WASHINGTON, DC, 17 November 2013 – So you’ve finished the production stage of your documentary. You’ve got a pile of media in the hard drive. And you’re looking at a blank time line. Now what?
Every filmmaker devises his/her own system for the post-production stage of the process, but here’s what I’ve found to be most effective for me: Watch the material – in real time. While you watch, begin to pull material down to the timeline in the order that YOU THINK it will appear in the final product. Forget about transitions. Don’t worry about trimming the clips. For right now, just get the images down on the timeline in the approximate order that you think they should appear in the final product. Construct a visual story.
By watching and listening, you’ll find out what you REALLY have, especially regarding sound, in terms of raw material. I’ve come back from shoots to be disappointed with material I expected to be great. But I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how unexpectedly good other material is. So you don’t really know what you have until you see it and listen to it.
As you pull clips down to the timeline, put your most powerful images at the beginning. You have a painfully short period of time to engage your audience, either emotionally or intellectually, with your documentary. So put the best stuff at the beginning and then back into the rest of the story if you have to.
While you watch and listen, transcribe the material and begin writing the script and treatment. Transcribing the material gives you a much deeper sense of what you have than you would without transcribing. Writing the script forces you to match visuals with sound. If the script includes narration, this process forces you to articulate the story as you go along.
Nothing, and I mean nothing, can take the place of a script that you can read, edit, and understand what fits and what doesn’t fit. With a script you can see an entire paragraph of a character’s actuality. And you can decide, for example, which sentence to take out, if need be. You can’t do that without seeing a written document. Or at least I can’t.
Once you get through watching and listening, go back to the Controlling Idea. Keep re-visiting that idea, or construct a new idea if the old one doesn’t fit your material. Then work the material to your satisfaction.
WASHINGTON, DC, 3 November 2013 — Check out these Rules for Interviewing as part of the documentary film making process. Click HERE.
WASHINGTON, DC, 6 October 2013 –One of the most frequently asked questions I got from the men and women participating in my recent Backpack Video Journalism Workshop in Tbilisi, capital of the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, is: “What kind of camera should I use?” (See http://www.trust.org/item/20131003112356-8kley/?source=hpblogs)
And my answer in Tbilisi, or anywhere, is always the same: “Which ever camera best fits your specific needs and your budget.”
Earlier this year I took on an assignment for American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies (CLALS). My task was to document the work of one researcher engaged in the Center’s project on religion and violence in the region. The researcher is Robert Brenneman, author of the highly acclaimed book, “Homies + Hermanos: God and Gangs in Central America.” An Assistant Professor of Sociology at St. Michael’s College in Colchester, Vermont, Brenneman returned to Guatemala in January 2013 to conduct a follow-up to his book-related research.
Sadly, Guatemala now is one of the most violent countries in the world. It’s a violence fed by staggering inequities that breed homicide, extortion and drug trafficking. It’s not the kind of place where you want to flaunt expensive camera equipment – especially at night when, by the nature of my work, I knew I would have to work.
So I took two cameras, a main and a secondary.
The main camera is the Panasonic AG-HMC150. (See http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/575992-REG/Panasonic_AG_HMC150PJU_AG_HMC150_AVCCAM_Camcorder.html)
This is a high-quality, hand-held camera with everything you need to generate professional, documentary-style films. With two XLR inputs for directional as well as wireless microphones, the HMC150 is versatile and easy to use. And unlike the Sony EX-1 (http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/758895-REG/Sony_PMW_EX1R_2_PMW_EX1R_XDCAM_EX_Full.html) it is easy to handle. And it costs about half the price of the Sony camera.
My secondary camera was the Sony Alpha SLT-A77 DSLR with a variable focal length lens. (See http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/817858-REG/Sony_SLT_A77V_SLT_A77_Digital_Camera_Body.html).
This camera was perfect for night-time shooting when sound was not a critical factor and when safety was an important factor.
I have two main issues with any HDSLR camera. The first is that they don’t have the sound-acquiring functionality that regular video cameras do. I know you can rig up special sound gear and two XLR imputs to these cameras, but I think this somewhat defeats the purpose of carrying around a compact camera in the first place. Having said that, with a small directional microphone mounted on top of the camera and some understanding of how to use the microphone to acquire decent sound, the camera worked just fine for me.
Check out the latter parts of these two films I shot on that Guatemala assignment. Titled, “The Gangs,” the first film includes a sequence at the very end showing a slum in Guatemala City that I shot with the Sony Alpha SLT-A77. I didn’t want to be running around a slum, where people are so poor and their needs are so great, with a full-blown video camera. The little Sony worked fine. You can see the film here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eu2gRjMyacc
Same thing with the second film, titled “The Researcher.” Brenneman and I had to visit a church in a pretty sketchy part of town and I didn’t want to lug around a big video camera, especially at night. See the film here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E3wnOfHQemY
The second issue that I have with the HDSLRs is that I find it difficult to get a smooth zoom out of them. Not that I zoom a lot, but when I do I want the zoom to look smooth.
