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Old 07-28-2015, 03:55 PM   #1
feromone
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Documentary in development: advice

Hi everyone, I'm seeking advice for costing and development on a documentary project I'm looking to develop with an interesting renewable energy project. The organisation I will be working with is part local government, part community trust and has links with industry.

It has funding to provide low cost energy to people in social housing and there is an opportunity to film installation of huge new generation equipment from start to finish - including plenty of revealing technical insights and social commentary from people who will benefit in the community etc - over the period of about a year.

Filming would take place probably one day of every week over that year period. Local and national firms involved with the project could potentially pay for the filming up front, so funding may not be a problem. I estimate 52 days of filming, 26 days of editing (too little?)

Local and national firms would receive short films in return for their investment that would highlight their input to the project (justifying their investment). The local gov/trust would receive their own promotional videos and documentary, plus the aim of filming is also to end up with a one hour documentary at the end of the project that could be pitched to national networks and digital channels (BBC, BBC4, C4, Discovery, etc).

My first step is to estimate the up front cost of production. I'm costing low in my head at about 250 ($400) per day. At 78 days (filming and editing) that would be around 20,000 ($31,000), then any money made from selling the film on to a network would be mine following the end of production.

Cameras would be an HD semi-pro camcorder (Sony NEX), HD compact (Sony RX100), GoPro-style cams, and a Sony Z1, though I am open to suggestion and could hire in kit if anyone thought 4K or another standard should be a consideration. I am pretty sure BBC would happily accept 1080i footage, so the Z1 is a solid go-to here (again, suggestions would be gratefully accepted). One or two man shoots will be standard here - shooter director style.

Any advice people can give me on development, costing or cam set ups for documentary shooting would be gratefully received. Thank you in advance for any help you can give me.

Rob.
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Old 07-28-2015, 05:03 PM   #2
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Originally Posted by feromone View Post
Filming would take place probably one day of every week over that year period. Local and national firms involved with the project could potentially pay for the filming up front, so funding may not be a problem. I estimate 52 days of filming, 26 days of editing (too little?)

Local and national firms would receive short films in return for their investment that would highlight their input to the project (justifying their investment). The local gov/trust would receive their own promotional videos and documentary, plus the aim of filming is also to end up with a one hour documentary at the end of the project that could be pitched to national networks and digital channels (BBC, BBC4, C4, Discovery, etc).

My first step is to estimate the up front cost of production. I'm costing low in my head at about 250 ($400) per day. At 78 days (filming and editing) that would be around 20,000 ($31,000), then any money made from selling the film on to a network would be mine following the end of production.

Cameras would be an HD semi-pro camcorder (Sony NEX), HD compact (Sony RX100), GoPro-style cams, and a Sony Z1, though I am open to suggestion and could hire in kit if anyone thought 4K or another standard should be a consideration. I am pretty sure BBC would happily accept 1080i footage, so the Z1 is a solid go-to here (again, suggestions would be gratefully accepted). One or two man shoots will be standard here - shooter director style.

Any advice people can give me on development, costing or cam set ups for documentary shooting would be gratefully received. Thank you in advance for any help you can give me.

Rob.
So what exactly are you assuming will cost $400 per day? Is that referring to what will be paid to the crew members working with you, or are you filming this by yourself? Is the $400 referring to the cost of memory cards and Harddrive storage space?

Depending on your camera and its file codec, you'll be looking at a large amount of storage space that will be necessary to hold all 52 days worth of filming, not to mention you haven't explained how many hours per day you plan to film for.

Because here's the thing, 4K footage on a Panasonic GH4, which I've heard is comparable in file size to a Canon 5DmkII and mkIII for just HD footage, can come to about 260-300 Gigabytes for about 4 and 1/2 hours of footage. I'd give you a more by-the-hour estimate, but I don't have one at the moment. Although that would roughly be about 1 hour of footage per 64 Gig memory card.

So depending on your setup and the type of camera you are using--although I assume you'll be using something more robust that can shoot for much longer periods with compressed files. You're looking at between 1-2 cards every 2 hours of continuous shooting. You wouldn't need a new set of cards for each day, but you ought to perhaps consider having a new set of cards for about 4-5 days, and then delete all of the footage once you know its safely backed up on a hard-drive. In fact, knowing that you might have a second person filming as well, you may have to up that by twice as many, or at least a few more cards to even things out between both camera ops.

