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Old February 7th, 2011, 03:50 AM   #16
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Hi,
Your project sounds fascinating... I'm old enough to have cut film also and have done a LOT of museum films as well as the commercial short form stuff. For a project like this... I concur with the paper cut also.
I did a film on the bicentennial of the Louisiana Purchase a few years ago using a couple of historians and Hal Holbrook for the narrator...
I asked the same series of questions to both historians and intercut the interviews so they were finishing each other's sentences... then the narrator strung it together. I've also done a bunch of museum films using interviews instead of narration... I've found that these type shows are immeasureably more difficult than having a straight narration to cut images to.
What I would recommend is having transcripts of the interviews with code numbers on the left of the page.
Make a copy of the interviews... slice them up by categories... subject.... story... etc.
start to make piles of the categories and then weed out the best examples of what tells that particular story.
The next step is to structure the information.. (this is good intro info... this is a good conclusion... these are interesting support vignettes...
Now start laying them out onto a couple of tables in a room that your kids won't go. You can tape the scraps onto the table or pin them to a wall etc...
Next... think of how they might be strung together... is it narration? is it title slides? or a combination (what I used) to set up the different sections.
Next time out the sections and you will start to get a handle on what you have and what you need to cut or eliminate... or move around...
I rely on the music to convey the emotional arc, so you might start reading as you begin to select background track "candidates" for each section.
Your image selection will come from the content of the stories. "what will best illustrate what he's talking about?"
Then it's just a matter of tedium and determination... you'll get sick of hearing it, but then it's pretty rewarding and even fun....
Best of Luck to you...
Dale
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Old March 18th, 2011, 07:23 AM   #17
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Re: First foray into long form documentary making - tools for structuring?

Hi Ian,
i did a similar doc in the past, the best bet would be organize the clips into bins, i'm using Vegas and it comes pretty handy. The suggestions the guys gave you are "bull's eyed"! Definetly you have tons of footage that should be divided into stock footage (i guess pictures and old VHS taped, basically SD stuff) and HD footage (interviews). If you have the chance to mark the clips on the exact points where the old pilots are telling you "interesting" stuff would be a great help.
Then you should find the connections between the pilots words and you have to find how to chain them.
You should have a lot of papers everywhere in the house, i remeber writing ideas while driving or even while cooking ( an easy pasta that's it, not Pollo Alfredo or hard cooking foods) and while swimming in the pool.
And 2 desk ideas is pretty good!
YOu 'll need to conform the SD stock footage to HD with a deinterlacer of course or you could just put as cropped shots on the screen with the original size (SD).
Try to color correct the old images, maybe with color editors and if you wanna risk, you could add more grain to emphasize the OLD STYLE STOCK FOOTAGE from archives.
Aerial radio conversation would add a lot on your product....
A good strating point or even an ending point is something being told about the relationship between the airmen and the planes.....this pathological love that addict every pilot!
Is there a chanche these old airplanes are still flying? It would be great to have nowaday footage with a gopro or a contour on the cockpit!
I shot my doc with a Fx1 that nowaday is old but always is Hd and when played on a Plasma tv or LCD has always a pretty sharp visual effect.
Best wishes for your project and...of course i wanna see your finished work ;)

Stefano
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Old March 18th, 2011, 07:30 AM   #18
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Re: First foray into long form documentary making - tools for structuring?

As DALE sayd "I've found that these type shows are immeasureably more difficult than having a straight narration to cut images to."
Totally agree with him! You know what you could do? Maybe you did already but here are my 2 cents:
Go to blockbuster and rent Speed & Angels, the story about 2 Tomcat pilots (Jay and Megan) that are perfectly chained on the storytelling even they don't fly the same airplane. 2 different storyes crossed without external narration voice in it but just: interviews interviews and interviews...

I liked the story: the aerial shots are beautiful, the interview shots a little less :) but the TRUTH of the doc is really powerful.....and of course LOUD AFTER BURNERS

Hope my cents will help ;)
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Old March 25th, 2011, 03:30 PM   #19
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Re: First foray into long form documentary making - tools for structuring?

I was floating on Vimeo then i came across this
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Old May 19th, 2011, 11:54 PM   #20
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Re: First foray into long form documentary making - tools for structuring?

My2c Worth.. I am a big believer in the paper edit. I have made a whole lot of long form TV as a producer, all of it transcribed and paper edited - and I was always too busy to even go into the edit until it came to medium fine cutting, but here's what I have just found after shooting producing and editing my own 60 minute broadcast doco.

Transcribe and shotlist the whole thing, then lay out your narrative in very rough, bullet point form, then write a roughish Voice Over, then try to replace the VO with the grabs from your people, then fine tune your VO. It's what others on here have said, it's a bit boring, but it's the best way to go. It's much easier to cut and past on a Word doc than it is in an edit with huge amounts of meda etc..

