View Full Version : First foray into long form documentary making - tools for structuring?
January 29th, 2011, 01:05 PM
I am producing my first long form historical documentary. I'm a fair way down the road with it, having done extensive research, conducted all my interviews and location shoots and gathered lots of archive photographs and footage. Now I need to pull it all together into a coherent story.
The documentary is about a Royal Air Force formation aerobatics team that were very famous in the 1950s, The Black Arrows. Other than a short narrated introduction to set the scene, the entire story of the team is being told in their own words. I have public domain archive footage, a lot of footage from the squadron and from the pilot's personal collections and an enormous selection of stills, in addition to substantial interviews with pilots and ground crew and other associated characters.
It's been a fascinating process but the originally planned structure for the film has changed significantly as I have leaned more and more about their history through interviewing the surviving pilots (all in their late 70s and 80s). I now have waaaay more material than I had expected and I am rather swamped by it all.
How do people organise their material for a one hour (for example) documentary? Do people use outliners, such as in Word? Specialist software, like Writer's Blocks? Spreadsheets? Post-it notes?!
Any pointers welcomed. I am a corporate video producer by trade so I am used to telling stories - but they are simple, three minute structures that don't require a brain the size of an airbase to manage.
January 29th, 2011, 02:05 PM
Answer this question: WHY do you want to tell their story?
This will give you the theme. It will help you understand the structure.
Do you think it's important to remember the contributions of the older pilots, as a preservation of their efforts and sacrifice? This is what you tell the story about.
Is it about the dedication and training, the rigorous lifestyle and demands on modern pilots? This becomes your focus.
This doesn't mean you don't touch on other themes, but it is what brings you back to the throug-line. What is it that fascinates you about the subject? Let your own fascination, and the process of discovery come through the storyline.
HERE is how I approach it.
I'll bet you have an opening shot - and perhaps a closing shot. Maybe it's even a quote from the old-timers. "I'll never regret a moment I spent in the air..." - Said with a tear in his eye. Whatever. FIND an open and a closing shot. These are your 'bookends'. Everything else goes between.
Watch your footage.
Watch it A LOT.
ORGANIZE your footage so you can find what you want, when you want it.
Become really intimate with it. Make notes about interesting comments. Make more notes about correlations between comments. Pilot one talks about how scared he is... Pilot two talks about how HE deals with fear... Pilot three talks about never being afraid - There you have a sub-topic "fear".
Make a 'paper cut'. Use index cards that have these subtopics, and perhaps specific shots on them. Lay them out/pin them up and look at the flow of the topics.
When you start to put things on a timeline - start by making a 'radio cut'. Simply start putting the talking heads on the timeline. Let them tell their stories. Don't worry about B-Roll or inserts. Get the AUDIO track down.
Close your eyes, LISTEN to the story. Does it flow? Does it make sense? Do you need more narration? (With luck, you won't) Does it have a BEGINNING MIDDLE AND END? (This could be linear - the early days, the glory days, and when it all came to an end. OR It could be nonlinear, but you still have to have a beginning, middle and end)
THEN start to insert B-Roll. Use the archival footage, photos... start to 'fill in' the blanks in the audio cut. You'll find the timeline stretching out. You'll see how maybe these two segments need to be swapped, or THAT one should come earlier. But all along, you'll see the 'bookend shots' at the open and close. PERHAPS you'll find a better one to swap out. But at least you'll have STARTED with a goal.
Finish up with titles, graphics, music, and color corrections.
January 29th, 2011, 03:29 PM
Thanks for such a comprehensive and interesting reply.
In fact, much of what you say I have already considered, certainly the points about why I want to tell the story and it's underlying theme. I have lived and breathed the interview footage for quite a time now. I have created audio only versions which I listen to at night, when I am driving, in the bath, everywhere! Same with the archive material - I know it intimately. And for sure, a radio cut, as you call it, makes absolute sense before considering the archive footage etc.
I guess your comment "ORGANIZE your footage so you can find what you want, when you want it" is the key thing here. and my response would be - "how?". I have already created a series of index cards which have helped some. I was really interested to know if people were using specific software to help them further.
My specific question, therefore, is what - if any - tools do people use to manage and structure a large amount of source material.
But, as I say, a very interesting and useful response, for which I thank you.
