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Old May 2nd, 2009, 07:52 AM   #1
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How realistic is this plan?

Okay I have been thinking of this for a few days and decided to post up my plan.

First off I'm a graphic designer with no experience whatsoever in video shooting or editing (except Windows video maker).

I want to make a professional documentary! Here is my plan:
- I already have a great subject on my mind.
- I want to invest around 5K in a professional digital camera and video editing software.
- I will need to interview 2 people in New York (USA) and 3 people in Mumbai (India) and take videoshots from the local scenery at these places. This should be enough to fill a 30-40 minute documentary about the subject I've got in my head.
- Then I will edit the shots into a great documentary with the video editing software.
- If its finished I'll try to sell it to TV stations but I have read already that takes alot of effort but we'll see.

I can imagen that making a documentary is not THAT simple, or is it? So what exactly am I overlooking here? At which point will I run into a brick wall?

With kind regards,
Dieter
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Old May 2nd, 2009, 11:38 AM   #2
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I'm a full time documentary producer and videographer. I've got very little if any experience in the graphic arts (can't draw or paint to save my life).

I want to be a big time graphic artist for a fortune 500 company or a Hollywood film distributor so here's my plan;
- I've already got a top of the line Mac with photoshop.
- I'm willing to invest a couple of thousand on some graphics software
- I figure all I need to do is search the web and I'll find out every thing I need to know about the graphic arts.
- I'll create a couple of really cool posters, designs, etc. and then I figure I'm off to Hollywood.

I mean really, how hard can it be to create graphics from a font list and some cool stock shots. So what am I missing....?

Dieter - have you figured it out yet? Brick wall dead ahead.
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Old May 2nd, 2009, 05:13 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by Rick L. Allen View Post
I'm a full time documentary producer and videographer. I've got very little if any experience in the graphic arts (can't draw or paint to save my life).

I want to be a big time graphic artist for a fortune 500 company or a Hollywood film distributor so here's my plan;
- I've already got a top of the line Mac with photoshop.
- I'm willing to invest a couple of thousand on some graphics software
- I figure all I need to do is search the web and I'll find out every thing I need to know about the graphic arts.
- I'll create a couple of really cool posters, designs, etc. and then I figure I'm off to Hollywood.

I mean really, how hard can it be to create graphics from a font list and some cool stock shots. So what am I missing....?

Dieter - have you figured it out yet? Brick wall dead ahead.
I totally understand your point. But how hard is it to interview a few people using a digital camera and edit it without experience? I'm not trying to make a the new "Planet Earth" documentary. See how "Supersize Me" was made.

I'm sorry if I come over disrespecting. That's not my aim since I greatly respect documentarians.

With kind regards,
Dieter
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Old May 2nd, 2009, 06:04 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by Dieter Theroux View Post
I totally understand your point. But how hard is it to interview a few people using a digital camera and edit it without experience? I'm not trying to make a the new "Planet Earth" documentary. See how "Supersize Me" was made.
It depends how good your interviewees are. If they're naturals and great communicators you don't have too many problems, if they're not and you haven't a good interview technique you could have difficulty.

You certainly can do what you describe, the question is more is does it have the quality and content that broadcasters would be interested in?
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Old May 2nd, 2009, 06:19 PM   #5
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Dieter,

It is not hard to do at all. I'm not a professional and I do that kind of stuff a lot.

The catch is, I wouldn't dream of taking my stuff to a TV station hoping to get anything broadcast. Professionals in this business are there because they have talent and skills that have been developed with experience over time. While I am getting better all the time, I don't see myself gaining that kind of ability anytime soon. That's what "paying my dues" is all about and I accept that.

There are so many things involved that separate even an average production from a good production -- audio, planning, audio, quality camera work, audio, editing, audio, etc. (I think you get my point!)

I don't know anything about graphic design, but I do know that there are some basics about composing shots that may not translate from your experience. I have a pretty good background with photography and can compose a static shot very well, but video is SO much more than that.

