I was asked the other day by a graduate student about how to get published by a university press. I thought the easiest thing to do was to post the letter that I wrote to Cornell University Press back in 2003 proposing the book that eventually became Deaf in Japan: Signing and the Politics of Identity.
Fieldnotes: March 2007 Archives
My name is Loren and I'm a media grad student and documentary filmmaker in Buffalo, NY who stumbled across your blog some time ago and have been following it for a while now. I have some technical questions about the film you just finished since I know you're working in the HDV format and am currently working on a full length doc in HDV as well.
What I'm wondering, assuming your shooting ratio for the project was relatively high, is what kind of workflow you used to deal with all the material? Could you maybe do a post describing it for your blog?
Anything from whether you used native HDV or an intermediate codec for editing, software / hardware issues you ran into that were frustrating, and hd delivery format for festivals (if you're using one) to whether you captured / logged your tapes at night during the time you were shooting or left the capturing / logging process entirely until after you had completed filming.
Your blog gives a lot of insight into the tools that you use and I'd love to hear more details about both your experience shooting ethnographic documentary in HDV and your overall production process.
In the field, I usually operate as a one-person crew. If I'm lucky, my partner can help me with a second camera and do interviews, but usually I am by myself. Sound is important to me, so I try to use wireless lav mics or use dual-system sound with a digital audio recorder. I shoot everything to HDV and label each cassette with the date, sequence number, and topic, and camera name. For example: 20051221b-BETHEL – Canon is the second tape I shot on December 21st, 2005 at the Bethel Community using my Canon XL-H1.
I write daily fieldnotes and I note the tape numbers in my fieldnotes where possible. Otherwise, I just correlate them later by date and time. I don't otherwise have time to log and review tapes in the field. I also carry a very minimal fieldkit which doesn't include a preview monitor (except the one built-into the camera). This has led to some problems -- noticeably that I have fluorescent flickering in some sequences of Bethel because Hokkaido uses a different power frequency than western Japan. This was not noticed until I went into post.
After the first fieldwork period, I went through the tapes that I knew had core material and I made a rough cut with them in SD mode (standard def using the built-in downconverter on the XL-H1). I sequenced a few shots together in iMovie to get a sense of what the film could be about. This gave me a sense of what I was missing (hospital life, community activities, etc.). When I went back to the field again, I shot those additional sequences.
Back home, I organized and logged all of the tapes. I had about 40 hours of tape for the two shoots in Hokkaido. Since the film is about 60 minutes long, that's a 40:1 shooting ratio. Pretty high, but I'm not very skilled. I captured and logged everything into Final Cut Pro. With each hour of HDV about 8 gigabytes, the 40 hours fit fairly well onto a 500 gibabyte hard drive that I dedicated to this project. Since i was using Final Cut Pro HDV, I stayed with the HDV codec rather than converting to a HD or intermediate codec that would take up much more space on the hard drive. The trade-off was some additional processing time, but the Quad-Core Mac Pro made that less important than it could've been.
Logging all the tape was a major pain and a major project. My partner Hisako helped here too. :-)
From there, we went through the tape logs and highlighted what we thought were key sequences. I storyboarded some of them on the corkboard in my office. And then I made some rough sequences and patched them together.
Right now, I'm outputting and distributing the various rough cuts to standard-def DVDs. I am editing in HDV and only downconverting at the final moment in Compressor. The resolution of the standard def DVDs that I'm burning isn't quite as high as I'd like -- I understand that there is some magic involved in getting Compressor to downconvert HDV into SD properly. In any case, I'm excited that the latest version of Compressor handles burning HD formats to DVD-Rs for playback on HD-DVD drives, so as soon as the prices drop on those, I'll implement that into my output formats.
One of the people on DV-L posted a question about what to do when shooting in the very cold. These are my notes based on my experience in Minnesota and Hokkaido, Japan:
There are two issues involved: cold temperature and condensation. Cameras can handle the cold fairly well as long as they get sufficient battery power, what they can't handle is condensation which will get on the lens, muck up the tape heads, film, or media.
In Minnesota, I found that acclimating the camera to the external temperature was better than trying to keep it warm. If I stuck the camera inside my jacket, it would get condensation from the moisture near my body.
As long as you have the camera on and running, the internal electronics will keep it warm. I'd use an extra large size battery because the capacity will go down when it's cold. Also, keep the spare battery near your body where it's warm -- the high humidity won't bother it as much as the camera lens.
Before you go inside after being outside for while, stick your camera in a ziplock bag or even a plain plastic bag. Tie it shut. And then bring the camera in. That will prevent condensation from building on the camera because of the temperature differential.
If you're really worried, you can get an underwater case for your camera and use that -- it'll protect against bumps, shocks, and humidity changes. But remember to always acclimate the camera to the current temperature before opening the case -- or you'll be back to square one!