January 29th, 2011, 03:45 PM
I cut on AVID. I organize my material into 'bins'. So as I go through footage, I can place clips in different bins. For instance, while cutting together my doc "American Jouster" - I went through and selected clips of "Lances Breaking" and put them all in one bin. "Audience Reactions" and put them in another bin. "Squires Working" made up another bin. "INJURIES" still another. "Saddle Falls" "Ground Fights" "Horse Maintenance"
You get the idea. The same clip can be put in more than one bin as well, not a problem. Then as I go through the 'radio cut' - the story suggests what I'm looking for. "I've been injured a number of times" - starts the talking head, cutaway to images of the guy falling off his horse over and over, as his audio describes various trips to the hospital.
I could see you organizing your footage into "Interviews with Pilots" "Interviews with Flight Crews" "Interviews with Family" "Interviews with Audience" "Take-offs" "Landings" "Fly-by L to R" "Fly-by R to L", "Archival Stills, B&W" "Archival Stills, COLOR",
You can also SUB DIVIDE your folders or bins. INTERVIEWS with Pilots, might also have clips pulled from each interview, and placed in the bin "Family Life" or "Why I Started" - whatever.
Whatever it takes, just start creating 'bins' or 'folders' - whatever NLE you're utilizing. If a clip belongs in more than one folder, put it there.
If you've already got a radio cut going, then really all you're looking for is B-Roll and supporting footage and stills. Right?
January 29th, 2011, 03:53 PM
I am a corporate video producer by trade so I am used to telling stories - but they are simple, three minute structures that don't require a brain the size of an airbase to manage.
That bit made me laugh a lot! I too do corporate stuff (and some of that has even got as long a 15 minute "corporate documentaries"). Maybe I've got a brain as big as a runway (but not an airbase!) but it's one aspect of my chosen profession that I really love. Some of my corporate clients have little idea of how they want to tell their story when I start working with them but, as you know, these are skills we master well in our work. Other clients are crystal clear exactly how they want it - those I do but sometimes find less interesting.
Recently, I produced (unpaid) a historical documentary in Cambridge based around a lengthy interview with the subject who was in his 90's, and who unfortunately has just died a few weeks ago. I used many of the techniques described so eloquently by Richard to put it all together and I'm so pleased to have done it. Just maybe, one day, my film will be a valuable archive of one of the great minds in his field. Also, I find doing "serious documentary stuff" hones my technical and creative skills further - something that I'm sure will show benefits in my paid corporate work.
Your project sounds really fascinating (I'm into planes!). Good luck with it. And thank you Richard for some great reminders that I'll bookmark for next time that I need to do this!
January 29th, 2011, 03:54 PM
Thanks Richard, very useful.
Sorry, when I say I have audio versions of all the interviews, I don't mean I have a cut - just the full interviews for each pilot/ground crew - all 20 hours of it! (I've been on this a while!).
As you say, I think bins is the only way I can go (I use Vegas which lets me build nice nested bin structures and then move them between projects). In fact that's what I have already started to do. I guess I have been thinking logically after all! I was really looking for something more visual where I could play around with topics and reorganise them, merge them, thin them etc. I guess the index cards will have to do for that task.
Thanks again for taking the time.
Ian . . .
January 29th, 2011, 04:00 PM
how are you, old man?
It's great to see you in this section!
Anyhow...: you're asking about tools.
This is what I use:
1) Sheets of ruled paper
2) Highlighters - in various colors
3) Two desks, where you can spread out all your notes,
and put your shoes/boots when you lay back and stare at the ceiling,
looking for ideas
4) Stool: you step on it and have an overview of your mess on the desks
5) Wine/beer/ (to be enjoyed responsibly)
6) Shoes and coat: don't obsess over the "thing"; go take a walk:
something interesting might happen...
7) Write down every little "connection" that crosses your mind, as in
"hey, this thing could go with that other one; this sound bite/music/b-roll
connects well with that other whatever-it-is": you see the point, right?
FWIW: I just finished a half-hour story for Swiss TV; at first, didn't know how to
tackle the thing; started by putting together a segment that somehow "inspired" me
more than everything else; jumped to another, unrelated segment;
ended up building the whole thing somehow "around" these first two segments...
Take care and good luck
January 29th, 2011, 04:11 PM
Hi Vasco! Great to hear from you!
Yeah, I've seen your selection of desks!!
I'm good thanks - actually I've not been very well recently but I am on the mend now. Illness over Christmas has kinda delayed this little project of mine and so far January has been a non-stop fee-paying client-fest (which has been great!). I'm trying to get back on track now but I have more client stuff next week including a few days shooting in Barcelona (with Peter, who you also met).