And then there's that thing called "audio" again. If it's not done well -- and that may be a huge challenge for someone with no experience -- it will sound like an amateur home video that will never get on the air.

I don't mean to sound like someone who has all the answers, but I am someone who was in your shoes and, hopefully, has progressed a little farther over time. It is NOT as easy as it looks. You''ll find out when you start.

The good part is, though, it is a wonderful experience -- learning new things every time you work. I'll bet you learn faster than me, too, and I'll bet that you will love it.

I'm planning now to do a doc this summer on life along the Amazon River in Peru, especially the poor who live in city slums in the country's only large city deep in the jungle. Even though I've been doing prep work for several months now and have friends there now helping me set things up, I still may not be ready when I arrive next month. I have no illusions about where my work will be seen. If my only audience is friends and students, then I will be satisfied if they enjoy it and learn something from it.

Hope I didn't ramble on too long and maybe it made a little sense.

Phil
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Old May 2nd, 2009, 10:54 PM   #6
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The plan is just a starting point.
Quote:
At which point will I run into a brick wall?
Every time you expect one, every time you don't expect one, and every time you encounter something that was beyond your imagination ... you will run into a brick wall. Just go do it. And learn how to get around brick walls.
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Old May 3rd, 2009, 08:30 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by Dieter Theroux View Post
I totally understand your point. But how hard is it to interview a few people using a digital camera and edit it without experience? I'm not trying to make a the new "Planet Earth" documentary. See how "Supersize Me" was made.

I'm sorry if I come over disrespecting. That's not my aim since I greatly respect documentarians.
Then by all means do it. You'll have the answer to your question soon enough.
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Old May 3rd, 2009, 08:32 PM   #8
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+1 for Michael's comment. Go and do it. Don't be afraid to ask for advice. Start with the least important interviews. If you mess up, you won't do it with your star. Have a second cam locked off on your subject just to cover yourself.

If you succeed you'll have learned a lot. If you fail, you'll probably learn more. But at least you gave it a go.
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Old May 4th, 2009, 01:00 PM   #9
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I know the answer!!!!!

This is the first time I know an answer......

I have had my equipment for about 18 months and have done 15 short films. I feel that I am just getting to the point, where I am beginning to know what I do not know........


Ken..... who knows more about not knowing now then I did then. (pretty deep hu?)
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Old May 4th, 2009, 02:21 PM   #10
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Sure - I think you should go for it. Then report back here on how it went. You don't need permission or a license to make a documentary.

ANYONE can make a documentary.

Anyone can write a novel too... and thousands of people do it everyday. How hard is it to sit at a computer for a couple of hours every day, and put words down on a screen? Heck, they have software to check your spelling - they have software to help craft a universal plot - they have software to format everything when you're done.

So - at what point does someone who wants to write a novel - hit a brick wall?

(And how many novels are sitting in trashcans and hard-drives around the world - waiting to be seen?)
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Old May 5th, 2009, 02:05 AM   #11
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Ok... I think you have the idea that what looks easy isn't always. I am sure you had enough of that. Let's try a more constructive approach for you.

Here's what I would do. First, I'd get the DVD "How to Light and Shoot great looking Inteviews" - it is avilable from Vortex media on this site (they are a site sponsor). Create a lighting kit along the lines they suggest ($1500 or so).

Next, pick up Dean Miles book "Location Audio simplified" from his website Home. Get a pair of decent XLR cabled lavalier mics... a search here will let you listen to a lot of them.... probably run you close to $600 for the pair. Ideally a mixer would be nice, but we are gonna do this on the cheap and go direct into the camera. The camera will ned to accept XLR inputs and give phantom power, or you will have to buy an adapter to convert it to take them and provide power to the lics..

