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June 15, 2009 at 2:17 PM #37570
For all of you who aspire to create documentary films, here is an article by Basil Tsiokos a veteran film festival programmer on what not to do when producing documentary films.Apparently some feel his criticisms are too harsh, but as a filmmaker who cut his teeth in the bizmaking documentary films I found his points were well made. Also, Mr. Tsiokos being an ‘insider’ for the selection of film festival (Sundance)and public television (POV) programming I think he’s definitely worth checking out. I also think that ‘old hands’ at doc making would do well to turn an eye to the article for it reaffirmed the lessons I’ve learned over the years.
Let me know what you think.
June 15, 2009 at 7:08 PM #166572EarlCMember
Good read. Interesting approach. Eye-opening use/application for Twitter. Good points, and should be well-taken by all but the most thin-skinned of individuals (usually those who cannot handle the truth, thus over-react). Thanks for the find and posting, enjoyed and appreciated the read.
June 15, 2009 at 9:28 PM #166573
Glad you enjoyed it. I initially thought that it might be too high-end for many of the novices who read Videomaker, but I do believe the earlier they get this stuff the better.
June 20, 2009 at 7:41 PM #166574
Making docs are more often a labor of love. Despite the difficulties Doc makers can face, real gems get made. Here’s a couple I’ve found that combine ‘compelling subjects’ and ‘interesting locations’. Both are about how two types of American music and culture have had their influence on people in places most could not imagine. Without being a ‘spoiler’ I present ‘Wu Tang Gran’ and ‘Heavy Metal in Bagdad’. The first is an 8min + short and the second is a feature 1hr 24min. If you can’t sit in front of your ‘puter for an hour plus, I do understand. However, both are very good and surprising.
June 20, 2009 at 9:10 PM #166575AnonymousInactive
The articleneeds to be reprinted over and over againmonth aftermonthbecause docs arethe most popular andeasiest to make. Any idiot can make one because the subjects do all the work. The result is yet another mistake heaped upon mountains of mistakes. The tired format of making a doc about making a doc rests at the summit. I’ll bet festivals are fed up with the same doc subjects year after year after year…even refusing some because they’ve already got one for that year.
Bands are performers. Performers are more interesting because they actually do something…anything. They’re also screwups which are fun to watch. Don’t ask me how I know…
June 20, 2009 at 9:35 PM #166576
Hoss you sound like you’ve still got your ‘smolder on’ after getting burnt being involved with a doc. The ‘delusion of groundbreaking’ you mentioned can plague (and often does) narrative filmmakers, musicians and other artists as well. I’ve made or been involved with the making of a lot of docs and have been fortunate to learn the craft from some really good people. When I read the article, I shook my head through it saying, ‘How could you not know this stuff? It’s basic filmmaking?’ I then remembered that I’ve been at this a while, have had some really good training and had the opportunity to work professionally making product. Many people who get involved with filmmaking lack one or more of those critical bits when they start making their films.
As anyone who’s done this more than once should know, it is all too easy to ‘fall in love with making a movie’ during the production process. I’ve seen it happen to musicians when they go into the studio and I’ve certainly seen it (and done it unfortunately) during production. When a filmmaker gets too involved with the ‘cool points’ of making a movie, they’ve fallen in love with it and just like when one is in love, they’ll miss all the important little details about the relationship that pops up. Not that filmmaking shouldn’t be enjoyed, but you kind of have to treat it like your ‘pet chicken’. Yeah you love old ‘Clucky’, but when you have to you’ll eat him.
Doc’s are ‘easy to make’ as they take far less money and resources to get made, but are so much harder because a good doc maker will allow the story to ‘tell itself’. Every doc I ever saw that ‘sucked on ice’ was obviously not allowed to do that. Documentary filmmaking is like the ‘found art’ Picasso and other artists since made with bicycle seats and other junk that was laying around. Before they manipulated it to be something specific, it was just a bunch of unrelated stuff. Doc’s are like that, a bunch of stuff you shot to tell a story you concieved that ends up being something you didn’t. Usually, what you end up with is so much better than you thought of originally.
June 20, 2009 at 11:27 PM #166577AnonymousInactive
Ha ha…Yes, I drew the line at one. I find them boring, awful, and trite with lots of sleepy interviews. My interests are simply different. I don’t find talking heads interesting. I chuckle when I see someone doing another doc on an already worn-out subject. Then, they’ve the nerve to make another on the very same subject! That’s why the article needs to be reprinted monthly in every video magazine and website.