How about you? Got lots going on? I'd love to find a reason to come back to Rockville and visit - must be my round, huh?!
Thanks to you as well for your tips. The more I think about this the more I realise that paper and pen is the way to go. What is encouraging is that the things being suggested seem to be the things I am doing. I was beginning to feel as though I was inventing the wheel with no-one to tell me whether it was the right shape or not.
Give my very best to Elvira and your daughter.
Ian . . .
January 29th, 2011, 04:23 PM
Andy, glad to have raised a smile!
I, too, prefer those jobs where it's an open page - but as I say, three minutes - even fifteen - I can cope with quite easily. But that's when I am working with perhaps an hour max of source material. This project comprises twenty hours of interview footage, three hours of ground-to-air and multi-camera air-to-air footage of a 77 year old Black Arrows pilot going up in a Hawker Hunter jet after 50 years (and looping it, rolling it and landing it himself), a couple of hours of other b-roll, six hours of archive footage and over 1300 stills. My brain hurts . . .!
Mine too is self-funded, although I am selling it commercially (Classic Machine Films - Home (http://www.classicmachinefilms.com) - excuse the incorrect release date). There's a short (actually, rather too long) teaser of clips there, which will be replaced when I have made my final clip selection.
I absolutely agree that doing non-corporate stuff gives you a very useful alternative view on the world which pays off in future coporate commissions. Nice to flex the creative muscles, huh?
I'm intrigued by your project - may I ask who the subject was?
January 29th, 2011, 04:24 PM
next time it won't be Rockville:
we'll soon be moving to California, Bay area
(just north of Berkeley;
BTW, note to Richard:
how about a beer @ Vesuvio, one day?).
We're doing fine, thanks.
Just survived 48 hours w/out power...
I mean: what the hell? You live in the 'burbs
of the Federal Capital of the one-and-only superpower
left in the whole world - and you almost freeze to death in your home?
Oh well... see ya in California, then
January 29th, 2011, 04:26 PM
Deal, Vasco. I do a lot of work for NewBlue in San Diego. One day I'm sure I'll have to visit them and when I do I'll pick up a car and call in on you up the coast! No danger of freezing . . .
January 29th, 2011, 06:22 PM
The Paper Cut system seems to work really well. Most doc filmmakers I know use it to some extent. Everyone has their own variations. Maybe it's a left brain/right brain thing - but I prefer 'handling' the cards or notes and physically manipulating them. It's possible of course to simply type your notes in a word processing program, 'cut and paste' or rearrange to your heart's content - but there's something about the project in three dimensions as a paper cut that helps me visualize the timeline.
But then, I'm old enough to have CUT FILM. So maybe it's a generational thing.
As a sailplane pilot, and long time air-show aficionado, your project sounds fantastic! Just the sort of thing I'd watch.
Here's an interesting tidbit to keep in mind. Your first rough -cut is likely to run fairly long. That's to be expected. My advice as you 'whittle it down' - think of creating TWO cuts. One cut that is in the ninety minute range, and another in the 57 minute range. That way you will have a product for 'film' and 'television' distribution. I say 'film' because sights like NETFLIX that might want to distribute it, are looking for 'full length' docs. Whereas your BBC or PBS type market, will be looking at something that fits in their 'hour' long broadcast slots.
I'm always up for drinking a beer with ANY DvInfonetter who finds themselves in the Bay Area.
January 30th, 2011, 04:03 AM
Yes, I can see the sense in the paper cut, especially with complex projects.
With the very short case studies, promos, etc that I make every day (hmmmm, I wish!) I encourage my clients to keep absolutely and strictly on message - and on a SINGLE message - no BS with the CEO doing a 'when I joined the company I wanted to . . ." spiel or excrutiating details of last years financial growth. You can get all that from the salesperson if you decide to pursue an enquiry having seen the video. at least that's my take on it, and it seems to work for my clients. Not all of them take heed, of course . . .
But with this Black Arrows project there is so much granular detail, so many events, incidents, funny stories, moving stories, technical stuff for the afficionados, opinions about the UK's tragically lost aviation industry, and it's all very interesting stuff - to me - that whittling it down is going to be my first real experience of 'killing the children'!
