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This will save you many discussions during the shoot and will ensure you a fairly coherent style it easily becomes rather mixed with more than one director. For instance, you can make rules about the interviews and the rooms where they should take place; whether or not the interviewer should be visible in the picture; whether the camera movements should be calm or swift; in which rooms or situations the camera should be on a tripod or handheld; whether the persons should be filmed from below, at eye-level, from above; if the interviewer's questions should be cut out in which case a certain interview technique is required ; whether you want to use voice-over commentary, and so on and so forth.
Note that one of the dangers of operating with a set of aesthetic rules like using the storyboard method is that the interviewee may become too "stiff" and tense. There are many ethical questions involved in the production of a documentary. From the beginning you must consider whether you are portraying people appropriately. Are you twisting in any way the image s of your subject s?
What should and should not be shown? Is it essential to show a very messy kitchen? Are you crossing their boundaries? Are you invading or exposing their privacy? Will they feel good about the film afterwards? How will the film influence their lives? Along with a documentary film project come some moral obligations, and the responsibility for the people involved goes beyond the finished film; you also have a responsibility for the emotional aftermath of the film.
Respect for the people involved which includes an honest representation of them must come before making a great film. Documentary displays a tension arising from the attempt to make statements about life that are quite general, while necessarily using sounds and images that bear the inescapable trace of their particular historical origin. These sounds and images come to function as signs; they bear meaning, though the meaning is not really inherent in them but rather conferred upon them by their function within the text as a whole.
We may think we hear history or reality speaking to us through a film, but what we really hear is the voice of the text, even when the voice tries to efface itself Nichols in Rosenthal, , p. It is important that you reflect on what sort of "voice" you want in your film already in the preparation phase before working out a storyboard. For a theoretical background you might want to look into Nichols's four "Documentary Modes of Representation" in Representing Reality, : 1 The Expository Mode: The viewer is addressed directly "with titles or voices that advance an argument about the historical world," and often images merely become illustrations of what the authoritative commentary voice of God maintains.
A logical connection between sequences is predominant. Most often these films are based on interviews. Although the filmmaker participates e. It makes use of various kinds of Verfremdungseffekt and generally questions how a representation can "be adequate to that which it represents" p. Nichols, who focuses on the documentary as a form of rhetoric, clearly lacks a fifth modus, namely the poetic in which an aesthetic approach to a given subject is predominant.
The poetic representation focuses on experiencing the world, not on the objective representation of it; it attempts to perceive the world aesthetically, and is often emotional in a poetic way. Remember that a documentary can speak with many 'voices. If your film contains an interview session it is important that you experiment with different interview techniques before you start shooting.
It can be difficult to find the right technique; at any rate it should always be developed in accordance with the people in the film. This is important when you decide whether the interview in the film should have a visible interviewer dialogue or a hidden interviewer pseudo monologue. Not everyone can handle an interview situation like that. As you develop your method for the interview, try out different ways of asking questions.
Your questions should be phrased in such a way that the answers are delivered within a limited time and do not omit any important information. Deciding what style of music if any you want in the film can be very time consuming. Your choice of music plays an important part in the overall impression of the film, and these discussions should not be postponed until the editing phase.
Music is an important factor when it comes to creating a 'mood' in the film, and the wrong choice of music can ruin the production. Discuss whether the music should be supportive, controlling, disturbing, or contrapuntal in relation to what is visually expressed. If you make a test film on location, try out different types of music with the filmed material. A storyboard might be useful even though you are making a documentary. By making a storyboard instead of improvising your way through you get a high degree of control.
This ensures that the project is realistic within the given time. By using a storyboard you reduce the risk of lacking important shots in the editing room. It is clear, however, that the storyboard of a documentary cannot be as accurate as that of a fiction film which does not mean that it shouldn't be as detailed as possible : You cannot plan the exact length of the different shots, at least not those involving 'real-life' people. Try not to be too ambitious when it comes to the number of stories that you want people to tell.
Telling a story often takes longer than you expect. One of the fascinating aspects about filming reality is that it cannot be controlled. Invariably, new possibilities will turn up along the way. Thus, the storyboard should always be regarded as a preliminary script that can be adjusted on location. Just remember that the danger of improvising a lot is that you might end up with a story lacking some of the essential elements. As regards the storyboard, within the genre of the short fiction film the best short films tend with some exceptions to contain little or no dialogue cf.