Fortunately, the only way I got thru my easy docwas making it a docu-comedy. I’m into comedy writing now and it’s fantastic. I’ve a performing, teaching,and writing background which helps a lot. I run some of myideas past friends and, the last I looked, they were laughing their heads off. Then they get into the spirit and help me out, too.
(I’ve just written something for someone else a few hours agothat I know he’s going to use.)
Everytime someone new is around, they get inspired to get a camera and start doing their own stuff. I don’t know how many people I’ve influenced to get a camera. That’s what teachers do…inspire others to grow, expand,and learn.
However, writing and actualizing are 2 different things. I have to hire actors to perform the way I need them. Shooting is more challenging than the actual script writing. Imake all the music, too. I’ll never do another doc…just too much funcreating other stories that have yet to be told.
June 21, 2009 at 1:44 AM #166578
You have my absolute respect as a comedy writer. Of all the genres comedy is the hardest. My sense of humor is mad dark and rarely does that translate well to movie audiences. My latest film is a horror spoof of Reality TV’s inevitable solution to ratings. There’s stuff in there that will make you laugh, but I only put it in there to offset all of the ‘other stuff’. To purposefully humorous through an entire film… Uhy!
Though I’ve been working on narrative projects more, I haven’t given up on docs. In fact, I’m gearing up for post on two big doc projects. You’ll be happy to know that one is more of a ‘news style’ expose’ on different topics and the other is a subject I’ve never worked on before. Now, it’s in a genre I’ve seen good and horrible renditions of the topic, which is why I’m taking a little time to really look at the footage and see where it wants to go.
I’m on the fence about which is ‘easier’ between docs and narrative. Both have their challenges and depending on how big the project is, you’ll still have to deal with other people’s foolishness while trying to get job done.
If you get some spare time, take a look at the ‘Writing on Spec’ Thread. The video attached is probably something you can identify with.
June 21, 2009 at 9:52 AM #166579AnonymousInactive
I saw your other thread but don’t have time for the movie. I actually enjoy well put-together docs like on the history/learning channel. I just don’t like making them because there’sno challenge in filming an interview, having the subject do most of the performing, etc. I’m currently with the buskers and everyvideoI’ve seen is a doc. I’ve been burnt in half from all these same docs. Homemade amateur docs are the worst. That’s half the reason why I’m making a comedy movie.
I don’t know why but I thought comedy would be the easiest. But when I think of the risks Mel Brooks took, you’re probably right. Some of it worked and some bombed. Most of the comedy I’ve written so far is slap stick/visual and shown in fast motion just like the old silent cinema. I need to practice writing more comedy withdialogue. Now, that’s a challenge…
June 21, 2009 at 12:20 PM #166580AnonymousInactive
In my spare time, I moonlight as a standup comedian and a member of a comedy improv troupe, and I’d rather work on 10 documentaries (or any other genre films) than 1 comedy, although I do plan on shooting a full-length comedy one day. The problem with comedy is that there’s just so much potential for failure. Heck, half the time when I watch my own jokes after the fact I don’t even find them all that funny. (It’s a good thing most comedy clubs serve alcohol).
As far as documentaries go, I’m working on one right now, and it should be pretty impressive when it’s finished. I’m still in the preproduction stage, but I’m taking pointers from folks who’ve been around the block a time or two. I’m not saying it’ll be a Ken Burns masterpiece, but it should be pretty good.
June 22, 2009 at 5:03 PM #166581
The toughest thing I’ve found about making documentaries hasn’t had anything to do with the production aspects. It’s always been with festival boards. I’ve made enough doc’s to make them interesting enough to watch. Whenever I’m able to get any of them in front of an audience so far it has always been the subject matter that has sparked debate not any technical foibles which is as it should be. The difficulty is getting stuff past those (when you can’t say anything nice…) festival boards. Man, if your film isn’t the ‘flavor of the month’ or reach the board participants specific tastes, fuggeddaboutit! If I see one more doc about starving kids in africa with AIDS and so on…. Not that it isn’t an important subject, but it isn’t the only subject out there.
The whole purpose of documentary filmmaking is to ‘document’ a subject and present it in the visual medium. Those subjects can involve anything, but since the primary place for screening docs is film festivals if you have to start making your film’s to what you think a review board will accept, that defeats the whole purpose of making a doc. That’s one of the reasons you keep seeing the same thing over and over. Doc’s may be information inspired works, but they ultimately have to be ‘marketable’ in order to reach an audience. You’re piece can be a flawless work of filmmaking that touches the heart and enlightens the mind. But, if some festival board or distributor doesn’t think it will sell, no one will see it.
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