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Old January 2nd, 2009, 09:46 PM   #1
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Too many questions - not enough time

Hi,

I know practically nothing about video production. Not even home videos. I need to video tape interviews with several people who will probably not be with us for very much longer, so I don't have a lot of time to practice or to learn by trial and error. I'll be doing the interviews myself, so the camera will have to operate with only periodic monitoring. I assume that I'll have to shoot several different perspectives and rely on editing to make them coherent. The raw footage must be good enough quality for use in a TV documentary. I know this sounds crazy, but please indulge me. I have a very broad background in desktop publishing and am confident that I can work out storyboards and master enough proficiency in video editing to do what I have in mind. It's getting the raw material before it is gone that I'm most concerned with right now, and that means starting almost immediately. I will have to carry all equipment with me and will travel from coast to coast, often by air. Since this is an unfunded project, cost is a concern at every stage. I'd welcome advice on what kind of camera, sound and lighting systems are feasible on a shoestring budget. These sessions will all be sit-down one-on-one informal discussions where the captured raw footage will later be used in relatively brief segments interleaved with other story elements. Any thoughts from you folks with experience and an adventurous spirit?

Wayne

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Old January 2nd, 2009, 09:50 PM   #2
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Define "shoe string budget".
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Old January 2nd, 2009, 10:12 PM   #3
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budget

Thanks for your quick reply,

Let's say $1,000 for the sake of discussion. I'm not looking for a versatile camera with bells and whistles. Just want to capture simple straight forward video that preferably will interface with a Macintosh computer without tedious conversions.

Wayne
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Old January 2nd, 2009, 10:22 PM   #4
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Hi Wayne,

First off, Happy New Year!

From reading your post, I do have to say that you may have too many things on your plate. Like Mitchell, there are quite alot of (initial) questions I'd like to ask you:

1. What do you intend to do with the interviews? You mentioned a TV documentary, but does that mean PBS documentary, cable show-style documentaries (History Channel, TLC, Discovery, Nat Geo, etc.?), or something else? (Your end result may dictate the type of equipment you eventually buy/use.)

2. Do you intend to conduct the interviews yourself? Many folks here do solo interviews all the time. But they've also "perfected" their skills thru practice (and kind advice from forum members) over the years. I myself am very lucky to have a wife patiently hold the boom pole :)

3. Regarding your "shoe string budget": considering the subjects you will be interviewing. You said that they may not be around for much longer. If this is the case, wouldn't you want to capture their (quite possibly last) interview the best way possible? I'm not saying getting the best and latest equipment, but I'm also saying do get equipment that's been proven and reliable. In which case, you may have to spend more than you thought for quality equipment.

These are just a few questions. Your post was intriguing cause back in September, we interviewed older musicians, singers, friends, and relatives who had recorded at the Norman Petty Studios with Buddy Holly. These folks were kind enough to sit and talk to us. At times we thought we'd get a 2 minute sound bite, but ended up with a 30 min. or more interview! I soon ran out of miniDV tapes, but thank God Wal Mart was nearby.

Best,
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Old January 2nd, 2009, 10:30 PM   #5
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Hi Wayne,

Just a few really simple thoughts.

A camera that records good audio is a must.

You probably have read up on basic interview lighting. An inexpensive light you might want to consider is the litepanel micro. I think it's usually shown mounted on a camera but doesn't have to be. Nice and lightweight, easy to pack, decent little key light. Check it out at Litepanels Micro at DVcreators.net

For fast interviews a lapel mic is your best bet on sound. you've probably noticed it can get a tad overwhelming looking through the audio forum here for the "best mic for the money" but it is still your best resource. My only advice there is to spend more than you planned on a better lav. You'll be so glad you did.

Best wishes to you.
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Old January 2nd, 2009, 10:45 PM   #6
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Thanks Jeff, Happy New Year to you as well!

I do not have a specific end user at this point, but would guess that a cable show-style documentary would be most likely. I will be capturing memories of WWII veterans that can and will be used in a variety of projects. I will be working alone, so yes I will conduct the interview myself - though I will seldom be on camera. The interviewed subject will not be a discreet "program" but will rather provide source material for clips within a broader editorial scheme. Yes, I do want to capture the best quality possible within reason. Nth degree is not a goal, but clear usable copy is. I would shoot everything with a tripod and with outboard microphones. Lighting would always be controlled. The issue of tape vs. internal hard drive seems to come up in discussions. I would think that the hard drive would be preferable and I could download via firewire to my Mac laptop pretty easily.

