How to go about filming a yet unknown travel documentary

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    • #47926


      This summer, me and another 3 friends have been set the task of doing a scouts Explorer Belt. Basically we are going to be dropped off somewhere in France (where, we don’t know until we get there) and then we have 10 days to get to a campsite in Spain however we want. Along the way we’ll have 10 tasks to complete, so for example, milking a cow, staying in someones home, busking.

      Our leader has just told us that we WILL be making a video presentation at a meeting they hold, which includes leaders, scouts, parents and high scouting officials, all together about 60 people.

      I was wondering how we would go about creating an interestingdocumentary of our travels and make the story engaging so people do not get bored whilst watching the final version. We do not know where we are going, what’s going to happen, so cannot really make a great plan, and it will need to incorporate the tasks to as such the doesn’t go “here we go again!”.

      Thanks, Richard

    • #197162

      Sounds like a great opporunity. Road trips make some of the best movies, so you won’t lack for plot. I have no idea what your skill level is, or what equipment you have, but I suggest you look at small, portable (preferably HD) digital camcorders for starters and lots of flash memory and a way to charge batteries. Then film everything, and edit it all at the end. If there are 4 of you, perhaps two cameras used at the same time (allowing you to trade off and on) would work, getting footage of each of you, but often providing two viewpoints at any given time.

    • #197163

      Get as Much Footage that you can always watch for that something super interesting and as pseudosafari said two cameras would be a good idea. enough batteries and in the end sit down go through your footage and put your story together. If you are taking a lap top a long you could down load your footage along the way and do some work while you are on the road.

    • #197164

      Everyone is absolutely right about filming lots and **LOTS** of footage. But just as importantly, IMHO, is remember to “cut till it bleeds” in the editing process. I don’t know if your scout leader gave you a required length for the video, but I find after 15 or20 minutes people will start looking at their watches unless they’re really enraptured.

      FWIW, I shot over 2,000 photos and 3 hours of video on a recent trip to Italy. The end result was a twelve minute travelougue that was highly watchable and entertaining.

      Oh yeah, finding some suitable background music is of critical importance too.

      Good luck and happy shooting!


    • #197165

      Hello Richard,
      Quite the opportunity to do something spectacular here, while still enjoying the challenge and experience. Congratulations! I am jealous. Also, my Scouting days are long-passed and I didn’t make it to Eagle Scout πŸ™‚

      Think about THIS approach: You would, of course, need at least two cameras, and everybody on the same page with the notes…

      There are four of you. You have 10 days. You have 10 tasks to complete – presumably one each day of the 10 days? You will start “somewhere” in France, and wind up “somewhere” in Spain – we all hope. You’ve been told you WILL have a video presentation.

      OK, assuming you have access to cameras and editing of your footage for the final production…
      One person is assigned with individual documentary interviews (switched, of course, when that person’s time comes to be in front of the camera).
      One person is assigned with principal photography (videography) “documenting” the documentary efforts above. That person, while having the “principal” responsibilities, will also trade off so as to be both in front of and behind, at some point, both cameras.
      This unique perspective, while putting the PRIMARY responsibility of the two approaches on the shoulders of two individuals for a solid consistent development and shooting style, will offer some change-up from time-to-time as the others put their unique twist, thoughts, approach or concept to use in these “guest” roles of responsibility. Also, everybody gets a shot at shooting, directing and producing content.

      Each of you taking a turn to to a VERY BRIEF overview of the adventure, the challenges, expectations and how you hope or plan to get from F to S if it were left entirely up to you.

      While this is happening, alternate shooters shoot the process of this being done.

      This could be done while you all are en route to your starting destination – I presume you will be flying?

      From there, the broad picture documentarian will capture arrival and departure elements of the journey to your starting point in France. That person will record the planning session for the first day’s project and for the first day’s path toward Spain.

      At the end of the first day, before sacking out for the night, brief individual comments are videotaped for each of you, and also recorded by the “outside” documentary camera person. Again, rotation of camera duties to give each a shot of both sides of the lens.

      DAY TWO: planning session, exchange cameras with each other during the day’s progression, end with the recaps.

      DAY THREE: repeat…
      …and so forth.

      Elements of this planned approach will begin to take lives of their own, and as each of you have a shot at interviews, comments and documenting from the outside perspective the events and experiences of the day, including the DAILY? task, how it was set up, planned and the approach and/or level of success regarding the accomplishment of that “task”. Be sure to get each member’s opinion regarding the outcome as well.

      Try to build up some suspense by expressing on-camera, the possibilities and challenges of each day, asking with a serious demeanor “can we do it?” “will we succeed?” “what are the chances of dismal failure or overwhelming success?” In other words, some teasers like “stay tuned and find out” making your viewera wait until the end of daily production segments, to find out what the set up, conflict and resolution finally was both on a daily basis, and over the entire 10 days.