It also means you can put off going into the edit until you have cross checked your narrative with a few trusted others - something I think that is critical on the bigger jobs since you spend so much time with the material and get what we call rushes fatigue!

It will also help you sleep at night when you think "Have I got the best grab off that old guy in the hangar?" you read his transcript, make a decision and your editor will be able to keep cutting without you sitting there going "Can we just have a look at???" AND you'll be able to sleep at night knowing only the best material is in your film!!!!

Don't forget to be as detailed in your descriptions of your overlay or B Roll as the Yanks call it as you can.

It sounds like a really cool film... good luck with it
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Old May 27th, 2011, 02:17 PM   #21
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Re: First foray into long form documentary making - tools for structuring?

Really fascinating thread and so much amazing advice.

My two-penneth.

Ian I understand your pain! My background is as a musician / composer / sound designer rather than filmmaker, something I've only got into in the last few years but it has all been documentary of one form or another - longest film about 35 mins.

For better or worse I tend to look at things from a sound / composer's viewpoint and one of the hardest things is what you chose NOT to use. For a 60 minute film it would be quite hard to sort of improvise it so clearly a plan is needed and once devised no matter how good a shot or interview is, if it doesn't fit the scheme it has be ditched and yes I've been involved in films where we made mistakes by including stuff we 'just had to' because we liked it but didn't really fit otherwise. This is a constant problem when writing long pieces of music.

I love the idea posted of the audio only edit especially as I'm so interested in sound which is so neglected in documentaries - and I mean all sound (including music), not just speech so you might think about this more - what other sounds are important (I can really imagine getting into some creative sound design with plane engine noises for example)? Music is also downplayed on documentary but can be so affective. These things can be structural devices in themselves.

Finally though the idea of a narration to help guide you through an edit is really good, it's also (dare I say it?) a bit boring and doing good narration in terms of the text itself, tone of voice etc is no easy task in itself - don't know about anyone else but I've seen so many documentaries which have been half ruined by lousy narration. Personally I'd start with the premise of keeping it to a minimum or not using it at all but that is a fairly radical suggestion I admit.
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Old June 6th, 2011, 12:03 PM   #22
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Re: First foray into long form documentary making - tools for structuring?

Hi Ian,

I hope you've found a system that works for your project and are well on your way to completion.

I don't have much to offer in the realm of physical organization, but one thing that might help define the story is to lay out the emotional beats of the material you have, and then decide where to plug that into the overall narrative.

When you look at everything from a purely emotional standpoint (ie: pride, anger, fear, love, hate, concern, victory, defeat, etc..) you might be able to chart and manipulate the emotional values of the entire project and come up something that holds attention by the rising and falling of emotions. Sort of like how books and movies are constructed.

Good luck with the project. It sounds fascinating!
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Old June 6th, 2011, 05:59 PM   #23
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Re: First foray into long form documentary making - tools for structuring?

Everyone's advice has been both fascinating and extremely usable. Thank you ever so much for taking the time.

What I have done (and am still in the process of doing) is as follows:

- Firstly I transcribed all the interviews (roughly, rather than word for word).

- From that I derived a whole bunch of subject headings and short sentences (and, as per John's suggestion today, emotional content) that describe the topics and subtopics I want to cover.

I then assembled, destroyed, reassembled etc a rough structure using an outliner (actually Word, for my sins!). I did start using index cards for this but I found the outliner worked nicely as I could flesh certain bits out with more text or quotes and move those around from subject to subject more easily. The structure is fundamentally a historical timeline from the establishment of the team to it's end with 'breakouts' that explore various aspects of the subject - what it took to be a formation aerobatics pilot in the 50s, why air displays were so popular, technical aspects of formation flying, the dangers, the social side, influential people, important milestones etc etc.

Having firmed up the structure I then started in the NLE (Vegas), using the transcripts of the interviews to group trimmed clips into their rough location in the timeline. Of course I have multiple versions of the same stories and comments from different interviewees, so the stage that I am at now is to whittle the clips down to those which tell the story in the best way. I am also cutting between different people telling parts of the same story, to make it more interesting to watch (rather than one person telling an entire story). Some of these segments include some fantastic tales of near misses and other incidents - they work especially well using multiple narrators - much easier to keep the excitement up.

As I may have mentioned before, this is the story of the team in their own words. The only voiceover in the entire film will be at the beginning, explaining that this is their story, complete with all the embellishments, inaccuracies, contradictions and omissions that you should expect from stories that are more than half a century old. The rest of the film is told ONLY by the pilots (and ground crew and other observers). I think it makes for a more 'honest' film, even if the diehard aviation historians are going to crucify me for some of the contradictions in the narrative! (One question I asked all pilots was 'how long were the displays?' and I got about nine different answers).

I haven't begun deciding which pieces of archive (and contemporary) footage and stills are going to go onto the timeline yet. In fact, that is probably going to be the easier part of the job. I have SO much material and I think I am going to be spoiled for choice.

