So you wanna be a Documentary Shooter huh?

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    • #48698

      Having shot many doc’s in my career I find them much ‘easier’ to make than narrative films in that you often need far less resources and can pretty much just ‘take off and go shoot’ with a lot less effort. Where the ‘easy’ part ends with doc’s is when it comes time to get chained to an NLE and you hear the editing bay door slam shut behind you! Trying to ‘script’ a doc is at best foolhardy (not the words I want to use mind you.) Documentaries have the powerful ability to ‘create their own story’ without a lot of input from the filmakers or editors. Often, I’ve gone in to cut a doc with one idea in mind and found a completely different story (which was better) than what I originally conceived. Now, when shooting or editing a doc I just ‘let the story tell itself’. Tough to learn how to do, but once you do doc’s get ‘easy’ to make.

      The folks at Zacuto have released their latest “Film Fellas” webisode and the panel of experienced documentary filmmakers discuss the various aspects of doc making. Much of what they have to say I think will be very helpful to ‘fresh out of the box’ newbies to jaded pros. Take a look….


    • #199685
      Grinner Hester

      It’s kind of funny. The fresh out of the boxers often look at docs as features and the old school jaded folksalmost all do. lol

      I think this is why I love making documentaries so much. You get to just document. Infinatly easier than producing a scripted movie or show. I point a camera then tell the story post. My kids are 14, 13 and 10 and can do it. If it doesn’t come easy, you’re probablydoing it wrong.

    • #199686

      Yeah, kids can go ‘straight for the throat’ with docs ’cause they don’t bring too many (if any) preconceptions to their shooting. Most times they’re too happy just to be doing it! I think that once (adults that is) leave ourselves open to what the story ‘could be’ shooting and post gets much easier. Where we all get bit in the soft parts is in ‘coverage’. In narratives you can kinda’ slip by with minimal coverage if the acting is strong. Thin coverage in docs is painfully obvious.

    • #199687

      Narrative is a BIG part of the documentary editing plan, offering the “outline” for a story that, as you said, takes a course of its own – either when shooting for a subject, or when putting it together in post. Those who fight against the natural course of the documentary, trying to “bend” it to their will are going to be disappointed in the resulits.

      A documentary shooter/editor or production team CAN maintain some degree of control using particular camera POVs (points of view) angles, along with medium, occasional wide, and TIGHT shots, plenty of cutaways and movements a la Ken Burns documentaries – even good, solid support music for mood, ramping in and out of music and narrative tracks smoothly instead of slamming from one to the other.

      The best part of doing documentary work, for me, is getting a diversity of opinion. I love to find folks with opposing views (if it is THAT KIND of a documentary) and playing the two against each other. I also like “scruffing it up” being down and dirty, or gritty, in parts, while keeping the base-line story clean and solid with good lighting and composition/framing.

    • #199688

      “Those who fight against the natural course of the documentary, trying to
      “bend” it to their will are going to be disappointed in the resulits.”

      That brings me to to what I hate most about making docs. As a doc maker you have to reach that point of ‘enlightenment’ else it’s a nightmare. Trying to convince those holding ‘the purse strings’ on a doc project of that little bit of ‘zen’ (a doc’s going to be what it’s going to be) when they don’t understand (or won’t) always stretches my ‘diplomacy muscles’ to maximum. As an artist who thoroughly comprehends the business and monetary aspects of making flicks, the practical side is not lost on me. However, though shooting a doc can have exact elements like you mentioned Earl, putting the story together is way more art than science. Getting that across to the money folks on a big project is a PIA.

      Funny thing about that though, just like anything else if you do like Ken Burns and show that your projects can both receive acclaim and make money, much of that ‘resistance’ seems to fade away. Hard part is getting to that point. What’s odd to me is how investors will throw money at a narrative that’s ‘howlin” from script to post and when you see it (and hopefully did not pay) you ask, “How the hell did this get financing?” I’ve found that part of the answer is that whether diamond or dog, narratives once in distribution always make money. Obviously not blockbuster cash, but over time most break even or a small profit.

      Docs don’t do that unless there is a well known name or some kind of controversy attached to it. Which is too bad I think because often you can get more out of a bad doc than a bad narrative.

    • #199689

      Here’s a doc by Polvorosa Kline called “A Look into Nature” that I think makes the point about trying to force your concept but the story tells something else.

      A Look Into Nature from Polvorosa Kline on Vimeo.

    • #199690
      Grinner Hester

      The art to making documentaries is to be able to follow the story, not create it.

    • #199691

      “Often you can get more (money?) out of a bad doc than a bad narrative.” – Composite

      “The are to making documentaries is to be able to follow the story, not create it.” – Grinner

      Totally agree.

    • #199692


      The missing word was ‘watching’.

    • #199693

      Wolf got it exactly –

      The video claims it’s premise is that by looking at nature we will better understand the world. The video shows that it’s all about eating & reproducing (or at least males just putting on a show).

      Mixed messages = confusing.

    • #199694


      Annoying bit was the flick was very well shot. I probably could have done without the slideshow at the end, but it sort of worked. I hope ol’ boy’s point ‘of understanding the world’ wasn’t ‘everything’s trying to either screw or eat you….’

    • #199695

      I agree about the slideshow. These were high quality images, so they blended pretty good, but the more I watch the more I think still images are only for those situations where there AREN’T ANY videos. A picture of Geronimo works–there’s no video of him. A picture of an eagle when I just saw video of one makes me wonder, “why don’t they have more video of the eagle?”

      Caveat: I might be saying that as someone who works with video and not as a casual viewer. My wife or my daughter might not have the same reaction.

    • #199696

      Out of curiosity, as I continue to learn this stuff, how much color correction do you think there was in that video? Was the sky really that blue? The trees really that green?

      Also, what effects (if any) were used? Do you think there really was a rainbow under the waterfall? Did the camera pick up that lens flare when the sun was coming over the horizon?

      It’s gorgeous–I’m just wondering about how it’s put together.

    • #199697


      I’d be surprised if there wasn’t any color correction/grading used. Far as the ‘rainbow’ goes, with a polarizer (filter) or a graded ND yeah it wouldn’t be any big deal getting that. If you angle your lens against the sun just right, you can get lens flares on purpose. It’s when you don’t want them is when they show up the most!

    • #199698

      Composite1, thanks. I’m going to research filters a bit (this comes after commenting in another thread on this furm thatI didn’t need any of the filters I have).

      For what it’s worth, I’ve seen the lens flares when I didn’t necessarily want them, too!

    • #199699
      Grinner Hester

      matte boxes FTW in those cases

    • #199700

      I’ve got a few docs under my belt and have to say that I find them a great way to impact how people perceive the world. Because of the format, people find it more believable and can be persuaded to form opinions about your topic. It’s now not uncommon that a single doc will help shape or redirect public opinion.

      Jeff Roldan

    • #199701

      I gotta be honest about that video from Polvorosa….It was beatuiful footage and all, but I don’t know what the message was. I was ready to learn and understand something new, but came away completely confused about the message. The music put me on edge as it slowly built up to a crescendo with a tone of anticipation, then nothing. I didn’t get it.

      Haven’t made but one short doc in my time so far, so I can’t offer much to the conversation, but happy to read on… πŸ™‚

    • #199702

      this is very interested post. thanks

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