      By using a consistent style of opening, experiencing and recapping each day, then a final review of the whole experience, you should have an awesome, consistent and organized collection of material for something that will be anything BUT boring, even it it hangs closer to 20 minutes or GASP a half-hour.

      Perhaps three: a full documentary of 30- to 45-minutes or one hour; a tightly-edited and condensed 15-minute special edition full of mystery and intensity, reflecting the final results; and a movie-trailer teaser style production with all the visual and auditory HOT BUTTONS that will make the intended audience ABSOLUTELY HAVE to see the other two.

      Let me know if this is of any help, please.

      Also, you WILL post a video so we here at Videomaker Forums get a chance to see and enjoy your experience. πŸ™‚

      Go for it Richard, and gang!

    • #197166

      Hi Again,

      Firstly, thanks for all your replies…there were so many things that I hadn’t thought of doing!

      Between the 4 of us, we will have two video cameras, 4 still picture cameras and 2 travel tripods which we’re hoping will give our video a more professional look for various parts.

      Obviously, we don’t want the trip to become over-ruled by constantly filming, as the whole point is for us to go off on our own adventure and enjoy it. So with regards to filming everything how many hours do you reckon would be required? Maybe 2 hours per day per camera? We will also be editing on Premiere Pro CS4 which we are familiar with πŸ™‚

      The background music was one area I was unsure of….if we use too much it will just become almost a ‘slide showpresentation’ but if we use too little, I imagine the video may become boring especially later on? Also, what type of background music was you thinking of? if any particular?

      With regards to EarlC’s reply, I imagine we will be given all 10 tasks as we are kicked out of the minibus (not flying unfortunately) to for us to complete when we want over the 10 days…again…not a lot isallowedto be known beforehand.

      The camera switching idea is a great one and willdefinitelyallow us all to feature in the film…something of which I didn’t think of before!

      Also the opening, experiencing and recapping each day is an excellent idea…almost like a diary style, but one of excitement, suspense and laughter…just what we wanted to capture.

      Thanks again,


    • #197167

      A couple hours per day, per camera should be sufficient to produce a solid documentary, Richard. And that doesn’t mean you HAVE to RECORD two hours, just spend that much time setting up and planning real shots for your footage. I’m glad you like the opening and recapping concept, it would also serve as a guide for your shooting.

      Another good thing is you can incorporate the still shots into your production as well, and having camcorders available means whomever is using it for that period can shoot something “at will” that might go with what you are all aware you are accumulating.

      Again, would be great to see the results. Have a ball.

    • #197168
      Grinner Hester

      Just get creative and have fun story-telling.

      But do skip the film and it’s expense. Video is cheap, clean, and can go directly to post.

    • #197169

      I’m pretty sure the folks here are using “film” and “video” interchangeably even though it is absolutely two different things, Grinner. I went back and quickly scanned/re-read the original posts and responses here and saw no one actually referring or implying that these guys should actually shoot film rather than film.

      Yeah, “Video is cheap, clean, and can go directly to post.” seems fairly obvious to most of the folks who read and participate on the VM forums.

    • #197170

      Now Earl, you’re picking on Grinner. He’s been a very good boy lately so be nice…. I did have to go back and see that myself though. Simple enough mistake.

      “…We don’t want the trip to become over-ruled by
      constantly filming, as the whole point is for us to go off on our own
      adventure and enjoy it. So with regards to filming everything how many
      hours do you reckon would be required?”


      You should have a shooting schedule laid out ranging from the ‘couple of hours’ mentioned by Earl or more. You said there were 10 tasks you had to complete then you base your schedule around those tasks. I figure you always have one camera ready to document portions of ‘the journey to task #… and then shoot the task itself. Later on you shoot ‘the aftermath’ as you all talk about the inevitable screw-ups that happened and so on. Setting up a schedule will keep you all on point and focused. Doing it ‘freestyle’ may cost you missed opportunities. Now just because you have a schedule doesn’t mean you can’t be ‘flexible’ when it comes to shooting….

    • #197171

      As I said: “I’m pretty sure the folks here are using “film” and “video” interchangeably…” πŸ˜‰ Grinner’s OK, but like me and you, battling over the top posting spot πŸ˜‰ some of our posts lately seem affected for the purposes of reigning supreme, rather than actually putting new, fresh thought into what we say. I AM including myself in that. Actually, as of today, I no longer will be making the effort to be number one – not worth the time it takes and relatively meaningless, I suppose, in the end.

