of this H.264 codec and the distortions that inevitably seem to occur in other transcoding processies that I know of, I'm wondering if I might get a 2% (rough guess) better image if I import it natively into Adobe Premiere.
Because I am going to a very large screen, I need every tiny advantage I can possibly get.
That's beyond my pay-grade technically. My guess is that whatever minuscule compression artifacts may arise from converting to prores would be dwarfed by a whole set of technical issues, such as motion judder or the aliasing issues of the 5d sensor. (I probably shouldn't tell you that regardless of the level of technical perfection you achieve, the projector or projectionist will destroy it at 98% of the venues it will ever play.)
That said, if you want to talk tech, you'll get a better response at some other boards than you will at d-word. Try these:
Thanks for the pointers to other forums Andy, I appreciate it.
Given the mulitiplicity of problematic artifacts and the overwhelming majority of 5D users who transcode their files, it seems plausible that some of those artifacts may be attributable to the transcoding process.
A point in support of that is that even though many 5D users were saying that some of the transcoding programs available injected no problems into the workflow, Canon felt compelled to create a transcoding program of their own, on an expedited basis.
If there were no problems, why was Canon compelled to offer a transcoding program of their own and why the hurry?
But I'll bring my thoughts to those other fora.
matt, I use premiere pro with my 7D all the time. I would say not having to transcode is the primary reason why I do this. Also when you go to finish and export the adobe media encoder is a world above compressor. Personally I prefer adobe premiere for many reasons, but know if you want to bring in another editor you may run into problems.
Linda, don't assume your school will support anything. Mine never did even though I was paying 40k per year. I made a film about a video games and used tons of footage of the games without permission. We didn't paint the most positive picture of the games, but they left us alone. Fair use is your best friend. Learn it well, and you should be okay. Also if you do get sued you get tons of press. I would fly under your enemies radar until you are ready to screen. If you buy errors and omissions insurance before you screen, at least you will have an insurance company defending you from any suits.
In reply to Peter Brauer's post on Wed 14 Jul 2010 :
Reading Peter's reply about fair use tempts me to ask generally: what are the best resources for researching fair use law? I've followed it casually for a while, but it seems to be a pretty unsettled area of the law and fairly controversial. Short of hiring expensive lawyers to consult throughout the process, I'm curious what are the best resources people would recommend to make oneself an "expert" (or at least a very good b.s.-er) on Fair Use?
In reply to Peter Brauer's post on Wed 14 Jul 2010 :
Thanks, Peter, that Stanford program does look extremely helpful. Both sites look to be good resources. Much appreciated.
USC also has a great resource. less well known than Stanford, but equally free...
Clinical Assistant Professor of Law
University of Southern California Gould School of Law
699 Exposition Blvd. Room 425
Los Angeles, CA 90089
Funny, there's no "Making Money" section to this Forum. What does that say about the documentary world?
Here's my question. Back in 1997 I had a VX-1000 and I worked on a never completed documentary on Balinese Healers. One of the healers I interviewed was Ketut Liyer, who is a major figure in the best-selling book "Eat Pray Love" (Movie with Julia Roberts to be release in August 2010.)
I have an hour long interview with Liyer as well as a lot of b-roll that has never aired. I wonder if folks here have any ideas on how to monetize the material given the huge interest in EPL. I could list it with a stock agency, I know. But I assume I could find an editor to cut it together and sell a finished piece. Any suggestions? To give you a sense of the quality, here is a bit of footage of a different healer I shot at the same time:<http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h0ppvIGs5H0>
Perhaps a way to monetize it would be to get the material out there with your name on it. This might result in higher visibility for yourself and increased work, for which you receive money. Do you edit at all? Do you own the copyright to the material?
I shot it, I own all the tapes, have all the releases.
have you thought of offering your interview with Liyer for the eventual DVD release of EPL? probably would make a good DVD extra for them.
This is what I am talking about – a Time magazine story on the healer Ketut Liyer... http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2005158,00.html
I am fairly new to filmmaking, though I have shot a couple of student documentaries. I am looking for enough equipment to make a complete and reasonably good quality film. Most likely documentary. I currently have H2 Zoom (which I am not very familar with). I also have an old Sony camera, Hi8 and a first generation macbook. I am looking to spend under $1000 if possible. I have been thinking that the best solution is to invest the money in a new camera. I have a number of questions:
1. Is mini-dv a good investment? Currently, in Canada stores are not carrying mini-dv formats for cameras under $1000. However, I am inclined towards mini-dv because of their cheap storage format. Should I purchase a second hand mini-dv camera, what make and model would be best?
1.b. What sound equipment would I need to purchase?
2. Is the Canon T2ii a good alternative investment. What would I need for good sound? Could I use my existing H2 zoom? Would this be sufficient?
3. Are there any options for under $500?
4. What is a reasonable budget?
Thank you in advance,
In reply to Christopher Wong's post on Thu 22 Jul 2010 :
Sorry to take so long to respond, Chris. Yeah, It would be perfect for a dvd extra, I spend several hours trying to reach a human at Sony's DVD authoring division but was unsuccessful. If I could find out who was in charge of making those decisions, I think I could sell it.
