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Will your work fill the seats someday?Most car owners don't go to racing school, and most camcorder owners don't make documentaries for PBS or Discovery Channel. We all have different dreams. If your dreams include a larger audience than your family room accommodates, this part of the web site is for you.
Not every videographer dreams of being a filmmaker, but you're on my "Beyond Home Video" page so it's a safe guess that you do have that dream. In 2006 there are dozens of digital video communities on the web and thousands of films created by people with the same desire. What does it take? I can share with you what I've gone through to make my first "documentary" film, a half hour project which has so far taken ten months of my time. It's about a cluster of islands in the bay just off the shores of Toronto, Canada, a place called the Toronto Islands, and in its two hundred years of human activity it has been home to stories so surprising to me that I had to tell some of them.
I began by researching, on the web and in the library system. Much of the tale unfolded before cameras were invented and much of it before they were in general distribution, so illustrating these stories required digging for paintings, drawings, illustrations in publications of the 1800's, and in some cases, modern images created by living artists who also had a fascination with some of these events. Before I began this project I had some notions about copyright law, what I could use without anyone's permission and what I needed copyright "clearance" on, before using it in a project I hoped to earn money from. Forced to learn much more about the subject I found it to be one of the most time consuming elements of the job. I built a spreadsheet listing every image I didn't create myself, where I got it, what archive contained a copy, or the original in the case of old paintings, who the artist/photographer was, where it first appeared in publication if an illustration, the year of its creation. Through a senior librarian at the Toronto Reference Library I learned that all photos taken before 1948 are in the public domain and may be used without permission. However, to use an image you must have a copy of it, digital or otherwise, and you must establish where and how you got it before its use is legal. Copying it from a history book infringes on someone else's copyright. I'm still working on getting all of the permissions I need to satisfy the companies that replicate DVD video. That's right, having the money to get a thousand DVD videos made for you, with printed disks and covers and so on, isn't enough. You have to fill out pages of paperwork establishing your right to use everything in the piece, from images to music to sound effects. About the only thing to can freely use is video you shot and pictures you took, and even these need to be free of other people's trademarks. A coke machine in a video clip can get you into legal trouble unless you have prior permission to use it.
If your story is told through a narrative voice over, you need a script of course, and you need a voice. If yours doesn't work you need to hire voice talent. If you can't author a DVD-R you need to engage someone who can. If you have no talent for selecting fonts and colours you may need a graphic artist to create your titles and special "scenes".
You also need a thick skin and a strong belief in your project and yourself. As you get deeper into the work, you will probably find yourself viewing other work differently, comparing yours to television documentaries for example. It's tough to watch Ken Burn's work on New York, Mark Twain, baseball and jazz, and then return to your editing chair, but you must believe that your story is worth telling and that you are the one to tell it. Otherwise, it won't get done. You must also be able to say "cut". I'd love to have material I didn't get last summer included in the piece, but that would mean holding off until the fall to finish, and that would mean missing the summer tourist season when a program like mine would be best received. It might also mean seeing someone else bring out a similar story first, and there is no room in a local market for two videos that appear to be about the same thing. So I'll keep plugging away, finish developing the web site where it will be available via Paypal, keep making a list of local media who might run a story about it if I write it and send it to them with a copy of the finished DVD, keep looking for independent video stores, tourist shops, rowing clubs, tour boat operators and anyone else who may be willing to sell copies. Wish me luck, as I do you! And if you want to follow my progress, visit my developing web site at toronto-island.com
The first symptom of videographer's disease is a burning desire to own a 3-CCD camcorder. Variants of the illness present as lust after 24p versus 60i, and a smaller number of those afflicted have visions of mini35mm adaptations to create shallow depth of field in a format famous for acres of it. Many patients report accessory envy as well, and there is SO much to envy - matte boxes, LCD field monitors, wireless mics, shotguns with fuzzy covers, dollys and cranes, steadicam rigs...no doubt fellow sufferers can keep the list growing. While a cure is not in sight, there are behaviour modification techniques that can help. The most effective involves continuing to make movies despite the absence of Steven Spielberg's equipment truck. Yes, it is possible to function without a matte box and rails. Heck, you can even tell some great stories with only 1 CCD! The trick is to keep learning in many different areas. Don't permit the absence of any piece of kit deter you from moving ahead. It isn't owning something that makes your work shine. It's knowing what to do with what you own and for most of us, just learning to shoot or edit well takes years, regardless of the tools we have. But you know that, so lets take a break and go look at some cool accessories!
As can be seen through the amount of interest in 24p camcorders, a subset of the miniDV crowd is really interested in making video look like film. One of the key differences in the two media is how they handle, or don't handle, depth of field. The chart below illustrates the depth of field available from a variety of acquisition formats, and clearly miniDV has too much of it. EVERYTHING remains in focus. This article, from which the image below is borrowed, describes one way to attack the problem, with a very inventive do it yourself approach. There are other examples of getting to the same place with different approaches scattered across the web, but among those I've seen this one best explains both the motivation and a practical solution.

