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Does anyone know how to get in touch with Laura Poitras?

I have a kid who is taking a gap year and wants to learn about documentary film making.  She’s multilingual, speaks German, French, some Italian and is teaching herself Mandarin. Also, was enrolled in Stanford Online High School for some of her classes. She’s a weird kid with many talents and probably destined to take an unconventional path to professional success so I need some advice on how to steer her in the right direction.

Any help is gratefully appreciated.

13 Responses

  1. Just figured I’d ask since we don’t have Lizzy Bennet-esque connections.

  2. Can I post this on Facebook?

  3. Or Rory Kennedy and Nancy Pelosi’s kid.
    Who did the new Anita Hill doc?
    Of course, there’s Michael Moore and Ken Burns.
    There must be somewhere Brooke could apprentice herself for a year or two or three.
    How about applying for an NYU scholarship?
    Anyway, best of luck!

  4. I have somehow scrounged up the equipment for a documentary film myself, mostly by trading work for kit. Here are my suggestions (budget-friendly):

    1. Camera. Go for a good Canon consumer-level HD camcorder (not a DSLR) and LEARN IT. There are ways to tweak the controls so that you get professional-level results from consumer equipment: Lower the contrast, underexpose by half a stop and color-correct in post.

    The cheapest camera that can do the job is the Canon Vixia HF M50 (or M500). This has the same optics as their low-end professional camera. Great in low-light situations; you won’t need to haul movie lights around. About 300 bucks if you know where to look.

    2. Filters: Polarization and ND. No need to spend much.

    3. Tripod. USE ONE. In a sense, any will do — even one you pick up for five bucks at the thrift store. If you don’t have a fluid head tripod, keep the camera stationary. Classic. Always looks good.

    If you are lugging your equipment around all day, you will soon discover that you care more about weight than any other factor. A very lightweight travel tripod can be had for about 20 bucks. (Ebay.)

    If you really want a heavy-duty, professional fluid head tripod — the kind that can give you nice pans — consider a Davis and Sanford. I got one via Ebay for all of 50 bucks. A thing of beauty, it is. Bargains like that are rare.

    Even ultra-cheap dollar store mini-tripods have their uses. (Mics can go on them.)

    4. Hand-held rigs: There’s a cheap device that doubles as a pistol-grip hand-held grip and as a mini-tripod. Great for interviews — just plunk it on a table. Avoid shooting hand-held, but if you must, find a device that keeps your hands AWAY from the camera.

    5. Sound: Don’t rely on the camera’s onbaord mics, but use that soundtrack as a back-up.

    I’ve had good luck with ultra-cheap lavaliers (less than ten bucks) and cheap shotgun mics from China (about 25 bucks). You’ll have to buy some cables (a hassle) and — most important — you must improvise a wind screen if you are going to film out of doors.

    Plug the mics into a separate sound recorder. The cheapest good one is the Olympus WS 802 (or 803). Also useful as an MP3 player. What makes this unit very desirable is the fact that it uses just one rechargeable AAA batteries and it lasts DAYS. Buy a protective case because you might drop it.

    6. SD cards. You’ll need a couple of 32gb cards for the camera, and maybe a 32gb mini-SD card for the recorder. Avoid the too-good-to-be-true deals. The PNYs are cheap and decent.

    7. Miscellaneous connectors and crap. When you research this stuff, you’ll find that a simple thing like rigging the shotgun mic to sit on top of the camera will require about four different connectors. All cheap, but irritating to track down.

    8. Post production (editing). You NEED the Adobe suite. It’s expensive. If you can’t afford it — well, some people use versions that “fell off a truck” (or a pirate ship). But that would be wrong. This, we must never do.

    Learn Adobe Premiere Pro. It’s tough, but learn it. You may also want to learn After Effects. The best way to do that is to follow the tutorials of a guy named Andrew Kramer, of Video Co-Pilot.

    You’ll also need a decent desktop computer. The bare minimum is a good duo-core chip with 8GB of RAM. And lots of hard drive space. (Think in terrabytes.)

    The AVCHD footage which comes out of your camera is almost impossible to edit. You’ll need a video conversion program. There are some good free ones, but you may want to invest in Xilisoft.

    That’s just the equipment. We can talk about the aesthetic side another time. RD, my list may sound expensive — but you can get your daughter in a position to do high-quality film-festival-ready work for an investment of little more than $500, if you pinch every penny and if you already have a decent computer. Trust me. I’m very cheap, very poor, and I’ve done my research.

    • Oooo! Thanks, this is a good list. I know what to get her as a graduation present. (If I rob a bank)

      • Until she gets the kit, encourage her to teach herself via YouTube videos and other internet resources. Channels like Film Riot (they’re great!), Indy Mogul, Video Co-Pilot and the Frugal Filmmaker are incredibly helpful, even when they don’t focus on documentaries. Then she’ll have to google specific issues, like how to hide a lav mic and how to color correct.

        She’ll soon see that this micro-budget filmmaking thing is traditionally a boys’ club. Change that! Please!

        I forgot one more thing to buy: Spare battery for the camera. Maybe two. About twenty bucks apiece, aftermarket. (Forget the Canon brand.) Sorry about that.

        Also, the HF M40 may also work for her — great optics, great low-life performance, and I just saw one on ebay for around 200 bucks.

        Classes? Screw classes. I know guys who have been to the best film school in the world (UCLA). A waste. Autodidacticism rules!!

  5. Er, she’s that smart and hip and well connected and can’t figure it out for herself?

    You want to learn about document filmmaking? Well then, watch a bunch of documentary films. Read some books and articles on them too. And then start making them yourself. Use your cell phone video camera if you have to. Use any video/film camera you can get your hands. Of course, getting good equipment, as described by a poster above can’t hurt. But that is not the main consideration at this point. Make films about anything non fiction (or fiction, even, no real reason to specialize at this stage) that catches your fancy. Make lots of them. Spend your “gap year” making them. Base your college and major choices on that goal. To take the most obvious examples….UCLA and USC both have fairly renowned film programs. New York also has, I believe, some schools with big film programs.

    The main thing, though, as in any “show business” or journalism field, is doing. People in these fields are not really judged on academics, but rather on experience. She should already be doing the stuff mentioned above. Not that it is somehow “too late,” but the earlier you start, the better. I think you will find that most filmmakers started fooling around with cameras and with ideas for movies at a pretty young age. And most documentary makers probably started in high school in terms of their first journalism experience. Again, not trying to be alarmist, just saying if you want to do something like this, you gotta just do it.

    This is the kinda thing that Woody Allen was actually talking about when he said that a big part of success was just showing up. When asked what he meant, he said something like if you want to be a playwright, you have to write plays (and let other people read them!). You can’t wait until everything is perfect. Until you have (in this case) the perfect equipment, subject matter, instruction, etc.

    Just do it! Make movies. See what works and what doesn’t. Try different ways of using moving images and shots of stills and voiceover and graphics and on screen interviews and etc, etc, to get your point across. DIY, and start now!

    • This is basically correct about Hollywood and journalism not relying on academic background. I know a guy who never took a college class, learned to work basic equipment on his own, made a no-budget film that got a little attention, and now he is working Hollywood writer and director with credits you would recognize. This is all in the last ten years, not back in the cave man days when only rich kids went to college.

  6. Chicken and egg productions. “Chicken & Egg Pictures is dedicated to supporting women nonfiction filmmakers whose diverse voices and dynamic storytelling have the power to catalyze change, at home and around the globe. We match strategic financial support with creative mentorship offered at critical junctures of a filmmaker’s life and work, with $3.2 million in grants and 4,500 hours in mentorship given since 2005”.

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