But for hard-drive space alone, you're looking at at least 3 2TB (terabyte) drives for the amount of footage I can only imagine you'll end up shooting. You could shoot and then cut down on your footage each week: keeping only the best stuff and deleting the rest to keep storage space as free as possible. But I don't think anyone would say that's a wise decision, in case anything useful later might be lost forever. So you have to have enough space to hold all 52 days of footage so that once you've got everything together, you can really start editing, and have every possible shot open to you.

So even though I don't know what you expect to cost $400 per day of shooting, I can tell you that you'll need to spend up to $1000 up front, before starting anything, just to cover your memory card and hard-drive needs.

Anybody else know if I'm about right on this, or am I overestimating? This is just based on my own experience, mind you. And I've never tried to tackle a project quite like what he's attempting.

Last edited by FilmmakerJ; 07-28-2015 at 05:09 PM.
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Old 07-28-2015, 08:13 PM   #3
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FilmmakerJ is speaking knowledge.... but even then... this is just tip of the iceberg.

When I first read "$400/day" my face crumpled.... like a raisin. To be honest... that's the low-side of your sound mixer's rate. Your DP and Director will need at least the same amount. Running with low rates, and consolidating the gig down to a two person crew, both of whom are doing more than one specialized job... You'd need at least $1000/day to produce something that looks and sounds "professional" and that word is the lowest form of measurement. Many things are better than just professional.

Then... post production and finishing. Storage is just one factor in that. Will you license music? Hire a composer?... or be one of those productions that are broke by post and asking for people to work for free... or using cheap royalty free music that may or may not be the best fit for the project?

So many things to think about. Apologies if these comments seem rough... not intended... just trying to push you to invest more in pre-production. Make more detailed plans. Consider contingencies, and budget overage. Think $400 is enough? Plan on spending $800. I said $1000/day but I'd really rather have $2000... and that's not even a profit, that's just a better film.
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Old 07-28-2015, 08:52 PM   #4
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This is really starting to sound more like something on par with a History Channel or Discovery documentary, with days upon days of continuous shooting with a 3-6 man camera crew. And you see, they have the resources, the right cameras for long-end shooting, large amounts of commercial hard-drive storage space, and the sheer man power and post-production unit with editors and assistant editors to sift through and organize an enormous project like they tend to shoot every few months for any number of productions.

Most of the stories that are contemporary that they get footage of that's original for them (not just stock footage from other documentaries) are recorded over numerous months, or numerous years, with different points in time where they come back and get more footage, then leave for a while, and then check back in again to see how some experiment or how some animal has progressed since the last time.

So my hope, Rob, is that you aren't trying to go into this project just on sheer adrenaline or excitement, and confidence alone, and you've considered just how big of a project this actually is. Because year long documentaries have been done by skeleton crews, and in some cases, a single individual.

In fact I'm pretty sure the majority of the powerful documentary, Dear Zachary was shot by the film's director alone, and sometimes perhaps with a second crew hand handling sound for the sit down interviews. But beyond that, he was on his own on this long quest to discover just what happened to this fantastic guy that was a part of his extended family, who's life turned into a miraculous and often terrifying ordeal. So one man lengthy doc projects have been done, I think it just depends how much quality you want to go for. Because Discovery and History Channel can handle long documentaries and still retain beautiful picture and sound quality. But independent projects can still get away with simple and even low-quality HD footage and basic audio, because it's more about the guerrilla style and capturing events raw and real, as they happen. So audiences can often forgive the lesser quality production I think. As was evidenced by the 2013 Japanese documentary, The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness, also shot over the period of a year or so, all about the struggles and mental conflicts of the mastermind and crew of anime production house, Studio Ghibli. And the entire production was seemingly shot on something not much better than a Canon Vixia camcorder, or a Sony Handycam.

But neither of those documentaries were as involved or as calculated as you seem to want your's to be. In fact, you seem to want to get so much footage that you can break it down into multiple documentaries for numerous groups all helping to create this large community project. Which is a great idea. But I hope you understand how long that will take, and how much it is likely to take out of you, physically and mentally, if you don't have a solid support team, or crew by your side through the whole thing.

Last edited by FilmmakerJ; 07-28-2015 at 08:58 PM.
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Old 07-29-2015, 03:40 AM   #5
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Originally Posted by feromone View Post
I am pretty sure BBC would happily accept 1080i footage ...
Being "pretty sure" is a recipe for disaster! It costs nothing but a bit of time to go and locate/download the latest BBC tech requirements/specs and guidance notes. As the BBC don't broadcast anything higher resolution than 1080i, I'm sure that res would be fine. However, the last time I looked at the sections of their tech specs which dealt with visuals (probably about 18 months ago), they would not accept HD content filmed on DSLRs, except in exceptional circumstances. They update their tech specs quite regularly though, so this might have changed.

