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Old March 23rd, 2002, 10:45 AM   #1
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Can it be done

I would like to pose this question to the DV community, and also ask, can it be done in digital "XL1S". I am at the very beginning stages ( thinking ) of doing a documentary on our water ways here in the chain of lakes (Central Florida). Since WW II engineering changes were made to the greatest fishing lakes in florida and now they are near death with even alligators dying at increasing rates. The learning curve and the mass of such a project is overwhelming. I have knowledge of where the information is but I am a little apprehensive to start the project because of it's shear size. I have an idea of what the outline would be. Is a guideline available, have you ever shot such a project. I guess I am asking if you think a reasonably smart but inexperienced individual trying to create such a project would be successfull. Do you have any words of wisdom to offer. My end goal is Discovery or TLC channel. I also have a very small budget and at this time no one but myself to create this. Do I stand a chance??
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Old March 23rd, 2002, 11:37 AM   #2
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Some words of advice.

First, don't worry about the camera. The short answer to "can it be done with the XL1S." The answer is yes. Documentaries of this type are done all the time on DV camcorders like the XL1S. Last year, Showtime ran a documentary called "Outwitting Hitler" shot entirely on DV. Stuff shot on DV is aired all the time. So don't worry about the camera. Forget about it; that's not your biggest concern. Don't focus on the camera, it's just a tool and it won't make or break you.

As to your project; the first step and the hardest thing to do and also the least expensive step in the process is: sit down with pen and paper and outline exactly how your documentary will flow. What you want to do is, first, develop a one-paragraph synopsis of your project. State your goals in one short paragraph. Okay, that's your mission statement in a nutshell. Next, expand that statement into a three or four page document that describes your project in some detail. This is your treatment. Somebody should be able to read this and see exactly what your project is about. That mission-statement paragraph you wrote earlier is the introduction to your treatment. When you shop this thing around looking for locations and interviews and support, the treatment is what you show to people so they know what you're doing and what you're all about.

Okay, now you need to develop an outline, and this is the real meat of your project. The outline covers everything that's going into your documentary. Do this on index cards first, one card per item in your outline. Put the cards in order as you go. Along the way you can fill in and mix and re-order as you see fit. What you're developing here is a "paper cut" in a non-linear fashion so that you can easily re-order things until you feel it's complete and have things the way you want them so that it makes sense. Now you'll translate this series of index cards into a word processor on your computer in outline format. You'll still change things here and there but it's the rough outline from which you develop your shooting script. You might have to hone things down to keep the target run time to about an hour (or thirty minutes or whatever).

Your shooting script comes out of your outline and it can be as simple as a shot-by-shot list of all the things you need to get on video. Along with the shooting script you'll also develop a location list and a list of people you need to interview (prepare release forms for each person and location). You'll also prepare a list of charts or graphics you'll need to incorporate along the way. You're not actually preparing those graphics; just a *list* of what you need.

It's important to visualize in your mind exactly how you want this to flow. Look over your shot list and imagine it finished and playing in your head, how long each shot should be, what kind of cutaways do you show during interviews, etc. Read your shot list and imagine seeing every single second of it. Does it make sense? What else do you need to show? What should you take out etc.

This is how you get your "paper cut" and it represents the laborius, exhaustive pre-production process before you ever roll any video. It's the process of getting your ideas down on paper and filling in all the details so that you have a well-constructed plan of action before you start spending any real money. It's how you develop your shooting script.

You might want to consider aiming at local and regional broadcast instead of Discovery and TLC. Generally speaking, channels like Discovery will deal only with experienced, professional production crews and generally most of their programming is their own idea. There are numerous other outlets available to you; you'll want to explore those as well. Good luck,
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Last edited by Chris Hurd; March 23rd, 2002 at 11:49 AM.
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Old March 23rd, 2002, 01:25 PM   #3
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Timely Advice

Chris, you must be reading my mind! About an hour ago I had a hair brained idea to do a documentary, something I've never even considered attempting before (must be spending too much time on this board). I was thinking about what to include in an outline, to organize ideas to use as a guide when it came time to start shooting video and your response has been very helpful.

Thanks!
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Old March 23rd, 2002, 02:00 PM   #4
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Ah. When I was in film school at UT-Austin in the early '90's, I took some C&I and EFP video production courses from Dr. Ira Abrams, a noted producer for the PBS Nova series. Sometimes class notes just tend to stick with you over the years, especially from instructors like him. My "advice" is just some school-learning being passed on... I didn't invent that technique or anything.
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Old March 23rd, 2002, 02:59 PM   #5
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Thanks Chris, I actually have started an outline somewhat as you described, and I have a good idea of how I want the flow of the project to move. I will use your suggestions for the pen and paper script style layout. Is there a document, book, or guideline somewhere available for such a project. How much of your life (time) would you allow this project to take. How many people would you let assist you without loosing control. Where does the bulk of cost occur. Do you think it can be done with Pinnacle studio DV 7 or similar program. I already have someone experienced in editing DV audio to clean the audio up. I know that these may seem like subjective questions, but sometimes a person needs other opinions to balance there own estimates.
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Old March 23rd, 2002, 07:01 PM   #6
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Before even starting on an outline just research, research, research. You'll be surprised how many interesting stories will pop up when you really begin to research the topic with a visual documentary in mind. Unlike a written document that can be sustained with data and charts, a video documentary needs people and action to thrust it forward. Look for people who not only have something to say but who also have a lot to do and show.

