First foray into long form documentary making - tools for structuring? at DVinfo.net

Go Back   DV Info Net > Special Interest Areas > Documentary Techniques

Documentary Techniques
-- Discuss issues facing documentary production.


Reply
 
Thread Tools Search this Thread
Old January 29th, 2011, 01:05 PM   #1
Inner Circle
 
Join Date: Dec 2003
Location: Hampshire, UK
Posts: 2,205
First foray into long form documentary making - tools for structuring?

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.
Ian Stark is offline   Reply With Quote
Old January 29th, 2011, 02:05 PM   #2
Inner Circle
 
Join Date: Sep 2002
Location: San Mateo, CA
Posts: 3,840
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.

Easy Peazy.
Richard Alvarez is offline   Reply With Quote
Old January 29th, 2011, 03:29 PM   #3
Inner Circle
 
Join Date: Dec 2003
Location: Hampshire, UK
Posts: 2,205
Richard,

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.
Ian Stark is offline   Reply With Quote
Old January 29th, 2011, 03:45 PM   #4
Inner Circle
 
Join Date: Sep 2002
Location: San Mateo, CA
Posts: 3,840
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.

Make sense?

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?
Richard Alvarez is offline   Reply With Quote
Old January 29th, 2011, 03:53 PM   #5
Inner Circle
 
Join Date: Sep 2007
Location: Cambridge UK
Posts: 2,835
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ian Stark View Post
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!
__________________
Andy K Wilkinson - http://www.shootingimage.co.uk
Cambridge (UK) Corporate Video Production
Andy Wilkinson is offline   Reply With Quote
Old January 29th, 2011, 03:54 PM   #6
Inner Circle
 
Join Date: Dec 2003
Location: Hampshire, UK
Posts: 2,205
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 . . .
Ian Stark is offline   Reply With Quote
Old January 29th, 2011, 04:00 PM   #7
Major Player
 
Join Date: Aug 2007
Location: El Cerrito, CA
Posts: 266
Hi Ian,

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
(ain't kiddin')
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...
It worked.

Take care and good luck

Vasco
__________________
www.donesmedia.net
bricioledamerica.blogspot.com (in Italian)
Vasco Dones is offline   Reply With Quote
Old January 29th, 2011, 04:11 PM   #8
Inner Circle
 
Join Date: Dec 2003
Location: Hampshire, UK
Posts: 2,205
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 . . .
Ian Stark is offline   Reply With Quote
Old January 29th, 2011, 04:23 PM   #9
Inner Circle
 
Join Date: Dec 2003
Location: Hampshire, UK
Posts: 2,205
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 - 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?
Ian Stark is offline   Reply With Quote
Old January 29th, 2011, 04:24 PM   #10
Major Player
 
Join Date: Aug 2007
Location: El Cerrito, CA
Posts: 266
Hey Ian,

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

Vasco
__________________
www.donesmedia.net
bricioledamerica.blogspot.com (in Italian)
Vasco Dones is offline   Reply With Quote
Old January 29th, 2011, 04:26 PM   #11
Inner Circle
 
Join Date: Dec 2003
Location: Hampshire, UK
Posts: 2,205
Hehehehe!

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 . . .

Cheers!
Ian Stark is offline   Reply With Quote
Old January 29th, 2011, 06:22 PM   #12
Inner Circle
 
Join Date: Sep 2002
Location: San Mateo, CA
Posts: 3,840
Ian,

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.
Richard Alvarez is offline   Reply With Quote
Old January 30th, 2011, 04:03 AM   #13
Inner Circle
 
Join Date: Dec 2003
Location: Hampshire, UK
Posts: 2,205
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 . . .
Ian Stark is offline   Reply With Quote
Old January 30th, 2011, 07:31 AM   #14
Inner Circle
 
Join Date: Sep 2007
Location: Cambridge UK
Posts: 2,835
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ian Stark View Post
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
__________________
Andy K Wilkinson - http://www.shootingimage.co.uk
Cambridge (UK) Corporate Video Production
Andy Wilkinson is offline   Reply With Quote
Old February 6th, 2011, 08:46 PM   #15
Regular Crew
 
Join Date: Jul 2002
Location: canada
Posts: 57
Quote:
... 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?

Quote:
... 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..
Brian McKenna is offline   Reply
Reply

DV Info Net refers all where-to-buy and where-to-rent questions exclusively to these trusted full line dealers and rental houses...

Professional Video
(800) 833-4801
Portland, OR

B&H Photo Video
(866) 521-7381
New York, NY

Z.G.C.
(973) 335-4460
Mountain Lakes, NJ

Abel Cine Tech
(888) 700-4416
N.Y. NY & L.A. CA

Precision Camera
(800) 677-1023
Austin, TX

DV Info Net also encourages you to support local businesses and buy from an authorized dealer in your neighborhood.
  You are here: DV Info Net > Special Interest Areas > Documentary Techniques

Thread Tools Search this Thread
Search this Thread:

Advanced Search

 



Google
 

All times are GMT -6. The time now is 01:11 PM.


DV Info Net -- Real Names, Real People, Real Info!
1998-2017 The Digital Video Information Network