      It would appear that Richard and company will have difficulty focusing on video to the general exclusion of having fun and being in the moment – something I run into with event clients who want to party and not deal with video even though somebody else is doing the camera work and editing. And I cannot blame Richard for that. I cut loose when I was able to visit Australia a dozen years ago, and I’m an OLD guy by most people’s standards – everyone but mine πŸ˜‰

      Freestyle may very well be the best they/we can hope for, but if they at least focus on setting up and recapping the day, and getting something that appeals to them during the day’s activities, they have hope of putting it together cohesively.

    • #197172

      Hi composite1.

      I imagine a shooting schedule would be hard to create given our circumstances. Yes, we have 10 tasks to complete, but we don’t know what they all are till we get there. We have the 10 days to complete them but can do so at our own pace, so we may wish to do 2 or 3 in a day and focus on travelling the next day.

      Also, some of the tasks may need us to be in a certain location (ie city, farm, train station) for us to complete…we just don’t know till we get there. One of last years team’s tasks was to stay in a locals house overnight, so it may not be a simple case of doing each task in the middle of the day each day. Bit of a strange situation I know πŸ˜€


    • #197173

      Take a monopod – not as bulky as a full blown tripod, but it’ll be an improvement over constant, jerky, handheld shots.

    • #197174
      Grinner Hester

      I’ve found extra gear just slows a brother down. Less is more. Ya need the shot when shooting reality/non-scripted content. You can’t afford to miss something because you were toting uneeded gear. I usually go out with my camera, extra tapes in my pockets one extra bettery, should I go over 18 hours, a wireless lav juuuust in case,and a couple of dimmable LEDs in another pocket.

      If you can’t find a way to stabilize yourself when shooting handheld, documentaries are simply not your bag.

    • #197175

      “I imagine a shooting schedule would be hard to create given our


      Making a shooting schedule need not be a detailed affair. More often it’s just a reference that may change a hundred times before the day is over. This is particular relevant when shooting documentary style footage. As a bunch of first time filmmakers, the last thing you want to do is to try and ‘freestyle’ this thing if you’re serious about getting enough footage to make your doc worth watching. A schedule even a loose one will keep you and your shooters focused. After a few days on the road and the ‘excitement’ starts to wear off, folks (particularly amateurs) start gettin’ lazy. When you get lazy, you start missing memorable shots because somebody was spacin’ out, forgot to charge batteries the night before, didn’t load a fresh tape or bothered to download yesterday’s footage of the flash card and on and on. Believe me I’ve been there, done that and barely got the movie done because of it. Hated it. It would be a shame that you and your group spent all that time out there and only got a handful of shots that won’t cut together worth a crap.


      Though I did give the ‘battle for posting supremacy’ a few minutes worth of thought (the laughter took up the rest of the time) believe me when I say, ‘I post when either the topics/discussions get interesting or if I find something interesting to chuck out for others to see.’ Though I am certain you would be a worth opponent, it ‘ain’t like that.’


      “I’ve found extra gear just slows a brother down.” Ya’ heard?

    • #197176
      Grinner Hester

      I can’t say I’ve ever heard it but I don’t pretend to be a good listener. That really makes my point… most of us aint.It’s just something I’ve learned from hands on experience over the last quarter of a century. It really is imprtant to get the shot. Without that, you are bound to boring standups and VOs and that’s what makes a documantary unwatchable in most cases.

    • #197177

      Funny thing is when we load up for a shoot, I damn near bring the kitchen sink. I have found it’s always better to have stuff and be able to put it to use if needed than not have it. But when I break off alone or with another crewmember out on a field shoot, I strip my kit damn near to the bone. If I can’t put in or tie it to my backpack or sling it over my shoulder (the only thing I’ll carry is the camera) it stays behind. The only reason I don’t carry my old xl1s rig like I used to is because my 200UB is a much better camera. Right now I’m seriously looking at getting a handful of ‘Flips’ as ‘crash’ and ”splodey’ cams to fill in until I get a couple of 7D’s or whatever Canon’s next ‘vunda’ camera comes out. Plus showing up with a ton of gear for a doc shoot scares the crap out of potential interviewees.

    • #197178

      If you have two cameras, and four people, then you should have no trouble with a “shooting schedule.” I’d try to keep two guys at all times ready with a camera–maybe not filming, but ready just in case. Then hand the camera over when it’s the next “team’s” turn. You probably want to be ready at all times just in case something comes up.

      I shot 45 minutes of video ona fishing vacation once. I made a 5 minute video out of it and handed it out to my buddies who went with me. One of them said, “But we didn’t do anything interesting while we were there.” Somehow, though, that 4 day trip, boiled down to 5 minutes, turned out great. They really liked the end result and refer back to it from time to time. We even watched it when we all got together recently.

      So, I say, shoot everything and boil it down at the end. You’ll be glad you did.

