Documentary Film Makers: What to Look for in a Transcription Service

There's a few unique things that documentary film makers should look for when sourcing a transcription firm. Let's take a look at some of the most important factors.

  1. Pricing. Moreso with documentary making than with many more "commercial" forms of video production, budgets can be very tight. You definitely want to get a firm quote, and you don't want to be slapped with extraneous charges after the fact. If you're getting time codes, burn codes, or extra-rigorous verbatim, make sure all that information is factored into your quote. You don't want to be surprised.

  2. Time coding. Time codes can be especially helpful in this type of project. You definitely want to be clear if you want the transcriber to pull the time stamps from the file as it plays or from the burnt-in timecode on the video itself (I.E. the running timer on raw video footage). Also note that time coding adds labor time to the transcriber, so you'll most often have to pay a little bit extra for time codes, so make sure that is factored into your quote.

  3. Research. By definition, if you're making a documentary, it's because you want to create an insight into a world or niche that is underrepresented in popular culture. Therefore, your raw footage likely contains many technical terms and proper names that need to be presented correctly. Consider providing your transcription service a list of names and jargon for them to reference. This can help tremendously in making sure your transcript is accurate and useful. You'll also want to choose a transcription service that cares enough about your project to do some research on their own, if need be.

  4. Accuracy. Depending on what you're using your transcripts for, you may want your transcriber to be sure to capture all uh's, um's, and small verbal tics. Many companies will charge extra for this, but not all. Look for a transcription company that has experience with this extra level of verbatim. Speaking as a transcriber myself, exact verbatim does not necessarily take more time, but it does require a very good, conscientious transcriber, so look for a service that emphasizes quality but does not charge extra.

So these are a few of the factors that I would consider most important in picking a transcription service for a documentary film maker. Let me know your thoughts!

Thanks for reading,



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