Try reading John McPhee's "The Control of Nature." His style of writing was very helpful to me in the 1980s when I was producing similar documentaries. He bases his stories around people and their actions. In Control of Nature, among other topics, he talks about controling the Mississippi River. He researches his stories based on colorful but relevant characters. He's not a documentary filmaker, just non-fiction writer, but we can learn much from his approach.
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Old March 24th, 2002, 04:50 AM   #7
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If alligators, and the lakes themselves, are dying...then rest assured somebody in that area is working to right the situation, either through their job or through their passion.

Plan on doing some legwork to find the people who've been dealing with this problem for a long time and who have the info you need. If you convince them that you want to support their efforts on film, they'll talk and show you around...and then there you go. You've got material.

And don't forget...tape is relatively cheap. So take your camera along even when you're out searching for leads. You never know what'll crop up. And don't forget to take along plenty of releases.

(Ozzie...looks like you and I submitted similar answers almost simultaneously. Your post wasn't there when I started to respond. Great minds think alike?)
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Old March 24th, 2002, 07:14 PM   #8
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Ozzie was very right, the peoples stories and info are falling into my hands faster than I can write. At this point, information is coming in so fast that I can only record the source and location of information rather than the story itself. To give you an idea of what several phone calls and some research have netted. The first alteration to the chain began at the mother lake 1888, army corp of eng. An old boss began a campaign to save the lakes in 1962. His son gave me the paperwork. A study in europe says a 1947 hurricane destroyed the lake. In the early 1940's the federal government created farms on the lake to feed the troops in WW II. I found friends of Lake Apopka , a group dedicated to the lake. The locals say in 1970 some country boys tried to blow up the 5 locks that they say have stoped the natural breathing of the chain. An old friends grandfather started a live bait company that serviced the lake in the 50's, they are saying it was the greatest bass fishing lake in all FLorida. Soil samples, 1950s air photo's. etc. Add to this the current move to dismantle the Rodman Damn that is a huge political battle and engineering project.

The following link is what happened during the recovery effort

http://www.jacksonville.com/tu-online/stories/022799/met_2a1apopk.html

In case the link doesn't work just search "Lake Apopka tragedy"

I am a research freak, took 3 years to decide what harley to buy, rode it 9 months. I have only hinted of this project and it is exploding in front of me.
Thanks to all who have given advice, I am listening and will continue, Any of you live in Florida??

I can't wait to try and find a few seniors who grew/lived/worked the lake and get their stories.
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Old March 24th, 2002, 07:27 PM   #9
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Hmmm... This is becoming a fascinating story...and it's only a few days old (here).
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Old March 26th, 2002, 11:30 AM   #10
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isn't this being taken care of

http://www.nytimes.com/2002/03/26/science/earth/26EVER.html
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Old March 30th, 2002, 06:21 PM   #11
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Hi Central Florida,

I live in Palm Harbor and have some expierence with documentaries and consevation work. If your looking for help with production or post-production let me know. I've done work for the Nature Conservency, New Jersey Audubon and several smaller, local conservation groups.

Good luck.

Jeff
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Old March 30th, 2002, 07:52 PM   #12
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Jeff, At this point it would be great to have help, I find myself having to learn so much that I am taking a step backward everyday. feel free to email me using the link below my post. I would be interested in talking with you.
thanks
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Old April 14th, 2002, 09:03 AM   #13
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You have definately discovered my favorite tool for new projects- Sounding it out with various peers, and this is the right place. The people here are experienced and helpful, and very diverse.

While it is unlikely that any two people will have the same vision, that is what makes it so useful to me. After expessing an idea or vision, I ask several friends with various backgrounds for their ideas or opinions. Sometimes they help curb odd tangents, or give a new angle that I might have overlooked.

You already have the basic premise of the project, as well as the final destination or market. Other points to consider might be:
- TLC or Discovery's interest in such a documentary, and what length the final version should be.
- A list of resources- local fishers, schools that are doing research in that area, or may have already been there. You even mentioned the Army Corp. of Engineers, a very credible source for info.
-Airboat tours of the area might help find footage.
-What graphics you might need or want.

After a bit, you will have a better idea of what you will use, and what you won't. It's like a puzzle, it either fits, or it doesn't.
Best wishes from the Space Coast,
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Old April 14th, 2002, 03:58 PM   #14
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Thanks Keith, The graphics end is another world altogether. I have invisioned some old indian drawings and sketchs of times when no photos existed and I admit graphics will be a whole new department of the creation. I also have old aerial photo's in the works, how to transfer them into a video will be another learning point. It is good to see you are in Florida though? At this point the project has slowed because I have to visualize the entire project before creating it. The written treatment is changing as the outline has evolved from animal deaths to a timeline of man changing the eco system and the fight to undue the damage. A big problem is that I Have not fully committed to such a project for fear of failure. I also have a fear that I would enjoy it so much and want it to succeed so bad that I would begin making big sacrifices to see it through. I hope that does not sound wrong but I have limited resources and such a huge failure would be painful. The project however is still going forward. Thanks for the post, everything learned is applied.
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Old April 14th, 2002, 05:21 PM   #15
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Being creative is the funnest part of any project :) Figuring out how to do it is the challenge. Actually pulling it off is the reward.
And yes, I am in Palm Bay Fl.
Keith
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