Looking at more documentaries

Was simply looking at how to make documentaries online, and came across this article which was quite useful in terms of setting the groundworks on what to do in making a documentary. Taking just the main and relevant points from the article, it sets out steps, i.e.:
  1. Watch documentary movies. Learn what makes or breaks a documentary film.
  2. Become familiar with technical equipment.
  3. Choose a subject that you find fascinating and is accessible to you. Choosing a subject that is compelling & timely will result in a strong and relevant film.
  4. Become an expert on your chosen subject through research. Research your subject as thoroughly as possible.
  5. Create a structure/outline for your film through visualization. Write down your ideas. This will give you a blueprint for shooting. But remember that in documentary filmmaking, unlike fictional filmmaking, the footage informs the final structure of the film. Your initial written outline exists to serve as a guideline for shooting.
  6. Analyze your wants/needs for making the film. Make a wishlist of any people, locations, items, equipment you WISH you could have for your film. Cross-reference this list with any people, locations, items and equipment that you do have access to.
  7. Shoot! Don’t talk about doing it – get out there and shoot your film. This is the step that differentiates the aspiring filmmakers from the actual filmmakers.
  8. Post-production. Fast forward through all of your footage, and take printable screenshots of key scenes. This way you simplify the editing process by creating a visual map of your footage. Once this is done you should watch ALL of your footage and create an action log listing timestamps. This will help you to save time in the editing room.
  9. Show your film! Upload it to the internet, four-wall it in a theatre, send the cut to distributors/networks to see if they are interested, hit the festival circuit. You can apply to multiple film festivals at once through the website Withoutabox.

(main article)

I think this is pretty useful, especially in terms of post-production where it says to look at the footage and take screenshots of key scenes. I guess I can’t do that with my interview footage, but I can take notes of which chunks of answers can go where in my doco structure, and decide where to snip parts of the videos.

Also browsed through some interesting documentaries focusing on communities, such as this one on the LGBT community by the Queensland Association for Healthy Communities by the Queensland Association for Healthy Communities, and this one on Community Models in Correction sponsored by the Community Model Association  of America.

I liked the way the LGBT community documentary started, though it may not be useful for my own doco. It starts with a sort of introduction to all these community members, where they introduce themselves – there are transsexuals, transvestites, bisexuals, homosexuals, hermaphrodites… – and then goes on to a title screen, and then to a campaign worker introducing issues in the community e.g. prejudice, substance abuse, mental health, etc.

While looking at the doco, I noted down how the interviewees were filmed in terms of the distance, setting, eye contact (to the camera? to the side?), position, lighting, and also to the background music that was playing (some jazzy tune?) and the aesthetics of the text (some animation and then some text) and the use of only the first names for each interviewee’s title.

For the correction models doco, each interviewee was named in full, with their position/rank in the corrections center in full as well, along with their number of years in experience. The music was a bit solemn (piano music) and there were a lot of footage of the inside of the corrections facility showing the officers’ ‘daily routine’, in a way. This doco started with introductory text instead of a voice over, but both this one and the LGBT doco included statistics in their documentaries. But the corrections facility one included some subtitles stating, or narrating extra information about the community.

While there is some music in the LGBT doco (in the beginning, and none over the interviewees speaking), the corrections facility doco had the solemn, dramatic piano music playing throughout the whole thing (even over the interviewees speaking). And thinking back to my own documentary, I was wondering which one would be better – to have music throughout, or not? I think that the solemn music playing throughout the corrections facility doco really influenced it in that it gave it that very sad, serious tone, and really fit in well as opposed to if it didn’t include that background music. But I guess the real issue for me would be to look for the right type of music to use in my documentary, should I choose to include any. And then it would also come down to finding a song and getting permission to use it.

I’ve already conducted some interviewees, and I kind of filmed my interviewees from the chest up. But I noticed a stark difference in how both documentaries mentioned above filmed their interviewees. The LGBT doco filmed most of their subjects from the waist up. The correctional facility doco filmed its subjects right in the face! I guess for the LGBT doco it would’ve been appropriate to take a more distant shot so that viewers have a sort of ‘comfortable’ distance away from the interviewees, whereas the corrections doco is probably meant to be a bit more confrontational. The LGBT doco also showed the interviewees speaking, without putting images over them; whereas the corrections facility one always had different footage playing over its interviewees speaking.

Both documentaries were about community and conflict, but both had quite contrasting styles. As of now, I’m not too sure which style would be suitable for my community and conflict, but I guess a bit of both won’t hurt. I think the use of statistics and information shown in text is quite useful, especially if I have anything extra that I may want to add into the documentary. It was definitely helpful to see how interviewees were filmed and how music and extra footage was used in the documentaries, but I guess I’ll need to look at more documentaries to see more styles and more angles in reflecting communities through a documentary.


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