    • #197179


      A few more suggestions for consideration and some repetitions from previous posts.

      A task on many Explorer Belt adventure trips is to maintain a daily written log. This is made to order for documenting your video clips, including details of shoots, which camera/tape/card has the close-ups vs the master shots of what subjectmatter; also, the names of locals who appear in clips for thanking in the credits, etc.etc.

      At one point, it was suggested above that 4 hours be shot per day (for a total of 40 hours). Even if its only a total of 10 hours or 5, by the end of the trip, it may be hard to remember where/what particular shots are. The log can be useful for this.

      Blending live action with still shots in the final cut can be very cool. When engaging with locals, you may find less initial resistance to shooting stills, compared to video. Warm them up, then bring in the video.

      Protect lenses with filters. Be prepared to protect gear from weather.

      What if midway or towards the end of the trip, you are running low on battery power. You may need to sneak off to a hotel one night for a recharging session.

      You may be tired and worn out towards the end of the trip. Essential to establish roles, routines, patterns of organization, at the beginning of the trip, and stick with, so that you have a clue for what you should be doing towards the end of the trip, even when you dont feel like it. (Organization really well covered in earlier posts.)

      Accomplish your ten tasks and shoot the action live as its happening. Dont shy away from close-ups and extreme close-ups, as well as medium (waist-up) and master shots. Do retakes if need be to get a good shot.

      20 second minimum for main action shots and B role. Give yourself plenty of tail room for transitions.

      Be like a statue when shooting hand held. Find comfortable steady positions for hand held, e.g., squatting, leaning against whatevers handy. For panning of static shots and for interviews, use tripod.

      Have the mindset that if something unexpected happens not on your list of planned shots, but which is interesting or dramatic, somebody has to jump into position to get the shot or record the scene.

      Are bullfights and cockfights off limits for Explorer scouts. Youll be in Spain. It is part of local culture. Your video doesnt have to be bloody. The hysterical hand waving as bets are made can make fascinating footage.


      Suggest recording 60 seconds of ambient sound in all unique locations, every day; minimum of 20 seconds. This would be done without your team being heard.

      Any way you could bring a digital audio recorder on the trip for recording great sound with line mics ?

      If you see a guitar, ask someone to play. Combine that with the ambient for potential soundtrack material.

      The talking head spots by members of the team will be a great voiceover source.

      If at the end, you all look like you need to find a laundry mat, someone has to get that shot.

      Have fun


    • #197180

      What a great trip. I have made a few broadcast documentaries myself so if I were filming this I would be as interested in the inner journey of the participants as I am about the physical journey itself. I can see pretty pictures on Nat Geo every night of the week.

      Following the inner journey would give the film structure. What I would suggest is that at the end of and every day a camera is set up on a tripod away from the rest of you. Maybe in a tent. Each of you has a maximum of 60 seconds each day that they need to fill – use a stopwatch on your phone. Each of you has to talk about how you feel about the trip, rather than where you’ve been. We can see where you’ve been in pictures.

      The daily ‘diaries’ would most likely end up a mixture of euphoria, exhaustion, homesickness, intraspection and self-discovery. Don’t hold back. Tell it like it is.

      These daily diaries could be the chapter heads and will keep the programme moving along at a good pace.

      When it’s all over, and you’re back home, it might be worthwhile all of you getting together to record your group thoughts on the trip now that you’re removed from it. Well edited, these comments could be used to finish the programme with a relevant montage of the trip.

      Good luck. Try everything. Even a trip to a French Baker for a baguette (fresh and warm with French butter it’s to die for) or a Spanish butcher/deli for some Jamon (believe me, it’s awesome) could lead to some great comic moments.

      All the best and have a great time.


    • #197181

      A couple of points having just returned from a shoot in Italy which was a new experience for me. Ilike the idea of a monopod although a tripod – even a miniversion – would allow you to lock off so you could have all four of you in the same shot with one of you using a handheld or monopod camera to get close-ups of the guy talking and other cutaways/B roll shots etc,

      Second point is that when I was16 – back in the 1960s – three friends and I drove an old Bond 3-wheeler (we only needed a motorbike license because it had no reverse gear) tothe Carmargue area of France and had a ball – in ALL senses of the word!!!

      And there’s the rub! Four young guys, albeit with 10 tasks to carry out, are likely to be attracted to and also attractive to, the local young ladies so you have to consider the possibility of, shall we say, distractions,Before you leave on the trip, make a rule – a firm rule – thatshooting takes second priorityafter achieving the tasks because distractions like the local madamoiselles COULD mean the shooting of footagesuffers.

      Hope my two pence worth is of some use and if you wantsomeone to carry your bags while I follow at a discreet distance in my car,I’m available :o)

      Very envious


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