I like your idea about two cuts. In fact, this film is going straight to DVD. From a technical standpoint it won't meet even the loosest cable broadcaster's standards (I have been forced to mix HD with HDV with SD in some cases, and there are a couple of interviews with less than great audio) so I don't think it's destined for TV - in fact my plan all along was to make this straight-to-DVD .
What I have been toying with is the idea of having the initial release - say 60 minutes plus about 30 minutes of extras. Then at a later point offering either an extended version, which will have more footage, longer interview segments etc OR (and this idea might float) two further releases - one for each of the two leaders of the Black Arrows in which their interviews are significantly extended. i.e. 'The Story of the Black Arrows - The Roger Topp Years' and 'The Story of the Black Arrows - The Peter Latham Years'. I believe I have enough material for this.
Anyway, let's get the first one out the way!
Really appreciate all this advice.
Ian . . .
January 30th, 2011, 07:31 AM
I'm intrigued by your project - may I ask who the subject was?
A charming man - very frail and softly spoken when I filmed him, which presented many challenges in the noisy and echo prone historic building environment where we filmed - in the end I had no less than 4 mics either on him or pointing at him! One of the best moments was when he forgot he had a radio mic on and walked and taked to his wife about one very enjoyable and important aspect of his distinguished life - it was the very opposite of that now infamous "Gordon Brown radiomic moment".
The Right Reverend Peter Walker - Telegraph (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/religion-obituaries/8244449/The-Right-Reverend-Peter-Walker.html)
February 6th, 2011, 08:46 PM
... OR (and this idea might float) two further releases - one for each of the two leaders of the Black Arrows in which their interviews are significantly extended. i.e. 'The Story of the Black Arrows - The Roger Topp Years' and 'The Story of the Black Arrows - The Peter Latham Years'. I believe I have enough material for this.
i like the multiple release idea... maybe a 'mini-series' kind of thing?
... there is so much granular detail ... whittling it down is going to be my first real experience of 'killing the children'!
...i mean just kind of giving the best stuff a lot of space to breath...
Vasco's 2-tables approach i really like the sound of : )
personally, i really just avoid watching my footage as much as possible. weird maybe, but just in the interests of keeping things fresh. that said, i do like to have everything meticulously (yet perhaps intuitively) organized and ready to go before making an edit..
Dale Anthony Smith
February 7th, 2011, 03:50 AM
Your project sounds fascinating... I'm old enough to have cut film also and have done a LOT of museum films as well as the commercial short form stuff. For a project like this... I concur with the paper cut also.
I did a film on the bicentennial of the Louisiana Purchase a few years ago using a couple of historians and Hal Holbrook for the narrator...
I asked the same series of questions to both historians and intercut the interviews so they were finishing each other's sentences... then the narrator strung it together. I've also done a bunch of museum films using interviews instead of narration... I've found that these type shows are immeasureably more difficult than having a straight narration to cut images to.
What I would recommend is having transcripts of the interviews with code numbers on the left of the page.
Make a copy of the interviews... slice them up by categories... subject.... story... etc.
start to make piles of the categories and then weed out the best examples of what tells that particular story.
The next step is to structure the information.. (this is good intro info... this is a good conclusion... these are interesting support vignettes...
Now start laying them out onto a couple of tables in a room that your kids won't go. You can tape the scraps onto the table or pin them to a wall etc...
Next... think of how they might be strung together... is it narration? is it title slides? or a combination (what I used) to set up the different sections.
Next time out the sections and you will start to get a handle on what you have and what you need to cut or eliminate... or move around...
I rely on the music to convey the emotional arc, so you might start reading as you begin to select background track "candidates" for each section.
Your image selection will come from the content of the stories. "what will best illustrate what he's talking about?"
Then it's just a matter of tedium and determination... you'll get sick of hearing it, but then it's pretty rewarding and even fun....
Best of Luck to you...
March 18th, 2011, 06:23 AM
i did a similar doc in the past, the best bet would be organize the clips into bins, i'm using Vegas and it comes pretty handy. The suggestions the guys gave you are "bull's eyed"! Definetly you have tons of footage that should be divided into stock footage (i guess pictures and old VHS taped, basically SD stuff) and HD footage (interviews). If you have the chance to mark the clips on the exact points where the old pilots are telling you "interesting" stuff would be a great help.
Then you should find the connections between the pilots words and you have to find how to chain them.
You should have a lot of papers everywhere in the house, i remeber writing ideas while driving or even while cooking ( an easy pasta that's it, not Pollo Alfredo or hard cooking foods) and while swimming in the pool.
