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Old September 12th, 2008, 12:06 PM   #1
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Tips for a beginning documentary maker

Hi,

I am very happy with this new forum, so first of all: thanks chris!

I wanna keep my situation brief in this thread, but will write soon about some specific questions I have later on. the thing is that I am a beginning documentary maker (did only a small doc about the upcoming presence of a exotic bird here in Brussels) but will be soon travelling to cambodia for half a year and planning to do a doc. (have all the gear, have a sound/boomoperator=my partner, but no subject yet!)

So this is a question : what tips can you give (technical or practical) for a beginning doc maker?

grtz niels
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Old September 12th, 2008, 01:51 PM   #2
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Find a good subject and a good story.
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Old September 12th, 2008, 02:02 PM   #3
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How exciting! I've never been there, but Cambodia must be a fascinating place to shoot.

I have a couple of pieces of advice (some of which might be contradictory!)

1. Have a focus going in. Saying "I'm going to Cambodia to shoot a documentary" is probably too vague. Are you going with a group? Do you have contacts in the country? Do you know what the story you want to tell is? Do some research and hone in on one particular aspect that is small enough so that you can manage it without a multi-million dollar budget, yet large enough to have broad, worldwide appeal.

2. That said, once you get there, if you find your story moving another in another direction, don't fight it, go with the flow. If you think you're shooting a movie about say, historic Ankgor Wat, but find yourself increasingly interested in the story of your local guide, follow your gut and go with what you find to be the most interesting. Sometimes that will line up with the research you did before you got there, sometimes it won't.

3. Do you speak Khmer? If not, make sure you get a local guide who is fluent in the local language and knows how to get around.

4. Wherever possible, try to conduct interviews with locals in their native language. Even if they speak English (or Dutch or French), few people are as articulate in their second language as they are in their first. If you have an interpreter, ask your question in whatever language you and your interpreter share, have your interpreter translate and have your subject respond in Khmer. Don't worry about getting a letter-perfect translation in the field, just get enough so you can follow the gist of the conversation. When you get back in post, you can hire a professional translator to do a final subtitle translation.
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Last edited by Brian Standing; September 12th, 2008 at 03:22 PM.
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Old September 12th, 2008, 02:27 PM   #4
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Niels.
a) I envy you for being able to work with a two-men crew:
that's a BIG improvement over the one-man-band mode!
b) I second all of Brian's pieces of advice (especially the "flexibility thing":
be ready to steer another course; after all, what you're going after is reality,
and reality is moody and unforeseeable).
c) check out the "Manifesto" on Brian's website
d) my two cents: keep your eyes and ears open all the time (even at night..)
and respond to their inputs - sounds pathetically obvious, I know, but...

Good luck!

Vasco
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Old September 15th, 2008, 02:53 PM   #5
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thanks guys for the tips!
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Old September 15th, 2008, 03:57 PM   #6
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Get into the habit of spending the time to get good B-roll, cutaways, and reaction shots from people other than the main subject. Even if you only do it by swish-panning while recording. The sound person should also try and do the same audio wise. It's a skill you have to practice to get good at it, but those minor shots in the field can make a big difference in the editing room. I just worked on a great piece with a documentary videographer. His shooting was impeccable. Constantly improvising, but each re-frame was wonderfully pertinent to the subject, and set him up for the next shot, all in one fluid dance. It was really awesome. Think of a master billiards player who is always several steps ahead of the game on each shot. Editing that footage was smooth as silk.

Of course research everything "Cambodia" before you leave, so when you arrive you have a nice broad perspective on what's going on. It can be the difference between spending a day in the wrong place, and being at the right place ahead of time.

If you do diaries/logs, I find doing a quick outline in the morning of what I think I'd like for the day, and then a very practical terse diary in the evening keeps me in the "zone" and keeps the project connected from day to day. Even if it's all improvised.
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Old September 18th, 2008, 07:56 AM   #7
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Shoot for Coverage

Quote:
Originally Posted by Michael Wisniewski View Post
Get into the habit of spending the time to get good B-roll, cutaways, and reaction shots from people other than the main subject. Even if you only do it by swish-panning while recording. The sound person should also try and do the same audio wise. It's a skill you have to practice to get good at it, but those minor shots in the field can make a big difference in the editing room. I just worked on a great piece with a documentary videographer. His shooting was impeccable. Constantly improvising, but each re-frame was wonderfully pertinent to the subject, and set him up for the next shot, all in one fluid dance. It was really awesome. Think of a master billiards player who is always several steps ahead of the game on each shot. Editing that footage was smooth as silk.

Of course research everything "Cambodia" before you leave, so when you arrive you have a nice broad perspective on what's going on. It can be the difference between spending a day in the wrong place, and being at the right place ahead of time.

If you do diaries/logs, I find doing a quick outline in the morning of what I think I'd like for the day, and then a very practical terse diary in the evening keeps me in the "zone" and keeps the project connected from day to day. Even if it's all improvised.
Michael,
I second your comments.
Terwingen,
If I might also mention that coverage of the environment, is often fully overlooked, When the shot list is developed. We were so focused on the character action, these necessary cutaways offer editing that can break away from the dialog and character action. For my 07' project, I have found that the "on location" shoot could only provide a portion of the needed visuals in edit. So I suggest a number of static or slow pans where the eventual audience may then appreciate scripted voice over narrations, while camera cutaways offer those perspectives around the location environs. Just my thoughts in an edit retrospect.
Regards,
Christo
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Old September 19th, 2008, 12:54 PM   #8
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thanks again

hello,
I am very happy with these tips. most things I already knew, but are easy to forget once your in action. guess that is what makes the difference between a pro and a rookie. so I wrote these tips in my little black book wich I keep with me from now on.the tip of doing the logs every day is very helpfull to.
about the research: I was already in cambodia for a month. did a motorbiketour (all southeast asia), so its not going to be a total new experience. thats why I have this attitude like just go and shoot. look whats going to happen..anyway, for the moment i really dont find the time to start reading and investigating..

another question. my partner doesnt has any real experince beiing a sound/boomoperator. She's going through some online sound lessons on lynda.com and once in a while we practice with our little R44 and NTG3/2 on boompole and lavs. but does someone has a tips for her?
grtz
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Old September 20th, 2008, 08:30 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Terwingen Niels View Post
hello,
my partner doesnt has any real experince beiing a sound/boomoperator. She's going through some online sound lessons on lynda.com and once in a while we practice with our little R44 and NTG3/2 on boompole and lavs. but does someone has a tips for her?
grtz
I would highly recommend Jay Rose's book "Producing Great Sound for Film and Video." Available here: Producing Great Sound for Film and Video: a book.

He has a very good chapter on boom operation techniques.
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Old November 4th, 2008, 05:38 PM   #10
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While I fully agree that the information in Jay Roses book is golden, for someone who is going to be a boom operator, a more directed and excellent location sound book is by S. Dean Miles entitled "Location Audio Simplified" (Home). Well worth the read for a boom operator.... or one to be.

I have both of Jay's Books AND this one in my library and find them to be an excellent resource (and I might plug Ty Ford's book, Audio Bootcamp, as well.
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