10% commission for the email address or phone of the person at Sony who makes those decisions!
I have some technical questions for a small project I want to edit using iMovie, and I wonder if I may ask your advice.
I need to get the footage, from the person who shot the project, onto my computer. The person shot to cards using what looked like a flip camera. She claimed it was hi-def. I'm happy to edit it in standard def. She has the footage on her computer and she also has the cards.
I'm thinking that the simplest way for me to get the footage is for her to transfer the footage from her computer either directly onto my iMac or to an external hard drive that I have. I'm also thinking that another option would be to use a Firewire cable to connect her camera to my iMac and transfer the footage that way directly from the cards. In either event I think I should get the cards from her for back up. Does anyone have an opinion as to the best method for me to get the footage? Thanks.
About a month ago I attended a seminar by a Publicist who said that in the current climate it is wise to try and get a publicist on board before entering the major festivals. He said that because there is such a huge deluge of submissions, it's helpful to either know one of the programmers or find a publicist who has programmer contacts.
Does anyone have any thoughts about this? I've been advised by ITVS folks to submit to festivals as early as possible – is it worth sending in a version that is not quite "tweaked" to it's best in order to make an early deadline? Or, is it better to wait till you have the best possible version and make it into the last possible deadline?
Thanks for your comments.
while it is usually best to submit the best possible version, you also don't want to wait too long to get everything just right. top-tier festivals like Sundance only have one or two open spots left by their late deadline. probably the best thing to do is to submit the best version you have by the regular deadline.
regarding the use of a publicist, that is the dirty secret of film festivals. programmers don't like to admit it, but publicists play a very large role in getting their films to the top of the consideration pile. this is because film festivals are constantly in search of buzz, and that is exactly what publicists are good at doing. and once a publicist gets your film into one A-list festival, then all the other festivals will soon come-a-knockin'.
Welcome aboard, Judy. If it's Sundance we're talking about, I'd submit your best version RIGHT NOW. You're at a huge advantage getting something to them earlier rather than later and I'm sure they'll see how great your film is even if it's not fully finished (full disclosure: I moderated a DocuClub work-in-progress screening of Judy's film, so I know firsthand).
By the way, the Mentoring Room is pretty much for non-members. As a full member, this kind of question should go in our Festivals topic.
In reply to Seth Shire's post on Fri 6 Aug 2010 :
Likewise, Seth, the reason you might not be getting any replies is the technical folks generally don't hang around the Mentoring Room. As a member, you're better off posting in the Editing topic.
In reply to Doug Block's post on Wed 11 Aug 2010 :
I couldn't locate the Festivals topic last night – probably due to the fact that it was close to 2am!
Thanks for your note. We've locked picture but I wanted to get the sound in better shape before submitting. Festivals like Sundance are swamped with submissions – do you think it's helpful to know a programmer in instances like this?
(no need to "sign" your posts – they are already identified by your name and photo, if you have uploaded one.)
when submitting to sundance, EVERYTHING is important... but great sound quality is probably the least crucial. i agree with doug – if your picture is locked, then get the submission into them now.
the best course is to proceed as such:
1) Get a good publicist (e.g. David Magdael, etc.)
2) Have your publicist send out a feeler to one of the programmers (e.g. David Courier)
3) Submit your cut
4) Have publicist follow up soon after
Early bird (with publicist) gets the worm!
In reply to Judy Lieff's post on Wed 11 Aug 2010 05:50 UTC :
If you get into an "A" festival you'll be able to find a good publicist – plus the festival itself will probably have a really good person on board, and if the newspapers like you're film they will cover it. It's not surprising that a publicist told you to "buy early while supplies last"! What I would like to find is a publicist who works on a contingency fee; this much if you get a feature in the NYT, that much for a review in Variety, etc.
That's never going to happen. If you find a publicist who'd agree to that arrangement, I'd run the other way. Variety reviews every film shown in competition at A-list festivals though the reviews may take months to appear. They also review films that appear likely to gain distribution.
In reply to Judy Lieff's post on Wed 11 Aug 2010 :
I may be able to help you with the sound, quickly, if you haven't wrapped post production yet.
I am a new user of the site. Apologies if this question is already discussed somewhere on this site – I couldn't find it easily.
I am working on a feature length documentary related to dance and personal growth, for theatrical or broadcast release. My immediate question and quandary has to do with the degree to which I may undermine the ultimate product if I do incremental releases of related products (using some of the footage, for a different audience) prior to completion. It occurs to me that a lot of the footage that I am gathering will be of interest to the specialized audience of dancers who understand this form, and that this audience is different from the broader audience I hope to reach with the end product. So I am thinking about producing and releasing some products in the interim, either through digital download or DVD sales prior to completing the final film. One thing that will distinguished the final film is that there will be a core story arc completely different from the prior releases; also I envision a much broader audience rather than the specialized audience of the prior releases. This is partly an interim funding strategy, partly about creating buzz, and partly just a way of mitigating the artistic frustration of wanting to share footage with the smaller community that will most easily "get" it.
