Friday, July 22, 2011

Documentary making tips

Research on the subject
Once you select an interesting subject,the more time you spend on the research the better your final product will be. Although a documentary depicts facts, it is important to come up with an angle that will make your documentary stand out. And the research will help your arrive at just that. You will be surprised to see how interested people will be to talk about their work and to show it off on a video. You might even find a new angle for your documentary once you talk to them.
Research the place, permissions and people
Never assume anything even when you know the Mr. President of a place. Talk to the security personnel and also make sure the legal advisers are OK with your shoot. I have learnt this the hard way while shooting my thirty second Identity Theft Video. Visiting the factory outlet every month and spending my hard earned money did not give me the right to shoot inside the stores. On the day of the shoot, with great respect they said they will get back to me after talking to their legal department. Thanks to my professors warning, I was ready with some back up exterior shots on the story board which helped finish the video without losing time and the desired outcome. Visit the location and know about it inside out. See which parts of the location you have access to and those you don’t.
Hire a guide
If you are new to the culture or customs of the place or if you do not speak the local language, have a guide from the area. They might get you the information and access to the remotest local places which you might not even know otherwise.
Be on time or early
Reaching the location early will give you the time to shoot those wide establishing shots, cutaways and record some ambient sound. You can then concentrate on the A-Roll shots when the place opens up or the subject is ready.
Treat the crew well
Keep the crew well informed on the details of the documentary. Make sure they know the location and provide them the required transportation details in advance. Occasionally treat them to breakfast or lunch. While shooting my SKI Patrol Documentary, buying lunch to my subject at what was supposed to be the end of the shoot actually opened doors to new ideas as he shared his thoughts much more openly. We ended up shooting for an hour post lunch for the best of the shots.
Shoot enough B-Roll
B-Roll is the part of the visuals which will show what the subject is talking about. For example if you are interviewing a soccer team coach, B-Roll would be the shots of the coach training the players in the field. During editing, this will go in between the interview video appropriately.
Shoot a lot of cut away shots
Along with the B-Roll having numerous cutaway shots will help you soften the transition from one shot to another during the editing phase.
Collect pictures and any supporting Arts and Crafts
Pictures, trophies etc give your documentary not only the credibility but also a nostalgic feel. If you are shooting at shiny objects like photo frames, shoot at an angle to avoid the light reflection and also not to see yourself in the video.
Record ambient sound
A smooth video should have a soft audio. Otherwise the viewer will notice a disturbing jump in between scenes. Record long enough ambient sound. During edit, when you put this on the second audio line it will give a pleasant feel as the video progresses.
Talent Releases and Brands
From the subject to a by stander if they are part of your video make sure you get a talent release signed right there and then. While shooting your B-Roll, make sure no brands or logos creep in to the video. I have heard numerous stories of films getting delayed as they fight for the required brand permissions during the post production phase.
Here is one Talent Release Form Template that you can use.
Last and my all time favorite tip (All Star Rating)
However well planned you are things will go wrong. When you are mentally prepared for this you will be less frustrated, which in turn allows you to think better and make the best of what you have on a given day. Not after returning the camera and landing in the editing lab did I realize that half of the shots on the tape were blank due to damaged camera head. Having good enough cut always and B-Roll made my day :)