HDTV only has one audio format, Dolby Digital, which means you'll need a 5.1 sound mix, and the technical requirements for what is contained in those 6 audio channels (and all the other audio deliverables) are quite stringent. You will definitely need to factor in the cost of commercial audio post and the 5.1 requirement could also have implications for the sound you record on location, so you'll also need an experienced prod sound mixer.

Aiming for BBC specs is not a bad idea as generally the BBC has high technical standards. So, if your film/doco is of a high enough tech standard to pass the BBC's quality control, it would likely be acceptable to most other networks. Although, international networks like Nat Geo and Discovery do have some different/additional tech requirements.

G
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Old 07-29-2015, 07:30 AM   #6
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But independent projects can still get away with simple and even low-quality HD footage and basic audio ...
No, generally they can't! I know that most amateur, hobbyist and no/nano budget filmmakers have a "do the best you can with what you've got" approach and that's fine, for Youtube, Vimeo, etc. TV networks on the other hand have to deal with numerous delivery types (various; cable, satellite and RF broadcast systems), which presents a set of complex engineering challenges. First and foremost therefore, any content supplied to a TV network must comply with whatever solutions the network employs to overcome these engineering challenges. This is why all TV networks have exacting technical specifications and complex QC procedures to enforce them. TV networks don't and can't care what an amateur filmmaker "has got" or how well they've done with what they've got, all they can care about is if their specs are met!

There are of course some circumstances where guerilla, amateur, CCTV or archive footage is the only way to obtain certain shots. That footage still has to be made compliant with HDTV tech specs but may be allowed to slide a little on some of the more aesthetic specs, under certain circumstances, for example; if it's judged to be of particular importance to the doco, if there's no other way of acquiring it and if it complies with the broadcaster's other conditions for archive footage use.

It's extremely poor advice to effectively say; "just make the usual serious amateur quality footage/sound and you'll probably get away with it" because they won't!

OP: Here is a link to the DPP's (Digital Production Partnership) Technical Standards. While each individual broadcaster may include additional requirements, this document is designed as a basic template for all the main broadcasters in the UK, to standardise basic tech specs. BTW, many of the requirements are based on EBU (European Broadcast Union) recommendations, meaning many of them are applicable to broadcasters throughout the EU.

If you don't understand all the specs in this doc, you will have to employ people who do (professionals) and of course trust their guidance!

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Old 07-29-2015, 11:03 AM   #7
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No, generally they can't! I know that most amateur, hobbyist and no/nano budget filmmakers have a "do the best you can with what you've got" approach and that's fine, for Youtube, Vimeo, etc. TV networks on the other hand have to deal with numerous delivery types (various; cable, satellite and RF broadcast systems), which presents a set of complex engineering challenges. First and foremost therefore, any content supplied to a TV network must comply with whatever solutions the network employs to overcome these engineering challenges. This is why all TV networks have exacting technical specifications and complex QC procedures to enforce them. TV networks don't and can't care what an amateur filmmaker "has got" or how well they've done with what they've got, all they can care about is if their specs are met!

There are of course some circumstances where guerilla, amateur, CCTV or archive footage is the only way to obtain certain shots. That footage still has to be made compliant with HDTV tech specs but may be allowed to slide a little on some of the more aesthetic specs, under certain circumstances, for example; if it's judged to be of particular importance to the doco, if there's no other way of acquiring it and if it complies with the broadcaster's other conditions for archive footage use.
Yes, you're absolutely right on that.

I was speaking more in a general, film-festival/documentary film aspect, which again is quite common for a lot of documentaries over the past two decades that I've seen that have won numerous awards, despite their visible (not necessarily audible) lack of quality. But I had forgotten he was expressing interest in getting this footage presented on broadcast television, let alone the BBC.

So yeah, my comment there really can't apply in this case. It's a completely different ballgame then. And the amount of regulations and rules he'll have to study up on and prepare for are probably more than he believes are in place.

Besides which, I think there may still be a threshold for the color-space on broadcast television as well, even with the HD presentation. So not only will he have to do a 5.1 sound mix, but he'll likely have to do a separate color-grade for it as well to make it compatible with the narrower color-space expected for cable and satellite television.

Last edited by FilmmakerJ; 07-29-2015 at 11:07 AM.
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