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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

Much appreciated, Ron.

Avery Morgan
Fri 4 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
Fri 4 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 Fri 4 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
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.

Randy Lee
Wed 9 Feb 2011Link

I would definitely make use of the 7D while you've got it available though, too. It's a great tool when used properly, and there are enough people using it that avoiding using it is a bad idea, because you never know when it'll pop up as what you need to use. But as far as focusing on telling a story and learning video gear go, definitely the XH A1.

Angela Snow
Mon 14 Feb 2011Link

I've been approached by a distribution company in Europe regarding my first documentary film.

I've never gotten to this stage before and am looking for advice on international distribution. I would really appreciate any and all information, from basic to specific.

My main specific questions are
-Is it normal / OK to give exclusive distro rights for all of Europe or internationally to one company? Do you often pick distributors based on countries and break it up that way?
-What are some questions that I can ask them to discover what level of a distributor they are? WHAT SHOULD I KNOW? How can I make sure they have the contacts / experience / can get my film out there...
-What % is normal for a distributor to take as a commission of sales and pre-sales?

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