And 2 desk ideas is pretty good!
YOu 'll need to conform the SD stock footage to HD with a deinterlacer of course or you could just put as cropped shots on the screen with the original size (SD).
Try to color correct the old images, maybe with color editors and if you wanna risk, you could add more grain to emphasize the OLD STYLE STOCK FOOTAGE from archives.
Aerial radio conversation would add a lot on your product....
A good strating point or even an ending point is something being told about the relationship between the airmen and the planes.....this pathological love that addict every pilot!
Is there a chanche these old airplanes are still flying? It would be great to have nowaday footage with a gopro or a contour on the cockpit!
I shot my doc with a Fx1 that nowaday is old but always is Hd and when played on a Plasma tv or LCD has always a pretty sharp visual effect.
Best wishes for your project and...of course i wanna see your finished work ;)
March 18th, 2011, 06:30 AM
As DALE sayd "I've found that these type shows are immeasureably more difficult than having a straight narration to cut images to."
Totally agree with him! You know what you could do? Maybe you did already but here are my 2 cents:
Go to blockbuster and rent Speed & Angels, the story about 2 Tomcat pilots (Jay and Megan) that are perfectly chained on the storytelling even they don't fly the same airplane. 2 different storyes crossed without external narration voice in it but just: interviews interviews and interviews...
I liked the story: the aerial shots are beautiful, the interview shots a little less :) but the TRUTH of the doc is really powerful.....and of course LOUD AFTER BURNERS
Hope my cents will help ;)
March 25th, 2011, 02:30 PM
I was floating on Vimeo then i came across this
The Red Baron Trailer on Vimeo
May 19th, 2011, 10:54 PM
My2c Worth.. I am a big believer in the paper edit. I have made a whole lot of long form TV as a producer, all of it transcribed and paper edited - and I was always too busy to even go into the edit until it came to medium fine cutting, but here's what I have just found after shooting producing and editing my own 60 minute broadcast doco.
Transcribe and shotlist the whole thing, then lay out your narrative in very rough, bullet point form, then write a roughish Voice Over, then try to replace the VO with the grabs from your people, then fine tune your VO. It's what others on here have said, it's a bit boring, but it's the best way to go. It's much easier to cut and past on a Word doc than it is in an edit with huge amounts of meda etc..
It also means you can put off going into the edit until you have cross checked your narrative with a few trusted others - something I think that is critical on the bigger jobs since you spend so much time with the material and get what we call rushes fatigue!
It will also help you sleep at night when you think "Have I got the best grab off that old guy in the hangar?" you read his transcript, make a decision and your editor will be able to keep cutting without you sitting there going "Can we just have a look at???" AND you'll be able to sleep at night knowing only the best material is in your film!!!!
Don't forget to be as detailed in your descriptions of your overlay or B Roll as the Yanks call it as you can.
It sounds like a really cool film... good luck with it
May 27th, 2011, 01:17 PM
Really fascinating thread and so much amazing advice.
Ian I understand your pain! My background is as a musician / composer / sound designer rather than filmmaker, something I've only got into in the last few years but it has all been documentary of one form or another - longest film about 35 mins.
For better or worse I tend to look at things from a sound / composer's viewpoint and one of the hardest things is what you chose NOT to use. For a 60 minute film it would be quite hard to sort of improvise it so clearly a plan is needed and once devised no matter how good a shot or interview is, if it doesn't fit the scheme it has be ditched and yes I've been involved in films where we made mistakes by including stuff we 'just had to' because we liked it but didn't really fit otherwise. This is a constant problem when writing long pieces of music.
I love the idea posted of the audio only edit especially as I'm so interested in sound which is so neglected in documentaries - and I mean all sound (including music), not just speech so you might think about this more - what other sounds are important (I can really imagine getting into some creative sound design with plane engine noises for example)? Music is also downplayed on documentary but can be so affective. These things can be structural devices in themselves.
Finally though the idea of a narration to help guide you through an edit is really good, it's also (dare I say it?) a bit boring and doing good narration in terms of the text itself, tone of voice etc is no easy task in itself - don't know about anyone else but I've seen so many documentaries which have been half ruined by lousy narration. Personally I'd start with the premise of keeping it to a minimum or not using it at all but that is a fairly radical suggestion I admit.
June 6th, 2011, 11:03 AM
I hope you've found a system that works for your project and are well on your way to completion.