Still, it is worth keeping Alfred Hitchcock's words in mind:. In many of the films now being made, there is very little cinema: they are mostly what I call "photographs of people talking". When we tell a story in cinema, we should resort to dialogue only when it's impossible to do otherwise. I always try first to tell a story the cinematic way [ Truffaut, , p. Consider whether you can give information 'the cinematic way' and show rather than have people tell the story through talking-head monologue, explanatory voice-over, and so on.
The documentary is always a sort of creative adaptation of reality, regardless of whether the camera acts as "a fly on the wall" or a voice-over commentary intervenes and interprets the pictures for the viewer. Each choice is a fiction. That's how it is in my consciousness, anyway. Innocence is irretrievably lost Leth, , p. And that depends on the degree of intervention, how the cinematic technique is used, and how the material is edited.
All documentaries are somewhere in between inventing and capturing reality, between the subjective and the objective, and although the distance between the two poles is short, you should reflect on where your film is placed between these poles. To what extent is your film obliged to depict reality? Are you inventing your own representations of real life in order to make reality more distinct? Are you placing authentic people in situations that they wouldn't otherwise have been in as is the case with Nanook in Robert Flaherty's classic documentary Nanook of the North ?
Are you writing their lines and instructing them on playing themselves as in Jon Bang Carlsen's It's Now or Never ? Are you arranging tableaux or events which the characters take part in? Asking yourselves questions of this sort is essential in order to elucidate which form of modality you prefer in your film. Shoot the 'soft' things first the daily chores. As regards the interviews, compared to the interviewee the members of the film group are 'high status' because you control the technical equipment and know what is to be filmed.
In order to make the best of the interview and make the interviewee feel more comfortable, try to place yourselves in a low status position. You can tone down your high status position by pretending that you are not in complete control of the technical equipment. It may also have a relaxing effect if the interviewer improvises his other questions instead of reading off a script.
If a scene doesn't turn out as you planned and it has to be re-shot , don't indicate that the interviewee didn't do well even if that is the case. Instead, find some other excuses for re-shooting the scene; for instance, that the sound wasn't good enough, the picture was out of focus and so on. When you need to check your filmed material, it is a good idea to leave one or two members of the group to chat with the interviewee while the others check the pictures.
In order to balance the unequal relationship between interviewer and interviewee and to make the interview situation less artificial, it might be a good idea for the interviewer to share some stories and contribute to the conversation. Be careful about the technical side of the production. In order to make your persons appear as natural and spontaneous as possible, it is important to shoot the different scenes at psychologically the right times and places.
The acclaimed documentary Abacus: Small Enough to Jail took on the financial collapse. In Abacus , its small story speaks volumes to why the financial collapse happened in the first place. It examines one small bank that was punished, while major banking institutions were excused. Director Steve James clearly lensed every shooting day with this context in mind, to capture the details that reflect this dynamic best.
Like Neo spotting code patterns in The Matrix , your wider theme should dictate the data points you highlight. Assess their filmmaking process and techniques. Read about how they approached the question of how to make a documentary on their various films. After you find all the data to support and refute your thesis, capture it all in a treatment document. This should summarize your story and its controlling idea, and also outline the progression of events you wish to capture.
Your treatment is a roadmap to keep you on track as you tackle other aspects of how to make a documentary. On a narrative film, you have the luxury of re-recording audio. But in documentaries, what you get is what you get.
Behind the scenes look at how to make a documentary: Steve James manning his camera. Preparing for how to make a documentary is about laying out what you need, and being open to the natural changes that emerge. For this, you will need to make a storyboard that diagrams your intentions. This is called a shot list, which lists out each shot, and the relevant details that go with them. I suggest using a production management software like StudioBinder, that will combine these steps into one cohesive workflow.
For example, you may need a lot of talking heads coverage in interviews. Keep those shots engaging with multi-camera setups, depth of field manipulation, and in-shot camera movements. Now schedule everything you need to shoot. So make a production calendar to keep all your tasks on one linear timeline. And if something changes, as often happens in documentaries, you can adapt with a few clicks of your mouse.