From the discussions about cameras that I have read, it seems like some of the newer HD camcorders in the $1,000 street price range would produce pretty decent quality, but I don't know enough about it to be able to sort the wheat from the chaff, which is why I asked here.
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Old January 3rd, 2009, 02:01 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Wayne G. Sayles View Post
it seems like some of the newer HD camcorders in the $1,000 street price range would produce pretty decent quality, but I don't know enough about it to be able to sort the wheat from the chaff...
As long as you stick with the four major manufacturers (Sony, Panasonic, Canon, JVC), you really can't go wrong. There's no such thing as a bad camera choice at this level. You need mainly to decide on tape vs. tapeless (that is, HDV vs. AVCHD). Make sure that Image Stabilisation is turned off when shooting from a tripod. Set the camcorder's image controls to Auto everything, and concentrate on properly framing each shot and getting the best audio you can.

Audio will be ultimately more important than video. Your final production will alleviate the "talking heads" visual aspect by using a lot of inserts, cutaways, etc., but your audio will carry the whole thing so that must be your main concern. Don't skimp on your mic -- get a good one, get a good pair of headphones to monitor your audio, and don't record anything without using them.
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Old January 3rd, 2009, 09:20 AM   #8
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Wayne,

You might find this reference useful:

http://www.loc.gov/vets/pdf/thewar-fieldkit-2007.pdf

It was a guide for people capturing interviews for use in the Ken Burns documentary about WWII called "The War'

For more info about the series you can go here:

THE WAR | PBS

Good luck with your project, sounds fun.

Lloyd
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Old January 3rd, 2009, 10:07 AM   #9
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Wayne

I have absolutely NO experience with desktop publishing. None, zero, zilch. But I want to buy a copy Illustrator, and Photoshop and create a compelling coffee table book from start to finish all about WW2 that will sell on the newstands and bookstores - I want to wind up with a file I can take to a publishing house say Time Warner, and they will be able to simply take the file and run off a million copies and sell it on the newstands. Oh yes, I want to do this for $1,000 dollars, all by myself. No hiring photographers, layout artists, writers or graphic illustrators. I simply can't afford them and I don't have the time to do it.

Theres an old saying in production (and most other businesses as well) - "Fast, Cheap, or Good - Pick any two."

You are talking about getting something REALLY important, done quickly on an extremely low budget. Something is likely going to have to give. Decide what you are willing to compromise on, or be flexible about.

Yes, any of the $1,000 consumer cams will capture a decent shot, IF it's well lit and you have EXCELLENT audio. "Content is King" is another phrase you will hear. This means if the interviews you are shooting are absolutely amazing, totally compelling and one-of-a-kind footage, then they will be used by someone even if they are shot on a cell phone. But content will be structured as much by HOW you conduct the interview, as well as what the vets say. Interviews skills are extremely important.

Camera skills, audio skills, interview skills, lighting skills, editing skills, graphics skills -There is a reason that documentaries are produced with 'crews' of experienced people. Yes, I know it can be done solo - I've done it. But I have years and years of professional production experience. And I HATE doing it solo, because I know I'm making compromises and something is suffering.

What is your primary goal here? Is it capturing footage for posterity? Fine - I think you can probably handle that with any decent camera put on a tripond and turned on "Auto" - assuming you understand how to frame. With a lot of luck, some good lighting, assuming the sound is passable and you capture some sort of compelling lifetime confession - it will be usable by someone else as part of their programming.

If your goal here is to create a finished, polished piece to shop around to cable and network sources -your setting your sights pretty high.

Read through the documentary forum here, for tips on solo interviews. Ditto the travelling light kits, and 'best mic to buy' threads.

As others have said, perfect audio will be absolutely essential - without it, you have nothing usable. With poor video - you will still have a great audio track that you can repurpose for radio or behind B-roll.

As you said, you have too many questions, and not enough time for answers to all of them. If this material is so compelling, my advice is to dig deep, and get the money to do it right. The final material will be worth it, and probably pay for itself many times over. If the material is more mundane - sort of 'potential archival' stuff that might be usefull to someone somewhere at a later date - then take a consumer cam on the road, do your best and hope for the best.

Good luck
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Old January 3rd, 2009, 10:44 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Wayne G. Sayles View Post
The raw footage must be good enough quality for use in a TV documentary. I know this sounds crazy, but please indulge me.
Yep, sounds crazy.