I don't have much to offer in the realm of physical organization, but one thing that might help define the story is to lay out the emotional beats of the material you have, and then decide where to plug that into the overall narrative.
When you look at everything from a purely emotional standpoint (ie: pride, anger, fear, love, hate, concern, victory, defeat, etc..) you might be able to chart and manipulate the emotional values of the entire project and come up something that holds attention by the rising and falling of emotions. Sort of like how books and movies are constructed.
Good luck with the project. It sounds fascinating!
June 6th, 2011, 04:59 PM
Everyone's advice has been both fascinating and extremely usable. Thank you ever so much for taking the time.
What I have done (and am still in the process of doing) is as follows:
- Firstly I transcribed all the interviews (roughly, rather than word for word).
- From that I derived a whole bunch of subject headings and short sentences (and, as per John's suggestion today, emotional content) that describe the topics and subtopics I want to cover.
I then assembled, destroyed, reassembled etc a rough structure using an outliner (actually Word, for my sins!). I did start using index cards for this but I found the outliner worked nicely as I could flesh certain bits out with more text or quotes and move those around from subject to subject more easily. The structure is fundamentally a historical timeline from the establishment of the team to it's end with 'breakouts' that explore various aspects of the subject - what it took to be a formation aerobatics pilot in the 50s, why air displays were so popular, technical aspects of formation flying, the dangers, the social side, influential people, important milestones etc etc.
Having firmed up the structure I then started in the NLE (Vegas), using the transcripts of the interviews to group trimmed clips into their rough location in the timeline. Of course I have multiple versions of the same stories and comments from different interviewees, so the stage that I am at now is to whittle the clips down to those which tell the story in the best way. I am also cutting between different people telling parts of the same story, to make it more interesting to watch (rather than one person telling an entire story). Some of these segments include some fantastic tales of near misses and other incidents - they work especially well using multiple narrators - much easier to keep the excitement up.
As I may have mentioned before, this is the story of the team in their own words. The only voiceover in the entire film will be at the beginning, explaining that this is their story, complete with all the embellishments, inaccuracies, contradictions and omissions that you should expect from stories that are more than half a century old. The rest of the film is told ONLY by the pilots (and ground crew and other observers). I think it makes for a more 'honest' film, even if the diehard aviation historians are going to crucify me for some of the contradictions in the narrative! (One question I asked all pilots was 'how long were the displays?' and I got about nine different answers).
I haven't begun deciding which pieces of archive (and contemporary) footage and stills are going to go onto the timeline yet. In fact, that is probably going to be the easier part of the job. I have SO much material and I think I am going to be spoiled for choice.
I'll update you again on progress when I have locked down (sort of) the timeline structure.
Thanks again for all that fabulous advice.
Ian . . .
July 2nd, 2011, 04:10 AM
Can't wait to see it!
July 30th, 2011, 10:26 PM
Ian, having completed a bi-lingual (French and English) programme a few years back concerning the death of ACM Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory in 1944 which ran only 30 minutes and was all original shoot by me, I can understand your logistics.
The programme was commissioned by the local authority which runs the Museum dedicated to L-M in a hamlet a few thousand feet below the mountains on which he crashed.
I think my task was easier than yours because mine was essentially led by the material itself - it was as much an investigation as a documentary report although it wasn't helped by the RAF's refusal to consider any verdict other than that reached in 1945 - pilot error.
The bit of learning I'd like to pass on is to be able to stand back from your work, regularly. It's so easy to get too close, especially when you're planning the overall structure and strategy and also editing the thing frame by frame. At least you don't have commercial breaks to consider with their demands for hooks, no matter how contrived.
October 13th, 2011, 06:19 PM
What's the end market? Broadcast? Home video? I would let the market dictate your length.
Also...always end your production on the early side, and leave your audience wanting more...
October 14th, 2011, 02:23 AM
Thanks again to everyone who's chipped in. All useful and interesting contributions. As someone said before, this is one to bookmark for the next time!
Erich, re your comments, as I've mentioned, this is a straight to DVD documentary. I did an informal poll of the several hundred people who have subscribed to be updated, via the website, and of the 127 responses, everyone said more is better. The general feeling is that because this is such a narrow subject, without much choice n the way of alternative documentaries on the same topic, people want as much as they can get of it. I've now locked down the timeline and broken it up into a number of more easily digestible segments so people don't have to watch the whole thing in one sitting.