DOF from film to video

They say that audio is 50% of video, and they, whoever they are, are right. You can make a very powerful difference to almost any project with the right sound track, and once you have, you want the world to be able to listen without breaking any laws. So, how do you make great sounding video without using your favourite copyrighted songs? You can build audio with a number of dedicated applications like SmartSound, or you can purchase it from many on-line catalogues. Watch and listen to this one-minute example of what music can do to mood and then come back for the wrap up.

The music I used here comes from www.2b-royaltyfree.com, a British-based producer of audio CDs for video production. Like the host of other suppliers, they provide samples on the site and a straightforward purchasing path. My disk arrived in under a week, no local taxes and some excellent material, including a collection of short tracks for layering in emphasis or mood changes, making one bed track work in many different ways as required. There are so many ways to spend your money in digital content creation that you may be reluctant to put much into royalty free audio, but once you have a small collection of well produced material you will notice an amazing difference over your older work. And the more you experiment with it, the more second-nature it becomes to use it, the better received your work will be. And, with royalty-free audio you never have to worry about submitting your material to a festival or web site, or using it on a demo reel, bacause you have respected the creator's rights just as you'd want your own respected.

I absolutely guarantee you that no single tip will do more for the look of your finished work that this one.

Weeks after I got my first DV camcorder I started an evening course in introductory video. In nine weeks I learned two interesting things, but one of them was worth the tuition all by itself. Our instructor loaded the VCR with a piece on a large European city, and directed us to watch how each scene change related to the focus of our attention in the prior scene. I quickly realized that the editor never jerked my eyes around the frame. An extreme close-up might be followed by a long shot of an ancient church, but in both cases the subject was positioned where my eyes were already looking. This doesn't mean that every clip focused on the centre of the screen. For example, to move the eye from centre screen to set up a shot where the subject is left of centre, the prior clip might start with a fixed camera, subject centred, then pan left. When the next clip with the subject left of centre comes up my eyes have already been carried left by the pan, so I'm ready for the subject to be there. I was amazed, when I watched my own work later, to find that much of what made it appear amateur to me was explained by my not knowing and therefore not following this rule. Well planned projects use storyboards to create the shot list. This process includes considering where the viewer will focus. But if like me most of your work results from just rolling tape on a trip, you have to work with what you have when you sit down to edit. Learn to cover yourself while you're shooting. If you have a great scene spread out in front of you, shoot it centred and hold it for at least five seconds, more is better. Then pan right. Do it again, but pan left this time. Now you're covered. You can use the fixed shot, either pan or both when you edit, depending on where you need the viewer's eyes to be.

As an enthusiastic if part-time filmmaker I'm always on the lookout for people and things to support and inspire my efforts. I wrote about CustomFlix in a January 2003 entry in the "What's New" area and since then I have become very excited by their concept. Simply put, they take your finished piece, make and market the resulting DVD, burn them as they are ordered and send you a cheque. If you aren't ready for that kind of help yet, some of the programs already being offered might help get you there! "Making Documentary Films and Reality Videos" was my first major find. Hey, I do that! Granted most of mine are made with a crew of one and last under ten minutes, but I do that. The man who made this presentation is in a slightly different league. David Hoffman (The Hoffman Collection) has made films for 38 years, remarkable films shown in prime time and on theatre screens around America. His idea of corporate video has Anthony Quinn as the host! He has shot B.B.King entertaining convicts at Sing Sing prison, Joan Baez in her living room , profiled NASA, Jimmy Doolittle and Emelia Earhart and told great stories of ordinary people living their lives.

Link and Trailer

My CustomFlix order arrived safely in a few days and played perfectly on my aging Proscan DVD deck. Mr. Hoffman mixes segments from many of his feature works with comments on their content and on the business of getting them made and shown. The clips in which he appears were shot on DV in his home office and he displays a relaxed comfort while he looks you in the eye and tells his inspirational story. He also generously displays both email and telephone contact information in the closing credits. I admit to being shocked by that offer of access when I first watched the program, but when my email generated a request to call him I knew he was serious about wanting to support his viewer's efforts, at whatever their level of participation. I highly recommend to you a copy of "Making Documentary Films and Reality Videos". It is a wonderful combination of entertainment and information. You can get more details here, and for a sneak peak, follow this link to a trailer he was kind enough to allow me to make and show. And, no, I do not profit from this recommendation. It's the kind of material The Content Shop site exists to bring to your attention. Come back regularly for more input on taking your work beyond home video.

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