Documentary Help at DVinfo.net

Go Back   DV Info Net > Special Interest Areas > Documentary Techniques

Documentary Techniques
-- Discuss issues facing documentary production.


Reply
 
Thread Tools Search this Thread
Old July 28th, 2008, 09:49 PM   #1
Major Player
 
Join Date: May 2006
Location: Longview, Tx.
Posts: 218
Documentary Help

I have been hired to do a documentary and wanted to ask for your advice in preparing for it. What are some of the things you do when preparing for a documentary? As for the script the gentleman that hired me is working on a rough draft and I'll be going over it to see if it can be improved in any way. They want it to be approx. 15 minutes in length. I also need to purchase some royalty free music to use as an underscore. There will more than likely be some interviews so what kind of mic would you suggest? I do have a mic to attach to my cam but would you go with a boom pole and mic? I also use a zoom H4 audio recorder. Would that be good enough to record the commentary? Please, any help would be great. Yes this is my first documentary.
Lalo Alvidrez is offline   Reply With Quote
Old July 31st, 2008, 08:14 AM   #2
Inner Circle
 
Join Date: Sep 2002
Location: Vancouver, British Columbia (formerly Winnipeg, Manitoba) Canada
Posts: 4,087
I've always used a mix of wired and wireless lav mics (for the more formal seated interviews) as well as boom pole mics for the run and gun stuff (although, increasingly I'm using my boom mic INSTEAD of the lavs - I like the presence much more. Sounds much more natural to MY ears).

Get a sample of "wild" sound in every environment you shoot in. You may need to insert "silence" between cuts in interview clips.

I hope I overstate the obvious but make sure you use decent headphones to monitor your audio. Don't just listen in once and discard them. I use Sony ear buds and leave the right ear in and remove the left ear if I need to hear the environment more.

If you have access to a reflector, use it to bounce light onto the shadow side of your subject's face if shooting outdoors. Watch your sun placement (or more accurately your SUBJECT placement relative to the sun). They should be lit from the side by the sun (to avoid squinting) and not from the back (which will place their face in shadow and either be too dark or the background will "blow out"). Again, bounce light in for fill.

Good luck!
__________________
Shaun C. Roemich Road Dog Media - Vancouver, BC - Videographer - Webcaster
www.roaddogmedia.ca Blog: http://roaddogmedia.wordpress.com/
Shaun Roemich is offline   Reply With Quote
Old August 13th, 2008, 09:44 AM   #3
Major Player
 
Join Date: Jul 2006
Location: Los Angeles, california
Posts: 228
We use our Canon XL2's mic for most of our interviews.

But it's a camera with an exceptional mic. Here's a clip from our last documentary and everything that you hear in this promo is recorded with the camera's microphone.

http://www.bradmays.com/owtrailerb.mov

I don't know if you have lighting or not, but the Lowel DV maker series has lots of great kits for indie filmmakers who don't need to do a lot of lighting. I may light something 3 or 4 times a year, and the Lowel kit that I have is perfect. We bought it from Adorama for $1100 and it has four lighting instruments in it.
http://www.adorama.com/LLDV9023Z.htm...ator&item_no=1
Lori Starfelt is offline   Reply With Quote
Old August 13th, 2008, 12:01 PM   #4
Major Player
 
Join Date: Dec 2007
Location: Fayetteville, NC
Posts: 522
Lori you're right. It really brings out the hollowness in the room and reinforces the echoes.

Lalo, if someone is paying you to produce a doc (forgetting the fact you've never done it before) you'd better show up with a lavaliere mic, decent lights and some skills. That's why it's called a profession by some of us - not a hobby.
__________________
"The good thing about science is that it's true whether you believe it or not." Neil deGrasse Tyson http://nautilusproductions.com
Rick L. Allen is offline   Reply With Quote
Old August 13th, 2008, 02:28 PM   #5
Inner Circle
 
Join Date: Sep 2002
Location: Vancouver, British Columbia (formerly Winnipeg, Manitoba) Canada
Posts: 4,087
As a broadcast documentary producer, I wouldn't get away with that audio.

