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Old March 2nd, 2016, 07:06 PM   #1
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Join Date: Nov 2010
Location: Chicago
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Any advice for filming characters who speak different language?

Howdy peeps!

I've got a really exciting job coming up where I will be traveling overseas with a director to shoot a documentary on foreign soil. I have done plenty of doc work before, but this will actually be the first time I am put in a position where I will be following 4-5 characters for several weeks and having them talk in a foreign language. I believe this will be particularly challenging because it will be hard to know how to frame shots and judge when its important to roll the camera and when it is not. For instance, one of the characters may be spilling her life story, which is something I would certainly want to record on camera. On the other hand, many of the characters might only talk gibberish small talk. To me as a foreigner, I will not be able to distinguish other than by looking for visual cues such as reactions, emotions, etc.

My question before I embark on this project is, any quick tips people can lend regarding following characters around who speak a different language? Any tools of the trade, or things to look out for? Just wondering how others have tackled this challenge.

Thank you!
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Old March 2nd, 2016, 11:27 PM   #2
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Location: Brandon, England
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Re: Any advice for filming characters who speak different language?

Either a crash course in each language you are likely to encounter or interpreters. Or maybe get a Star Trek universal translator chip fitted? :-D

Dave Baker is offline   Reply With Quote
Old March 3rd, 2016, 12:26 AM   #3
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Re: Any advice for filming characters who speak different language?

I don't shoot documentaries like you do but I shoot documentary style weddings, I had a few weddings the past years where everyone spoke French which I don't understand, only my client (the weddingcouple) spoke my language but once at the wedding everyone spoke French. I even have been hired by a french weddingplanner who spoke very bad English and that was our only form of communication and the entire wedding was French speaking so I have been in the same situation as you will be.

To be honest, from now on I won't accept these other language weddings anymore, like you said, there is no way of knowing what they say and if it has any meaning and the rail pain starts when you edit, my wife is fluent in French so I constantly had to ask her what they where saying or what parts in a conversation to use.

The only thing you can do is to keep the camera rolling as long as you can or ask your director to give you a signal when something important is being said but If you ask me, if you do documentary you shouldn't accept a job where you don't understand what they are saying unless you have someone with you that can guide you and tells you what and how to shoot and if someone does the edit that understands the language.
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