Not only must you concern yourself with getting up to speed on how the camera works, what framing to use, how to light it, how to mic it, how to shoot successful cutaways... all the while maintaining minimum broadcast standards with no background in professional videomaking. How about interview technique? This is learned through doing, not reading.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Wayne G. Sayles View Post
I assume that I'll have to shoot several different perspectives and rely on editing to make them coherent.
The job of a camera operator/videographer is to provide the editor with what they need to tell a story successfully. It isn't the job of an editor to take "whatever the shooter gives him/her" and turn it into something useful.

At VERY least, grab a student from a local community college with some training to help with the technical aspects of this. I'm sure that there would be many willing to work on something like this for credit, if the college is willing to make this a sanctioned project.

Again, I apologize if this isn't what you want to hear but if the stories are worth telling, they are worth telling right. Truly, best of luck and I hope that the end project does this participants justice.
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Last edited by Shaun Roemich; January 3rd, 2009 at 11:03 AM. Reason: Consideration of CH's wise and sage advice
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Old January 3rd, 2009, 11:01 AM   #11
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Originally Posted by Shaun Roemich View Post
The complete lack of respect for the important stories of your subjects is all I see here.
Whoa -- I don't think that's called for, and it's certainly not in the spirit of DV Info Net. From the first day I started this forum, the primary tenet has been to always assume that the efforts of others who post here are done in good faith (unless proven otherwise, of course). The fact that Wayne is doing this project at all, especially without a significant budget as an enticement, is proof enough that he has respect for the subject matter (the alternative of not doing the project at all is a far worse outcome).

Let's keep it technical & creative please -- I'm not going to allow this to go down any other road. There are other community sites which specialize in dragging down others, but not this one. Let's keep the proceedings at the highest possible level, and always assume the best intentions of our fellows. Thanks in advance,
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Old January 3rd, 2009, 11:26 AM   #12
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Upon perusal of Wayne's bio which is available from his listed site, I must concede that Wayne has a storied history with the forces and has written as a biographer so I have no reservations about his ability to tell an important story. My sole remaining "concerns" are about ensuring the highest possible quality on the available budget. My apologies to Wayne personally.

Again, I do honestly believe that the "recruitment" of someone with the "necessary" technical and creative skills to do these stories full justice would serve this project well. Again, Wayne, good luck with the project and I sincerely hope that any and all assistance you require avails itself to you.

Sincerely,
Shaun C. Roemich
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Old January 3rd, 2009, 11:55 AM   #13
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Thanks to all for the helpful tips. I'm leaning toward a Sony HDR-SR11 or SR12, which are selling right now at very low prices but seem to be excellent cameras. I have not been able to figure out how important the extra 60Gigs of memory in the SR12 are because I don't know how long one can shoot at the highest quality image settings with the internal 60 gigs of an SR11. Other than that, the cameras are apparently identical. Does that seem to be a reasonable camera for my stated project? I'm guessing that my sessions would be no more than an hour long and I could download data to my laptop between sessions. The other question I have is how long would a 60gb download take via USB? According to the specs that I've seen the SR-11 and 12 do not have a firewire port.
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Old January 3rd, 2009, 12:10 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by Shaun Roemich View Post
My sole remaining "concerns" are about ensuring the highest possible quality on the available budget.

Again, I do honestly believe that the "recruitment" of someone with the "necessary" technical and creative skills to do these stories full justice would serve this project well.
-------

I agree completely with Shaun and I have the highest respect for the people that I will be interviewing. I was involved with a group of people who do have technical expertise and were seeking grants to do this. While this process ground on with excruciating slowness, three people that I would have interviewed have died. I can't wait for someone who can do it better. I will have to interview these people in their homes with the least intrusive setup possible and a crew is simply out of the question. One vet has, for example, invited me to stay in their home with them for a week long shoot of short interviews. I could not do this with a team. Remember, these people are all in their 90s or close to it.

BTW, I did take Shaun's comments constructively.
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Old January 3rd, 2009, 12:30 PM   #15
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According to the specs that I've seen the SR-11 and 12 do not have a firewire port.
Those are tapeless AVCHD camcorders, Wayne, therefore no FireWire. But they do have USB2. FireWire is only on tape-based HDV camcorders. You might want to consider an AVCHD camcorder that records to removeable SDHC flash memory cards (no moving parts, quieter) instead of a hard drive.
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