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Transcribing Interviews 101.1

Transcribing Homework 101.1

There were the days of “Pitman or Gregg,” not documentary makers, but transcribing styles that secretaries used heavily back in the day. Ask your Mom. Today, if you have a couple of bucks to go with making a documentary, then you could be okay. All you have to do is send a copy of your footage to transcribers and pay the rate by word, by line, by paragraph, by page, or by job.

If you are funded or are working for a company, then that is all part of their budget. But, if you are working from your own pocket or your parents’ pockets, then what can you do? You can do it yourself and do your own homework.

I recently introduced a friend of mine to a DVD stand-alone recorder. What that means is that it is not attached to the computer, but next to the television. The DVD recorder is now taking the place of the VCR deck.  So it stands alone next to the television, but not in my house, because it has 8 cousins around it (tuner, cassette player etc.)

Let’s say you shoot a 45 minute interview, and you are using tape. (If you use a tapeless camera, then it is a different flow.) You may have your own editing equipment and come home and capture it and watch it being captured like I do after a shoot. Sometimes I don’t; sometimes I do a spot check. Now you have the opportunity to watch it over and over from your computer, in your computer chair. The time code is there.

Now suppose you don’t own the camera and you have to take it back the next day. Or if you don’t have editing equipment of your own and you are looking for somebody to do that for you. It is a good idea to use an editor. (See “Finding an Editor” article on Badwest.org.) They have the expertise that you may need.


The assumption here is that you have no editing system, and no camera. So the thing that I like to do is plug the camera’s video outputs to the DVD video inputs and the DVD output to the input of the television. Put the television on the right channel; tell the DVD that there is a signal coming into it through input #1 or #2. That is the easy part.

Documentation is a Must

As for the camera, you have to go into the menu most of the time — well, all of the time today with the new cameras. You look for the video section in the menu. (I can’t help you here; menus are all over the place.) You should have the manual with you. Never rent or borrow a camera without the manual or other documentation in the bag. That can be a life-saver if the person before you tweaked and tinkered with the menu inputs. Sometimes you have to find the reset button, and send everything back to the factory settings.

Now that you have found the right menu button for sending the video signal to the DVD/television, remember the television is seeing what the DVD is recording. You have an opportunity here to send the camera’s screen display with the running time code to the television. That may require a little fiddling about in the menu video area. But once you get it, then you are ready to go.

If you record the time code from the tape in the camera onto the DVD, then you will know where everything on the tape is in terms of time. She/he says this at; 23:07 and ends at 24:35. Now you will be able to tell your editor what is where and where is what. Not bad.

When everything is working, you will see the display on the television. The tape in the camera has been rewound to the beginning, and you have a disk in the DVD recorder Then hit record on the DVD, let it run for five seconds, and hit play on the camera. So when you reach the end of the interview press the stop button. Don’t forget to finalize the DVD or you can’t play it anywhere else except in the same style DVD recorder. Label your DVD to match what is on your interview tape.

Pencil and Paper vs. Laptop

What I like to do is get my “legal pad, and my favorite beverage. Some of you will be using your laptops, I guess. I pop in the DVD and stretch out on the couch and hit play. The idea is to write down what the person you interviewed is saying, (Or describe b-roll) (what is b-roll?) for time’s sake. You don’t have to write your questions down unless you want to.

I always try to write down word-for-word, but most of the time I will “paraphrase” what they are saying. I will be the only to one see this transcription, as I edited my own productions. I have it like that. On the left hand side of my legal pad I put the time code that is on the screen, so that everything matches. (On some cameras you can minimize what’s on the display.) If I miss something, I just pause and go back. So once I’m done, I will come back on another day, watch it all over again to check my time code and when they speak, and to get the gist of what is being said in this DVD of the tape. Learn your footage

This could be the poor man’s (or woman’s) version of doing this. If you are working for somebody, you will have to be more precise in wording and time coding, because of time limits and exactly how long something (a statement) is going to be. Or if you are lucky, it will go out to a transcriber and you will get it printed out for you. Sweet!

The nice thing about transcribed work is that you can cut out the parts you want and lay them end-to-end and you got your documentary coming to life right in front of you. This is a time-saver when you are in an editing room; you and your editor have a map to sort of work with, and things can go a lot faster. This is because you did your homework.

Need a transcriber email us.

That is all.

Andre Campbell

139 West Productions

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