Finally pick a camera and good tripod. At least HDV... This will run you maybe another $4,000 to $5000, although you can get your feet wet with with consumer HDV cameras for under a thousand, but you will still need a tripod and an XLR converter. I'd suggest a Sony Z-1 as a decent camera you might find used for a decent price and it has XLR inputs and defeatable Auto Gain Control (you will learn to HATE AGC).

With all that you will be a ways down the road as you start, learning curve wise, and will undoubtedly learn as you go.

Jump in, it's the only way to find out.

Chris Swanberg
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Old May 6th, 2009, 10:36 AM   #12
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It's realistic, for the most part... except for the last bit about "selling it to a TV station". Maybe Europe it's different (Channel 4 etc) but in the US, very few channels buy docs. PBS might, and sometimes HBO & Showtime do, however they're buying myb 5 a year out of probably 5,000 made per year. And of those 5 myb 1 get much attention, the others just sit on the On Demand folder or air on Tuesdays at 2pm.

So if you have a story to tell, and want to make it, go ahead & do so. Doesn't mean other people will watch it or want to watch it ( a great subject to your could be disinteresting to others). Also, how well researched is the project, and how good are the cutaways shots, photos and footage. Nobody wants to just watch an interview with a subject for 20 minutes (let alone one if it had poor framing, shot selection, lighting etc). Best to have a variety of parties interviewed, archival footage, and unknown facts or stories come out. That's where I personally felt 30 days lacked. McDonalds is bad for you & if you eat it every day for a month you'll be unhealthy.. Duhhhh!! Michael Moore, like his agenda or not, does a good job of researching & pulling out various facts, forms & documents the average person never would have normally seen.

Anyway, you should work with the idea of creating it in mind, not the end result of it being a smashing success.
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Old May 6th, 2009, 02:34 PM   #13
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It's realistic, for the most part... except for the last bit about "selling it to a TV station". Maybe Europe it's different (Channel 4 etc) but in the US, very few channels buy docs. PBS might, and sometimes HBO & Showtime do, however they're buying myb 5 a year out of probably 5,000 made per year. And of those 5 myb 1 get much attention, the others just sit on the On Demand folder or air on Tuesdays at 2pm.
In the UK almost all the documentaries are commissioned in advance, often with other broadcasters involved in a co-production (eg Discovery). One off documentaries are difficult to sell, since the broadcasters prefer a strand (series) that will attract an audience. That's a shame because many subjects don't hold more than a single programme.

However, If you do have a unique subject with a very compelling human story beautifully told they may purchase a completed documentary, but I wouldn't build a business plan on it. There are a number of examples, but they tend to be the film maker having chance access to something that proves to be bigger in the longer term e.g. filming firemen in N.Y. or a Catholic bishop who has been living for years with a housekeeper and her son and he's secretly the father.
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Old May 6th, 2009, 04:27 PM   #14
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Just do it but forget the TV part. If it turns out to be an interesting story, well shot and with content, that a broadcaster might be interested in, even better.
I would start by writing an exposeŽand a treatment, to see what images apart from the interviews you need, then go and learn how to use your equipment under stress, then once you know how to use it, go for it.

But its not as simple as your opening posting says......lots of brick walls!
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Old June 10th, 2009, 06:54 PM   #15
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The first question should be whether the topic is something that anyone else would be interested in watching.

As for getting it done, one way to find out is to actually do it. You might want to try a few shorter ones first, just to get your feet wet and discover some of the potential problems which always arise. And you might want to seek some advice from people who truly know their craft. It's always a lot more work than most people realize.

I worked with a producer who had a great idea for a doc but got stopped dead in his tracks after a week. He had a lot of experience in writing. He had some experience as a photographer. But his greatest downfall was his inability to stay organized and focused.

Another person I worked with briefly was relatively new to the business. She did a shorter doc, then took on a major topic. She took the time to learn her subject well, raised the necessary funds, hired people who knew what they were doing, and got the piece aired on PBS.

The difference between the two was perseverance. One stayed on-task for more than a year whereas the other started to goof off after a few days.
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