Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Documentary Storytelling

I learned a few lessons from my recent Documentary Storytelling assignments.

This first one is that a doc that is as short as 90 seconds would greatly benefit from a little background music. Normally I'm not the biggest fan of throwing music at videos "just because" but when it comes to something so compact, music would have really helped the film feel more complete.

Secondly, hand signals are your friend. When filming with a DP, just grabbing the camera is a hard thing to avoid doing. Instead of getting frustrated, let the hand signals you use with your DP be your control. It helped to feel like Gerry (my camera operator for the shoot) was an extension of me instead of some other random person filming my shots. A production crew needs to be a cohesive unit, so letting go of some of that control is key. It's pretty difficult at first but once you hand over the reigns, it opens you up to pay attention to the other 400 things that are happening on a set, especially when you're filming documentary.

Third, don't be afraid to prompt people who are not actors. In narrative film it's easy to get away with manipulating ever small detail of the environment and the performance. Doing that in non fiction work can sometimes feel disingenuous. Don't be so hard on yourself. Stopping to say "Hey, that fan is making a weird noise, can I turn that off?" or "Does that lamp work? It's a little dark in that area of the frame." is not a crime. It's also not a crime to say, "Someone laughed in the other room during that, could you say that again?" or "That was worded a little strangely, could you be more concise with that statement?" People understand more about filming than a professional thinks sometimes and they won't be frightened or confused if you ask them to repeat something or silence their new puppy.

Filming real people is weird. Filming actors is weird. Filming in general IS WEIRD. Get comfortable with that awkwardness and then break through it. If you seem comfortable, your subjects will likely follow suit.

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