- Is this a bad idea?
- How much (or in what circumstances) would this undermine entering the final film in film festivals?
- What are the things I need to avoid?
- Though it would complicate things, and not be 100%, would it be advisable to make a general practice of designating specific clips EITHER for the final film or the interim products but not both?
- Is there a discussion of this dilemma/strategy somewhere on the D-Word site already?
I'm writing out some one page treatments this weekend and wanted to know if there's any specific font I should use for them. I know Courier is the traditional font for screenplays but does this also apply to treatments?
Anybody out there recording their own voiceover? Got any microphone recommendations?
I'm a film student and my current set-up (basic though it may be) is a Shure SM57 straight into GarageBand. And I know it isn't ideal, but it's what I've got.
But sometimes a person might be in a position to upgrade. I'm just looking for a good vocal mic. Something in the $200-$400 range.
And if this isn't where a person should post these kinds of questions, I promise to slap my own wrist--just say the word.
In that price range, a Heil PR-40 will give you a nice, fat, clean sound. Much more pleasant than the 57. And, unlike condensors, will be less likely to pick up extraneous sounds, like nearby traffic, since I'm assuming you are recording at your home.
But, if you need a USB microphone, check out the Shure PG42SUB.
In reply to Rick Dillwood's post on Wed 15 Sep 2010 :
That should have been Shure PG42USB.
In reply to Rick Dillwood's post on Thu 16 Sep 2010 :
I know it doesn't cost as much as your target price, but I've had great results with the inexpensive and easy to use Samson CO1U USB mic.
If you want to save some of that $200 – $400.
Quick (not really) question about union dancers in documentaries . . .
I have an extremely small budget to shoot a little documentary about a Canadian ballet company traveling to Israel for the first time since 1975 and Jordan for the first time ever. The logistics of taking an entire ballet company from Winnipeg to the Middle East is quite something . . . as is the financial gamble of such tours for the company.
I have permission from the company to document the tour. The ballet company itself is in no way funding the doc.
Here's where it gets sticky. The dancers at the company are all very eager to participate, but they are all members of The Canadian Actor's Equity Association. Whenever it comes to the dancers being on film the Equity Association's contract defers to ACTRA.
My interest is to document this tour from the point of view of those who are running the show and the dancers who are performing. After a brief conversation with my local ACTRA office this morning I can tell that this isn't going to be easy.
I don't need or intend on having a lot of footage of the dancers actually performing in the ballets they are touring. I am more interested in what goes on behind the scenes . . . For example, while we are there a joint Israeli/Palestinian community centre is being opened and some of the dancers are going to give some free classes to the children there. The dancers would like me to cover this. I would like to cover this. I think ACTRA and Equity is going to want me to pay for this.
I don't have the money to put a company of 28 dancers on ACTRA rates for 3 weeks . . . nor do I feel I would be making a documentary if I did.
Has anyone here ever navigated these sorts of waters before? If so, any advice would be hugely appreciated. Or I might just end up making a documentary about Bob the Production Manager who is in charge of all the lighting and sets and carnets and customs and all of that fun stuff.
This is crazy, James. Firstly it's commonly-held assumption that a "documentary film" is synonymous with Hollywood and that the filmmaker is making a pile of money off the people who appear in it. Reality check: the vast majority of documentaries do not make a profit, barely break even if they are lucky. Secondly, unless someone is being asked to perform specially for the film, or an expert is being asked to do some particular research, it is not normal practice to pay those who appear in documentaries. There may be a very small, nominal fee paid to interviewees, but this is mostly symbolic and connected to a release form.
The way you explain your project makes it clear (a) that the dancers are going on tour at the behest of the company, not at your command (b) they are more than willing for you to document them. This is a good start. It seems that the problem lies with the local union office who are almost certainly in the grip of the Hollywood illusion cited above.
Firstly, with the performers agreement, you probably need to go over the heads of the local office and negotiate directly with ACTRA's head office. A brief google (= documentary!) on their website revealed the following clause (below) of a draft agreement with the NFB which seems the right direction for you to explore, especially as the alternative would seem to be abandoning your film entirely. Explain that you're not making a "for profit" concert film but focusing on the work with the children etc.
A2307 Waiver of Minimum fee for Documentary A Performer may voluntarily consent to waive his minimum fee for the inclusion of a performance, interview, or appearance in a Documentary Program, the subject of which is "the making of" the Production in which the Performer has been engaged.
Finally, I should point out that I am NOT A LAWYER and that you should make sure you have rock solid legal advice before proceeding with your film.
Fingers crossed that it all works out – keep us posted.
Wow John! What a great find!
Thanks for digging into this a bit. I think you've definitely found something here that I can use as a jumping off point for my future negotiations. This was a wonderful post to wake up to!
Well I had a few minutes spare and felt like helping out – The D-Word can't always promise to offer this level of service, though!
For future searches, you could try this ;-)
(PS you don't need to add your name at the end of your post – it's already there at the top)