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Old August 31st, 2013, 08:16 PM   #1
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Backdrop ideas needed for a WWII doc

I am shooting a documentary on the experiences children had during WWII. The folks I am interviewing are mostly in their 70s and 80s. I am shooting the interview segments over two days at the same location with a pair of Canon C100s.

I need help coming up with ideas for the backdrop. I was thinking of using two backdrops (to have a little variety), both modeled with grey and blue, and grey and green colors. But I could certainly shoot with more than two.

I haven't shot with a photography-styled backdrop before. Not sure what to get or where to get it. But mostly I need ideas on what I can do to make the background styled to fit the subject of this documentary. I am also thinking about adding some strong directional lighting to add some depth.

Any ideas would greatly be appreciated.
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Old August 31st, 2013, 09:23 PM   #2
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Re: Backdrop ideas needed for a WWII doc

Hi Mike,

Use some practical elements like some of the patriotism posters of the time or USO items and use it as a texture. Like just enough DOF to slightly blur it so it can't be read but still recognized for what it is. Some stuff like that to fill negative space on your background and just let the rest of the background be what it is.

You could create a theme that set the mood for different experiences by changing out elements of a background easier than changing out an entire background. Contact your local American Legion post and see if they would loan you what they have collecting dust in storage.
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Old August 31st, 2013, 11:14 PM   #3
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Re: Backdrop ideas needed for a WWII doc

It would make some difference if the interviews were at, say, a convention vs, say, in their home or perhaps an assisted living center. You mentioned that the shoot would be at the same location over two days so the home is not an option I suppose. It would be nice if the interviews were in their home then just using a wall in their home could suffice. It might make things a little easier on your part and it really wouldn't detract from the interview. What kind of a location is it?

Another thought would be to capture some of their family or baby pictures or mementos from that time and slip some clips of them into the storyline. (you can probably tell I like the home location)

For many, this was a time when people didn't have very much, food was rationed (ration stamps), metal was recycled (tin cans), kids wore hand-me-down clothing or if mom had a sewing machine she might sew their clothing, and people didn't make very much money as compared to people today.

It would be interesting to know what the interview approach will be, for example, a list of questions? Shoot from the hip questions? Or?
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Old September 1st, 2013, 12:23 AM   #4
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Re: Backdrop ideas needed for a WWII doc

For simplicity sake, I would use a pop-up black background, or hang duvetyne for a real clean look. Perhaps add a few vintage style hanging bulbs (the 20-40W variety with multiple filaments). If they are out of focus just a bit, it will add a nice design element without bringing in too many props.
Of course, if you can get an old console radio from an antique dealer or collector (on loan), and put a narrow spot on it, that would also be a nice backdrop.

How big of a room are you dealing with?
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Old September 1st, 2013, 11:56 AM   #5
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Re: Backdrop ideas needed for a WWII doc

I really like Woody's idea of using patriotism posters. Woody - do you have an example to link to? I have an idea of what it could looks like, but am not experienced at this since I've only used natural backgrounds before. Also I'm not sure if I'll be able to find posters in time for the interview or ones the right size. I'm wondering if I could shoot the interview with a plain background and then shoot the posters when I get them and composite them. The downfall would be the extra work involved.

I will consider using duvetyne as a backup plan. I like the idea f the vintage bulbs, but I don't think they're right for this particular subject.
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Old September 1st, 2013, 12:11 PM   #6
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Re: Backdrop ideas needed for a WWII doc

John - I don't have the opportunity to do the interviews at their homes, unfortunately. I am shooting at a movie theater in a retirement community. I was planning on setting up the camera and backdrop on the main floor in front of the screen. I could also shoot into the seating section without a backdrop, I just don't think it does much to tell the story. (see pics)

I will indeed be including photos and shots of momentos. Didn't think about family. That might be a nice touch.