Michael Moore posed this question to documentary filmmakers: "While you are filming a scene for your documentary, are you getting mad at what you are seeing? Capture nuances and behaviors, no matter how small. You never know what will be a useful cutaway when you sit down with your footage later.
This is an essential documentary filmmaking tactic because it lets you analyze how well your footage is telling your story, day-to-day. Your interviews and field photography will often give you new clues or ideas that you can pursue on the next day.
To start, go through all of the footage you shot. Log the clips that relate most to your story and controlling idea. Tools like Adobe Prelude make this process very straightforward, and include in and out points and comments on each clip. An Adobe Prelude workspace. Relate your footage to the beginning-middle-end structure you laid out in your treatment. Did you get everything you need? Whichever avenue you choose, you will need to come up with a crafty way of marketing yourself and your film.
Use Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to connect with accounts and organizations that relate the most to your subject. Use tools like Withoutabox to start researching festivals that might be interested in your films. Try to assess whether or not they have shown films like yours in the past. If you have a solid following already from social media, there are many avenues for you to release the film yourself.
These are companies such as Quiver and Distribber who distribute films to digital platforms like iTunes, Google Play, Netflix and Hulu often for a flat rate. These include Vimeo On Demand and Bittorrent Now , which let you sell your digital file directly to consumers.
You need to tap into your niche, so you can blast out the link to your purchasable movie to as many interested people as possible. Having a unified vision will allow you to adapt your filmmaking approach to the truth that you discover as you go. And dive in deeper by exploring the end-to-end filmmaking process to cover all of your bases as you near the production phase. And be sure to let us know what tips and techniques you use for your own productions in the comments below!
Manage video production timelines, tasks, storyboards, shot lists, breakdowns, call sheets. Made for video creatives, new media and film. Previous Post. Next Post. A visual medium requires visual methods. Master the art of visual storytelling with our FREE video series on directing and filmmaking techniques.
More and more people are flocking to the small screen to find daily entertainment. So how can you break put from the pack and get your idea onto the small screen? Skip to content. Step 1: How to make a documentary: starting out. Find a worthwhile subject.
If your subject is something broad, narrow it down. But it narrowed its story to the only bank that was punished in the aftermath. Also keep your resources in mind. Make sure your budget allows for the access you will need to your story. Context is key in documentary filmmaking. In addition to finding an engrossing subject, you need a bigger theme to relate it to. Step 2: What you need when planning how to make a documentary. Next step in figuring out how to make a documentary?
Even though this is near the end of the list, it should actually be something you keep in mind from the very beginning and throughout the ENTIRE filmmaking process. I cannot express enough the importance of this section. Please read through these few simple legal guidelines before starting on your project. Never before have there been so many options for filmmakers to showcase their work. From theaters to television to DVD to the web, a new world of distribution is being invented right in front of our eyes.
Making documentaries and showcasing your work is easier than ever. Take our 7-Day Documentary Crash Course and learn everything you need to know to make your first documentary! Hi friend! I'm Faith, chief instigator here at Desktop Documentaries. I hope you enjoy the site and if you have any questions, please just ask! Get free weekly documentary tips sent straight to your inbox. This is our special gift to you to help you stay motivated and inspired.
Just enter your info below and let's get started! This is our special gift to help you stay motivated and inspired. Sign up for our exclusive 7-day crash course and learn step-by-step how to make a documentary from idea to completed movie! Learn More. Return Home. Low-Budget Documentary Gear. Ulanzi Smartphone Rig. What People Are Saying. Desktop Documentaries Comments. I just wanted to say that I think your website is amazing.
I am a beginner with an idea, and the info and articles on your website are easy to understand and answer many questions I have. I can not wait to start filming! I am a professional filmmaker, and I applaud this site for detailing the ABC's of documentary filmmaking. It serves as my own checklist as I continue making my own movies See more feedback. Facebook Twitter Get Posts by Email. Get weekly documentary tips and other exclusive content to help you stay motivated and on track with your documentary.
It's completely free and you're invited! Faith Fuller Hi friend! Your First Name. Your Email. What revenue can I expect from these markets? What other revenue streams are possible? See Rule 2. Rule 2: Valuing Work If they want to buy a film when it is an idea, will they pay for it before, or as you make it? Many filmmakers who have the energy and inner strength to make difficult films stumble when they have to start selling their work while it is still a written proposal or a short sample video.