The meain feature is now a whopping 2 hours (with an additional hour of features). I tested the first cut (which was missing a great deal of archive footage while I was waiting for copyright clearance) with an audience of mixed interests (ie some people who were interested in the subject and some who had no knowledge of it) and the overall feeling was that it was the right length. Only one person (out of 16) said they became bored. This was a 17 year old . . . watching a film about pilots from the 1950s!
I was interested in your comment about leaving the audience wanting more. Can you expand on that? I totally understand the concept in relation to music, theatre, movies, novels, sales pitches, etc, but I'm curious as to how I could achieve that in a history documentary. Leaving them wanting more suggests leaving out part of the story, which doesn't sound like a good strategy to me!
What I am doing, which might be what you mean, is to produce a series of follow up DVDs which contain the unedited interviews with several of the key figures, along with an unedited archive film that has been shown in part in the main documentary. These will likely only be of interest to the diehards so I'm not expecting to retire early.
In closing, I'm now at the process of adding in the remaining archive material and then I start the fine cut, tidying up, graphics, titles etc. I am hoping to have this released for Christmas.
Thanks again for everyone's comments.
December 17th, 2012, 12:12 PM
Ian we were reading is ready:
where can we see th preview?
December 17th, 2012, 12:37 PM
Hi Marcus! Yep, it's finally released! Had some great reviews as well as great feedback from people who have bought it. There's a trailer and more info here: The Story of the Black Arrows (http://www.classicmachinefilms.co.uk/index.php/2012-09-27-19-33-20/cmf001-the-story-of-the-black-arrows)
It took me another ten months to finally get it released in September 2012 (yeah, I kinda missed Christmas 2011!). There were copyright issues which I needed to overcome. It did give me the opportunity to squeeze in another interview with a former team member who was over from Australia and also during that extra time a load of new material surfaced from the attic of one of the pilots.
If I knew two years ago what I know now about how to go about making a film such as this I would have done some things differently. The key thing would have been to ALWAYS have a small crew at the interviews rather than trying to do it all myself. I had to work with some less than great footage and audio, which was disappointing, caused by me not being able to keep an eye on everything at once. In an ideal world and given a decent budget I would have also shot it on a much better camera. With the profits from the film I bought a Panasonic AF101 and some nice lenses. Wish I'd had it earlier!
Looking back on my posts from 18 months ago I realise that how I ended up making the film was a mash up of many bits of advice from many people. Some of it was useful, some less so. I guess one of the most important things is to make sure that you plan your work then work your plan, but don't be so rigid as to not correct your course if needed. The other thing that is of paramount importance - just do it! Getting started is the hardest part.
December 22nd, 2012, 05:55 AM
Ian glad to hear the odissey is over and ready!
Thin i'm buying a copy
December 22nd, 2012, 06:07 AM
Cool, thanks! By the way, I did watch Speed & Angels - fantastic film. Of course my film contains only archive material so I can't compete on shot quality!
December 22nd, 2012, 06:35 AM
My friend i can't send you private mail....I ve lost somewhere how to contact your personl contacts on dvinfo.
How can i write private message?
December 22nd, 2012, 06:41 AM
PM on its way!
December 30th, 2012, 12:42 PM
There were a some remarkable film-makers over here who made an award-winning two hour feature documentary I had the luck to watch over the shoulder for much of its process.
They shot 80+ hours of oral history on 16mm film, graphics plus aquired a wealth of archive stills.
The interviews were structured to a limited extent but it very much was cinema verite and spontaneous.
They did a "paper edit" in that everything in the audio tracks was transcribed with film edge numbers also printed in an edge column. From what I recall they also marked up and listed events in the oral histories which were common, marked up and listed keywords which might serve as cut points across interviews, then set about cutting up their printed pieces of paper and assembling.
Once they had that skeleton, then they started cutting film workprint and soundtrack on a flatbed. This was before the modern miracles of Adobe CS6, MS Word and the like. So much organisational effort was desirable before taking to the workprint with a cutter and splicer. Once they had an assembly then they set about trimming and pulling it in tighter.
They got it down to about 2 hours and 10 minutes. They wrote a narration and recorded the voiceover narration plus a visual introduction of the narrator and a few throws to the narrator in person.
At that point the editor brought in another editor to make the hard decisions and cull that which could be culled that the original editor did not have the heart to take out. They got it down to the two television hours - just. It worked.