As far as interview approach, I have done phone interviews with each subject as a way to filter the ones I'll be interviewing. I'll use those notes as touch points during the interview. I noticed they are quick to describe details like rationing and other external things that they witness, but I also want to get to know how they felt. What did they feel during air raids? Some have said they thought it was fun. They were kids after all!
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Backdrop ideas needed for a WWII doc-photo-1.jpg   Backdrop ideas needed for a WWII doc-photo-2.jpg  

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Old September 1st, 2013, 01:06 PM   #7
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Re: Backdrop ideas needed for a WWII doc

Mike, if you google WWII posters you will find many on different themes from the famous Uncle Same "I want you" poster to women in industry and civil guard patrol. If you have pre-interviewed I would revisit that and look for themes within them you can build on. Treat the background just like a movie set and change elements to give a different feel to the interviews rather than have them all happen in the same looking space. There are also resources like the internet archives where you can get your hands on some WWII footage for some "B" roll.

I would look at changing what ever I could to support the experience being expressed in each interview and that is something that has to be done visually in some way. I would also look at the experiences in a timeline fashion. Did one person experience something during an event and then someone experience something from the following event and finish it off with an interview centered around the end of the war. That kind of progression keeps the audience in a story and keeps their attention.

You might be surprised at what a local American Legion post would have laying around and any WWII memorabilia could be used as elements in a background theme. I would think the resources for things that can enhance your doc are pretty abundant really. Sounds like a great project.
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Old September 2nd, 2013, 07:51 AM   #8
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Re: Backdrop ideas needed for a WWII doc

A war doc project I worked on many years ago used a light colored backdrop (think white sheet) hung loosely from an overhead rod. Then, old photos were rear-projected onto the backdrop. To add even more visual impact, a slight ripple effect was added to the backdrop with a small fan.
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Old September 2nd, 2013, 08:10 AM   #9
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Re: Backdrop ideas needed for a WWII doc

Depending on the tone or emotion you're looking for, I always like the way the Band of Brother's interviews were lit. You can even see the backdrop, so I'd get a basic black curtain or fabric, clamped to a backdrop holder (Amazon for $100 or so), and light like the video below. With a person on camera left, I would have the curtain angled with the right side closest and left side farther away, though the goal is still not to have it visible.

Of course, you could do two different lightings: One softer, fuller, and more even for the start of interviews; and change it over to this lighting for the stories.

Example of both:
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Old September 2nd, 2013, 01:23 PM   #10
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Re: Backdrop ideas needed for a WWII doc

The black void is, I think, pretty timeless. Backdrops aren't too "in" these days. You can work with the existing black curtain and add another wall to create a corner so your second camera also has a black background.

If you go the backdrop route with stands and everything, plan on lighting the background. A nicely lit subject and an unlit backdrop is not desirable. In the black void, I have added a lit something-or-other artifact in the background and swapped artifacts for each speaker... the black void helps a lot. Also, you can blast a color behind the subject on the black background. In my case, it's a Lowel Omni 420w with a Rosco 80 blue gel. The wall was painted black. YMMV
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Backdrop ideas needed for a WWII doc-img_0130_.jpg  
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Old September 2nd, 2013, 01:32 PM   #11
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Re: Backdrop ideas needed for a WWII doc

As far as backdrops go, you may find one of the grunge patriotic ones here will do the trick:
Click on Links

That company will also make a backdrop from a drawing or picture. And if it matters to you, they use American artisans for all their custom work..
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Old September 2nd, 2013, 04:15 PM   #12
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Re: Backdrop ideas needed for a WWII doc

You've got a nice location to work with, how about shooting with the columns and American flag in the far background, each one spotlit. It's a bit abstract for this doc, but wouldn't necessarily be out of place. Probably a quick setup too.
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Old September 3rd, 2013, 12:28 PM   #13
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Re: Backdrop ideas needed for a WWII doc

My personal preference would not be for a fixed setup in the larger room. It may be too "formal" an environment for your interviewees to feel comfortable in. They may chose their words very carefully. I realise of course you have to do the best you can with what you are given. Discomfort may be disarmed somewhat by having another who also lived the experience present in the room, or one of the younger generation of the family present..