Tight miking with lavs (wired are better than wireless unless you can afford a small fortune on wireless, or just rent) or booming with a quality mic (the Rode NTG-2 is reasonably priced and may be enough for what you need) is far better for the discerning ear than any on camera mic. I use my Sennheiser ME66 as an on-camera mic for atmosphere and "wild" sound (and also as a backup, in case everything else fails. As well, I can rip it off and put it on the end of my boom pole, in a pinch).
__________________
Shaun C. Roemich Road Dog Media - Vancouver, BC - Videographer - Webcaster
www.roaddogmedia.ca Blog: http://roaddogmedia.wordpress.com/
Shaun Roemich is offline   Reply With Quote
Old August 14th, 2008, 02:21 PM   #6
Major Player
 
Join Date: Jul 2006
Location: Los Angeles, california
Posts: 228
Shaun, lots of indie documentaries that get picked up

for broadcast are shot utilizing the camera mic. This is a small indie production here and if the story is interesting and well told, it will go wherever it can without hindrance. And let's not pretend that an inexperienced boom operator or sound person with lavs can't cause enormous problems in post. :)
Lori Starfelt is offline   Reply With Quote
Old August 14th, 2008, 05:02 PM   #7
New Boot
 
Join Date: Jul 2008
Location: St.Maarten Netherland Antilles
Posts: 7
more help

You may want to have a look here: How to Make a Documentary Film | Expert Village Videos
Ernest Sams is offline   Reply With Quote
Old August 14th, 2008, 05:40 PM   #8
Inner Circle
 
Join Date: Mar 2005
Location: Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Posts: 5,742
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lori Starfelt View Post
for broadcast are shot utilizing the camera mic. This is a small indie production here and if the story is interesting and well told, it will go wherever it can without hindrance. And let's not pretend that an inexperienced boom operator or sound person with lavs can't cause enormous problems in post. :)
You mean problems like the severe loss of lip sync prevalent throughout this clip, like in the closeups of the singer's faces as they're singing?

Of course an untrained boom op can cause problems in post, just like an inexperienced Director of Photography can cause problems in post ... that's why you don't just grab a convenient warm body and say "Here, hold this stick." A boom operator is far more than just an organic mic stand.

Of course the on-camera mic is used in a lot of broadcast footage, but it's generally used when there's simply no other alternative - you just have time to power up the camera before the factory blows up, take time to do a proper audio setup and you miss the shot. I don't see a single scene in this piece that justifies taking that shortcut. The program is all about SOUND and training of musicians, for crying out loud. Of all possible program topics there's no excuse for there to be any sound quality compromises with that one. As the CEO of a company I once worked for would say "Good enough, never is!"
__________________
Good news, Cousins! This week's chocolate ration is 15 grams!
Steve House is offline   Reply With Quote
Old August 14th, 2008, 08:22 PM   #9
Major Player
 
Join Date: Jul 2006
Location: Los Angeles, california
Posts: 228
This thread is about a beginning director

The hostility here towards my project is out of place in a thread where a beginning director is asking how to achieve the best sound under his particular circumstance.
Lori Starfelt is offline   Reply With Quote
Old August 15th, 2008, 03:29 AM   #10
Inner Circle
 
Join Date: Mar 2005
Location: Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Posts: 5,742
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lori Starfelt View Post
The hostility here towards my project is out of place in a thread where a beginning director is asking how to achieve the best sound under his particular circumstance.
It is not hostility to the project you see, quite the contrary. I thought your concept was excellent and some of the camera work and editing is quite good. But the idea that amateurish sound is good enough if the story is compelling is just plain wrong - you need BOTH concept and technique if you're going to be successful and crisp, professional, expressive sound is just as important, perhaps even MORE important, than well-lit, properly focused images or tight editing. The networks such as PBS have set the bar and anything less is unacceptable. Your project is diminshed by the apparent belief that sound really isn't all that important, treating it like a poor country cousin to the images by dismissing it with the statement that whatever the on-camera mic gets is good enough. While sometimes the on-camera mic IS good enough, it's true, but 99% of the time it isn't and a producer or director needs to be just as picky about doing whatever it takes to get the right sound as he is about getting the right images and the right story. It's not how to get the best sound under the circumstances - the concern is how to structure the circumstances to get the best sound possible. I am saddened by that oversight because it's a program I really want to watch and enjoy in all its aspects.
__________________
Good news, Cousins! This week's chocolate ration is 15 grams!
Steve House is offline   Reply With Quote
Old August 15th, 2008, 09:51 AM   #11
Major Player
 
