Read Hank and Jilann’s Sundance Film Festival blog,

written as they went through the rollercoaster experience of premiering a film at this world-renown documentary film competition for the first time.





SilverDocs Report - Producing for Public TV

Moderator, Chris Hastings, Managing Producer/Editorial Manager, WORLD Channel/WGBH Lab
Presenters – Tim Mangini, Director of Broadcast, Frontline/WGBH
Chris White, Director of Programming, American Documentary / P.O.V.
Robert Bahar, Filmmaker, “Made in L.A.”; Co-founder, Doculink

Work-flow, Work-flow, Work-flow

This was an informative panel that was more about the technical aspects of producing for television rather than about content. All the panelists agreed on the basic premise that the tech landscape is constantly changing and as we go from a tape-based world to a digital file world, producers need to become more involved and more knowledgeable about work-flow. It’s not a step that can be skipped.

Tim suggested thinking “about your project from the back-end forward”. You don’t always know where your project will be distributed, but count on any possibility.

Bahar suggested hiring your crew for a couple of hours before your actual shoot to test all the equipment and take the results into the workflow all the way to cutting, outputting and sending to a post house for evaluation. Mangini suggested working with a post house that guarantees you’ll pass the PBS tech requirements. (This is no small feat.)

Mangini warned that when you’re in the field, back your media up in 3 different places if you can. All agreed that organization of files is paramount. There seemed to be no consensus on a good method of archiving digital material, but that it’s something to be thinking about and to be proactive about. Get advice ahead of time from the post house you intend to work with.

Cameras and Formats

There were questions from the audience about best cameras to use and preferred formats. The answers ranged. Most agreed that the most important component of your shoot is the person behind the camera, not the camera itself. Tim added, “Never use automatic anything on the camera! Learn how to use it. Expose it well.”

The DSLR camera discussion came up and there were mixed feelings. There are some newer cameras addressing some of the DSLR shortcomings. Two cameras were mentioned - the Sony F3, which costs about $15,000 for the camera base, but then you need to buy lenses on top of that; and the Sony AF100 which costs $5K-6K. But the panel recommended bolstering these cameras with a Nanoflash or KeyPro mounted on the camera to allow for better, higher resolution recording.

All agreed that you need to be meticulous about audio, even more than picture. When using a DSLR, make sure you’re recording sound on a double system involving a good digital recorder with XLR inputs, or that you’ve rigged your set up to get a good sound into the DSLR.

As for formats, PBS distribution is in 1080i, but they will try and tailor your acquisition format to the project. 1080p60 has the most bits of digital information available.  Mangini offered that 720 24p can be onlined. He was wary about the conversion from progressive to interlace, as there can still be artifacting problems that are noticeable to the human eye.

White allowed that for P.O.V, any shooting format is ultimately broadcastable. Mangini said that for Frontline, if you’re commissioned to make a film, they expect a higher quality of product, unless you’re shooting in a unique situation requiring a very small camera for example. When an audience member asked about using AVC HD, Mangini added that AVC HD is a step below what Frontline likes, but they’ll use it if the story’s great. All agreed that in the end, if the content is compelling, they’ll make the tech reality work if they can. But that doesn’t mean that producers can get lazy!

Whichever format you chose, the panel recommended picking it for a good reason and sticking with it.


For more advice from industry leaders and professionals, listen to the archived Doc Talks interviews in the DocuMentors members area.