This is not supported by results. While there are many excellent middle people, the demand for high-quality works is strong enough that filmmakers should be able to navigate the selling or deal-making aspect of their films without giving up a chunk of the income stream. Consultants such as lawyers and other professionals can work for a fixed hourly fee on the deal, but the buyers in the markets are remarkably open to filmmakers.
Some production entities and talent agencies are helpful at getting into network doors, but many of the buyers are reachable directly. Raising money is a different matter, and contingent compensation and credit are appropriate for those going out there and doing the work. First-time filmmakers with no track record will likely need to collaborate with established filmmakers to give their project credibility.
No one, including agents, reps or lawyers, can sell an unsellable work. While many buyers are not known for reviewing films promptly, they will look at your film if the fit is obvious or it has a buzz. Having some bankable element in your work helps give the film credibility and attract press.
It also helps if the fit between your work and the buyer makes sense. Look at successful documentaries that have had studio distribution. They have a number of things in common: rave reviews, prestigious festival awards, sometimes an Oscar or Oscar nomination, a star or stars attached as subject or narrator, or perhaps a controversy such as not getting an Oscar nomination.
The more that is written about the film, the better it will do. Every film is a prize-winner. The best festivals are free or almost free; the more it costs to enter, the less value it usually has. A measure of success of feature and short work is how it performed at the box office. Warner Bros. None of its 26 releases in were documentaries. Historically, all of the studios have released documentary features.
These smaller companies released two docs in Startup. The lack of documentary releases by the second tier of companies does not reflect a trend, but, rather, choices made by these companies in selecting titles to distribute from works that were presented to them for financing or distribution. This group released eight documentary features. A number of these companies have specialty divisions that handle smaller films. While a theatrical release may be the ultimate goal for many filmmakers, in a practical sense getting the film funded by a broadcaster and aired will likely produce the greatest audience.
A pre-sale to a broadcaster or funder makes creating a documentary far less financially risky. Few documentaries receive a broad release or make significant revenue in theatrical venues. The difference between a distributor and an agent is simple. Distributors sell directly to the customer and should not be charging additional fees to the producer for using middle people. An agent or rep, or lawyer, etc. A distributor will make copies of the work and place it in theaters, home video stores and educational institutions.
They will promote the sale of these works using trade shows, catalogues, salespeople, etc. Many distributors do television sales in the US and internationally. With the exception of a few multi-national entities for example, Warner Bros. Television agents sell works on a global basis to television buyers, and some sell works to distributors for the home video and educational markets.
Considering that the bulk of television sales comes from a handful of customers or countries, filmmakers can make deals that structure commissions as a function of the size of the license fee paid, rather than a flat commission.
All sales are not equal in terms of the effort or expense an agent or distributor might make. Before making a deal with an agent or rep, talk to the filmmakers whose works they have sold. When comparing deals, be sure to check what expenses are, and are not, deducted. Consider a gross deal, or at least get approval of costs before they are incurred. Try to work with an agent who distributes films similar to yours.
Always ask for copies of the agreements for your film; you might even want to sign them and have the funds paid to you directly, then pay the representative. Do your homework on the television buyers for your works. Buyers buy the work, not the hype. When dealing with agents or reps, try to pay a commission that reflects the amount of effort that is expended and the difficulty of making the deal.
It is not written anywhere that all deals should pay the same commission. All films are award-winners, and all are shown in film festivals. Since there are so many of both, it is wise to pick and choose where you send your work. Paying a large entry fee and not getting reviewed or written about suggests that the given festival might not be helpful for your work or career.
If they write about your film, buyers may come, or a job may be offered. It is also helpful to see what kind of industry attendance a festival attracts. The largest advance is not always the best deal. The Hollywood studios use the broadcasters to provide a huge amount of back-end protection to their investments in production.
By carefully selling a work to pay, and later open, broadcasters, one can maximize the income feature docs can generate. They pre-sell on a global basis. Since few films can succeed in the theatrical marketplace, the networks are a key source of funding for documentaries. If you want to release your documentary theatrically, be sure that these rights are included in your deal. Most broadcasters buy or produce works for their documentary strands, a staple of almost all cable channels and networks.
A few run documentaries either as feature films or as one-offs. Be sure that the right buyer within these companies is considering your film.