Join Date: Jul 2006
Location: Los Angeles, california
Posts: 228
So, what do you think your point is?

You're beating up on my project (which is fine - I suspect that's the level you operate on) but what is it you're actually conveying to a first time director on a budget on how to handle sound and increase his likelihood of having a successful project. Go ahead - tell us what it is you think you're saying. Make your point and flesh it out.

My point is simple - a first time director needs to aggressively minimize his risk of things going wrong. The fewer inexperienced personnel in the room, the better off he is. The camera mic, if it's reasonable, won't add problems to his production that he doesn't have the background to resolve quickly.

So, go ahead - explain to us how an first time director who clearly doesn't have the funding to hire an experienced sound guy can best proceed. IOW, be constructive.
Lori Starfelt is offline   Reply With Quote
Old August 15th, 2008, 10:45 AM   #12
Inner Circle
 
Join Date: Sep 2002
Location: Vancouver, British Columbia (formerly Winnipeg, Manitoba) Canada
Posts: 4,087
I'm a firm believer in cutting one's teeth (mentoring or journeying) under an experienced producer before attempting to take on a PAID production by one's self.

A surgeon doesn't go in cutting solo just after med school (actually, surgeons GO to school, something not a lot of up-and-coming "producers" bother to do); he or she will "apprentice" under a seasoned surgeon to hone their "chops" until the are ready to be entrusted on their own.

The minute you accept payment from a client or profess to be a professional instead of a talented hobbyist, the bar is automatically raised. Yes, you need to be able to strike out on your own but do it with a tool box full of good equipment, professional training and real world experience.

To answer the original poster: are you friends with a pro sound person or a talented and seasoned videographer with whom you can "trade" time? For example: he/she helps you get started on this project for no pay and you counter with volunteering a similar number of hours on one of their productions.

No man is an island. I learned my craft through a combination of 28 years of photography, 20 years of doing sound for my own bands, an intensive 5 month college diploma course and now 10 years of "doing" - a lot of those 10 years were spent working under, with or overseeing people who had more experience than I and trading information.
__________________
Shaun C. Roemich Road Dog Media - Vancouver, BC - Videographer - Webcaster
www.roaddogmedia.ca Blog: http://roaddogmedia.wordpress.com/
Shaun Roemich is offline   Reply With Quote
Old August 15th, 2008, 12:02 PM   #13
Inner Circle
 
Join Date: Mar 2005
Location: Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Posts: 5,742
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lori Starfelt View Post
You're beating up on my project (which is fine - I suspect that's the level you operate on) but what is it you're actually conveying to a first time director on a budget on how to handle sound and increase his likelihood of having a successful project. Go ahead - tell us what it is you think you're saying. Make your point and flesh it out.

My point is simple - a first time director needs to aggressively minimize his risk of things going wrong. The fewer inexperienced personnel in the room, the better off he is. The camera mic, if it's reasonable, won't add problems to his production that he doesn't have the background to resolve quickly.

So, go ahead - explain to us how an first time director who clearly doesn't have the funding to hire an experienced sound guy can best proceed. IOW, be constructive.
He learns how to put a lav on the talent and run a wire to the camera and connect it, or he runs a lav to a wireless hop to the camera, or he sells a knowledeable sound person on the idea of helping out for a reduced rate or for free or he sits the subject down in a chair and positions a boom on a grip stand so a proper mic is held just out of frame. He learns to recognize professional quality sound and reads up on what it takes to obtain it. And you DON'T have to have a $500 a day sound person with $25000 worth of equipment to do it, all it takes is knowing what it sounds like, a modest budget to get to get the basic equipment (considerably less than what you spent for your XL2 for a starter system feeding 1 or 2 channels of audio to the camera), and the willingness to take the time to learn how to use it. And you don't help him by assuring him that poor sound is okay until you can do it better.