Getting back to the original point, pick your cameras for how best they fit your specific needs and your budget. And never be in a big rush to buy equipment, because in six months it might be out of date. If you have to buy, make sure you have an assignment to cover it.
Good luck and stay safe.
6 October 2013
TBILISI, Georgia, 27 September 2013 — Participants in my Backpack Video Journalism Workshop bear down to finish their projects on the last day of our five-day marathon on how to make documentaries for television and the Internet. The Thomson Reuters Foundation sponsored the event, one of the most gratifying I’ve ever done. Participants came not only from Georgia, but also from other countries in the region. At the far end of the table in the blue shirt is Timothy Large, a Thomson Reuters staff trainer and manager based in London. He was key to the workshop’s success.
TBILISI, Georgia, 25 September 2013 — One of the participants in my Backpack Video Journalism Workshop, Hasmik Harutyunyan, poses with the make-up artist of the Armenian Theater in Tbilisi. He is one of a handful of people trying to keep alive the tradition of the 150-year-old structure, which has been awaiting reconstruction now for a number of years. Sponsored by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, I’m in Tbilisi teaching journalists from across the region how to make documentaries for television and the Internet. I have terrific students.
(Photo by Bill Gentile.)
WASHINGTON, DC, 16 September 2013 — Esther and I received notice this morning that our film, “THROUGH THEIR EYES” has been selected to participate at the 23rd edition of the London Latin American Film Festival which will take place at BOLIVAR HALL, UNIVERSITY COLLEGE LONDON /INSTITUTE OF THE AMERICAS and at other venues across London from 15 to 24 November 2013.
The London Latin American Film Festival is a cultural event dedicated to showcase the best of contemporary Latin American cinema in London, awarding the Audience Award and providing a platform for the distribution and sales of the films.
Esther and I are very, very proud of this.
WASHINGTON, DC, 21 August 2013 — I’ve posted the three films on God and gangs in Guatemala on YouTube. You can find them here:
I. The Gangs
II. The Researcher
III. The Pastor
I hope you enjoy them.
ST. PETERSBURG, Russia, 2 August 2013 — This is the last round of talks at the 4th meeting of the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission (BPC) Sub-Group on Mass Media. I had the privilege to be invited to the event, which took place in this city, rich in history and culture.
It was on this day that I presented on â€œcitizen journalism,â€ one component of what we refer to as â€œbackpack video journalism.â€ I defined backpack video journalism, in its purest form, as such:
Backpack video journalism is the craft of one properly trained practitioner using a hand-held digital video camera to tell character-driven stories in a more immediate, more intimate fashion than is achievable using a conventional, shoulder-held camera and a team that includes camera person, sound person, correspondent and producer. It intends to impact public opinion by participating in the dialogue that we call journalism. Because of changes in the technology used to create journalism, changes in methods of content delivery to the audience, and economic pressures to streamline news-gathering costs, video journalism has arrived as an alternative process for creating documentary-style narrative journalism.
Though Russian media employ video, its use does not seem to have permeated the culture as much as it has in the United States. Perhaps this is a function of the fact that the Russian culture is so steeped in literature.
For my presentation, I pulled some statistics from YouTube to impress on the attendants the ubiquitous nature of video in American, and other, cultures. Check out these numbers, which I read to the delegation:
- More than 1 billion unique users visit YouTube each month
- Over 6 billion hours of video are watched each month on YouTubeâ€”that’s almost an hour for every person on Earth, and 50% more than last year
- 100 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute
- 70% of YouTube traffic comes from outside the US
- YouTube is localized in 56 countries and across 61 languages
- According to Nielsen, YouTube reaches more US adults ages 18-34 than any cable network
- Millions of subscriptions happen each day, and the number of people subscribing has more than doubled since last year.
To drive home the points I made during the presentation, I screened two pieces made by Cuban students during one of my video journalism workshops in Havana, during fall semester 2011. You can see the videos here:
These two films cut straight to the heart of why we filmmakers do what we do. We do it because of an insatiable need to communicate. To connect. To Create. To share. To have an impact. And video is increasingly the medium with which citizens of the world choose to do so.
Because of the deep historical, economic and political ties between the former Soviet Union and Cuba, I feel the films resonated deeply with our Russian hosts, who proved to be extraordinarily gracious and generous. I am forever thankful to them for a deeply gratifying visit.
(Photo by Bill Gentile.)
ST. PETERSBURG, Russia, 1 August 2013 â€“ Following the first and second sessions of the 4th meeting of the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission (BPC) Sub-Group on Mass Media, our Russian hosts took us to the Peterhof Summer Palace State Museum.
