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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.

Neil Orman
Wed 2 Feb 2011Link

Can anyone advise me on the simplest way to light interview subjects, as a one man band? Next week I'm doing a shoot in a house with lots of windows and pretty good light. Whenever possible, I hope to take advantage of natural light. But I just want to be prepared should I need to throw some light on a subject. In the past I've used kinoflos and lit people with the people of a PA, but this time I need to keep it to just me. And I don't want to be messing with c-stands, sandbags and the like. Any advice would be hugely appreciated.


Ron Osgood
Wed 2 Feb 2011Link

Neil – try to use the natural light as your main source and add a reflector to the opposite side. Or use a soft box, umbrella or diffused light as your key and the window as your fill. Don't forget to use CTB to match to daylight. Of course figuring out how to add a back light is important.


Neil Orman
Wed 2 Feb 2011Link

Much appreciated, Ron.


Avery Morgan
Thu 3 Feb 2011Link

I am making a short (10 minute) historical documentary. I have all of the important information, but so far the documentary is a little boring. Any advice on how to make it a little more interesting while still professional?


Laura Moire Paglin
Thu 3 Feb 2011Link

I'd have to know a little more about what it's about. But the key with any documentary is to remember that you are still telling a story. The story is more important than imparting facts and information.Think about Ken Burn's documentaries. Also figure out why you're using a visual medium to tell the story. What can you communicate in a visual way? Watch lots of historical documentaries. Try to figure out what makes you like them and figure out how you can apply that to your project.

Edited Thu 3 Feb 2011 by Laura Moire Paglin

Avery Morgan
Sat 5 Feb 2011Link

Thank you very much for your help. I will try to keep that in mind and will follow your advice before I start filming and putting together information. Also, the documentary is on Susan B. Anthony and her work as a suffragist for Women's Rights if that helps.


Dean Lenoir
Tue 8 Feb 2011Link

Hey, can anyone provide some general advice on which of the following cameras would be better to use:

Canon XH A1
or
Canon EOS 7D

Someone is letting me borrow the XH A1 for a couple of months to shoot a documentary I'm working on, but I can also get access to a Canon 7D through school. I also have access to professional lighting and audio equipment through school, compatible with both cameras, so I don't see that as much of a factor (although I am new to filmmaker, so maybe it is).

The lens that I have for the 7D are the following:
Nikon DX Af-S Nikkor 35mm 1:1.89
Canon EF-S 18-135mm lens

In terms of image quality, which do you all think is best? Also, do you think that I could use both, or would there be a noticeable difference between the two?

I am really new to film-making, so any advice here would help!


Nigel Walker
Tue 8 Feb 2011Link

If you are really new to filmmaking I would strongly recommend the XH A1. The DSLR's have a variety of issues that have been well documented and although there are work arounds for many of them I would focus all your energy into making a film not dealing with the equipment.


Dean Lenoir
Tue 8 Feb 2011Link

Great point Nigel, indeed I think I will go with the XH A1. Thanks for the advice :)


Errol Webber
Tue 8 Feb 2011Link

Dean, I would get neither. The XH A1 only shoots HDV, which is QUICKLY becoming less favorable. I would recommend getting a Sony EX1R if you're a beginning filmmaker. It shoots XDCAM which isn't disappearing for a while, shoots at a significantly higher bit rate and gets a truer white balance in MY opinion.

Video shot on a Canon XH A1 Video Camera tends to have this greenish brown tinge to it even when you supposedly have correct white balance. There is a technical reason for this, but I won't go into that detail. Also, with the Sony EX3, you have more handling options thanks to its ergonomic hand-grip.

But yeah, if the ONLY options were XH A1 or 7D, I'd choose the XH A1 for the same reason Nigel said.


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