There's no intent to trash your project but if you download the mov file and play it, you'll find serious sync problems with it - that's an observation of fact, not a value judgement. If you listen to the interviews, you'll hear that most of them have the characteristic "recorded in the bottom of well" hollowness that marks them as being recorded in a slappy room from a mic insufficient side rejection being positioned too far away from the talent. It doesn't take a professional sound guy to recognize it and fix it, all it takes is a modicum of knowledge about sound and the willingness to take the time to do it right, to put a lav in the subject or boom a hyper just out of frame.

As for the claim that the on-camera mic is always safe because it doen't add problems, that's just bad advice. It more often than not adds many problems, serious ones that are technically impossible to fix in post. The hollow sound of many of you interviews are a case in point. IF you don't prevent it on the set there's usually nothing you can do about it later.
__________________
Good news, Cousins! This week's chocolate ration is 15 grams!
Steve House is offline   Reply With Quote
Old August 15th, 2008, 01:15 PM   #14
Major Player
 
Join Date: Feb 2008
Location: California
Posts: 230
Lori, I downloaded and watched your documentary. I thought the storytelling and videography was well done. I can hear what the others are saying about the audio... I think it's constructive criticism and not nitpicking. Since much of the documentary is centered around the audio of the opera singers, this piece could've really shined in a better way with more careful attention to audio, such as a boomed mic... I think mic placement would've been more important than even having a great quality mic... the sound just isn't rich and full and doesn't do the singers justice. The mic just sounds too far away. I thought this was a great piece of work so don't take me wrong, I'm just giving feedback in my opinion of how this could've been even better. You have great talent with the camera and putting together a story.
Buck Forester is offline   Reply With Quote
Old August 15th, 2008, 03:01 PM   #15
Major Player
 
Join Date: Jul 2006
Location: Los Angeles, california
Posts: 228
Buck,

The company, quite reasonably, wanted us to remain unobtrusive. And there is nothing unobtrusive about boom poles. In most of the situations in that promo, we were shooting in a classroom had about two minutes to set up. The clips upfront are placeholders, and didn't wind up in the final cut. Being successful in this industry and producing good work is reliant upon being able to make reasonable decisions that maximize storytelling and minimize risk. We do post-production professionally and send a lot of docs off to their cable channels. Lots of indies wind up on HBO, and IFP that are mic'd like ours. I just find it bizarre that people took a piece of advice and turned it in to that huge drama. Very weird. But we got through it.

Brad Mays - Writer | Director | Editor

I don't have a website. I work with Brad and this is what we do. Plenty of clips.

On edit:
And Buck, thank you for the kind words. It's a good piece and I'm proud of it. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Last edited by Lori Starfelt; August 15th, 2008 at 03:28 PM. Reason: forgot to include the thank you
Lori Starfelt is offline   Reply
Reply

DV Info Net refers all where-to-buy and where-to-rent questions exclusively to these trusted full line dealers and rental houses...

Professional Video
(800) 833-4801
Portland, OR

B&H Photo Video
(866) 521-7381
New York, NY

Z.G.C.
(973) 335-4460
Mountain Lakes, NJ

Abel Cine Tech
(888) 700-4416
N.Y. NY & L.A. CA

Precision Camera
(800) 677-1023
Austin, TX

DV Info Net also encourages you to support local businesses and buy from an authorized dealer in your neighborhood.
  You are here: DV Info Net > Special Interest Areas > Documentary Techniques

Thread Tools Search this Thread
Search this Thread:

Advanced Search

 



Google
 

All times are GMT -6. The time now is 08:58 PM.


DV Info Net -- Real Names, Real People, Real Info!
1998-2017 The Digital Video Information Network