The U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission (BPC) is the premier forum between the U.S. and Russia to strengthen relations with each respective government and society.Â President Obama and President Medvedev established the BPC in July 2009 to reset U.S.-Russia relations and engage the Russian government to pursue foreign policy goals of common interest for the American and Russian people.
(Photos by Bill Gentile.)
ST. PETERSBURG, Russia, 1 August 2013 â€“ This is the opening session of the 4th meeting of the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission (BPC) Sub-Group on Mass Media, which took place in St. Petersburg, Russia. During two days of meetings, we discussed citizen journalism, journalism education and training, and media coverage/perceptions of Russia and the United States. Past U.S. delegates have hailed from prominent media organizations, academia, and journalism non-governmental organizations.
U.S. delegates this year were:
Elizabeth Ballantine has been a director of the McClatchy Company since March 1998.Â Ms. Ballantine was a director of Cowles Media Company, a position she had held since 1993. Since 1999, Ms. Ballantine has been president of EBA Associates, a consulting firm, and an Adjunct Professor of Russian history at The George Washington University.Â From 1993 to 1999, she was an attorney in the Washington, D.C. law firm of Dickstein, Shapiro, Morin and Oshinsky LLP. From 1990 until 1993, she worked as a private consultant advising clients on international business investments. Ms. Ballentine sits on the Board of Directors of the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ).
Joyce Barnathan is the President of the International Center for Journalists, a non-profit organization that advances quality journalism in the digital era.Â She is also on the Steering Committee of the Global Forum for Media Development, a network of 500 media assistance organizations that support the development of independent media. Previously, Barnathan served as the executive editor, Global Franchise, for BusinessWeek.
Charles Bierbauer has been dean of the College of Mass Communications and Information Studies, University ofÂ South Carolina, since it was created in 2002.Â From 1981-2001, Bierbauer was a correspondent for CNN in Washington, and during the years of 1977 through 1981, he was an overseas correspondent for ABC News, first as Moscow Bureau Chief and later as the Bonn Bureau chief. Bierbauer worked in Vienna, Bonn, London and Philadelphia for Westinghouse Broadcasting, and was a free-lance reporter in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, in 1968-69 while on an Edward R. Murrow Fellowship.
Scott Brauer is a photojournalist whose clients and publications include The New York Times, Fader magazine, the Wall Street Journal, Time Asia, Thatâ€™s Shanghai, Epsilon (Greece), Vision magazine (China), Lufthansa, Bosch, Amity Foundation, Pfrang Association, Colorlines, World Magazine, Map Magazine (China), AM New York, and XAOC magazine. Brauer was a participant in the ICFJâ€™s U.S.-Russia Journalist Exchange Program in 2012, during which time he worked at the ITAR-TASS Photo Agency. He worked for daily newspapers in suburban Chicago, and Flint, Michigan and moved to China in 2007. He graduated with honors from the University of Washington in 2005 with dual degrees in philosophy and Russian literature and language.
Barbara Cochran is the Curtis B. Hurley Chair in Public Affairs Journalism with the Missouri School of Journalism.Â Cochran is based in the Schoolâ€™s bureau in Washington, D.C., where she engages in programs of research, consulting and training aimed at improving the practice of journalism, working with the Committee of Concerned Journalists, also located in Washington, and the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute. Her career as a news executive includes top jobs in the broadcast, print and non-profit worlds.Â Cochran served for 12 years as president of the Radio Television Digital News Association, the worldâ€™s largest organization serving the electronic news profession.
John Cochran joined ABC News in January 1994 as chief Capitol Hill correspondent, where he reported on the historic change of leadership as Republicans took control of the House and Senate for the first time in four decades. Cochran joined ABC News from NBC, where he spent 21 years as a correspondent in Washington and overseas. For five of those years (1988-1993) he was NBC’s chief correspondent at the White House.Â Before covering the White House, he was chief diplomatic correspondent, reporting on Middle East peace negotiations and efforts to end the nuclear arms race between Moscow and Washington. Previously, he was based in London as senior correspondent, reporting from five continents.
Bill Gentile is an independent journalist and documentary filmmaker teaching at American University in Washington, DC. His career spans three decades, five continents and nearly every facet of journalism and mass communication, most especially visual communication, or visual storytelling. He is a pioneer of â€œbackpack journalismâ€ and today he is one of the craftâ€™s most noted practitioners. He is the founder and director of American University’s Backpack Journalism Project
Gary Kebbel has left his post as dean of the College of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to work with faculty and students to create a multi-campus Center for Mobile Media. Kebbel served as dean at the College of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for two years. Before coming to UNL he was the journalism program director at the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in Miami, Florida