I'll update you again on progress when I have locked down (sort of) the timeline structure.

Thanks again for all that fabulous advice.

Ian . . .
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Old July 2nd, 2011, 05:10 AM   #24
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Re: First foray into long form documentary making - tools for structuring?

Can't wait to see it!
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Old July 30th, 2011, 11:26 PM   #25
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Re: First foray into long form documentary making - tools for structuring?

Ian, having completed a bi-lingual (French and English) programme a few years back concerning the death of ACM Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory in 1944 which ran only 30 minutes and was all original shoot by me, I can understand your logistics.

The programme was commissioned by the local authority which runs the Museum dedicated to L-M in a hamlet a few thousand feet below the mountains on which he crashed.

I think my task was easier than yours because mine was essentially led by the material itself - it was as much an investigation as a documentary report although it wasn't helped by the RAF's refusal to consider any verdict other than that reached in 1945 - pilot error.

The bit of learning I'd like to pass on is to be able to stand back from your work, regularly. It's so easy to get too close, especially when you're planning the overall structure and strategy and also editing the thing frame by frame. At least you don't have commercial breaks to consider with their demands for hooks, no matter how contrived.
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Old October 13th, 2011, 07:19 PM   #26
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Re: First foray into long form documentary making - tools for structuring?

What's the end market? Broadcast? Home video? I would let the market dictate your length.

Also...always end your production on the early side, and leave your audience wanting more...
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Old October 14th, 2011, 03:23 AM   #27
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Re: First foray into long form documentary making - tools for structuring?

Thanks again to everyone who's chipped in. All useful and interesting contributions. As someone said before, this is one to bookmark for the next time!

Erich, re your comments, as I've mentioned, this is a straight to DVD documentary. I did an informal poll of the several hundred people who have subscribed to be updated, via the website, and of the 127 responses, everyone said more is better. The general feeling is that because this is such a narrow subject, without much choice n the way of alternative documentaries on the same topic, people want as much as they can get of it. I've now locked down the timeline and broken it up into a number of more easily digestible segments so people don't have to watch the whole thing in one sitting.

The meain feature is now a whopping 2 hours (with an additional hour of features). I tested the first cut (which was missing a great deal of archive footage while I was waiting for copyright clearance) with an audience of mixed interests (ie some people who were interested in the subject and some who had no knowledge of it) and the overall feeling was that it was the right length. Only one person (out of 16) said they became bored. This was a 17 year old . . . watching a film about pilots from the 1950s!

I was interested in your comment about leaving the audience wanting more. Can you expand on that? I totally understand the concept in relation to music, theatre, movies, novels, sales pitches, etc, but I'm curious as to how I could achieve that in a history documentary. Leaving them wanting more suggests leaving out part of the story, which doesn't sound like a good strategy to me!

What I am doing, which might be what you mean, is to produce a series of follow up DVDs which contain the unedited interviews with several of the key figures, along with an unedited archive film that has been shown in part in the main documentary. These will likely only be of interest to the diehards so I'm not expecting to retire early.

In closing, I'm now at the process of adding in the remaining archive material and then I start the fine cut, tidying up, graphics, titles etc. I am hoping to have this released for Christmas.

Thanks again for everyone's comments.
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Old December 17th, 2012, 12:12 PM   #28
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Re: First foray into long form documentary making - tools for structuring?

Ian we were reading is ready:
where can we see th preview?
;)
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Old December 17th, 2012, 12:37 PM   #29
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Re: First foray into long form documentary making - tools for structuring?

Hi Marcus! Yep, it's finally released! Had some great reviews as well as great feedback from people who have bought it. There's a trailer and more info here: The Story of the Black Arrows

It took me another ten months to finally get it released in September 2012 (yeah, I kinda missed Christmas 2011!). There were copyright issues which I needed to overcome. It did give me the opportunity to squeeze in another interview with a former team member who was over from Australia and also during that extra time a load of new material surfaced from the attic of one of the pilots.

If I knew two years ago what I know now about how to go about making a film such as this I would have done some things differently. The key thing would have been to ALWAYS have a small crew at the interviews rather than trying to do it all myself. I had to work with some less than great footage and audio, which was disappointing, caused by me not being able to keep an eye on everything at once. In an ideal world and given a decent budget I would have also shot it on a much better camera. With the profits from the film I bought a Panasonic AF101 and some nice lenses. Wish I'd had it earlier!

Looking back on my posts from 18 months ago I realise that how I ended up making the film was a mash up of many bits of advice from many people. Some of it was useful, some less so. I guess one of the most important things is to make sure that you plan your work then work your plan, but don't be so rigid as to not correct your course if needed. The other thing that is of paramount importance - just do it! Getting started is the hardest part.
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Old December 22nd, 2012, 05:55 AM   #30
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Re: First foray into long form documentary making - tools for structuring?

Ian glad to hear the odissey is over and ready!
Thin i'm buying a copy
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