In order to bake a cake you need a list of ingredients. In order to make a documentary feature ﬁlm you need to make a list of what, and who, you need. This begins by deﬁning the ﬁlm you want to watch.
One way to begin deﬁning your ﬁlm is outlined below.
Find a quiet place and a couple of hours. Get a very large sheet of paper and some pens. Start by dividing your project into three sections. Those sections will vary dramatically from ﬁlm to ﬁlm and ﬁlmmaker to ﬁlmmaker.
For a ﬁlm on Autism it might be:
- What is autism?
- How is autism treated?
- How can it be prevented or “cured”?
For a ﬁlm on ballroom dancing, it might be:
- Why is ballroom dancing becoming so popular?
- Who dances and why do they dance?
- Where do they dance?
- How can you participate?
For a ﬁlm on an historical ﬁgure it might be: Why do you care about this guy?
- What did he do that was amazing, or horrifying, and when did he do it? How can you apply the insights you’ve gained by understanding this person better? Once you have divided your ﬁlm into three sections, for each section deﬁne: Where you want to go
- What you want to see
- Who you want to talk to
In some cases you will know this information from the start. In other cases you will have to do research to ﬁnd out who you should be speaking with or where given individuals can be found. In some cases it will be clear that what you want to see doesn’t have to be ﬁlmed by you. For example, stock footage libraries are a key element of World War II documentaries. It is much cheaper, in most cases, to license footage than it is to shoot it yourself. You can ﬁnd huge numbers of stock footage libraries by searching for “royalty free stock footage” on Google. Who you elect to purchase footage from will vary based upon how much you have to spend, the ﬁnal format of your ﬁlm, and the topics your documentary addresses.
Another Way to Deﬁne a Documentary?
There is another way to make a documentary which requires a different approach to planning and scheduling. It is a method chosen by many successful ﬁlmmakers. It is the Safari or the Odyssey.
ROGER & ME is the record of Michael Moore stalking some guy because he had questions about the Michigan auto industry. Moore didn’t start out with a laundry list of things he wanted to cover. He started with questions he was determined to get answered.
Filmmaker/Cinematographer Mark Manning is another odyssey ﬁlmmaker. He started out in the US making a ﬁlm called AMERICAN VOICES which was a journey across the US asking people to share their insights about 9/11. That search took him into Fallujah as an undercover, unembedded ﬁlmmaker returning with Fallujah refugees, just after a massive assault on the city that left many soldiers and civilians dead. That ﬁlm became ROAD TO FALLUJAH.
Planning, scheduling funding an odyssey ﬁlm is, as you might expect, more of a challenge than funding a ﬁlm where you know exactly where you want to go, who you want to talk to, and what you want to see.
Fortunately, it can be done.
To begin the process for planning a ﬁlm like AMERICAN VOICES you might start as follows: Questions I want answered:
- How do people in the US explain what happened on 9/11? How do they describe the position of the US in the world? Do they believe they understand why 9/11 occurred? Do they believe their neighbors understand?
- What response do they think we, as a nation, should make based on the events of 9/11? Where I want to go?
- What will be my path across the US?
- How long do I wan to spend in each spot?
- Who do I want to talk to:?
- Producing this kind of ﬁlm adventure takes a willingness to follow where the story leads, but if you are honest with yourself about what you are trying to do, you can make logistical and ﬁnancial plans that make ﬁnancial sense.
One good thing about this kind of ﬁlm is that it usually requires the ﬁlmmaker alone, or with just a single assistant, to ﬁlm it. That reduces many production costs.Tweet
Powered by Facebook Comments