Ushering older and sometimes infirm interviewees into a small fixed setup within a larger room is sometimes as inspiring for them as being wheeled into the shower or the toilet. There may be a reaction to "being controlled". Some people may go all quiet, yet others will react enthusiastically to the change in their day-after-day-after-day routine.

My personal preference might be to take individual oral histories but also get several if not all your informants together on some pretext, say a morning tea, end of war anniversary or whatever pretext fits. When it works right, there's nothing quite like when people bounce ideas and memories off each other.

On the other hand, if you were to get permission to film within their own rooms, sometimes that also causes a problem through invasion of personal territory versus being in the comfort of a familiar space.

For a series of five oral histories on the Holodomor ( Ukrainian Genocide ) we were more fortunate. Four were conducted within the interviewees own homes and one was done in a church. We found that everyone's own little personal stamp on their living space was evident in some form, a small vase, a family photo, a plate on a small wooden stand, religious icon. In the interview, the attached frame grab refers to, the significant personal object in this instance was a plate visible in background which bore the hand-drawn image of a Ukrainian hero or cultural entity.

You might therefore enquire for some personal item to be brought along that might also symbolise the individual as a backdrop item in the otherwise neutral background I guess you will be using, judging from the other advices you have been given above.

You may also discover that no two days are the same for your interviewees. Due to a tech issue, we had to reshoot one interview. During the first interview, the person was quite inhibited. She was still apprehensive about saying something which might upset somebody sympathetic to Stalin, the perpetrator of the oppression.

I have some reservations about an initial interview before conducting the on-camera oral history. People may be inclined to "structure" their response carefully instead of recalling spontaneously. However in this instance, what happened was the exact opposite of our expectations.

Between the first interview and the reshoot, the person experienced a life-threatening medical crisis which maybe introduced a sense of "Stalin cannot do anything more to me now". During the second interview, she was fearless and powerful in a quiet sort of way. It was incredibly moving.

In the three years following the oral histories, all the informants who were all old and mostly frail are no longer with us.

I feel thankful, even privelidged to have been involved with that project. I am sure you may feel the same way about yours. It was so nearly too late.

Good luck with it.
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Last edited by Bob Hart; September 3rd, 2013 at 12:46 PM. Reason: error
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Old February 5th, 2014, 05:20 AM   #14
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Re: Backdrop ideas needed for a WWII doc

Bob where can we see your video?
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Old February 5th, 2014, 10:36 PM   #15
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Re: Backdrop ideas needed for a WWII doc

Marcus.


Although the Holodomor project was for a love not money arrangement, there is hope of a wraparound documentary with the oral histories as the core. For that reason, I am under non-disclosure so cannot post actual footage. The extended reference material derived from key interviewees is published as :-

"SILENT
MEMORIES

TRAUMATIC LIVES

Ukrainian Migrant Refugees in Western Australia."

by

Lesa Melnyczuk

ISBN: 9781920843748
Dewey Number 305.8917910941


Getting people together for the first time in a while WITHOUT prior preparation so they are encouraged to bounce recollections off each other is exampled here. - It is not the best piece of filmwork you will encounter. I was running a CP16R, a Nagra sound recorder and mikes with a lot less skill than I have now.


Some keywords which will otherwise confuse if unexplained.

Wild cattle - Rangeland cattle confined by boundary fences to a large property but left to fend for themselves until mustered for branding, de-horning and some stock sent off to market.

Buliman - Bull.
Mickey - A young near-fully grown bull in this instance.
Coaches - Quiet cattle, accustomed to handling. The wild herd is joined in to quieten them.
Karrndee - Tail. Used to restrain the bull whilst it is on the ground.
Jinna - Foot.
Ngarrku - Eat. (lunch).
Arfterin - Chasing after - with lethal intent.
Painblood - Local constructed descriptive. Analagous to touching the nerve in the bull's horn.

Last edited by Bob Hart; February 6th, 2014 at 10:31 AM. Reason: error
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