Documentary making- my reflections so far

26 Mar

207x160_entrevista_FilosofiaCriancas_PPPolinArts and the Outsiders, or more precisely the shorter version of it, which will most probably be called PolinArts and Prometheus(es), is progressing nicely. I have almost 3 hours of footage and there will be more. In the meantime,  I thought I’d share what I’ve learned whilst working on it. You might find it useful, if, like me, you’re no stranger to filmmaking, but it’s the first time you do a documentary.

Equipment: Before shooting I did a lot of research. I checked the price and specifications of professional cameras, DSLR’s, semi professionals and consumer types. I looked at mics, light steady cams and all other types of camera accessories. I watched closely other documentaries, read blogs about the subject and looked at books. Eventually, I decided that – what matters is the content! Not the equipment (well, apart from having a decent microphone). This is why I stacked to the little HDV camera I had and focused on getting the right interviews and putting together a decent story. Having a light weight camera is very useful when doing handheld shots and, as I am filming it myself, with an automatic focus and fixed lens I don’t need to spent too much time on deciding how to shoot but focus instead on what to shoot.

Interviews: I must admit I felt very unprepared the first time I had to ask my character/subject questions. Will I ask the right questions for the information I want to get? How far can I push? Do I want stay nice and therefore friends with my subjects or do I not care? etc But before the panic could creep in and paralyse me completely, I thought: “Hold on! Everyone started somewhere! The TV presenters, investigative journalists had to also learn they craft and I’m sure that they made mistakes at some point.  So, if I have to make mistakes, I better make them now than wait till I’m perfectly ready, which may never happen”. Since then I conducted several interviews with number of people. You can’t always prepare as you don’t always know who you’re going to meet. But if you have the main idea of what your documentary is about- you’ll be fine. I will not know how well I did until I see the whole footage in the edit but until then, I carry on… improvising whenever necessary 🙂

There was another thing that I learned from conducting interviews, which I found extremely liberating. Unlike in fiction, when the writer have to come up with the lines for every character, in documentary interviewed characters take that responsibility away from the writer. If you find people that have the views you want to present, they will say them, often much better that you could ever think of.  All you have to do is to make sure that you don’t just have only ‘taking heads’ in your documentary. That’s the biggest challenge of a director! And that’s where the fun is!

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