How to Transcribe Documentary Interviews
A simple edit log and notes are sufficient for many smaller documentary projects. However, feature length docs, reality TV, and other large projects will call for full transcripts that contain every word said, who said it, and the time code at which it was said. Making a transcript is the single easiest way to put together a final script and get a handle on your exact contents. You will be able to easily cut and paste sound bites into a paper edit and experiment with your story and structure.
Make sure you make dubs of your master first. Don’t risk the possibility of harming your precious master tapes while transcribing. The back and forth rewinding during transcription is murder on master tapes and camcorders. If you have a lot of hard drive storage space and you want to avoid making dubs, you could also first digitize all your footage onto a hard drive and transcribe it using your computer to view the footage. This will save you a step since you have to digitize anyway.
However, this method might not be practical if you have huge amounts of footage. Another option for bigger budgets and quick turn-around projects is using a professional transcription company. For a fee, transcription companies will give you a fully typed printout and/or file of the contents and time code of each and every one of your taped interviews.
Some transcription companies will even include thumbnail pictures of your footage within the transcript. If you want to trim some off the budget, transcribe some or all of the interviews yourself. Better yet, have an intern or assistant transcribe some tapes for you. (Remember, how something plays on paper can still be very different than how it plays on video. You still have to watch your clips.)
In addition to helping you piece together a final script, a transcript of your interviews will make sure that you have not misrepresented what a subject said by editing it out of context. When you’re pulling sound bites from interviews and juxtaposing them with other material, it’s easy to inadvertently apply a different meaning than the one originally intended by the subject. Similarly, if you have everything down on paper, it’ll be much easier to check the accuracy of the narration, statements made by subjects, and implied conclusions. So transcripts are also invaluable for factchecking your final piece. If a company is interested in distributing your doc theatrically or on TV, they will almost always require a transcript of your finished project.
Excerpt from The Shut Up and Shoot Documentary Guide: A Down & Dirty DV Production by Anthony Q. Artis, © 2008, Elsevier, Inc. All rights reserved.