Recently, Videomaker was invited to a special reception honoring this year’s documentarians nominated for Academy Awards. For this week’s “Tips & Tricks” segment, Jennifer has some words from the pros on the trials and tribulations of documentary making.
“And the Oscar goes to An Inconvenient Truth, Davis Guggenheim”
Director Davis Guggenheim shared the Oscar stage with his star, Al Gore, at this year’s Academy Awards. His movie, An Inconvenient Truth, was a documentary anomaly grossing 45 million dollars at the box office; third only to Fahrenheit 9/11 and March of the Penguins. The mostly slideshow movie had star recognition, a bigger than average budget and a fair amount of production gear to pull the story off.
But, at the International Documentary Awards reception, we talked to many other documentary nominees who used consumer gear, one-man band operations and minimal budgets to tell their story.
I’m James Longley. I directed the film Iraq in Fragments and also did the cinematography and the music and co-edited the film.
In tight situations, you were mostly shooting alone?
I was shooting by myself, working with an Iraqi translator. So, it was just me and one other person; that was the biggest crew that I ever had. I was in Iraq for two years. We shot 300 hours of material using the Panasonic DVX100 and 100A cameras; filming in progressive scan, 24 frames per second, advance pull-down mode, which means that when you bring it into the computer you’re editing in true 24 frame per second. And, we shot letterbox; so, the aspect ratio of the image is basically 16:9. And then when the film was finished, in the editing phase, we exported the tip sequence of all the frames in the movie, about 134000 frames; and then those were imported into a Da Vinci 2k system at Modern Digital in Seatle and uprised using their proprietary codec to high-definition size.
Can you tell me a little about the gear that you used?
So you’re happy; ok, you want details! Ok, I had three lectrosonic 100 series wireless microphones that I could sort of configure in different ways; sometimes as levs or as table mics, you know, wireless table mics and sort of PTM. So I could get that and mix it all down to one channel and then I always had a sennheiser boom as the devoted channel.
What kind of lights did you use?
No lights. No lights, no tripod. I carried a tripod to Iraq. I even took it out once. You can’t, yeah. I had to be so that I could move at any moment and there was no way I could do that with a tripod.
Several of the documentarians that we spoke with talked about the importance of the smaller gear being less intrusive than in years past.
So thrilled by that you know, that management cliché about the long tale, but it’s really, really true. That you can find in Netflix, you can find on the web, you can find weird things, you know, six/seven months before our film is ready to market, we’re already getting tons of emails asking us when they can get the DVD. It’s really amazing; the internet has changed the rules. Changed the rules!
And a few of the producers we interviewed offered these words of encouragement and advice to future up and coming documentarians.
For someone who is just first starting out, what kind of tips would you give someone who wants to make a documentary, they had a passion for a story?
What kind of advice would you give people who want to start out making their own documentary like this, something either on this caliber or just starting out?
The best picture, the best director and best actor nominees always get the press attention. So this little private reception honoring the document makers is a way of putting them through the spotlight through the International Documentary Association, the IDA, which sponsored the event.
The IDA is a non-profit organization whose purpose is to keep the public informed about the importance of documentaries. And this year, they will be addressing a very important issue on fair use and we will have more on that in an upcoming Videomaker magazine. Videomaker was also at the event as a one-man band, or in my case, as a one-woman band using this equipment, Sony’s Tony HVR-A1U HDV camcorder, tripped out with a small focusable light from VariZoom and a wireless mic from Samson and this Manfrotto 560b monopod.
For Videomaker Presents, I’m Jennifer O’Rourke.